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Teacher training: a waste of time?

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Group of teachers working togetherGraham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.

It is fair to say that teacher training is one of the central pillars of ELT. Anyone who attends an ELT conference is likely to hear about teacher training in one way or another – maybe in a talk or presentation, or maybe through marketing information and advertising. If we browse through an ELT book catalogue, we will find texts which discuss teacher training. The International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) has a Special Interest Group focused on Teacher Training and Education. ELT Journal publishes articles about it. And, of course, the majority of teachers have experienced some teacher training at some point, maybe on a pre-service course before taking up a job, or maybe on an in-service programme in the course of their working lives. Alongside, for example, materials writing, testing and assessment, and, of course, teaching itself, teacher training is one of *the* core activities of the ELT profession.

At this point, we should distinguish between the kind of teacher training being talked about here, the more formal kind which tends to involve participating in a course and contrasts with teacher development, which can be characterised as informal, collegiate, probably independent of any formal qualification or programme of study (although it may be coordinated by workplaces or teacher associations) and so on. And obviously, training courses for teachers vary enormously. Pre-service programmes might range from degree-level programmes lasting a number of years to short taster courses lasting a few hours or days; in-service courses can vary from a day’s training on a specific aspect of pedagogic or professional practice to a month or even year-long course involving observations, reflective discussions, further study and written assignments.

Yet what teacher training seeks to do is to equip teachers with the skills and abilities they need to help them, or help them develop, in their work. If we are talking about beginner teachers, these skills and abilities could perhaps be labelled ‘professional competencies’, perhaps the ability to analyse and explain language, or key techniques and approaches for managing classrooms (we should note, however, that the label ‘professional competency’ arguably has a discourse of its own, conveying an impression of teaching as a body of knowledge and activities that can be learned – see below!). More experienced teachers might develop reflective skills as well as ‘higher level’ insights into classroom practice.

And yet… although many people assume that a training course is an important – even essential – preparation for and part of professional English language teaching, does training really help or is it just a waste of time and money? Don’t we learn much more through experience, and by reflecting on what we do in the classroom? How can a training course, which inevitably will be one-step-removed from our teaching, capture the diversity and complexity of classrooms which we might eventually or currently teach in? Is teaching ‘just’ a body of knowledge and competencies that can be passed on in a course? Aren’t teacher training course, by their very nature, going to be somewhat prescriptive, pointing us towards certain ways of teaching and of thinking about teaching, rather than truly encouraging us to think through for ourselves the full range of possibilities for our classrooms?

These are some of the key concerns which surround teacher training, and many readers and bloggers will have valid responses and retorts to these questions.

But the issues will be discussed and debated again and in more detail in the ELT Journal debate, held at the IATEFL Conference in Birmingham (UK) on Thursday 14th April, 2016. There, Peter Grundy will propose the motion ‘This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time’; Penny Ur will oppose the motion. For more information about the conference, go to http://www.iatefl.org/.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

12 thoughts on “Teacher training: a waste of time?

  1. We want to invite Penny Ur to Moldova! We have a group of EFL teachers here- a fan group!

  2. Hi,

    Teacher training is anything but a waste of time and money. Having said this, I believe we should approach this concept with a 360 degree view. I would rather propose that teacher education is the need of the hour.

    Huma

  3. Hello everybody,
    This article drew my attention because I am a teacher of English in Ukraine. By the way, I enjoy my job despite all the difficulties I encounter in my professional career. I personally think teacher training can be a waste of time if we deal with those who come into this profession at random. There is no comparison between being able to learn and to teach. I have known some clever people failing to explain their subject to students, and I am not here to say I am better than somebody else. I just want to address those who are going to make it a sense of their life, please, think twice whether you love children and whether you are ready to devote all your time to them. No colleges will teach you this.
    P.S. I did not mean to offend anybody.

