A Little Less Conversation a Little More Action
Jun 19, 2011 English Language Teaching (ELT) 2970 Views
Challenging Higher Education in Education
Many times as educators gain more experience and qualifications, the teaching game becomes less about skill work and more of an intellectual pursuit. Regardless of what advanced degree you get in TEFL or really any field of education, there is change from skill work to theory and research. We start out as brand new teachers knowing nothing. Our TTT is horrible. We have no classroom presence. We can't lesson plan. We have zero understanding of error correction. This list could go on and on.
When we start our first training in TEFL we learn some skills. I think these days probably a majority of ELT teachers begin with some form of TEFL course. These skills are great and we start practicing. We bomb our first lesson, but over the course of the training we keep improving. We practice our TEFL skills from concept check questioning, to graded language, to effective monitoring...etc. We get better, and by the end of the course/training, we can at least hold our own the classroom.
Then we graduate, and that's really where our skill training ends.
If you take a look at any advanced degree in TEFL, you find only a smidgen of skill training. The DELTA for example only has 4 hours of observed teaching practice compared to 300 hours of assignments and paperwork. It doesn't end there, MA programs in education are the same thing. Tons of methodology research, paper writing, form filling - nearly nothing in observed teaching practice. This would be great if teachers want to work in a lab and do research or write papers, but it's not helping them to actually teach.
Look back at your educators throughout your life. Some were great and some really missed the mark. How is that possible? How is that you can have two teachers who have studied TEFL or education to the advanced level and one is amazing and the other appears to never have taught a good lesson in their life?
The reason is that often teachers and universities forget that there is a complete difference between knowing and doing. Knowing how to teach, means nothing. I know how to do a back flip and I know how to throw a baseball. It doesn't mean that I am a gymnast or pitcher. I could read every book, attend every lecture and ace every written test on these subjects, but I'm still going to have the same ability as I did before.
Education is exactly the same, but for some reason, it is ignored. Take aviation where it is not ignored. What if pilots only received 4 hours of actual observed flying practice and the rest of the time was spent in a lecture or writing an essay. Would this be acceptable? Would you consider this pilot to be an expert?
My own feeling why this is, is that it would be too hard to set up practice teaching sessions for hundreds of graduate level training classes and that a significant number wouldn't pass. Setting up 12 hours of practice teaching for 15 TEFL trainees is hard, doing it for a graduate level course of 100 students would require about 20-30 classrooms. Universities of all kinds simply wouldn't be able to do it, so they don't. You would also need dozens of observers to watch the teachers and a pool of hundreds of students to set up practice classes. Then you have to account for teachers simply not being good. How many would fail out? How many educators have the ability to learn these skills and do them to the advanced/expert level? Probably not a whole lot.
Whether it's an MA in TEFL or PHD there seems to be a disappointing correlation between how that translates into the classroom and being 'good'. I've met PHD level TEFL teachers that were very impressive and knew their stuff and I've met some that were literally afraid of doing a practice lesson because they had major holes in their skill game.
There needs to be a change. There needs to be a little less conversation and a little more action in TEFL and education as a whole. Universities and other forms of higher education in ELT need to incorporate a lot more hands on training into their curriculums to shape up or weed out lackluster teachers. Teachers of all backgrounds and educational levels on their own need to return to the things that make us solid teachers and that is the return the practice and improvement of ELT skills.