Feb 10

Developing as a Teacher

A Range of Development Ideas for English Language Teachers
A recorded talk for the Educast Conference in February 2024.

Video transcript

You’ve already done your initial training and you’re a qualified teacher. So, why do people go on about Continuing Professional Development? Why is it helpful and if it is, what should you be doing?

In this talk, as a teacher for over 30 years who is STILL developing, I’ll tell you a bit about my own experiences and give you some helpful hints about how you might continue YOUR teacher development journey.

I started teaching English in 1989 in Taiwan and I was lucky enough to get a job in a very supportive school just because I was a native speaker. At the time I had a degree in agriculture which I didn't see is particularly relevant for teaching but they gave me the job and I needed the money so I did it.

After six months of this, i thought I’d got a bit of a handle on what I was doing in the classroom and I was arrogant enough, when i went to do a certificate course, to think that i wouldn't really learn very much. For me, this is an interesting starting point. You don't know what you don't know and so it's not until you keep developing and learning more but you realise how much there is to know.

If I fast forward 35 years to this point in my life having done many qualifications including Delta, an MA and a PhD, having taught on many other teaching qualifications including CELTA and MA TESOL, having written a course book and set up a successful online teaching business, after all of this now I realise how little any of us know about how people learn languages and how teachers learn to teach.

So that's the first point that I want to make. Development is always a good thing. Further training is always a good thing. Sometimes you'll do this because you need to get the job that you want but sometimes you'll just do it because it's interesting or because you're curious or because you've never done that before. My personal experience is that learning more is never a waste of time and it can lead you in really unexpected directions often to places or situations that you wouldn't have imagined but which are really great.

When I say development, this could of course be formal courses like CELTA or an MA TESOL or delta but I'm really talking about a much wider remit than that. These days, it's so easy to get access to so much online that's either free or very affordable and not only to get access to information but also to interact with other teachers who will inspire you and motivate you to be the best teacher that you can be.

In this talk I'm going to look at a wide range of these things. Ways in which you can develop, starting with Celta and other formal courses and then moving on to different resources that you can use to develop online. Are you ready? Let's go.
I’ll begin with CELTA. I’ve been a CETLA trainer for over 20 years, I’m an assessor and have visited over 70 centres and I’m also one of a dozen Joint Chief Assessors who support centres for Cambridge, so I know a bit about it.

CELTA is often seen as a strong benchmark of good teaching and about 70% of job adverts for English teachers ask for it. It was originally designed as an initial teacher training qualification but these days around 50% of people who take Celta already have teaching experience and many of them have teaching qualifications from their own countries.

So why would they want the expense and stress of going through this course? The first reason is probably because they need it to get a job internationally or in a private language school in their own country. CELTA definitely opens doors. It's a very standard product and so employers trust it. They know that you don't just know the theory but you also know how that can be applied in the classroom.

I've been a Celta tutor for 24 years and I've got a great deal of respect for it as a qualification. I see teachers, even if they have a lot of previous experience, learning a lot from the process and I think that environment where you're doing something that's challenging- in this case teaching a class- in front of your peers and also watching them and reflecting on and talking about this process is a very powerful way to learn. So, if you're thinking about it and you're not sure if it'll be worthwhile or not, I'd definitely say it's a good move.

What about if you've already got CELTA and you’re thinking about something a bit further on? Maybe a delta or MA TESOL. What's the difference between them? That's quite a big question and I can't really answer it all here but I've made another video about it that you can access on YouTube -all the links just below if you're interested in that.

In terms of the formal qualifications but you take, the best way to choose is to think about what kind of job you want in the future and see what qualifications are required for it. This will give you a good steer. For example, if you want to work in a university then an MA TESOL is definitely a good idea but if you want to work as a director of studies or maybe a Celta trainer then you're going to have to do delta.

But maybe you're not ready for a formal qualification yet but you know that development’s a good thing. What can you do then?

The Internet is a really big place and finding good material can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack so you really need to find a way to search through the huge amount material is out there. A good way to do this is to find educators that you trust and like and look for what they're recommending. The British Council site for example is huge and it’s got so many useful resources in it and if you follow them on Facebook or Instagram then you'll find that they also recommend other useful resources. You can definitely trust what they say.

If you want some ideas for development that pop into your inbox every week then signing up for newsletters can be a good thing. I put one out every Sunday and it's always got links to material that I make but also to other useful things on the net. If you go to my site you'll get a pop up and you can sign up for it. It's completely free.

