09 ago What do you know?
It’s clear to us by now that the role of the teacher has been changing dramatically. Gone are the days when the teacher was the source of all knowledge! In an age where students are bombarded with and have free access to information, the image of the teacher as a knowledge-transmitter seems outdated and out of place. However, does that mean that professionals are now exempt from pursuing development of their own knowledge? That hardly seems to be the case! Then, what should teachers be looking to develop, and what tools can we use to do it?
Know your beans (language):
There’s no escaping the importance of knowledge about the language. There is a lot of (often passionate) debate on what level of English teachers should have or whether native speakers or non-native speakers make the “best” teachers (this is getting too old, BTW). Those are extremely important discussions, but not really relevant to this post. Regardless of your background or current level of proficiency, if you improve your knowledge of the language you teach, you’re likely to better able to assist your students more effectively. Luckily for all of us, there’s no shortage of ways to improve knowledge of the language:
- Language courses in reputable language institutes
- B.A. in Languages
- Careful analysis of the language you are going to teach, checking dictionaries, grammar books for teachers
- Specific courses for teachers (g. phonology, language awareness etc.)
- Books aiming at the development of teachers’ language awareness (g. Scott Thornbury’s About Language)
- Any films, series, websites, songs or authentic material
Know the ropes (methodology):
Even though universities allow professionals to get to know a lot about pedagogy, I do feel that some might end up being it too theoretical (word of caution: not having studied Languages at university, I’m simply reporting what I heard from teachers I’ve worked with). A lot of professionals end up only having contact with ELT-specific methodology in training initiatives in the institute where they work or resources they find online. The danger here is that we might end up being limited to the ready-made “miracle solutions” that might not be the most appropriate for each of the groups you teach. Here are some suggestions to develop this area of knowledge:
- ELT-specific higher education courses
- Renowned teaching awards (CELTA, Trinity, ICELT etc.)
- ELT literature (such as Teaching by Principles by H.D. Brown, among others)
- Specialised magazines (IATEFL voices, ETProfessional etc.)
- Workshops, conferences and symposiums
- Observation of different teachers
Self-awareness is essential in the development of any professional and I do believe we are very lucky to work in a field that favours so much reflection and self-improvement. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for teachers to go through entire careers without being consciously aware of their own strengths and areas for improvement, especially because of lack of feedback and the loneliness and isolation that we may fall prey to. Knowing what you do well and working towards improving the things we don’t excel at is essential to ensure that our 20-year experience doesn’t become “one year of experience repeated twenty times”. What can we count on to help us?
- Critical evaluation of your own lessons, without passion or attachment
- Feedback from reliable peers or supervisors after they observe your lesson
- Genuine feedback from students on what they like or not about the lessons
- Observation of other teachers in action
- Courses or teaching awards that include teaching practice and feedback (again, CELTA, Trinity, ICELT etc.)
Know your audience:
Finally, knowing your learners is, in my humble opinion, the most underrated type of knowledge of all. All that knowledge of language and methodology is pointless if you don’t know what the linguistics, affective and cognitive needs of your students are. Being familiar with different activities and course books might not be of use if you haven’t got a clue about what your students want to achieve. I always find it useful to rely on:
- Informal chats with students before and after the lessons
- Needs analysis questionnaires and interviews
- Observation of learners’ response to different tasks and activities
- Learner feedback on lessons
All aspects are equally important, but only you can make a decision on what to prioritise in your own development. Whatever you do, however, just promise me you won’t ever decide that you already know everything you need to know!