For me, both as a teacher and a teacher trainer, one of the best parts of a teacher training course such as the Cambridge CELTA has always been the Teaching Practice (TP) component. Trainees have to teach ‘real EFL students’, be observed by their tutor, and get feedback on their lesson plans and their teaching.
On the courses I run, each trainee has eight TPs to teach: six 45-minute lessons and two 60-minute ones. Although there is a fair amount of input on teaching methodology, language awareness (grammar, lexis, pronunciation), lesson planning, etc. being given throughout the one-month intensive course, I often see real progress taking place through having the trainees actually put the theory into practice, taking on board the given feedback and improving on their teaching over the eight TP lessons.
As one month is not a very long time to train a new teacher from scratch, TPs often start three to four days into the course. Of course, trainees are not expected to deliver model lessons on their first go.
However, it is not uncommon for trainees to be extremely concerned with grades and with passing/failing the lessons, and so my trainees, for example, are often told, ‘To pass your first TP, simply get the students talking lots, be a good party host, and avoid running out of the classroom crying. Everything else, we can work on from there on.’
But how much help should the tutor then give the trainees in terms of planning their lessons before each TP?
In the school I worked for, there was an allocated slot of time (usually about an hour) every day for Supervised Lesson Planning (SLP). Trainees used this time to liaise with their TP groups about the lessons that they would be teaching and to approach their tutors with any questions they might have and any problems they might encounter when planning for their lessons.
In addition to SLP, on some courses, trainees would be given TP points – a rough guide detailing the part of the prescribed course book they had to plan their lesson from. This formed the ‘backbone’ of their lesson plan.
However, how detailed and specific should TP points be?
‘Follow the template and pass the course’
On one end of the continuum, there are tutors who believe that if we throw trainees in at the deep end, they would have no idea what to do and would make a mess of their lessons.
These are tutors who believe that trainees who are new to teaching are incapable of knowing the difference between good and bad teaching and so need to be told exactly what to do, tutors who believe that trainees can’t be asked to improvise and adapt or create their own materials because they are simply not ready yet. After all, you can’t teach a child to run before they can walk…
Such tutors might prefer to give their trainees a more detailed and comprehensive list of TP points for trainees to simply implement in their lesson plans, so that they can focus on the execution of it.
‘Find your own way, and we’ll help you make it even better’
Other tutors, on the other hand, might be of the belief that we are not here to train new teachers to become mini versions of ourselves. Nor are we here to ensure that all trainees are replicas of the CELTA way (I often hear about this mysterious ‘CELTA way’ that we supposedly indoctrinate new teachers into).
By giving trainees too detailed instructions, one could curb any learning that might come about through experimentation and making mistakes of their own.
After all, the job of the teacher trainer could be seen as one that involves helping trainees become aware of what methods, activities, and practice might be more effective for their students and why, and provide guidance on working on the parts that might not be as effective.
Such tutors might believe that we should allow room for the freedom and creativity of trainees to interpret and adapt course book materials, and even source non-prescribed materials if they feel it fits their students’ needs.
Whether you are a trainer, a trainee, a newly qualified teacher, or an experienced teacher, where do you stand on this continuum?
Do we practice what we preach?
As a language learner and a language teacher, do you believe in:
- Learning by experimenting, rather than by being told what to do?
- Learning by doing tasks independently?
- Learning by making mistakes? Learning by getting feedback on your performance?
- Learning by exploring and having fun?
When thinking about teacher training, do you apply the same principles and attitudes? Why/Why not?
As a teacher trainer, do you believe that CELTA trainees…
- Need to have their hands firmly held, especially at the beginning of the course.
- Need to be taught to use a prescribed course book/ course material well, rather than wasting time searching for other materials for their practice lessons?
- Need to be rid of their mistaken beliefs and their bad habits, and rehabilitated to teach the ‘right way’?
How does the training you provide reflect your beliefs about learning?