Where does a teacher become an EFFECTIVE teacher?

This is my first post, ever.  I wanted to participate in the RP Reading Club started by my colleague Zhenya Polosatova, which is how I came to read the article I’m about to comment on.  Another reflective colleague, Wilma Luth, has already posted about her response to the article.  How wonderful to see the many dimensions through others’ eyes! 

Here is my take on the same article: Teacher Training, Development, and Decision Making: A Model of Teaching and Related Strategies for Language Teacher Education, by Donald Freeman  TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 1 (27-45)

In 1989, Donald Freeman observed that language teacher education programs were focused on transmission of knowledge about applied linguistics, language acquisition, and methodology. He bemoaned the lack of focus on becoming an effective teacher.  Sadly, twenty-six years later, most of the ESL/EFL teacher training programs in my sphere of awareness are still, as Freeman wrote, “overlooking the core – teaching itself.”

Freeman proposed a framework for language teacher education consisting of two strategies for evolving the individual teacher’s craft:  Training and Development. (Freeman used both of these terms in the context of educating preservice teachers.)  Training and Development, both essential, are two different modes of collaboration between the teacher-trainer and the teacher-in-preparation.

Training, in Freeman’s model, is the transmission of knowledge and skills.  Knowledge is the subject matter (English, or another language), knowledge of the students, the context, and so on.  Skills are such things as presenting material, giving instructions, correcting errors, etc.  Training, as a strategy, is initiated by the teacher-trainer and focuses on discrete knowledge and skills.  The teacher-trainer knows both the questions and the answers.   These components of Training are what was being taught when Freeman put forward his model, and they are still, as far as I can see, the essence of what is taught in most MA-TESOL programs as well as some TESOL certificate programs.  Based on Freeman’s description, I see the Training strategy being applied in a trainer-fronted classroom, with teachers-in-preparation as the students. 

It’s Freeman’s exposition of the partner strategy, Development, that interests me today.   His concept of Development hinges on Awareness and Attention: the capacity to recognize, monitor and engage in some aspect of what is happening in the classroom.  Awareness scans the classroom and allows the teacher to focus Attention on something specific.

In the Development strategy, the role of the teacher-trainer is to draw teachers’ Awareness towards some aspect of what is happening, to focus their Attention in order to help them begin to reflect critically on their classroom practice.   This is usually done by asking questions, such as What do you think was going on with that student who didn’t participate? or How do you think the student felt when X happened?  Unlike Training, Development is a dialogue initiated by the trainer in a classroom fronted by the teacher-in-training, with language learners as students.  In Development, the trainer is helping teachers expand Awareness of what they do, and the impact of their behavior in the classroom.  The trainer must recognize the issues, but the solutions are the teacher’s alone.  Freeman says this is the critical difference between Training and Development.   Wilma Luth, in her response to Freeman’s article, discusses the value of a “shift in awareness.”

What stands out for me is that Development, viewed as a partner strategy to Training, is where a teacher learns to be effective.  And clearly Development must take place in an actual classroom with real students.  But this incredibly important and obvious aspect of language teacher education is missing from most MA-TESOL programs and some TESOL certificate programs.  There may be a practicum or internship, but it’s often casually arranged, and the teacher-trainer isn’t present.  It may be just a few, or even just a single teaching session, observed by someone who isn’t necessarily part of the dialogue between the teacher-trainer and the teacher-in-development.  The observation culminates in a checklist of knowledge and skills demonstrated by the teacher (aspects of Training, not Development).  As Freeman says, “Practicums and internships are often seen as the panaceas that will provide the missing link between knowledge and implementation.”  But they serve little purpose if the trainer isn’t present in the classroom, and if there isn’t a sustained development dialogue.

I am grateful to be able to train teachers in contexts where the Development dialogue — raising the teachers’ Awareness of what happens in the classroom — is at the center of their education.  And I’m sad for the teachers who aren’t in such programs, who don’t get the Development half of their teacher training, and who, when they finish their degree or certificate, still don’t feel prepared to teach.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Linda-Marie

    It is so cool to read your blog – and it is such excitement and honor that your first post is a part of our RP Reading Club. Thank you for joining, and for sharing your thoughts! I am really impressed how we (readers, teachers) see different parts of the article standing out and being valuable for us. For example, the quote you mentioned about Development being a partner to Training now makes so much sense to me. It may also be connected to the ideas about starting a new RP SIG (and motivating teachers to join).

    Please keep writing!
    Zhenya

    Like

    1. Zhenya, until you pointed it out, I hadn’t made the connection between Freeman’s “development” and my starting a new Reflective Practice Group. But that’s the end goal, or at least one of the main goals of the RPG: to raise teachers’ awareness, so they can become more effective. The other goal, of course, is to create a supportive, collaborative community.

      Liked by 1 person

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