This post is really about two things. Firstly, it’s about the state of ELT as a profession:
I think many of us struggle with status as ELT professionals. The industry is changing, the role of the teacher is shifting, technology is bringing about big changes and corporations are seeing education as an industry of opportunity, ripe for disruption. As Carol Read said in her plenary at TESOL France at the weekend, there is good reason why teachers feel threatened and concerned about these changes. But why the insecurity in these times of change?
Let’s think first about how we got here in the first place. There are very low barriers to entry in teaching, and especially in the case of ELT. I’m sure many of us started out our lives as teachers with little more than a solid implicit grasp of the language we teach. Maybe, if we were lucky, we had a bit of input from a cheap teacher training courses, and those among us that were able to afford it, or were required to in order to work in the country that they intended to live, paid for a 20 day intensive CELTA or equivalent up front (unless of course you’re a non-native teacher, in which case you probably have a 3 year undergrad in English and maybe a post grad qualification in education or teaching!). It’s common knowledge that most native speaker teachers fell into ELT by luck, through random encounters or through a love of travel or a person who happened to live in a country that we travelled through. Most of us gave teaching a try, and probably liked it enough to get pretty good at it and to maybe educate ourselves in the whys and hows of what we did each day in front of a class. It’s only a very small percentage of us who have even spent even a single full time year engaging in education that lead us into the job we do. So, let it be clear, this is not a profession like law or medicine.
To be a profession, as well as barriers to entry, we should share a core body of knowledge that is accessible to those within the profession, but hard to digest for those outside of it. I think Russ Mayne’s talk at IATEFL this year showed just how flimsy this core body of knowledge is in our case. Learning styles and multiple intelligences are taught in CELTA despite there being no evidence in favour of their existence, and how many of us can be sure that the way that we work is the tried and tested best way that we can aid language acquisition, objectively speaking?
If we could be replaced by someone without any qualifications, or by an app or algorithm, teachers probably have every right to feel concerned, on a personal level and as an industry, about the way things are going.
Secondly, this post is about who to be angry at if you’re not happy with the state of the ELT profession:
Yesterday on a post on ELTjam, there was a comment (and surrounding facebook comments) suggesting that nobody should be able to become a teacher without the right qualifications, that teaching is a mix of art and science to be honed. That an online TEFL was woefully inadequate in preparing someone to be an ELT teacher, and that it should be the individual teacher’s responsibility to qualify themselves to at least a CELTA standard before they embark on a career in ELT teaching. To me, and in fact all of us here at ELTjam, this seemed like the wrong place to be directing anger and concern, and the wrong forum.
The first issue here is that we’re not like doctors and lawyers, and barriers to entry and professional standards to match would be unnecessary and redundant. There are many language schools that only employ CELTA or even DELTA qualified teachers around the world. They are prohibitively expensive for the majority of the population in those countries and cater just to the wealthy and connected. There are other schools which sell the promise of improved proficiency through contact with ‘native speakers’. There are schools who use great local teachers and those who use terrible ones. There are many problems with the way English language teaching and learning is managed around the world, and one of them may very well be the lack of status and barriers to entry as a profession. But to criticise those moving towards a career as teachers for the failing of teachers to build a solid and stable profession is completely misdirected. If the profession won’t regulate entry, it’s hardly fair that we’d expect wannabe teachers to be the ones to do so.
The other issue is that many, if not most of us benefitted from the barriers to entry being as they are, and feel that we do well as ELT professionals. Personally, I taught for 6 months in Turkey with no qualifications whatsoever before I did my CELTA out there. I was definitely terrible at certain aspects of my job, but I was great at other bits, even without the training. Doing the CELTA those 6 months later taught me a huge amount and I gained more from it than many of my peers who had never taught before and were primarily concerned with understanding the present perfect and feeling nervous about standing in front of a load of strangers. So my advice might well be, don’t fork out £1000 on a CELTA unless you know you really want to be an ELT teacher. But then if you’re sure you really want to, you’ll benefit massively from investing that cash. And I very much doubt I’m the only one who would give this advice.
So in times of change, (like now, and like always throughout history) if we don’t feel secure in our status as professionals, what can we do? What is it that really sets us apart and makes us valuable? How are we moving forward and adapting to change? Any anger or frustration in being unable to answer these questions should be focused into the industry, not at those looking to move towards it.
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