logo ELT Concourse: Training to Train

Unit 1: Be(com)ing a teacher trainer


Welcome to the most difficult, the most rewarding and the most responsible job in English Language Teaching.

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The difference between teaching a language and training a language teacher

The skills you have and the ones you need to acquire

What's the difference between a waiter, a chef and a restaurant manager?
Click on: eye when you have an answer.



The first stop is to figure out just what responsibilities teacher trainers have on their shoulders and what skills they need to fulfil them.  To do that ...

task Task:
Here's a table of responsibilities.
The task is to fill the gaps in your head.
Click on the table when you have done that.


You can see from that little exercise that you do not have to learn a wholly new skills set but you do have to learn to do some things that language teachers rarely or never do.
We won't dwell on some of the rows in the table because they are obvious or no longer relevant to your role.
In particular, however:

At the end of this unit, there will be some self-evaluation tasks for you to identify where you are now and what you have to think and learn about concerning the skills you need to develop and those you need to acquire.


Teacher training or teacher education?

The term training has had a bad press recently because it implies to some a rather mechanical process of getting people to jump through hoops and copy other people's behaviour to reach the goals.
The term education, on the other hand, has nothing but positive connotations implying thoughtful processes of leading people to developing knowledge and skills in a more certain, considered and flexible way.
The dichotomy really isn't fair because training can involve thought and a good deal of what passes for education involves mechanical rote learning of facts (and some myths).

We see in Unit 3 of this course that training or education of teachers at different stages in their careers and for different purposes has to take quite radically different forms.
On initial, pre-service courses a good deal of training is done via a process of demonstration, imitation and then live practice with real learners.  That cannot work well on in-service courses because the backgrounds of the trainees are so different and it would be patronising and unwelcome to ask such teachers to copy their trainers.  In many in-house development programmes the case is altered again because such programmes are not designed to transmit data and train in procedures but to get already trained teachers to introspect and set their own aims for mastery.
If you want to call the first sort of demonstration → imitation → practice training and reserve the term education for the other two types of, erm, training, then that's a legitimate stand to take because they are very different processes.
Nevertheless, for simplicity's sake, in this course we will call all the processes training and refer to you as the trainer and to the participants apart from you as the trainees.


The role of a teacher trainer / educator

Whatever you choose to call yourself, it is worth taking time now to think about the roles you will need to be able to perform and the implications of each.
As a language teacher, you have taken on a variety of roles in the classroom and in the initial plus section of this site there is a guide to the roles of a language teacher.
These roles include but are not limited to:

language resource
relationship builder

If you would like to remind yourself what these roles are in a little more detail, this link will take you to the relevant part of the guide.  That will open in a new tab so just shut it to come back here when you are done.

You may think we can delete narrator from the list because this is quite a rare skill to use in training sessions.  It can happen, however, and is mentioned in this course in Unit 4 to do with the design and delivery of training sessions where it is suggested that a narrative can play an engaging and refreshing role in a training session.  It does not appear below because it is quite rare.

Because you are already a very experienced language teacher, you have, no doubt, taken on all these roles quite frequently.
We have already seen in the unit that some of these roles are required more or less frequently in the transition from teacher to teacher trainer but there are others that we should add to the mix.  Some of these roles will involve rather different skills for trainers so here's a task.

task Task:
Download the worksheet for this task.
Look through the list of teacher roles and ask yourself two questions:
a) is this a role I will need to take on as a teacher trainer?
b) what changes to the role have to made in the transition from teacher to teacher trainer?
Click here for some comments when you have completed the worksheet.  Take your time.

It is unlikely that there will be an exact match between this list and your ideas.  That's fine as long as there is some overlap!
At the end of this unit, there will be some self-evaluation tasks for you to identify where you are now and what you have to think and learn about concerning both the skills you need to develop or acquire and the roles you'll need to take on.


Knowledge you need

If you cast your mind back to when you were a novice language teacher, it will be surprising if you don't recognise that you were often only one step ahead of the learners when it came to analysing the language.
You were probably quite capable of explaining that, for example:
    We use any in questions and negative sentences and some in positive statements
because you had read the relevant bit of a grammar for learners.
It is possible that you'd be quite thrown when someone pointed out that we say:
    Did some people from the council come round?
    Didn't someone ask?
    If we have any, it's in that cupboard
    She refused any help
    Would you like some more time?

all of which appear to break the rules, of course.
Now, at this stage in your career, naturally, you have a more sophisticated view of assertive and non-assertive forms so can explain quite easily.  That knowledge came at a cost in time and energy, not to mention motivation to learn.
On an initial or pre-service training course, you may feel you know enough to proceed with some confidence but above that level, you probably need to do some serious reading and study.
Now you are a novice teacher trainer and the process starts again.
That's OK – you have done it before.

Just as you learned back then, you have to have the confidence occasionally to say:
    I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that but I'll find out and get back to you.
Naturally, enough, that won't wash as a response on more than one or two occasions so you will need to build on your knowledge, not just of language forms as in this example, but of methodology, psycholinguistics and learning theory, sociolinguistics and a range of other issues including semantics, pragmatics and morphology.
This site is a good place to start so you should take some time while you are doing this course and after it to investigate corners of the language that you don't recognise too well.
Here are some places to begin your journey to better mastery of your field.  All links open in new tabs.

