Steve Darn - ELT
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TTD: Beyond Training: Teaching

For my sins, I teach, teach teachers and teach teachers who teach teachers. I do this at the Izmir University of Economics, on the Aegean coast of Turkey, where there aren’t many trainers or trainer-trainers around. I suppose I have reached the top of what Tessa Woodward has called the ‘stack’, and inevitably pay the price of having to get my head round which level of my ‘profession’ I am operating at, particularly as I am sometimes required to do all three on the same day. Whilst benefiting from the notions of drawing parallels and loop-input, teachers are not students, trainee-trainers are not teachers, and trainee trainer-trainers are not trainers.

There is always more to learn, and I am grateful to my colleagues in the Teacher Development Unit, our one hundred and thirty two instructors, and my students for providing food for thought, but certainly in this neck of the woods, there are no courses which I can take to add another layer to the stack, or indeed to help me topple off it into some alternative existence. I plough on.

A few years ago, Jack Richards presented me with a signed copy of ‘Beyond Training’. I must admit that it lay unopened for some time – the fear being that it might indeed reveal yet another dimension to my work, but not quite so, since subsequent perusal only disclosed an examination of the nature of second language teacher development and how teachers' practices are influenced by their beliefs and principles. However, a niggling question came to mind. What, in fact, does lie ‘beyond training’? It has taken a year or so to marshal a myriad of thoughts, but the answer, ultimately, is a very simple one - ‘teaching’.

I suppose it started with the rediscovery of an article by Alan Maley, originally published in Practical English Teaching, September 1990, cynically titled ‘Is ELT really a profession?’, and a more recent article by Penny Ur in English Teaching Professional, more optimistically entitled ‘The English Teacher as a Professional’, both of which set off a chain of thought based around firstly the question ‘who and what are EFL teachers, and what do they know/teach/do?’, and secondly my own personal experience of teaching geography in the UK, which really wasn’t the same at all.

At the time of the Maley article, there was much talk about EFL teacher’s pay, the standard of the schools they worked for, the mercenary nature of employers and the lack of pensions and other benefits. Maley identified thirteen criteria needed to turn an occupation into a profession, of which TEFL failed to meet nine. The other side of the coin, of course, was the lack of professionalism of many teachers, and the fact that many ‘transitory’ employees would work under Dickensian conditions for the opportunity to travel and earn some kind of living at the same time.

So, is there any credibility to the real or perceived difference between a language teacher and a teacher of an ‘academic’ subject. Are EFL teachers still erring on the side of amateurism and occupation rather than professionalism and profession? On the following grounds, there is and they are:

Many EFL teachers have not undergone basic teacher training. Since the disappearance of the PGCE in TEFL, it has been difficult for them to do so. There is still much ‘back door’ entry into TEFL, and EFL teachers are far from being a homogenous breed.

The basic qualification for TEFL is the CELTA. This is a four-week course in basic methodology for those with little or no experience. Native speaker teachers who emerge from CELTA courses have not necessarily read Chomsky or Piaget, and often still don’t know their subject matter – the English language!

More than 10,000 would-be teachers take the CELTA each year and are released on to the job market. Less than 10% of these go on to take the DELTA, which at least provides a theoretical framework for the practical grounding gained during CELTA.

EFL teachers now need to take further qualifications to teach in the Further, Adult and Community Education sectors in the UK.

EFL teachers tend to be obsessed with methodology and new ideas, often at the expense of solid teaching skills. Expatriate teachers, be they in their rooms and offices or at their local, are still buzzing with ideas for warmers, fillers, games and the like to help them get through the next lesson. By doing so, it is as if these teachers are escaping from the harsh reality of having to respond to their learners’ actual linguistic needs despite their inadequate training, whilst not knowing how or being unable to show a genuine concern for their learners’ progress and welfare.

