At the beginning of TEFL teacher training books and teacher training courses like the CELTA, questions like ‘What is the role of a TEFL teacher?’ are often asked to help the trainer better gauge the candidate’s attitude towards teaching. Sometimes we offer tasks that require candidates to metaphorically compare the TEFL teacher to jobs like ‘driving instructor’, ‘tour guide’, ‘crocodile wrangler’, ‘exorcist’, etc.
Inevitably, we would throw words like ‘presenter’, ‘disciplinarian’ or ‘lecturer’ into the mix, only to jump on them when they pick these ‘teacher-centred’ roles. The conversation usually goes like this:
Trainer: Which of these do you think best describe the role of a teacher? Remember, there is no correct answer. We just want to know how you see things.
Trainee: (internal monologue: The only one in the list that is remotely related to education is ‘lecturer’. Maybe that’s the correct answer.) I think ‘Lecturer’.
Trainer: (internal monologue: Wrong answer!) Hmm… Do you really think so? Why?
Trainee: Because a lecturer is knowledgeable about the subject and can teach the students what he/she knows.
Trainer: Ah! Do you think a teacher’s job is to impart knowledge then?
Trainer: (internal monologue: Wrong answer!) Hmm… So you think the students are merely passive receivers of the knowledge then?
Trainee: (internal monologue: Damn! That was a wrong answer! Backpedal!) No, that would be extremely teacher-centred. No, I think a teacher should be like a driving instructor. We guide the students and show them how to do things and they try it out by doing it.
Trainer: (internal monologue: Bingo! Correct answer!)
While we purport to be flexible, liberal-minded practitioners who are all about handing power over to our students/trainees/clients, are we being inflexible and prescriptive when it comes to waxing lyrical about the roles a TEFL teacher ought to fulfill?
Are all lecturers necessarily boring and self-obsessed?
Do all lecturers not allow for group work and student-talking time?
I personally know some lecturers who are very student-centred and are exciting to listen to, while I have also heard of some CELTA-trained teachers who don’t necessarily hand over to students in the most motivating way.
Could it not be a matter of the teacher/lecturer’s personality?
Is there no point in the lesson where the teacher should clarify the students’ doubts by presenting a language point, or by leading their exploration of it?
Do the skills of a good presenter not come into play in such scenarios?
I’m sure an in-company corporate trainer disciplining a class of 40-year-old executives for not doing their homework would be absolutely uncalled for, and even bordering on unsympathetic and dictatorial.
But what if the teacher is in charge of a class of 40 rowdy 16-year-olds? Should we apply the same roles to the secondary school teacher?
Is it not a matter of teaching context?
I once knew a teacher who felt that his choice to come into the TEFL world did not equate a choice to take on pastoral care duties. Students who came forward with their family problems and relationship issues would panic him. Students who wanted to chat with him after class would make him uncomfortable. And he would never said yes to students who asked him to join them at the local pub.
To some teachers, this was completely unacceptable. They didn’t understand why he would become a teacher if he didn’t want the roles that come with the job. They saw teaching as a noble profession that involved the giving of oneself and one’s time. To not love your students was an unthinkable crime.
But just for argument’s sake, let’s consider his point of view.
TEFL teachers are not trained to deal with pastoral care issues. Giving unwanted or misleading advice to vulnerable adults could have serious consequences, not just for the student involved, but also for the teacher and the school.
TEFL teachers are not paid to continue teaching or counseling students after office hours. In fact, TEFL teachers are not paid enough as it is. So why should they be obliged to put in any extra hours for nothing?
Is he being cold and unfeeling for thinking that way?
Is this point of view incompatible with the beliefs and values that we uphold in the TEFL world?
So, then what is the role of a TEFL teacher?
Are we there to provide language training and nothing else?
About English Teaching professional’s regular blogger:
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
A self-confessed conference addict, she spends a lot of her time tweeting (@chiasuan/@ETprofessional), Skyping, and writing. You can find out more about her on her blogsite:http://chiasuanchong.com