The in-service training index Here you will discover links to guides to language analysis, skills, methodology, assessing and much more.
The A-Z index This is a long list for you to browse until something catches your eye.  It's also a good place to start when researching a for a training session.
The glossary index This will take you to an index of glossaries and definitions.  Many of the entries are explicitly linked to guides on this site.
Grammar references Short bibliographies of what you should have or have access to (and read, of course).
Skills references


Knowing it all

It is said, with good reason, that the great minds of the renaissance (Galileo, Newton, da Vinci etc.) knew everything there was to know.  You and I are not in that league.  Nobody knows everything any longer and nobody knows the whole truth about anything important so it's as well to maintain a modest attitude.  When it comes to teacher training, the situation is rather like this:
knowing it all
and nobody, no matter how certain and sure, knows what's in the outer circle.


Beliefs, attitudes and prejudices

Language teachers all have underlying beliefs which inform the way they select targets, plan, teach and assess competence.
Some teachers may be able to articulate their beliefs persuasively, others may not even know they hold them.
Here are a few for which it is difficult to find any solid, uncontroversial supporting evidence in the research literature but which are, nevertheless widespread in the profession.

Make your own responses to the assertions and then click on the eye open to reveal some comments.

Using a translating dictionary is something we should actively discourage.
eye open
New language should be heard and spoken by learners before they are asked to read and write it.
eye open
Explaining grammar rules is usually unhelpful.
eye open
Drilling new language is essential if it is to be mastered.
eye open
Teacher talking time should always be kept to a minimum.
eye open
It is always better to try to elicit language before supplying it.
eye open
The focus in classrooms should be maintained on language in context for communicative purposes.
eye open

And so on.
This list could, of course, be greatly extended and most guides to theories of language and theories of learning on this site have sections devoted to criticisms and objections.
Unit 2 of this course mentions this again and provides a link to a guide on this site which sets out a range of myths about the language and teaching procedures.
It may be worth a few minutes of your time then or now.  Click here to open the guide in a new tab.

The moral of the story is to maintain some healthy scepticism and encourage it in your trainees.  Faith alone is not enough.
It is not within any teacher trainer's job description to say with absolute certainty what constitutes best practice, what language is and how people learn languages.  Some may arrogate this air of omniscience to themselves but you should avoid it.
There are some persuasive theories about language and learning but many conflict with other equally persuasive theories and some are a good deal less persuasive than others.  We cannot discover how best to teach a language by starting from a philosophical prejudice.
There are, of course, many more ways of teaching badly than there are of teaching well but teaching well, too, can be done in many ways.


Trickle-down training

In many institutions, trainers are drawn from people who have themselves been through the institution's training programme and then gained some greater experience.  Now, you may believe that the training you received was exemplary and that you should, as far as possible, try to duplicate what you encountered as a trainee when you set out to train because, after all, it resulted in your current level of great competence and profession skill.
There are dangers to this sort of process:

  1. Misconceptions, myths and groundless assumptions about language and learning tend to proliferate and are passed on to generations of trainers.
  2. In the copying process, errors occur which cannot be satisfactorily fixed.  For example, once a misunderstanding of the distinctions (or not) between style and register is embedded in a trainee, when that trainee becomes a trainer, the misunderstanding gets passed on to a new generation who may, in turn, become trainers.  And so it goes on.
  3. Progress is glacial or imperceptible because the institution has decided on what it believes best practice to be and no changes are made.

The moral here is to keep an open mind and do your own research concerning the data you are trying to present.  Do not use the notes you took on your training course as a guideline for constructing your own training behaviour.


Paddle your own canoe

It is likely, however, that as a new trainer you will be taking the lead from others in the institution (although, for example, with short intensive courses and in-house development / training programs that is not invariably the case).
The comments above are not at all meant to imply that you shouldn't take your colleagues' views seriously, just that you should, from time to time, be prepared to paddle your own canoe with regard to what you say in training sessions and how you understand ideas, hypotheses and concepts.
Many established training teams welcome the injection of new thoughts and the corrective nature of another view.  On the other hand, there are trainers who have developed over the years a set of prejudices and assumptions which are not based on authority or research but on personal opinion and, alas, sometimes misunderstood reading.  You need to handle this kind of situation with some care but, if what you say is firmly based on your own research and reading, you should not be afraid to argue your corner.
Nobody is omniscient.


Self-evaluation worksheet

This is not a taught course so you are going to have to evaluate your own skills and shortcomings.  Naturally enough, even on a taught course, you will often be required to do that.  Introspection and reflection are key teaching skills whatever you are teaching.
You need to look in a mental mirror and assess as honestly as you can where are, where you need to be and how to get there.

There is one worksheet here with two tasks.
Click here to download the worksheet.

What you write in the right-hand column for those two tasks is not predictable but it is to be hoped that occasionally you may write something like:
    Do the rest of the units in this course.

Woodward, T, 2003, Key Concepts in ELT: Loop Input, English Language Teaching Journal, 57/3, July 2003, pp301-304, Oxford: Oxford University Press