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).

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