I don’t often miss working in language schools but when I do get misty-eyed over old workmates I usually have one or two memories in the back of my mind to give me a reality check. These memories are often about training, where the whole day is given over to talking about work instead of doing it. This should have some kind of benefit to it other than less brainpower being needed to get through the day. Unfortunately, bureaucracy often gets in the way of this.
Most language schools in Japan don’t require their teachers to have any kind of teaching qualification. A friend once remarked “you don’t need a CELTA, you need a pulse”. Because of this, most of the people in charge of teacher development also have no qualifications for that either, and the remark that “Training’s just like teaching, isn’t it?” is the mantra that keeps industrial-scale language teaching plodding on, feeling its way in the dark up the stairs at snail pace.
In my time in language schools I’ve had a lot of time wasted by rescheduling days off to go into workshops about drilling, dealing with learners who are stuck in level, planning lessons and adapting material. However, if we look to the hidden agenda it is always about making teachers look busy and rectifying errors made by people with power to create policies that lead to a raw deal for teaching and learning.
What this leads to is a situation where teachers are treated like naughty children when reading between the lines about drilling being weak and students not developing and the onus being on teachers to change this. So we have a roomful of grown adults, half mugging it up as if they were afflicted by a developmental disorder and the other half rolling their eyes so much they end up looking at their brain stems. And a middle manager wondering how much more to tolerate before moving on to the next item, the next break or whether to complain about teachers not taking things seriously.
This all sounds chaotic but what is the alternative to being corralled and treated like an idiot?
If there are trainers with no qualifications anyway, why not give teachers agency for their own development by asking them what they would like to develop? We could tap the existing knowledge base, with those who are experienced in particular areas passing on their knowledge in a structured way and relevant to the teachers who want to develop. Even if teachers don’t particularly want to develop, what they see as a development point is going to be more relevant to them than something plucked out of thin air by someone in management who might not have been teaching regularly for years.
In some schools this already happens and it’s organic and teachers get to learn. In other schools, teachers get trained, much like circus animals.
Marc Jones commutes across Kanto for hours to different workplaces. When he’s not on the train he teaches at schools, universities and businesses. He blogs at http://freelanceteacherselfdevelopment.wordpress.com.