IATEFL 2016 – The Teacher Training Debate

From watching the IATEFL sessions available online (here and here) and following their impact online, one can almost get a feel of what the conference was like. With IATEFL 2016, a recurring theme seems to have been whether 4-month teacher training courses, like the Cambridge CELTA, do the trick.

It seems it all started with Silvana Richardson’s plenary discussing discrimination against non-native teachers. Her call for more professionalism and less native-speakerism in the ELT world was greeted with much enthusiasm the world over. It was indeed a great and much needed talk, which sparked a lively debate on Twitter later taken to the blogosphere.


You call that a ‘lively’ debate?

Well, maybe I’m toning it down a notch by calling it ‘lively’. Hugh Dellar set the ELT world on fire when he argued short courses like the CELTA could be a big part of the professionalism problem. After all, in a profession as complex as ours, what can you really learn in a month? To fake it, he suggested!

harry sally

Can you tell when she is not really teaching out of well-honed teaching skills and sound technical knowledge?

And that was far from being the only negative criticism to CELTA. In what felt like a long sales pitch by Cambridge’s competitor, Ben Beaumont advocated for Trinity’s approach, which allows for more flexibility, he maintained, and better response to research. For instance, learning styles have been shown to be a neuromyth, so Trinity has taken it down from its teacher training courses, unlike “other” course providers. The audience laughed, knowing all too clearly who he was referring to.

In fact, much of what we learn today will be laughing matter in a few years, claimed Graham Hall, in the provokingly named debate “This house believes that teacher training is a waste of time.” He was also worried that, while in the UK only 1% of teacher trainees fail their courses, in the end 1 out of 3 will leave the profession before ever hitting the classrooms because teacher training is such a disheartening endeavor. Maybe teacher training is nice in an ideal world, but what we’ve actually been doing has been having disastrous results, he argued.

(My mind went immediately to some military personnel I talked to who actually preferred war training to the intensive CELTA — more humane, they thought.)

Fear not, Penny Ur took to the stage soon after that and quietly proceeded to counterargue every possible idea against teacher training. Teacher training is much needed, she said. Actually, for many teachers all over the world, with little access to conferences or ongoing on-the-job training, initial training is the only kind of training they will ever get.

Yes, but it flies by. Gabriel Diaz Maggioli, a self-confessed teacher trainer for the National Teacher’s Training College in Uruguay, is concerned that we are not working on reflection enough and that we’ve been working towards developing future teachers’ knowledge and skills and forgetting about their identity and attitudes.

Too much to cram in in a teacher training course, I suppose. A teacher trainee has so many important topics to consider and study and so, so much to experience… As we say in Portuguese, “o cobertor é curto.” That’s why no matter how you started in the profession, with a 4-week course or a 4-year college degree, just don’t stop learning. Because we can’t afford to. Fortunately by watching talks like these at IATEFL (from a distance, why not?) and participating in groups like BrELT, we can keep in touch with what is going on in our field and hopefully reflect and develop as well.



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