Saturday, 2 August 2014

Developing Skill Sets

This may not surprise you, but I plan to start this article by sharing some experiences of none from China. I want to go back all the way to 2006 when I was working for ClarkMorgan corporate training. The GM of the company was a huge fan of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). He was desperately keen to ensure it was something that all his trainers were fully-versed in and could use in the classroom. To that end, we did quite a bit of training that was very NLP-centered. If I am honest, it really wasn't my cup of tea. The discipline focuses on using the brain in different was so as to be more effective in life of, as in our case, more effective in the classroom. I liked some of the ideas, but I really didn't think it would have too much practical value for me. However, I certainly did not object to the training because, whether I bought into the material or not, it provided me with some new skills and a slightly different outlook.  

I was no great fan of NLP, but I was and still am a great fan of developing my skill-set. You should be too! In recent years, the development of the CELTA and other TESOL courses means that there is a far greater degree of standardization in teacher qualifications and competencies. I remember when I started out in 2004, that was really not the case. There were far more jobs open to English speakers with no qualifications and the variety in the quality of qualifications on show was far greater. Of the people I knew in my early years of teaching in China and Korea, there weren't many CELTA grads and quite a few got through on charm and being British alone. 

As great as teaching qualifications are - and I am deeply proud of my DipTESOL - I am very much of the opinion that they should really only represent the beginning of a teacher's education and development. A good teacher should always be looking to advance himself or herself. I want to point to important issues here. The first is that it is the height of laziness to rest on our CELTA laurels and think to ourselves that we have all the knowledge that we need to teach students English. Teaching qualifications give us a foundation, but there is always a pressing need to build on that foundation in order to do more. Not doing this leaves us phoning our classes in to a degree. A teacher who does not push on gives a good class, but could certainly do better. Sadly, I have encountered plenty of teachers like this. It is an area I always look at in an interview. A favorite question of mine is, "What types of training would you be hoping for us to deliver to you?". If I had a dollar for every time I heard answer like, "I feel the CELTA has prepared me for the classroom" or "I think I already have the key skills to succeed". I also encountered it when I was running a large school in Istanbul. Each time I tried to instigate knowlesge -sharing or brainstorming sessions for new techniques I had one teacher who would be ready with the phrase "When I did my CELTA ... ". Invariably it was followed by a negative response to a suggestion. 

That first point looks at how not embracing further development limits teachers and has a negative impact on the students. However, it can also have a negative impact in teachers themselves. Teachers who are happy with what they have limit themselves in terms recruitment. Around four.months ago when I was working in France, I advertised a vacancy for a full-time teacher. I received over 50 CVs from across the region and from across the globe. Amongst that was a large degree of chaff. However, I had about 20 with respectable qualifications and varying degrees of experience. Very few of the teachers, though, seemed to have done more in order to develop. There were a couple of candidates, however, who seemed to make the effort to go a bit further. One had done courses in community development and the other had done sports coaching qualifications and both were able to explain how they believed these divergent qualifications helped them to become better teachers. Ultimately, the 'sports coach' received an offer for money than I could offer. The 'community developer' proved to be a fantastic hire and I believe the extra dimension she could offer was truly valuable. 

At this point, I want to make one thing clear. When I talk about extra education, I  am not focusing on a grammar teaching certificate or a young learners course. Rather, I mean adding something a bit different to push skill boundaries in order to be able to teach better classes and to differentiate in the job market. To illustrate my point, I would like to give examples of two courses I have undertaken. The first was a few years ago when I was working in China. As something of a perk/internal development opportunity my employer, Wall Street English, offered me the chance to do an online management qualification. It was not an accredited teaching certificate, but it gave me more knowledge and experience. It certainly helped when I taught Business English and when I taught some of the more technical aspects of General English. The second comes from right now. I recently discovered the website coursera (Google it!) which offers free online courses from some very impressive universities. I have signed up for a few of these. They are not directly related to TEFL, but they are all education themed and I really hope they will help me diversify as a teacher. I am currently really enjoying a course about online learning run by the University of New South Wales. 

The crux of this piece is that it is hugely beneficial for both your students and you as a teacher if you try to diversify and add different knowledge and skills to your talent set.  

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