#IATEFL Days 1&2–Rethinking Teacher Training

Another theme that has connected talks and sessions I have attended so far is that of teacher training. How can we do it most effectively? What changes can we make to initial teacher training to make it better? How can we ensure teachers continue their training beyond those introductory courses and stay in the profession? Big questions with no easy answers but it is important to think about them.

In the final session of day 1, I attended the British Council signature event, which consisted of a panel of John Tomsett, a head teacher from a school in York, Ines Miller, an associate professor involved in teacher training in Brazil, and Anthony Gaughan, an ‘unplugged’ teacher trainer based in Berlin.

British Council Signature Event Panel Discussion

This line-up naturally provided three quite different perspectives from three different contexts. This was a point Anthony emphasised when analysing issues with CELTA and similar training courses – he trains people in a specific context in Germany in which it is impossible to ‘prepare’ people to teach anywhere in the world. Willy Cardoso also focused on this area during his talk ( ) on day 2. No two CELTA or Trinity Cert courses can be the same. Even if they have the same syllabus, the differing contexts of location, the size of the trainee cohort, and the backgrounds, cultural and linguistic, of the people involved (trainees and trainers) all have an effect.

The fact is, in an ELT context, initial teacher training courses are very brief, too brief in fact. Willy got us to do the calculations – a typical CELTA runs for 120 hours and has 6 hours of teaching practice. That’s 5% of the course…. Think about it – only 5% of what is already a short course is being spent in the classroom in the role of a teacher.

Another issue is support. Groups like the British Council and International House have support programmes in place for newly-qualified teachers but these are the exceptions. In an unregulated global ‘industry’ such as ELT (not a phrasing I am happy with but I’ll come back to it later) there are simply too many private entities, too many small independent language schools in too many locations to keep track of. Most of them offer little or no support to new teachers beyond perhaps observation from the DoS or informal mentoring from a senior teacher..

This in turn leads to more problems. There is a high dropout rate in the ‘profession’ (again, not a phrase I am happy with but one I will come back to), not just language teaching but in education in general. Anthony put it like this:

Willy made the point that courses like CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL are labelled as ‘introductory’ courses and yet only 10% of people who complete those courses go on to the higher-level diploma qualifications. Many quit language teaching within two years and others continue teaching for a long time with only that ‘introductory’ training qualification.

This can create a perception that getting into language teaching is easy. You do a 4-week course and that’s it. That raises questions of quality, and that word in turn has implications. Anthony posed the question of what we mean by ‘quality’ – an artistic, creative quality or expression or an industrial mark of perfection and conformity? (That is why the term ‘professional industry’ is not one I am a fan of).

So what’s the solution? That was the main focus of Willy’s talk. His first suggestion was to increase the number of teaching practice hours from 6 to 12. This allows for different styles of teaching such as team teaching and it also allows time for the trainee to be in class with his/her students without being observed every single second. It also provides time for trainees to repeat lessons giving them the chance to reflect and improve, as they would when working full-time.

He also promoted the idea of grounding the teaching practice in theory. Not ‘methods’ like PPP or other ways to structure a lesson but actual theories of how people learn. This connected to another theme from the panel of trying to ensure the training experience is personalised. If we can do this, those new teachers will go on to offer their students personalised learning. This in turn can have a knock-on effect for our students as they interact and converse with people from outside the language learning context (something emphasised by Candy van Olst in her talk on driving deeper learning through conversation).

In teacher training as in language teaching, the emphasis can often be too much on the course content and not enough on the people within the room. It is there in that space that exists between the people that learning can happen through interaction. If we can equip teachers and learners alike with the critical thinking capabilities to analyse, reflect, theorise, and apply their understanding, we can ensure education takes place in  a much more effective manner. The fact is teachers need 'people skills'. They need the intrapersonal skills to reflect within themselves and the interpersonal skills to connect with others.

The most important thing to do is to think. Think about what we do and why. Analyse the status quo and assess it. It may well be that we ultimately decide to continue as we are but the important thing is to question things and not just accept them because that is how it always has been. That is as true for teaching as it is for teacher training.


  1. Sounds like an interesting set of talks. I really like Willy's idea of increasing the amount of TP on training courses. However, it's very difficult to find students for the 6 hours that trainees currently have to do, and I have no idea where they would come from if you had to double that amount of time :s

  2. Hi Sandy,

    Willy didn't mention any troubles on that front and also stated that the students appreciated the extra time with their teachers.

    I recently learned that some places charge the students to attend these classes with trainee teachers. I don't know if that is common practice or not but surely one way to increase numbers would be to offer the places for free. :)

  3. Hi David,
    I don't know anywhere that charges the students and doesn't pay the money back. They either get the classes for free or they pay a very minimal deposit which is returned to them if they've attended at least 80% of the classes - this encourages students in some places to be more consistent about their attendance. I'm not sure where Willy is doing his classes, but I know getting TP students is a constant struggle in a lot of places. I'm sure they would appreciate extra time with their teachers, but that depends on when they are available too - many of the TP students I've had have come to class before or straight after work, so even if they wanted to stay for longer they wouldn't be able to.

    1. The deposit system sounds like a good idea to ensure participation. The whole business side of schools is something I have been trying to get my head round with my new job. It certainly gives a different perspective on some of the decisions that are made!


Post a comment

Thanks for commenting! Your comment will appear after Dave has approved it. :-)