Not a few native-speaker teachers have developed a habit, born of self-preservation, of seeing themselves as an invaluable commodity by virtue of the fact that they and only they know how to speak English. Thus, they perpetuate a myth arising in the 60s and still holding true today in many countries that ‘learners of English can learn best from a native speaker teacher’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Few, if any, of these teachers ever sit back and reflect on how some of their non-native speaker colleagues have reached a standard of excellence in their profession without having spent any considerable length of time in an English-speaking country, nor been Cambridge ESOL or British Council trained. Native-speakers rarely commend their non-native speaker colleagues on these achievements, let alone bother to find out or understand how this achievement was attained. There is an air of desperate neo-colonialist arrogance.

All may not be lost. A minority of ‘travellers’ have stayed, taken whatever further training has been available, engaged in self-development, learned the mother tongue, and devoted themselves to their host countries. EFL has encompassed ‘caring and sharing’ and a host of other concepts borrowed from other disciplines, and indeed shared aspects of its own methodology with other subjects. More EFL teachers are going on to train, lecture and write. There are thriving English teachers’ organizations in many countries, as well as a proliferation of journals, seminars and conferences. The Internet has added a global dimension to collaboration.

There is a new and genuinely threatening problem. At one time, as far as teachers were concerned, TEFL was governed and administered by laypersons – entrepreneurs and administrators who knew nothing about education let alone teaching English. However, with the increasing need to teach our own people (and not just immigrants and refugees) the language, TEFL is falling under the influence of large, unwieldy governmental and quasi-governmental organizations whose aim is to shape the future of the nation, Europe, or indeed the world. Penny Ur’s assertion that ‘We are autonomous. Nobody else can tell us what to do’ is sadly no longer true, if indeed it ever was.

There are many examples of this process in action. The Council of Europe and ALTE seem dedicated to the standardisation of the measurement of language skills across Europe to the extent whereby Euro-youth will be seen carrying their language portfolios and language passports across national boundaries along with their European Union passports, Euro currency and ID cards. It follows then, that the main aim of much teaching will be examination orientated. This, if I am not mistaken, is a purely external motivation, which is likely not to promote creativity or originality amongst learners. On the other hand, under these circumstances, languages are likely to feature more prominently in the school curriculum, and it may well be that a new generation of language teachers will emerge who are pedagogically sound rather than methodologically innovative. I’m not at all sure where this will lead us. Possibly towards a more generally accepted status as professionals, but there remains the fact that teaching a means of communication and learning is very different from teaching an academic subject.

UCLES, or Cambridge ESOL as they would now rather be known, are another prime example, having transformed their own concept of British EFL and its export potential into a government-driven, inward-looking, multi-cultural ESL business. Cambridge have had to bastardise their internationally recognized acronyms for their teacher training courses, and invent new courses for which there are no acronyms to plug the gap between their own and the government’s perception of what an EFL/ESL teacher should be able to do and where they should be allowed to work in their own country. Meanwhile, there has been no attempt to differentiate between the second/foreign language strains of teaching, nor between the monolingual and multilingual classroom situation. One senses a cumbersome and makeshift adjustment, if not confusion and lack of direction.

And then there’s the British Council (which seems to have dropped the definite article and a lot of dots from its logo for some reason), an organization with charitable status and government funding which has both the mission and opportunity to promote British education (including language, methodology and materials) overseas, and yet seems to be intent on turning inwards, examining its own systems and masquerading as a business. On the ELT front, ‘the BC’ runs courses on behalf of Cambridge ESOL, and its own courses, very often-modified versions of CELTA and ICELT in an attempt to pass our own methodology on to non-native speakers. This seems in many ways to be a pointless exercise, not the least because in many institutions including the one in which I work, the best teaching is done by home-grown instructors who have found our methodology inappropriate to their monolingual teaching environment and have gone ahead and developed their own approach, and, more recently, their own high-quality materials. The British Council has many fine teachers and trainers around the world, who are being pushed into delivering standardised courses using uniform and copyright materials, only if their clients cannot be persuaded to receive their products online, by managers and bureaucrats ill-versed in ELT and seemingly unaware that teaching and training are done face to face and with flair and individualism. Such courses tend to resemble the Model T rather than the latest Peugeot or Volvo – ‘any colour as long as it’s black’. At a recent conference at the Izmir University of Economics, we witnessed a plenary session by a British Council ELT manager, which had no content, no cohesion, no conviction, and no rapport with the audience. Basically, we were told what the British Council’s plan for Turkey was. And it wasn’t new, and it wasn’t good.

