Running a 4-week initial teacher training course, such as the Trinity Cert TESOL, is extremely rewarding but also rather draining.
Rewarding because your guidance and support allows your fledgling teachers to spread their wings and fly unaided by the end of the course.
Draining because you also have to deal with the inevitable emotional stress and strain that trainee teachers experience as they find themselves out of their comfort zone.
When the moderator arrives on the final day of the course, my own nerves are at breaking point. Trainee teachers rarely fluff their lines in the Materials Assignment interview (when they reflect on and evaluate a set of self-created materials) but a nagging voice at the back of my mind keeps reminding me that human beings are always capable of shooting themselves in the foot.
In the end, all but one of the trainees passed the course. One had to be referred due to a series of unfortunate events which I’m not going to discuss here.
The course finished a couple of weeks ago and in this post I’d just like to note down a few random observations which emerged and have been swirling around my head ever since.
Before the course
How do we access somebody’s suitability for the training course and teaching English here in Spain?
Trainee teachers come in all shapes and sizes. Even when I took my course (over two decades ago), I was surprised by how few of us fitted the TEFL stereotype of the student looking to explore the world and ‘find myself man’. The stereotype still persists of course, which is why I wonder how many people – who could potentially make effective teachers – decide the course is not for them. Maybe it’s time to stop including so many young, attractive, perfectly-groomed young people in images advertising TEFL courses. Let’s find some older and less aesthically-pleasing to pose in front of whiteboards holding fake certificates.
On a more serious note, one of the trainees on the course really struggled with the demands of the course. Does it really need to be so stressful and overloaded with content?
During the course
One of the challenges facing course designers, directors and trainers is ensuring that content is covered and assessment is standardised. My co-trainer and I agree about lots of aspects related to teaching and learning. However, the trainees did mention that their trainers differed in terms of their assessment criteria. They were too polite to go into details but I have an idea of where our differences reside.
Which begs the question: to what extend should assessment criteria be standardised and consistent? We talk a great deal about individual learning differences but what about individual teaching differences?
Shove a group of EFL teachers in a room with plenty of alcohol and ask them to discuss their beliefs, opinions and experiences of language teaching and learning. You’d have them at each other’s throats in no time.
Time for a confession. I find myself promoting teaching techniques, approaches and strategies to trainees which I rarely use in my own teaching and doubt whether they result in effective teaching. The problem is that skills development is not a linear process. As our skills develop, we find ourselves discarding techniques which have served us well in the past and becoming passionate advocates of approaches which sound great in theory but fall flat in practice.
After the course
On the whole, I am fairly pleased with and proud of the training course I have designed. It is informed by second language acquisition research; it’s dynamic and practical, and the trainee teachers learn how to plan and deliver lessons which the learner (the Spanish students who attend the teaching practice classes) enjoy. Whether they really benefit from the classes is another matter; at the very least, they get lots of speaking practice.
Like most TEFL / TESOL courses, broadly speaking we train our teachers in the Communicative Approach to language learning. However, when I talk to local teachers working in private academies in Spain, I’m concerned by what I hear. Most academies sell exam preparation classes which means that lots of teachers seem to be teaching exam strategies and asking learners to do lots of controlled practice exercises. Authentic communicative tasks seem to be on the wane.
So, that’s my main worry. Is our training course really preparing teachers for the reality of teaching English in private academies in Spain? I’m not sure.