If we take care of the teachers, they will take care of the students

Part of my role at work is to facilitate and plan the development of teachers.

It is not an easy role. The most challenging part is to convince teachers that any development plans we have are there to help them become better in our particular context. It is not about keeping them busy in order to make the boss look good, or for creating fancy reports at the end of the year. That is certainly not the intention.

However, without taking the context fully into consideration, no policy, no matter how good, will work.

Over the years, I have realised that teachers are not only motivated by different goals, in fact their motivation and performance in class is affected by wider issues.

If teachers are having a hard time at work generally, such as for example low pay or apparent lack of support from administration, such as unrealistic curriculum goals, or even problems at home and other personal issues, professional development will fail.

In addition to this, if students are used to judge teachers via student surveys, and the results are not nuanced or balanced by other considerations, teachers are bound to feel hard done by.

Fundamentally, what I have realised, is that we need to find out more about what is going on with teachers at an individual level, both professional and personal, before we can make judgements about their classroom performance.

Teachers typically come into the profession due to their want and need to help and support students, and to feel the satisfaction of having impacted on the future. They are also naturally creative, and do not need ‘us’ to teach them how to teach. They already know how to teach. We should be there to lend a helping hand and to provide support to help them become even better.

We rarely ask teachers about their classes and the challenges they face. How often do we give space to teachers to even question the instruments that are used to measure their performance?

A multiplicity of factors impact teaching adversely. An unhappy teacher will result in an unhappy student.

If we see them as merely a tool for reporting performance, then we have failed them.

Fundamentally, the message I am trying to convey here very briefly, is that teachers are the treasure that educational institutions cannot do without. We need to find out more about their needs and desires, and appreciate their talents and experiences.

Providing professional development (PD) in a vacuum without addressing other work and non-work issues results in ineffective PD.

Once the teachers feel that we are taking care of their needs, teachers will be able to start taking care of their students, which of course is the ultimate goal of education.

 

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You’re a scholar. You just don’t know it.

Very often, many of us, no matter what our field of specialism, read articles, books, watch documentaries, and hope that we might learn something from them.

There is probably someone well known in your field, someone who is respected, and considered an authority, whom you admire and look up to. For some of us, we’re in awe of these people. Their thinking, their ideas, their creativity. It seems that they’re a million miles away from us in terms of achievement. We’ll probably never hit those dizzying heights, you might think. In reality though, they’re just as human as the rest of us, the only difference being that someone gave them the idea of writing about what they know.

But, what if I said to you, that you probably had something more valuable to add. An angle that has never been explored before, something in your context, that an authority thousands of miles away does not know about? An experience that can’t be had anywhere else, may be an experience or situation that makes a difference?

When I think of my colleagues and the many educational professionals I’ve met over the years, I often wonder what it would be like if they wrote about everything they did. What if they reproduced every lesson plan or every activity they ever did. How successful was it? Was it a total failure? What could others learn from it? I’m sure that you’ve read books and articles where you thought that something wasn’t quite right, may be there was a mistake, or you were left wondering that something didn’t make sense. The reality is, that you can do better. All of your knowledge and experience, is locked away in your brain, destined to disappear with you.  That’s a waste. But what if you decided to write it up, imagine all of those things that you’ve done. It could probably turn into something the size of an encyclopedia. It would have worth and value, because others could learn from it.

I once met Krashen, a well known linguist from the US. He came to talk to us about the problems of over assessment and how it had a detrimental affect on learners and learning. He had (has) a real issue with standardised assessment. Although I could agree with what he said in principle, in the context I worked in, standardised assessment was a godsend. It was an independent measure, that allowed everyone to be assessed on an equal footing. It added credibility to a system that was still going through developmental and growing pains. It added fairness to the system, something that was in total contrast to what Krashen was saying. We can talk about this issue some other time, but the point is, that he did not take into account the context he found himself in. He was in effect repeating what he had been saying, back home.  Great idea, wrong context. YOU know more about your context.

Apologies for going on a bit. You have knowledge and you have experience. These are all valid. Your knowledge and experience is worth sharing. As we continue through life, we accumulate knowledge, to which we constantly make adjustments in order to improve on an idea. Something didn’t work before, we discard it. If something did, we use it again, and modify it if necessary. I’m sure everyone’s doing this in their daily lives.

To cut a long story short, wherever you are in the world, whatever your  field, whatever your language, your experience and knowledge has worth and value. You don’t need to have an amazing, ground breaking idea, it can be something simple. Whatever it is, what you have to say counts. YES, you are a scholar, and don’t let anyone else make you think otherwise.

Please share your ideas with the world, and make it a better place.

The problem with teaching language through integrated skills

Many of the books that we use to teach English nowadays, combine the skills. Although this seems to be in vogue, as someone on the ground, I wish there was more time to focus more on one particular skill.

Although integrated skills are meant to reflect the reality of language use, they fail to take into account a learners trajectory. When learning a new language, it takes time to master a particular skill.

Many teachers are not in control of their teaching schedules, and are likely following one that is centrally produced. My experience has been, that lower level learners are left struggling, and those above do not get enough time to practice. This becomes even more apparent when teachers have a finite amount of time to cover a course, and they are under pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially if they work in a large organisation.

Basically, as a practitioner, I believe that the introduction of integrated skills should happen at a later stage when learners have a stronger foundation in the new language.

This is no sentimental hark back to the past, it’s a genuine concern of someone who is teaching day-in-day-out.

Is anyone listening out there? What do you think?