THE way?

Central Line
Photo taken from by Ian James, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

Do you ever want to just say ‘we’re not all doing it wrong!’? People are teaching and learning languages all the time in lots of different ways. There is no one way. There are lots of ways and the more we know about the different ways, the more we can make our own decisions about what is best to do with the people we work with in our particular contexts and also… what is best for us in that situation!

There is not one course or book or meme that will tell us how we should work in our particular circumstances. Our experiences, musings, conversations, the experiences of colleagues and students, stories, research, theory, books, conferences, journals (when we can access them!), initial and ongoing training and education courses – all contribute to our development and our understanding, to our expertise and our ability to be able to respond better to more situations and have a better chance of making learning happen for more people.

So, in terms of initial training programmes, we probably don’t have to worry too much about whether courses like the CELTA are the best way to train ELT practitioners. It’s four weeks long. I doubt it was ever intended to be perfect. But it has started a lot of excellent teachers and professionals on their learning and teaching journeys.

As long as it’s not seen as providing ‘the way’ to do things and that people recognise that our practice will continue to develop and change as we find out more about a wider range of students’ experiences and contexts, then it is probably quite a good start. But the tendency in some areas to see CELTA as essential, as the way to teach English might be where the problems lie with this and similar training courses. It seems that some people do sometimes think it presents how we should be doing things… for the rest of our career! Or, perhaps they think that’s what other people think we should always do. I didn’t do the CELTA but I remember being surprised when, a few years into teaching, an observer praised something I did in the class because ‘That’s what they tell us to do on the CELTA’. It struck me as strange to continue to hold that pre-service training programme as the standard to aim for rather than one to build on.

When I first sat and listened to Jim Scrivener talk about Demand High Teaching at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow in 2012, I found myself thinking ‘But don’t we do this already?’. The person sitting beside me told me that’s what she had been doing until she was told to do it differently on the CELTA. And recently on twitter, Mike Harrison wondered where Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill had observed teachers because what they described was not how he or his colleagues worked. Recently, after reading Geoff Jordan’s suggestion that Demand High Teaching was a dud product, I’ve been wondering if the people they had observed might sometimes revert to what they’ve been taught on the CELTA because that’s what they think observers want to see. I’m not sure. I think in the past that I may have had the inclination to present what I thought observers wanted to see, rather than how I usually worked. (I’m getting bolder now!) But, we do need to recognise the pre-service courses for what they are and be able to move on from them and recognise and value the ways we continue to develop professionally.

I later found out that the person sitting next to me had spent 3 years at university in Poland studying TEFL and then had to do a 4-week CELTA course as her “foreign qualifications” didn’t count. She said she was just one of many. In a blog post on Pre-Service Training, Scott Thornbury reported that in an issue of the EL Gazette, ‘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’.

I don’t think that demand high teaching is a dud product as Geoff suggests, but I am wary when people proclaim things like, ‘We do this in ELT, but we should be doing that’. When has ELT been uniform in its practice and its thinking? We don’t all do the same thing. We shouldn’t all do the same thing. We are different people, working in different places with different learners, at different times of the day and the CELTA is not going to be able to prepare us for all that we might need to deal with. It has its value but we need to recognise the value of other courses and subsequent development.

Building on the CELTA, or whatever initial course we do, with experience, conversations with learners and colleagues, reading, further study and finding new ways to do things and being able to justify why we do them, we develop our knowledge and understanding of what to do in situations particular to our context and not addressed in any ‘how to’ book. Recognising our development we should be better able to resist conforming to what we think people are looking for in observations or inspections backed up by our ongoing learning. As Stephen Kemmis and Tracey Smith write in their book Enabling Praxis, ‘Our capacity to live with, live by, interpret, extend and sometimes creatively trouble or avoid the rules of organisations is one of the things that give us our identities as educators’ (p. 5).

16 thoughts on “THE way?

  1. Very interesting…but if ‘anything’ is OK, if as you say we should all do different things, what value do things like CELTAs and DELTAs have?


    1. I’m not sure I said that anything was ok. CELTA gives people a starter set of knowledge and skills to be able to go into the classroom and start teaching. That’s its value. But fairly soon, people with a CELTA are going to have to start adapting what they’ve learned and adding to it to make it work with the various groups they work with, aren’t they? They’ll notice that these students are bored silly with the course book activity and that it’s not actually getting anyone talking to any great extent and they’ll wonder what they’re doing wrong. The might come across the book Teaching Unplugged and think ‘Aha! This might suit these learners better’, I’ll try it. As, they start introducing unplugged learning, they need to help someone with pronunciation. They learned techniques for that on the CELTA, so they use those to help people. They read a blog post about demand high teaching and so decide to push learners to produce much better utterances than they’d been inclined to initially. (They wonder why they’d not been told about these techniques on the CELTA but, sure, now they know.) They consider catering to the students’ individual learning styles but they’ve seen on Twitter that that’s not the done thing any more, so they refrain.

      I just think we have to be able to make judgements about the best thing to do in a given situation. To do that we’ll draw on what we’ve learned and discovered from the initial training but increasingly on what we learn and notice from our practice, from listening to learners, and from further reading or study.