As well as newsletters that are sent out to your inbox, there are lots of people who write interesting and useful educational blogs. You can usually subscribe to these so that you get a push notification when a new post goes up and there are many that I would recommend. Try Nik Peachy if you like Ed tech or Lexical Leo if vocabulary is a special interest of yours. There's also one blog that I must mention although it's now just in an archive state. That’s Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT. It's a brilliant piece of work. There's a lot of scholarship here and it's really interesting but it's also very accessible.

If you want something to give you a bit of food for thought about some aspects of our industry that are a bit more controversial I'd also highly recommend Russ Mayne’s blog. You can find all of these links below.

If you like more of a journal or magazine format, try the Humanising Language Teaching Magazine from Pilgrims or the IH Journal is always a practical read – they’re both free.

Maybe you don't want to read? Maybe video material is more your cup of tea. It's certainly mine! YouTube is full of really useful channels for teachers. Please do go and subscribe to mine at ELT training.com. I make a new video every week and I think they’re kind of helpful. Other people that I follow that I enjoy? Charlies lessons is great. The Language House TEFL is also very useful. If you're interested in pronunciation then try Hadar Shamesh.

Another useful place to look is teachers associations. Some of them are better than others of course but a couple of good examples are IATfL the International Association of teachers of English as a foreign language and BELTA the Belgium English language teachers association. These both have regular webinars and you can attend for free although you can usually only see the recordings if you’re a member.

Other organisations that run regular webinars are the publishing houses. Try the Cambridge English site or McMillan. They're all trying to sell books of course and promote their profiles of course, but that doesn't mean that the material and development sessions that they put out there for free aren't worth it. I’d highly recommend them.

Let's move on a bit. Development is certainly not just all about input. Interacting with other teachers who are motivated and proactive is always inspiring and it’ll help you to keep trying do things with your class. In an ideal world, this would be face to face with your colleagues in the staffroom, but not all schools are so supportive and the internet means that you can still access inspiring educators, even if your colleagues I'm not so interested.

This kind of development really helps to prevent burnout too so there’s a really good point to it!

Where are you going to find these other inspiring teachers, you might be thinking? Any of the social media platforms have groups like this and this is a great way of connecting with like-minded people. Try searching for Facebook groups with similar interests to yours or LinkedIn is also very good for professional groups. You'll find that some of these groups are more active than others so you might have to try a few before you find one that's active and has content you enjoy. If you can't find one you like and you’ve got a few friends who've got a similar interest- Start your own group! It's very easy and it's free.

Finally, if you like the idea of learning a particular aspect of English language teaching, if you want to follow a more structured course and end up with a certificate that you can show to an employer but you don't want or can't afford to do CELTA yet, then there are lots of useful courses that you can do online. Make sure that the organisation you go with this reputable. International House for example offer a lot of further development courses and they have a great reputation.

If you like my style and you've enjoyed this talk then you might want to go and have a look at my site. I've got a wide range of free material on there but also certified courses in a range of aspects of ELT. If you need help learning about grammar then there's my signature grammar for language teachers course which will give you confidence to explain to learners the nuts and bolts of the language. If you already know this but you're not sure how to teach it in an engaging way then teaching grammar communicatively is for you. If you are planning on doing CELTA and you want to prepare for it beforehand then I've got a package of courses set will give you the best possible chance off excelling. There's a lot to take on in a short period of time in CELTA and if you can hit the ground running you're much more likely to achieve a higher grade.

If you want some ideas for new activities then try my Dictogloss course or this course which is designed to help you exploit the texts you use in the class for lexis. Finally my newest course is called AI powered language teaching and it's got fantastic ideas for using ChatGPT or Bard to produce lessons at any level on any topic that are a bit more interesting than just text question discussion. If you can learn how to harness the power of AI. it can do the donkey work of planning for you so that you can give your learners creative, interesting, personalised lessons without it taking you all of your free time!

So that's about it! I've covered a huge amount of ground here and you can't possibly do all of this, but don't get overwhelmed. Choose one of these things that you think might be useful to you and start doing it on a regular basis. Make it manageable for yourself. You could set yourself a target of listening to one webinar every month or reading one newsletter a week for example. Or if you're thinking about more formal courses, then make a plan for when you want to do that and how you're prepare for it.

In my opinion, English teaching is a fantastic job and it's kept me really happy and interested for over 30 years but the reason that it's been such a creative and stimulating experience for me is because I've always tried to keep learning something new.

I really hope that something in this little talk will inspire you to keep doing the same and hopefully give you the same kind of joy that I've had out of my working career so far and which I continued to have.

Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

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