Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reflections on Development & Teacher Training

I've been working in academic management this past year with IH Beirut. A large part of my job is working on training and development of teachers through observations, feedback, CPD and regular input sessions.

This has been a major learning experience, particularly thinking back to my experiences at the various teaching jobs I have had.

I look at the staff of teachers I work with, all of them with their own background, training, studies and experience and I wonder what it is that puts me in a position to give them advice on teaching and development when so many are older and have more years in the field than I do. There are a lot of reasons I could list: my DELTA, my MA work, the range of teaching contexts I've worked in, all the experience I have gotten through attending and organizing ELT conferences. One of the most significant factors, though, is most definitely my experience working for a French university.

There is a major problem with ELT which is that most teachers get a CELTA (which trains you as best it can with only 6 hours of supervised teaching to make the most effective lessons you can out of pre-packaged course book materials), then these teachers go and work for language centers which assign a book, a syllabus, and ask the teacher to make lessons "fun" for the customers (I use this word intentionally) and to make sure they cover the language points in the book before the final exam.

I was incredibly lucky to dodge that bullet and work for this university department instead.

The faculty of the Département Langues et Cultures at L’Université Bordeaux 2 played a large role in training me to be an effective materials writer, asking me to create entire lessons from authentic material on a weekly basis. One professor in particular ripped my worksheets to shreds (not literally, but almost) and made me rewrite them at least 10 times before they were good enough. My supervisor asked me to write entire Moodle courses feeding in learner strategies and extra resources, as well as teaching various level-specific general and ESP courses based on my self-designed syllabus and materials. The director supported my ventures in ELT conference attendance and coordination, and encouraged me to pursue my online MA in TEFL/TESL. My supervisor and I had several great chats about the topics I was studying on the MA - providing me with face-to-face discussion on topics that were otherwise stuck behind a screen. When I told her that I planned to take ELT seriously and make it my career, the worksheet-dissecting professor handed me the Rod Ellis tome on Second Language Acquisition research and said, "start by reading this whole thing". I've made my way through large chunks of it by now, by the way, but that's a big F-ing book - she couldn't start me on Lightbown and Spada? :)

They made me consider the aim and purpose of lessons, and focus on what skills and sub-skills my materials were meant to develop. They considered my ambitions within the field and guided me to the developmental fast-track for it. Very few people in this field make new teachers do that, and that’s a real shame.

At IATEFL Manchester I saw many great ideas about the future of ELT – one of the most engaging was Willy Cardoso’s session putting forward a new framework for initial teacher training. As mentors and teacher trainers we need to encourage new teachers to engage and reflect on their own development and push them to face their limitations.

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