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Qualifications matter

May 15, 2007

Hello again,
It only takes a mention of the belief that teachers should be formally qualified to bring out the anti-qualifications brigade. I am not convinced. I firmly believe teachers...

... need training before they are let loose on students. That is not to say that I believe training is everything; I accept that some people are natural teachers I also believe that experience helps make us more effective. But training is the starting point.

What really astounds me is that the ELT world, unlike most other forms of teaching, seems to be content with minimal training, namely a four-week course. So, as far as I am concerned the training of teachers in our field is decidedly on the light side. In insisting on a teaching qualification, therefore, schools are hardly making unreasonable demands.

Why undergo training at all? For the teacher the training period is the opportunity to learn from mistakes. We don’t get everything right first time and why should learners suffer from incompetent teachers? During training we can find out what works and what doesn’t and we can ask questions and get expert feedback on our performance.

We have the opportunity to examine theory and see how best to put it into practice. We can learn about ourselves: our strengths and weaknesses as teachers. We can experiment with techniques and learn how to plan and pace lessons.

I have some experience of learning (not a language) from a teacher who is excellent at the skill she wishes to teach but is obviously not a trained teacher. She doesn’t understand that each new stage in the learning should be framed as a positive step so as to boost the learners’ confidence. Instead she always tells that “this is really difficult” or “you won’t get this right”. We feel doomed before we start. She would make her learners more motivated if she said: “now you are ready to move to the next level; it may take longer but we can take as long as it needs.” Furthermore, she directs her entire teaching to the weakest students, making the rest of us bored and feeling we are not making progress. If she had been trained she would not make these mistakes. I now feel that I learn despite my teacher not because of her. And no student should feel like that.

Teaching is a subtle art; it can’t be learnt in a short period but it involves an enormous amount of understanding about the learning process, about to give feedback, about motivation and much, much more. Without training a teacher will muddle through but an untrained teacher can harm learners in many ways. I believe our students deserve better and that teachers need more, not less training.

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  1. Lee Says:

    Hi Brenda,

    Once again, a very good topic for discussion.

    Any of us "teachers" who think we know it all, should probably consider early retirement. Learning is a lifelong process and, if we teach that to our students, we need to practice what we preach by staying abreast in our field and learning/trying new things.

    I too am quite skeptical about how much of the teaching field can be crammed into one person's mind over a four-week period whether it is an online course, a televised course, or an on-site course. I realize that we all have to begin somewhere, and such courses are a great orientation to the profession, but it can only really be the beginning, not the terminal point in teaching training. I hope that international ESL schools will eventually raise their hiring standards and outcome expectations, for the sake of the students.

    I look forward to what your other readers have to say.


  1. dee Says:

    I am working on a graduate degree and I am also a wannabe ESL teacher. Since I do not have classes this summer, I thought it might be a good time to pick up ESL certification and in the fall possibly begin tutoring international students who are studying at my university.

    From the comments on ESL forums, it seems the Cambridge CELTA and Trinity courses are desirable and highly respected by employers.

    In your professional opinion, would you recommend them? I am considering taking a month off and either taking a 4-week course in the UK or Prague. In addition to training, it would give me opportunity to spend some time in another country (I am from the USA), which in itself would be an experience for me.

    Thank you for this site. I enjoy reading the comments from actual teachers.


  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    Hello Dee,

    I think your plan to take a 4-week course (no matter where) is excellent. First you would have experience of another country, which is immensely helpful for "global" ELT tachers. Secondly, it would qualify you to get a foot in the door of ELT and so start your progress to see how your career might develop. Even if you eventually wish to teach back home in the USA, the new training and experience would widen your horizons and make you a teacher who could really claim to have seen the wider world.

  1. Dan Says:

    Hi Brenda,

    It is a tricky situation, but overall, I'd have to agree with you. We all know well-trained teachers who are simply terrible and we (or at least I) know some wonderful teachers with only on the job training (sink or swim instruction). However, when looking for professionals to work for our schools and work alongside of us, credentials suggest that they have taken that extra step to understand not only their immediate classroom, but also the field in which they practice.

    In response to Dee. The CELTA is a wonderful introduction to the field. I never regretted beginning my training with that program and it certainly doesn't hurt when looking for jobs. As for me, I found my appetite whetted by the program and it motivated me to pursue further education. It is a modest investment of time and money in the long run and simply can't hurt.


  1. dee Says:

    Brenda and Dan,

    Thank you both for your opinions.

    I now face the somewhat overwhelming (and exciting) task of choosing a program. There are a number of CELTA courses offered in several countries and I wonder if they are all equal in value. The Cambridge CELTA at International House in London looks like it might be a good one, but then I need to weigh it against the 'cultural experience' I might gain by studying in a non-English speaking country.

    Before I make my final decision, I would be interested in knowing if anyone has had a personal experience at one of the CELTA centers.

    Also, the Trinity TESOL certificates are also 4-week programs and I would like to know if they are considered equivalent to the CELTA. There is a Trinity course offered in Istanbul that sounds awfully exciting to a woman from a rural area in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. ;-)


  1. Liz Says:

    I agree CELTA is a good program but why is this any better than the 4 week TEFL programmes. When laid side by side the components are the same.
    I understood these were both franchises so why shouldone be better than the other?

  1. Frank Says:

    Hello Brenda,
    At the age of 59 I decided that I might enjoy tefl
    I did a 4 week tefl preparatory course at a college in England, followed by an 11 week CELTA course at Chichester College in Sussex, England.
    The courses were done for two reasons; to get qualified, and to see if I would enjoy teaching.
    I know that several institutions offer 4 week CELTA courses, but I found that I was worked very hard for the full 11 weeks to attain my certificate.I have now been teaching for just over a year and enjoy it enormously.

  1. Ed Says:

    In response to the need for a four-week learning to teach program.

    I was a teacher in California and have taught English for four years in Budapest. Many employers still will not consider my application, as I do not show a four-week training class on my CV.


  1. Susan Says:

    I think that early and continual training (and also self-reflection) are important if you are going to take on the responsibility to teach someone a new language. Also, there is a significant learning curve for becoming an educator no matter how natural you are. And intent is important as well.

    I've taught ESL in public schools for over ten years, and I still learn different ways of doing things (and a question, would I be qualified to teach ESOL internationally?).

    Also, I think it is important to know the research on language acquisition -- Cummins, Krashen, Chomsky, etc. And you have to learn how to be attuned to subtle clues students will be giving you as to their needs, and ways to remedy all sorts of situations that can occur in a classroom. This can only be done with knowledge and experience.

  1. Ian Says:

    Hi Brenda:

    This is a great topic for discussion. Indeed, great or even good teachers are rare. However this does not mean that the others have to be terrible or horrible. Good sound training is key to creating a good or at very least decent learning environment for students as well as teachers.

    All of us have learned along the way from good teachers somewhere along the way.


  1. indah Says:

    An interesting and timely discussion ! I have a B.A. and post graduate Diploma in Education and taught English and History at high schools. I left the profession to start a business, and , after 20 years away from teaching, I decided to return to the profession.
    I did the 4 week Trinity course to refresh my teaching qualifications and obtain E.S.L.accreditation.
    I have just completed a one year contract at a school in Asia which is part of a large international franchise.
    As an experienced, qualified teacher I was appalled at the generally low standard of teaching by poorly qualified teachers, many of whom were not even university graduates. My colleagues were not particularly lazy or unmotivated, just insufficiently trained .
    It seems to me that the 4 week courses meet the needs of the highly lucrative E.S.L. industry, but fall well short of minimumal professional requirments.

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