Teacher Education, Teacher Development: Mushy Peas

My previous post “What is Teacher Development?” supposed that the terms “teacher training” and “teacher development” were more or less synonyms, used to describe the various things that teacher trainers / teacher developers do to equip people to teach English as a foreign or second language. It turns out that, for the IATEFL organisation, I was wrong.  Allow me to digress.

They’re doing a bad job, whatever you call them

My main argument was that those responsible for teacher training / teacher development were doing a bad job because they paid insufficient attention to what we know about language learning, concentrating instead on training / developing teachers to use coursebooks.  The problem here is that coursebooks implement a syllabus based on assumptions that contradict robust findings of SLA research. The result is that teacher trainers / developers are training / developing teachers to do the wrong thing. That’s the argument.

Coursebook-driven ELT is driven by commercial interests 

I go on to argue that coursebook-driven ELT is not only inefficacious, but also that its global dominance is no accident. Cousebook-driven ELT serves the commercial interests of a profit-driven hydra of publishing, teacher training, teacher certification, English proficiency examination, and English teaching companies who between them had a turnover of close to $200,000, 000,000 in 2016 (see the Pearson Report and the BC reports, 2016). It’s a massive, global business. These commercial interests are represented in the IATEFL annual conference Exhibition Hall – OUP, CUP, Pearson, National Geographic, Macmillan, Cambridge Exams, British Council, Trinity London, and on and on. All of them, without exception, promote cousebook-driven ELT, and they recruit academics and so-called expert teacher trainers to argue their case. Such is their commercial clout that they dominate the discourse on ELT and they suffocate open discussion of viable alternatives.

The result and some examples 

For the vast majority of teachers and support workers in the ELT industry, jobs are precarious (hundreds of thousands of teachers have zero hour contracts), badly paid, with few opportunities for advancement, and with little say in management decisions which affect them. Throughout the world, we see de-skilled, underpaid, poorly supported teachers delivering courses where most students fail to reach communicative competence in English. We hear about the success stories, but we ignore the global failure of ELT to give its teachers worthwhile, satisfying jobs, or to give students adequate teaching.

Now of course it would be quite wrong to blame teacher trainers / developers for this state of affairs; most of them are hardly better-paid or more in control of their jobs than the teachers. But it is surely right to ask those who actually design and implement teacher training courses like CELTA, DELTA, Trinity, etc., those who write the “How to Teach” books on the recommended reading lists, and those who travel around the world giving training and development courses, to respond to criticism.

The really powerful people in ELT are the men and women running publishing companies, training and exam bodies and the teaching outfits themselves, of course. They’re the top echelon of the ELT establishment, but they mostly avoid the limelight. So in today’s Society of the Spectacle, they need a public face, which is provided by the “top” course designers, materials writers and trainers. Witness the embarassingly lack-lustre annual ELTons event, which does its sorry best, tatty red carpet and all, to emmulate the Oscars. The stars of ELT parade themselves at the IATEFL conference, talking in the biggest rooms to the biggest audiences, gracing the smartest parties, even signing autographs these days. They are as close as we usually get to the power brokers, and it’s this group who must surely answer charges that they lack the knowledge and expertise which one would expect of them, that their positions are often compromised by their links to commercial interests, and that, for whatever reasons, they fail to challenge the reactionary policies of the ELT establishments. In brief, they don’t do enough to ensure that teachers get adequate training and development.

A few random examples:

  1. Scott Thornbury’s “Vicar of Bray” approach (CELTA here, Dogme there)
  2. Books on how to teach English by Jeremy Harmer, Leo Selivan, Hugh Dellar & Andrew Walkley, and Penny Ur.
  3. The CELTA course.
  4. Teacher training / development courses given by all those in (2) + Katherine Bilsborough
  5. Just about all conference plenaries
  7. ELT blogs: ESL.com, AzarGrammar.com, TEFL Org UK, Larry Ferlazzo English Education,

No excuse for ignorance 

Thanks to ongoing work by some excellent scholars over the last 60 years, we now have both a coherent, consensural view on fundamental questions about learning an L2, and clear implications for ELT. There’s no “right way”, but we at least know what’s mistaken, because it contradicts the evidence from research findings, and what’s more likely to be right, because it’s supported by evidence.  There are some good summaries of SLA research (avoid Rod Ellis or Saville Troike; try Lightbown & Spada, or Gass, or VanPatten and Williams) and some good reviews of articles from journals available on line. So there’s no excuse for those who are in charge of teacher training for not knowing about this stuff. How can you train teachers to teach English as an L2 if you don’t know how people learn languages? How can you recommend this or that teaching approach, this or that way of designing a syllabus, this or that activity, if it’s not based on sound foundations? In my opinion, the works of Dellar and Walkley, Ur, Harmer, Ferlazzo, Selivan, Roberts, and many other leading lights in ELT are based on very shaky foundations indeed.

