M is for Masters

27 08 2017

 

role play

MA TESOL at The New School

Now that many of us – either as faculty or alumni – are about to embark on the fall semester of a Masters in TESOL (or other closely related discipline), it’s perhaps worth asking why? Not which Masters, or when, or in what mode (e.g. on-site, online, or blended), but why do a Masters at all? What benefits will accrue – professional, academic or financial – that couldn’t be obtained by some other, less costly or time-consuming means? And, crucially, is the teacher with a Masters any better – and hence, more deserving – than one without?

I’m asking these questions partly in response to a letter I received a few months ago from a teacher in New York City. She had attended a talk I gave at The New School on whose Masters program I teach. She was interested in enrolling in the program but wondered if the outlay in terms of fees and time would ever be recuperable. And, as a teacher of some experience, she was also voicing a sense of injustice at the fact that teachers like her, without a post-graduate degree in TESOL, were being passed over for teachers straight off Masters programs. Here’s what she said:

‘While I naturally respect my colleagues in the teaching field who do posses an MA TESOL, I nevertheless feel quiet resentment towards their getting 30-45 hours a week at $45 an hour, when they are fresh out of an MA program and by their own admission had/have never taught before. … Is it really the be-all and end-all?’

And she adds, ‘I feel quite strongly that an English degree, a teaching degree, a CELTA, a MA in English combined with international experience trumps an MA TESOL with no experience or previous background in English. Naturally, this position may well be construed as professional (or unprofessional) resentment or worse, envy. However, given the chance, I think it is one students would also hold.’

teaching practice group work 02.JPG

Teaching practice, New School

There are a number of assumptions here that might be challenged, e.g. that those taking MAs in TESOL have no previous teaching experience, or that they don’t get lots of practical experience when they are actually doing the course.

On this latter point, a quick trawl around university websites where MA TESOLs are offered, demonstrates how markedly the length of the practicum (if there is one!) varies. For example (from US-based programs only):

  • University of X: TESOL Practicum. This course involves 48-60 hours of student/teaching contact time, regular peer and instructor class observations and coaching sessions, and weekly seminar-style meetings during the semester.
  • University of Y: Third semester requires 3-credit Practicum: “This is a language teaching course that provides students with an opportunity for supervised teaching experience in ESL or foreign language classes. This course can be completed during the school year or the summer.
  • University of Z: Practicum: The Portfolio includes documentation of 70 practice hours, with a minimum of 15 hours in each of the following areas:
    • Tutoring
    • Observing ESOL classes
    • Practice teaching
  • Another University: Practicum: Core courses include ‘TESOL Practice teaching’; plus ‘Culminating Experience’: includes a service project of 30 hours of ESL teaching.
  • Yet Another University: Teaching Internship, (2 months; 6 credits) Two months teaching under supervision in the United States or abroad.
  • And One More University for Good Measure: Elective. Practicum in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Practical teaching experience for preservice teachers of English as a second language. Enrollment limited to AL/ESL graduate students whose schedules permit them to observe and participate in the practicum supervisor’s ESL course.
matching task MA TESOL.JPG

MA TESOL, New School

So, I guess my question is: do MA programs equip inexperienced teachers with the requisite teaching skills any better than, say, a pre-service certificate course would, and, indeed, should they – i.e. should they be accepting inexperienced teachers on to their programs at all? And if they don’t measure up, then should their graduates be given preferential treatment in the job market – if that is, in fact, the case?

 

 

 





M is for Model

12 04 2015

modellingmodel n [C]: someone you should imitate because of their good qualities or behaviour [Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English]

Today, at IATEFL, I’m taking part in a debate, hosted by Cambridge English, which celebrates the publication of a new volume in the Studies in Language Testing series, called Assessing language teachers’ professional skills and knowledge (edited by Wilson & Poulter). One of the papers in this collection, ‘Teachers’ language competence: issues of appropriation and appropriacy’ by Jenny Johnson and Monica Poulter, reports the results of a survey in which teacher trainers worldwide were asked (among other things) about the level of English required for acceptance on to CELTA (i.e. pre-service) courses. One respondent replied:

‘The key, for me, is that they should be a good model for students. I wouldn’t want candidates to be teaching incorrect things to students’ (p. 187)

This more or less echoes the views of the majority of respondents, it seems, and in turn chimes with Cambridge English’s own assessment criterion (2d), viz. [the candidate should be seen to be] ‘providing accurate and appropriate models of oral and written language in the classroom.’