      What I meant by us all doing different things is that, I think we have to try to assess the group we’re with and adjust what we’re doing for the people in the room. If we don’t, and if we go in and do the same thing in every class, and everyone else is doing the same thing, we’re just going through the motions, we’re just doing what we’ve been told to do, without any thought as to why we’re doing it or whether what we’re doing is having any impact. Apart from how boring that would be for us, there are going to be learners who get confused/left behind/fed up/scared!

      I’m not saying anything goes, though, just that we move on from the CELTA. We still have to justify and have good reasons for what we do. We need to try to confirm hunches or explain areas of confusion with research of some sort.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for writing this Carol. As a relatively new CELTA tutor, and as someone who has heard various stories of jobs being denied to very qualified, very experienced teachers in favour of someone just because they have a CELTA, you express well some of the qualms I have about the course. I wish I could express them, but I can’t quite put my finger on some of them, and I also would still like to be able to work!
    I try to impress on my trainees that this is just a foundation course, and that you need to continue to develop after it had finished. I mention at various points some of the problems I still have when teaching, and try to share information about different contexts that people might end up working in and how they may need to adapt their teaching.
    I’ve just started my fifth course in my fifth different centre, and one thing I’ve noticed is that no two CELTAs are the same. To be standardised, they all need to cover certain areas, and the criteria are the same, but the exact content of the input sessions is up to the tutors and the centre. While it’s true that there’s probably a ‘CELTA way’ of some kind, it’s frustrating that this can be seen to be the only way to do things. I think some of this attitude has come from bureaucracy who can see a standardised qualification and assume it means certain things, without having any real idea of what those things actually are. As you say ‘It struck me as strange to continue to hold that pre-service training programme as the standard to aim for rather than one to build on.’
    For me, some of the blame/responsibility (?) actually needs to lie with the schools that teachers start their careers at, as these new teachers need a lot of support. Some places provide it, and those teachers are very lucky (I know I was with my first school), but many don’t, and they end up getting stuck in a rut and repeating their first year of teaching again and again. To that end, I’m trying to come up with a structured follow-up to the CELTA, as I feel there’s a big gap between that and the IH Certificate in Advanced Methodology, which I think is the next general qualification available to teachers between CELTA and Delta.
    As for Demand High, the comment ‘Isn’t this what we all do?’ shows your professionalism and dedication to your students. There are a lot of people who don’t teach like that, but I’m not sure Demand High is the answer. Unfortunately, I don’t know what is. The frustration with DH that seems to be in the blogosphere at the moment is interesting to read, but nobody seems to have anything better to suggest that might actually be practical and which teachers might actually be able to apply.
    Apologies for the essay there, Carol, but it seems you touched a nerve!


    1. Thanks for your comment, Sandy! It’s very interesting to read your perspective. You have a lot more experience than I do of the CELTA and I was a bit apprehensive about writing about it. This isn’t what I set out to write about when I first started the post but this is what developed!

      Really all I was trying to express is that we should just understand the course for what it is and, as you say, provide support to new teachers following the course and expect them to develop further. I’ve heard many tutors say that they do expect this, so I think you’re right that it’s elsewhere that this isn’t understood in the same way.

      The idea of a follow up to the CELTA sounds like a very good idea. Perhaps a form of reflective practice / critical friends type approach would be useful to allow people to talk about their experiences, their successes or not so successful episodes, their questions, confusions etc.

      I think that the Demand High people have a lot of good advice. The ideas of looking for the learning, doing one-to-one teaching in a group, etc. are good ones and by them expressing them, it allows people to realise that what they are doing is not ‘wrong’ or to try new things. I don’t think we need to call it ‘Demand High’ though, but perhaps that’s what they’re getting at when they call it a ‘meme’.

      Thanks for the essay, Sandy. I found it very interesting. Your trainees are lucky!



  3. As a rather staunch defender of DH, I would just like to argue that Scrivener and Underhill have been very suggestive in their proposals and not dogmatic at all. Over the past 25 years or so ELT has got quite carried away with TBL and CLL; the idea that the teacher is a provider of learning opportunities may need reassessing. I find DH utterly compelling because of its inquiry into some of the above mentioned methods and its questioning of the extent to which we all rubber-stamp. That’s it guys. It’s just a set of ideas that , as Adrian would say, has been put into circulation. I have been inspired by it as a teacher trainer because of how some of DH’s salient concepts can be applied to teacher training programs. In other words, DH has shed light on the question of what learning moves out trainees are making to develop professionally; and what we might adjust in teacher training programs to facilitate a richer and deeper experience.


    1. Lindsey Steinberg’s contribution is full of exactly the kind of high-sounding hot air which many think typifies DH. It means absolutely nothing until he tells us

      * In what ways does the idea that the teacher is a provider of learning opportunities need reassessing?

      * What “set of ideas” has been “put into circulation”?

      * What “salient concepts of DH” can be applied to teacher training programs?

      * What light has DH shed on the question of what learning moves “his” trainees are making to develop professionally?

      * How will he adjust teacher training programs to facilitate a richer and deeper experience?


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s