Lead by example.
A – We can’t train them in the same way we expect them to teach.
B – Why not?
This little conversation shows a lot about the beliefs which underpin the two speakers’ attitudes to teacher training, does it not? One of them thinks training should, at least in part, exemplify how teachers should behave with their learners. I.e. as people. The other thinks these things are unimportant, perhaps because the trainees should be expected to know this already? Or because what we do as trainers doesn’t translate into the classroom?
This is part of a conversation which was overheard at a recent conference and I think it is interesting to analyse it further.
Teacher as tester/torturer.
I believe that we should treat our trainees with the same respect and understanding as we treat our students. Dishing out huge amounts of input on grammar at the start of a course surrounded by a discourse of “difficulty” and “stress” is only going to lead trainees to the belief that language learning should be painful, that grammar is hard and is to be suffered.
Surely it is better to introduce trainees to the idea that grammar is not the be-all and end-all of language learning from Day One of their course (or perhaps even before in the pre-course material?). It took me a while to learn this lesson and I so wish I had been guided their from the start of my career, because once I had learnt that grammar is not the only path, I became a much more effective teacher.
On some pre-service courses, language awareness is measured via an assignment, whereas some use a test. Setting an assignment shows a different attitude to assessment than testing: it allows for a more open approach to learning about the grammar of the English language, I.e. not cramming for a test under high pressure conditions, but learning and analysing and learning to analyse. Surely what we, as teachers, need to do, and need to do well? I have worked on courses which use both methods, and I can happily say that I would prefer my trainees to develop their own research skills whilst writing an assignment than getting stressed about sitting a test.
When trainees who are following the testing route are planning their lessons, they will have the memory of the test in mind, and they will plan accordingly. They are likely to come out with comments in class such as “This is hard, isn’t it?” and thereby compound this belief for the learners. When they go out into teaching world once they have completed the course, they will be more likely to teach according to a grammar syllabus, whether from a course book or self-created.
This, in my opinion, is leading them in the wrong direction because Second Language Acquisition research shows that language learning is not linear, as grammar syllabuses are, and we all know that grammar is not the be all and end all of language teaching.
That is not to say that I think, sorry B thinks, that grammar knowledge and language awareness is not in the domain of a teacher, or a teacher trainee, or a teacher training programme. Of course it should be. But how we go about introducing our trainees to this area needs to be considered in light of what we know about language acquisition.
You can lead a bull to water?
So why not train how we teach? Surely leading by example is a good thing, even if the trainees don’t follow our lead, which they are entitled not to. However, acting as if we are the font of all knowledge and holder of all power, and that grammar precedes all else, at the end of the course we are not likely to end up with teachers who are student-centred and who view learning as more important than teaching. We need to view our training courses, and our explicit and implicit training strategies carefully in order to ensure that we are setting the clearest example of what language learning and teaching is all about.
B has her work cut out for her.