Which set me thinking: isn’t there something a little superannuated about the role of teacher as ‘model’? Do teachers have to be ‘someone you should imitate’? And what exactly are these ‘incorrect things’ that they might be imitating? Doesn’t this all have a vaguely behaviourist ring to it? And a ‘native-speakerist’ one, at that?  By whose standards, for example, is ‘correctness’ judged?

It’s certainly a view that has a long history. E.g.:

‘It is a sad thing to think that all over the world teachers are busily teaching incorrect pronunciation to thousands of children daily! … Yet it is within the power of nearly every teacher of English to achieve a level of speaking which is a very close approximation to the natural speech of a native speaker of English who speaks carefully and enunciates clearly’ (Gurrey 1955: 14-15).

salle de classeI once had a trainee on a Diploma course who confessed to the fact that, in an earlier life, he had been an art teacher – not by choice, since he can’t draw. But he said that this wasn’t actually a handicap. If you’re a good teacher, you can teach anything – he argued. But you don’t have to model it.

Couldn’t the same be said about second languages?

Isn’t the teacher’s main role to provide the conditions of learning? And isn’t a key condition of language learning language using? Imitating a ‘good model’ is hardly using the language – compared, say, to authentic communication. And, anyway, if it is exemplars that are needed, we now have the technology to provide any number of samples of a huge range of accents, registers and speaking styles. Not to mention writing. Moreover, these exemplars can be selected so as to match the learners own needs and aspirations. After all, the ‘model’ that a learner aspires to, or can realistically achieve, may not be the teacher’s.

And, crucially, if the teacher’s role is construed less as a model to imitate and more as a facilitator of learning, the invidious distinction between NS and NNS starts to collapse. NNS teachers need no longer feel that they are somehow deficient, simply because they can’t simulate a native speaker. Why should they? As Vivian Cook (1999: 194) argues, “People cannot be expected to conform to the norm of a group to which they do not belong”.

So, is it time to inter the notion of ‘model’ once and for all?

References

Cook, V. (1999) ‘Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching’ TESOL Quarterly, 33/2: 185-210.

Gurrey, P. (1955) Teaching English as a foreign language. London: Longmans.





P is for Pre-service training

1 04 2012

Or C is for CELTA. Or F is for Four-week course.

This month celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first teacher training course offered by International House (IH) at its then London home in 40 Shaftesbury Avenue. As the current issue of the EL Gazette notes, this is ‘still the model of initial training for native-speaker teachers which predominates in most of the world’ (p.24).

A model that is not without its problems, it goes without saying.  But first some autobiography.

Teaching practice, 40 Shaftesbury Ave

I enrolled on the 4-week course (as it was then called, prior to its morphing into the RSA course, then the CTEFLA, and now, its most recent avatar, the CELTA) in early 1975. I had recently arrived in the UK, via a few heady days and nights in Athens, and I had set my sights on a teaching job in Greece. Friends who had done ‘the course’ and were already teaching recommended it: I was duly interviewed (by the wise and lovely Georgie Raman) and coughed up the course fee of £65.00. Probably the best 65 quid I ever spent.

IH was still housed at 40 Shaftesbury Avenue, just down the road from the evocative Berwick Street market and around the corner from the Blue Posts pub (the site of many well-lubricated lesson post-mortems). Finding your way around the warren of rooms that comprised IH almost required a course in its own right. Day 1 began with a welcome speech from IH’s co-founder, John Haycraft. It all felt a bit like drama school: we sat on the floor while John’s introduction involved a lot of what I would soon discover was a core technique on the course itself: he elicited.

There was more eliciting in the foreign language lesson (which happened to be Thai) even though none of us had any Thai to elicit. Magically, though, we were all exchanging names and greetings in Thai within minutes and with NO TRANSLATION!  Just as geese will mistakenly assume that the first perambulating object they set eyes on, such as a wheelbarrow, is their mother, and will follow it unquestioningly, we were all instantly and irrevocably ‘imprinted’ by the direct method.

Our instructor was the always encouraging and endlessly inventive David Thompson, who, not long after, would leave to set up the IH chain in Argentina. Hazel Imbert was one of the Teaching Practice tutors, and took advantage of her role to recruit potential performers for the English Teaching Theatre, of which she was a member. (After one of my lessons she slipped me a note: ‘Can you play the guitar?’)

