When I first became a language teacher, in the 1980s, not much thought was put into the theory that underlies what it is to be or become a teacher. I was very intuitive, my students seemed to enjoy my classes, they were very participative and, most important of all, they were learning the language. I was hard working and extremely committed to my job. At that time, I could not see the necessity of having a theoretical background for my classroom practice. I had the course book, I was creative, I spoke the language fluently, I planned my classes carefully. Intuition was my guidance.
Nearly 30 years have gone by.
Ironically, teacher training has become my life. If I had known then what I know now, I believe my students would have become much better learners and speakers of the foreign language they were attempting to learn.
As Russell and Munby (1991, p. 164) point out: “Ask any teacher or professor, ‘How did you learn to teach?’ As likely as not, the response will be ‘by teaching’ or ‘by experience’, and little more will follow, as though the answer were obvious and unproblematic. While there is an implicit acknowledgement that actions and performances can be learned through or by experience, there is little understanding of how this comes about.”
The premise that teaching ability is something innate is very mistaken. Some people are born to be teachers. We have all met someone who cannot be seen, other than inside a classroom. On the other hand, most of the teachers we encounter in our education system are ones who have a university degree in Education, have been teaching ever since, however, need help to make that jump from being an ordinary teacher to a great one.
Teaching can and should be taught. Not only during the university courses, but throughout the whole career. When teachers adventure out to teach their first class coming fresh out of their university courses, they are able to put into practice a little of what they learned and a lot of it they pick up on the job, from their own experience. After a few years, they learn how to pull the strings so that the students learn what they are supposed to learn in that year. However, after some time, teachers tend to settle down into a comfort zone of underestimating what our students are able to learn.
Teaching can and should be taught. Teaching is an extremely complex profession, dealing with many different skills that need to be mastered, not only by the knowledge of theories, but also by being guided through by trainers with pedagogical methods, self- assessment sessions, classroom observation, guidance and view. There is no such thing as a bad teacher. I would say there is a lack of interest by many schools who are neglecting their most important students: their teachers.
Teaching can and should be taught. As teachers, our main objective is not to teach students a certain content, but teach them how to learn that certain content. In order to do so, different aspects of teaching must be taken into consideration: pedagogical content knowledge, collaborative work, knowledge of multiple intelligences, classroom management, theories of teaching and learning, reflective teaching, feedback sessions and many more. How is a teacher able to do all this without guidance and training on a daily basis?
With the advent of technology, so much more can be done for our students, and even more for the teachers. To be a teacher means to never stop learning and it makes it so much easier if you have someone to guide you on this exciting path of constant research.
Are teacher trainers really necessary? Yes! Definitely. Big changes are needed in schools. Classroom observations with critical and constructive feedbacks, teachers with clear goals and procedures on how to reach that goal, teachers encouraging students to think critically, teachers with clear classroom management and instructional skills. We have a long way to go!