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A Professional View Of Teacher
Training & Development
by Frank Farmer
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These gatekeeper and policing activities are not necessarily misplaced in institutions that value teacherly lore and skills. The teaching and learning of languages does in fact proceed, with some degree of success. Arguably, it is through the dedication of practicing teachers engaging in their own development that the teaching of languages comes closest to being a truly professional activity. It is a heartening thought, but unfortunately quite unfounded.

The problem with teacher craft is that it mainly serves the needs of teachers, and teacher needs are not the same as learner needs. Teachers need to be able to plan their work so that it fits into a working day, and carry out activities that make sense to them, both instinctively and in accordance with their preferred reading. Perhaps the gap between teacher and learner needs in a professional sense can best be illustrated by considering a short scenario, a hypothetical situation.

A learner enrolls in a school of English, is assigned to a group, attends faithfully and does all that the teacher asks, but makes poor progress and fails the final exam. Meanwhile, unknown to the teacher, the student has obtained a place in a British university and only needs an average score of 6.5 in IELTS to confirm both funding and the university place. On the strength of being enrolled in an English course in a good (and expensive) school, the student books an IELTS test but fails to achieve the required score. The teacher is in court facing charges of negligence and incompetence.

The law sets great store by the views of the reasonable person, and like everyone else, judges’ images of the reasonable person are modeled on him or herself. It will therefore occur to their lordships to ask the following questions:

  • What did the teacher do to discover the client’s purpose for taking classes?
  • What did the teacher do to ascertain whether the course offered might assist in those goals?
  • What did the teacher do to discover the client’s learning ability, limitations and potential?
  • What did the teacher do to discover the client’s starting level?
  • What did the teacher do to estimate whether the client’s goals could be achieved in the light of the above?
  • What did the teacher do to facilitate the use of learner abilities and minimize the effect of learner limitations?
  • What did the teacher do to keep progress towards the goal under review?
  • What did the teacher do to communicate clearly with the client the likelihood of reaching their goal?

Arguably, this is the professional agenda, and neither academic courses nor practical experience prepare teachers to deliver this service.

The case for professionalizing ELT

The scenario above gives a context for what we really do know how to do. Managing classroom or self access or ESP situations, organizing activities for meaningful communication, conceptualizing language and language learning, and writing objectives in such a way that their achievement can be verified are really difficult activities and we are good at them. As it happens, scattered around the literature there is a good deal of information on good practice in diagnosis. The rest is just administration, and it is not beyond the wit of able practitioners to learn to do it. So perhaps it can be accepted the professionalism is achievable and that our teacher, with suitable training, could give their lordships rational answers and expect colleagues to confirm them.

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