Teaching Practice (TP), of course, is at the very heart of the 4-week course, and is what made it both so terrifying and so exhilarating – and also so effective. In retrospect it seems amazing that such a perfectly obvious idea (i.e. to incorporate a practicum from Day 1) hadn’t been thought of before, or that – even today – it is so relatively rarely instituted on preservice teacher training programs, especially at tertiary level. Of course, it’s not just the teaching practice that is so formative: it is the collaborative planning and the tutor-led post-lesson feedback discussion, as well as the regular classroom observation, not to mention the way that the input sessions themselves cross-refer to teaching practice, so that – when it works well – the whole experience is entirely integrated, coherent and maximally practical.

From beach bum to EFL teacher - in 4 easy weeks

So practical, in fact, that, having finished the course on a Friday, I was teaching my first class in IH Hastings the following Monday. The rest, as they say, is history (except that I never did make it back to Athens).

So, if it’s so good, why is it so bad?

The same issue of the EL Gazette that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the IH course, has another piece about teaching in Russia, which makes salutary reading. Despite having been ‘opened up’ to non-native speaker teachers, there is still a widespread perception that the CELTA is a native-speaker club, a feeling that clearly causes resentment to many Russians (judging by the article) especially when the CELTA is promoted as a more reliable measure of employability than a degree in linguistics or yards of teaching experience. One Moscow-based teacher complained that, to get work, ‘we have to change our methods because only Celta teaching is acceptable. I think Celta is fine, but it isn’t the only way to teach. It would be nice to have other options’ (p. 21).

It took me many years to outgrow the 4-week course and to realise that there are ‘other options’. This is not to deny its power and its fitness for purpose, nor to feel less grateful for the incredible career it kick-started. But isn’t it time that some of the other options were given more credence? And more legitimacy?





T is for Teacher Training

7 11 2010

A teacher in Turkey sent me the following email recently:

“I am a teacher interested in teacher development (TD), and I have had my DELTA recently. I am trying to become a teacher trainer in the professional manner. … I would like to request suggestions on the long path of becoming a teacher trainer.”

This comes the same week as another colleague asked me a similar question: how can she gain the skills required to run an in-service program for secondary school teachers that her institution is hosting next year?

Teaching practice, IH London, in the early days

Both questions address the issue of training to become a teacher trainer, a job for which there seems to be no clearly defined path nor formal, certificated preparation.  (How did you become a teacher trainer, if you are one?)

Cambridge ESOL, for example, (who administer the CELTA and DELTA programs) offer no training courses, but only the following advice:

 

Who can become a teacher trainer for CELTA?

Potential CELTA trainers are required to have the Cambridge ESOL Delta or an equivalent ELT qualification. Prospective trainers with solely a strong academic background may not be suitable as CELTA trainers because of the required focus on practical classroom issues. An MA in ELT with a strong practical focus may be acceptable if the following four conditions are also met. The prospective trainer:

  • has substantial (normally five years), recent and varied ELT experience
  • is familiar with the types of classes trainee teachers will teach
  • is familiar with the materials trainee teachers will use
  • can demonstrate professional involvement in ELT.

What might that ‘professional involvement in ELT’ be, and how could this support an application to be a trainer? My advice:

Give talks and workshops

  • Offer to give talks/workshops in your own institution, especially of a practical nature – e.g. how to exploit the coursebook, how to use the IWB, how to develop listening skills, etc.
  • If possible, observe your fellow teachers, and allow them to observe you. This should be done in a non-judgmental way, and purely as a means of sharing ideas and techniques.
  • If your schedules allow, team-teach with a colleague: planning and executing a lesson together can be an extremely instructive.
  • Offer to mentor newly recruited teachers, i.e. help them with with their lesson planning, and observe them from time to time, if this is permitted.
  • Write articles or reviews for journals such as English Teaching Professional, that focus on some aspect of classroom practice.
  • Keep a blog.
  • Participate in online webinars or discussions hosted by professional bodies, such as SEETA, and offer to moderate one.
  • Conduct some kind of action research on your own teaching, such as monitoring the effect of an innovative use of some technique or technological aid.
  • Join a professional organisation, either national (such as MASH – if you live in Japan) or international – such as IATEFL.
  • Attend, and present at, conferences and seminars, both locally (if available) or further afield.
  • Attend teacher training workshops or short courses, such as those offered by organisations like International House: these are the nearest thing to some kind of recognised qualification in teacher training.
  • If you are thinking of embarking on an MA course, choose one that has some kind of teacher education component.
  • Create a portfolio: e.g. open a folder itemising and documenting all the above activities that is easly available to support any application for a job.

Even if none of these activities leads directly to a teacher training job (which ultimately depends a lot on being at the right place at the right time), they will certainly improve the quality of your professional life, and enhance your career prospects generally.