Navel gazing?   

To the issue, then. I thought training and development were part of the same thing, but it turns out that in the IATEFL world, there’s a difference. There are two different SIGs: Teacher Education and Teacher Development. If you go the TD SIG web site you see this:

IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group provides a forum for us to develop our potential as teachers, to cultivate our abilities to navigate the challenges and successes of being a teacher, and to invigorate satisfaction in our ongoing work.

Our aims:

  • To enable and encourage all categories of teacher to take more responsibility for professional and personal evolution throughout their careers.
  • To promote individual and institutional awareness of the importance of teacher development.
  • To encourage the provision of facilities for teacher development which do not already exist.

Content-free blather! What do they actually do? Here’s the report on what they did at the 2018 IATEFL conference:

Our Pre-Conference Event on Monday 9 April was ‘Personalised Teacher Development: is it possible?’. An audience of over 90 ELT professionals gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities for fostering teacher development in and across institutions. 

We also put together a Showcase Day jam-packed with talks and workshops chosen to get conference delegates thinking about and reflecting on myriad issues relating to teacher development. The programme featured reports on research projects from the UK and Australia,…. tips and techniques for focusing on teaching experience and our identity as ELT professionals. We had a range of speakers from teachers at the chalkface to managers to former IATEFL plenary speakers. Much food for thought to be taken away.

Still no hint of what they actually talked about or what it led to. It’s really hard work to find ANY substance in this website, to find out about how they helping teachers grow professionally. If you click on “Development” ths is what you see:

  • The events calendar tells you what they’ve got planned for the coming months
  • The CFP is a call for proposals
  • The Web Carnival has details of a web event called Developing Development in late February
  • The bibliography has nothing – not one article – published this century.

Nit picking? 

Perhaps by trying to find out what the Teacher Training and Education SIG does, we can deduce what the TD gang does. Here’s what they say on their web site:

Our Mission:

The TTEd SIG serves the professional development and networking needs of English Language Teachers of Teachers around the world and contributes to the profession via publications, events and other initiatives aimed at fostering quality teacher education in English.

On the Events page, we find:

2012 was an active year for TTEd SIG. We were involved in several events in different parts of the world ( Beijing – China, Hyderabad- India) and we organized a symposium in Istanbul.

2013 was another active year for TTEd SIG. We were involved in several events in different parts of the world, and our PCE at Liverpool was a success. Our Newsletters reached our members, our Facebook account/ blog are very active.

Our Harrogate 2014 PCE was also a success with our celebrity speaker TESSA WOODWARD.

A bit further down, reporting on last year’s conference in Glasgow, we find that the Pre-Conference Event was around the topic

How to plan, deliver and evaluate Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes for teachers

Apart from the fact that the TTEd lot seem a bit sleepy, they also seem to be dabbling in teacher development, blurring the lines between the two. In any case, I could find little information about anything organised by this group that might count as a critical examination of existing ELT practice, no criticism of any of the teacher training courses leading to recognised teacher certification, no criticism of any of the books you see in the bibliographies of those courses, no criticism of any training course.


This quote from Thomas Pynchon’s novel V comes to mind:

“What is the tag end of an age, if not that tilt towards the more devious, the less forceful?”.

That IATEFL should see the need to mush up the peas by allowing these two separate SIGs, while refusing to allow Paul Walsh’s proposal for a Teachers As Workers SIG surely indicates this tilt towards the more devious. Look again in my previous post at the video of those in the TD SIG talking about TD. Look at all the stuff they’re going to do at the IATEFL conference. Look at the stuff the TTEd SIG is going to do. Just how forceful is all that? How does it face up to what teachers actually do in practice, day after day, wading thru this damn coursebook or the other? What will they do to raise standards of training and thus improve ELT practice?

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