  4. Reblogged this on Halina's Thoughts and commented:
    I have been teaching for over 40 years.
    In my view, teacher training courses are crucial for improving my teaching. I have been participating in many of them. As a lifelong learner, I feel I need to make a statement that it has always been a challenge, pleasure and a great fulfillment.
    I have learnt a lot.
    Nowadays I am doing some online courses for Teachers.
    Teaching with Technology
    Micro Teaching in Pairs
    Teaching in a Virtual Class
    Moodle MOOC 7 Moodle for Teachers training course
    Courses are delivered by Dr. Nellie Deutsch @ Integrating Technology
    http://www.integrating-technology.org/course/index.php?categoryid=115

  5. Pingback: Teacher training: a waste of time? « Halina's Thoughts

  6. Hi. In my opinion teacher training courses are necesary because of the changin world we live in. Cience and technology are taking our students through new learning practices. We as teachers must regularly shape our teaching methods according to time in order to catch our students’ attention. Fatima Ordonez – Ecuador

  7. It’s not a waste of time but

    Ironically … Teacher training seems to be littered with ineffective, unintelligible and rambling texts “explaining” to teachers how to communicate effectively, intelligibly and meaningfully with students.

  8. A lot of ELT training out there is prescriptive in nature, without emphasis on the learners themselves and what they need. Not much about how to assess your learners or how to adapt your teaching / classroom behavior and or methodology to individual learning styles. Teacher training is too technical and missing the forest for the trees. There is much to be said here, but there are two basic perspectives ELTs enter the classroom with which miss the point, and which appear to be the result of poor teacher training. Nevertheless, proper ELT training is vital if it can instill a third, ideal perspective of English language teaching. There are too many discouraged language learners out there who have been the victims of poor ELT practices.

  9. It is very arrogant to assume that you can just walk into a classroom and teach English, just because you speak the language quite well. You can’t learn to teach a language by trial and error; there are real human beings in the classroom not guinea pigs.
    It’s like saying that because you successfully assembled an IKEA shelf you are now ready to teach engineering – how hard can it be?
    Teacher training is as essential in ELT as in any other subject. Nobody is questioning this at conferences for science, maths, literature or even PE teachers. I am still amazed and shocked that (in the UK) you only need a two-week course to be allowed to teach English as a foreign language but a full 3-5 year university course with teacher training to teach Literacy . How is that different?

  10. Teacher Training is never a waste of time provided it leads to teacher learning. I wonder how many people under going TT actually put into practice what they learn though.
    I feel Teaching Training, or professional Development, in any form and of any duration, from a short hour long presentation to an MA, can only be a good thing for anybody involved in ELT especially if it helps keep us updated with trends and useful practical tips to help further our learners’ progress.
    A recent example of a short presentation is a talk given in Turin (and elsewhere in Italy) by Robin Walker as part of the Oxford Professional Development programme, on an often overlooked theme of how to deal with learners errors/mistakes. Although the talk was rather short I’ve been thinking about what was covered by this professional.
    Another ELT professional is Jon Hird, who is another eye opener with his approach to grammar and teaching dyslexics.
    Even short courses for those who do only see the ELT profession as a sort of stop gap between other things can be useful and often more experienced teachers can learn from the less experienced as they often give us interesting perspectives on learning and teaching.
    Andrew Martin Garvey

    • Great teachers create great students. The teachers tend to face new challanges in the language classrooms and it is only throught these training programmes that they can learn new teaching methodologies, learning styles, assessment tools and being introduced to new curriculm resources. I openly disagree with the above statement that teacher training programmes are useless and time wastage. Not at all they are in fact a learning platform for the ESl/EFL teachers. One should keep in mind that students achievement depends on the teachers teaching style and practices.

  11. Great teachers create great students. The teachers tend to face new challanges in the language classrooms and it is only throught these training programmes that they can learn new teaching methodologies, learning styles, assessment tools and being introduced to new curriculum resources. I disagree with the above statement that teacher training programmes are useless and time wastage. Not at all they are in fact a learning platform for the ESL/EFL teachers. One should keep in mind that students achievement depends on the teachers teaching style and practices.

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