In contrast, in, Izmir, not long before the same conference, in an excellent overview of where language teachers stand on the global platform, Rod Bolitho issued a number of couched warnings, including the amorphous umbrella influence of organizations such as the Council of Europe, the likelihood that in a decade’s time, nobody will be guaranteed a job for life, and the prediction made by Alvin Toffler in ‘Future Shock’ in the early 1980s, now a reality, that we are totally unprepared for the rate of change that we are experiencing in the 21st century. These messages imply a future that requires breadth of education with languages as pivotal subjects in the curriculum. As teachers, can we adjust?

So where do we go and what do we do beyond training to become 21st century teachers? One solution is to revert to basics in order to stabilize, readjust, take stock, and develop into professionals who fit not only their own self-image, but also the perception of those who judge the wants and needs of 21st century society. Beyond TEFL training lies teaching, but what characteristics does this new breed of professional exhibit?

  • Solid pedagogic training as well as specialist subject training.
  • A sound knowledge of the English language (including its phonological aspects, recent changes in the language, its varieties, and the influence of computer technology), and its cultural context.
  • Knowledge of another language and better still the language of the host country if working overseas.
  • The ability to identify and meet the needs of the learners in the host country.
  • The ability to manage people, space, time and resources.
  • The ability to teach the learners, not the book.
  • The ability to facilitate learning, not just to convey information.
  • A teaching persona.
  • A sense of vocation.

It is probably the last of these which is vital, because it is the caring, motivated teacher who will acquire and develop the other characteristics over time, and will adjust to their prevailing learning environment. A colleague of mine, in a recent training session, drew the analogy between extrinsically/intrinsically-motivated students and extrinsically/ intrinsically motivated teachers. It is the intrinsically motivated teacher that we are after.

What is teaching, after all? I have a long list of definitions culled from books on education and from the Internet. Recently, I watched a lesson delivered by a middle-aged native speaker with serious health problems. The teacher had taken the trouble to find out about the welfare of individual students in his class, had turned a barren room into a stimulating learning environment, and taught a lesson which, though the TEFL methodology was occasionally skewed, contained language, culture, life experience and personalisation. The teacher taught from the heart, and it brought to mind perhaps the best definition of teaching that I have found, strangely enough from a school of equestrianism in France: ‘Teaching is a practice that allows the horse to learn something new, using know-how, tact and softness’.

This article first published May 2005                                      


What a nice paper! Thoroughly sensible. I'm glad to see that some of the more outre things I've been feeling as an academic are similar to what people are saying in the actual teaching institutions, particularly about the native speakers and the British Council.

Thank you

Vivian Cook (University of Newcastle).

Dear Mr Darn,
I've just read one of your papers - Beyond Training: Teaching - and the closest adjective I found to express an opinion about it was "exactly-what-I-was-looking-for".
I have faced a sort of glass-ceiling trying to develop myself in ELT here in Brazil, and when I started planning a trip abroad for doing so all I found was Cambridge-style manufacturers. I took a Celta and I'm alright with taking a Delta, but the thing is, is this it?  What I've been stewing about is, how can language schools in developing countries consider/demand this as a standard for teaching competencies? How can they require teachers to be native-speakers when some of my british Celta-peers didn't even know what a passive was?
Well, I'm sure many teachers have told you this before, but I just wanted to say that I sympathise and am looking for a sincere path to become a better teacher everyday. I was bored with the latest articles I found on the net, and yours made me feel enthusiastic again. Thanks!
Best regards
Willy C Cardoso
(teacher / teacher-trainer / DoS, Săo Paulo - Brazil)