Anything goes

They say that we get more conservative as we get older, that we lose our youthful idealism and replace it with mature resignation, that we become cynical, and that we are less willing to break the rules and become more prone to following a set of rigid routines.

However, I don’t think this is necessarily the case for those of us in the teaching profession. Nor should it be, in my opinion. In fact, in my experience, a large part of our teaching lives will be spent unlearning what we initially believed to be a list of unbreakable maxims. And it is during this process of unlearning that we become more radical and idealistic.

When I first took my first tentative steps in the teaching profession back in 1992, the CELTA course I scraped through stipulated a set of appropriate procedures and techniques which were deemed to reflect ‘good practice’. These procedures and techniques served me well for a number of years, regardless of whether or not my students were actually learning. Among the mantras were ‘only do delayed correction in freer practice activities’, ‘give the instructions and then hand out the material’, ‘don’t get students to read aloud’,  ‘don’t translate’, and ‘always model language orally before showing the written form’.

Having cut my teeth in the classroom, it was deemed time to move onto teacher training, which basically involved the transmission of the very same maxims and mantras I had been putting into practice in my own teaching.

However, I think we can generally agree that teaching and learning are not an exact science. It has been known for some time that no one methodology can claim to be more effective than another and that learning a language is a complex matter involving cognitive and emotional processes. Therefore, the longer I have been teaching and training, the more radical I have become in terms of breaking the ‘rules’. I believe that we can and should do whatever we like, as long as it can be justified in terms of learning. And if that means translating, giving the written form before the oral form and correcting on the spot during freer practice, then so be it.

In my opinion, it is time for teacher training, whether that be in-service or CELTA, ICELT and DELTA courses, language schools and materials and course book writers took a less proscriptive approach to teaching and training, and that teachers are given greater free reign and encouragement to experiment with different approaches and techniques to see what works with their students and what doesn’t.

It may be the case, of course, that teachers who have to work outside the comfort zones provided by their teacher training and course books will feel a little apprehensive. However, I truly believe that it will also make teaching a far more enriching experience, and if it results in more learning then it has to be good.

Dominic Walters

I am CELTA and DELTA qualified and have an MA in Educational Psychology. I have been teaching English since 1991, working in Brazil, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Portugual, Egypt and the UK. I am a DELTA, ICELT, CELTA, FTBE assessor and tutor as well as a CELTA online course tutor. I am also an examiner for the Cambridge, IELTS, Trinity exams.

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