TEFL

What is an English-language Teacher?

My first teacher trainer was fantastic. She gave me encouragement and matter-of-fact feedback that enabled me to attain my goal of becoming a confident teacher, which in turn changed the direction of my life. We are still in contact and she continues to inspire me and to give me feedback. She is tall. She is a she. She drank a lot of tea. She was born in Siberia.

Most of these details are sort of interesting but are mostly irrelevant and only a couple of them really matter to me. And yet as teachers we continue to not only judge members of our community on such irrelevant information but also to fight about these insignificant details with other teachers —  people who by definition should be seeking to promote understanding and tolerance rather than stubbornness and conflict.

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The dispute over whether native or non-native teachers are superior goes on, and we each have our own opinion on it. Either we think non-native teachers have certain attributes that native teachers don’t have, or we think native teachers are the only capable English teacher.

Or, possibly, we think something within or about these polarised positions. Personally, and maybe due to mental laziness, I don’t really think much about the dispute. I choose a non-position. I am Switzerland. I ignore the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ because to me they are misleadingly binary and because I don’t think either extreme position is correct.  

By using these black and white terms we fortify the dichotomy, and by mistaking the extremes for the content we do ourselves a disservice and lose the multitude of colours which lie in-between.

Putting people into categories is at times helpful as it gives us a common way to talk about things but misleading when we forget the categories necessarily simplify what we talk about. As adults we know that life is messy, it strays over the lines, and it doesn’t fit well into the tightly starched clothing we occasionally try to dress it in, and it kicks back when we try to fit the whole of humanity into just two distinct categories.

A woman born in Chicago brought up attending international schools from the age of 2 in Kuwait and Hong Kong?

A man born in Iran and raised in Auckland from 3 years old?

Born in Yorkshire, UK with little grammar awareness and a strong regional accent?

Born and raised in Helsinki with perfect received pronunciation and excellent command of grammar?

A Singaporean?

If we must be divisive and if we have to discriminate and if we need to fight about who is what and what is who then can it possibly be between and about ‘teachers’ and ‘non-teachers’ or even better how we can collaboratively improve the field of ELT / TEFL instead of over the tiring and tired ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ terms?

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I have seen that a lot of people can agree on the idea that the language your parents speak or the colour of your passport does not influence in a meaningful way your ability to teach. Some people are good at teaching, some people are not, some people are OK, regardless of the colour of their passports. Some want to be lifelong teachers, they want to grow, develop, and help students around the world achieve their educational goals. Some others want pocket money while they backpack.

For the TEFL community and industry to grow we would do better to focus on nurturing those teachers who have a real passion for professional development and for their student’s learning, and finding ways for recruiters to identify them and for employers to reward them. This, in my opinion, would be a good application of our energy.

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Without wanting to lessen the cause of those on the extremes of this native v non-native battle I suggest we move on to promote TEFL in a positive way and turn our attention to education and away from in-fighting.  Either way, I’d like to move now to a more fascinating aspect of this topic — why have we been getting so angry?!

I have found in teaching that most of us have instinctive beliefs about what teaching and learning is. We might not be able to articulate it, and we might not know why we believe it but we do, and it undoubtedly influences how we teach and how we react to opposing claims of what a teacher is and does. But the question ‘What does an English-language teacher do?’ is not as simple as it might first sound. Are we motivators? Educators? Lecturers? Task-setters? Information-givers? Facilitators? All of the above? Whatever you believe will influence how you teach and your position in debates such as those about native v non-native teachers.

If for you a teacher is exclusively a facilitator then you may think that it’s not so important whether the teacher is a native speaker or not, since the teacher’s skills lie in planning and setting up tasks. If on the other hand you think one of the main roles of the teacher is to model ‘native-like’ pronunciation and to give guidance on the nuances of idiomatic phrases, you may be sure that a teacher should be a native speaker, or at a native-like level.

The interesting thing is that it seems we don’t always recognise what we believe, and even if we do the bias may well be based on past experience of teaching and learning on the job as well as acquired habits rather than being informed by relevant and up-to-date academic research.

There is a boatload of great research on language learning and teaching that most us don’t know how to or don’t want to access. Speaking from personal experience the sheer magnitude of research papers from relevant fields such as Corpus Linguistics, Neurolinguistics, TEFL etc. is too much for me to get through in one lifetime. But what if some of the wealth of knowledge from the researchers and academics within the field could be distilled and placed in our communal chalice for us to drink?

So, I decided to ask experts in the field of language acquisition the question: What is an English-language teacher?

Well, I didn’t ask them that question exactly, but I did create a questionnaire designed to solicit expert’s views on what the primarily role of an English-language teacher is, the results of which could potentially be used as a reference point for us as teachers. If the results were valid they could inform future practice and could possibly provide some insights into how to deal with certain topics and debates within our community.  

I created a survey and I approached some experts in the various fields of linguistics, second-language acquisition, and TEFL. I have so far received a sizeable amount of responses which offer some remarkable insights, but I would like to collect more responses before we look at the results together.

What I have noticed so far is that a lot of the responses are clearly emotion or instinct-led, and not necessarily based on the research that the participants are involved in. For instance in response to the question of what the primary function of a teacher is one respondent helpfully replied ‘teach the subject’. Nonetheless, I hope we will uncover some insightful and practical information.

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Over the coming weeks I will share the information from each set of questions which range from asking the experts what the primarily function of a teacher is, to whether they think L1 is useful for teaching adults. If would like to receive the posts as they come out (approximately one every few weeks) then you can subscribe here.

Before I go I would like to thank Natasha (the teacher trainer of the first paragraph) for her thoughts and feedback on the idea to send a survey out, and Mike Casey of the English Teachers in Spain Facebook group for continually posting stimulating articles and promoting open discussion, one of which provided the idea for this small-scale research.

If you are interested in learning more about the plight of non-native teachers in the TEFL industry then I would recommend looking at some of the videos and articles on the TEFL Equity Advocates website.

To read other blog posts, click here.


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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Challenges for ELT, ELT, Inclusivity, native v non-native

New Year, Same You? 5 Ways to be the Best Teacher you can be in 2018

The new year is nearly here and with it comes the expectation to make resolutions to change something in your life; to become the best possible version of you. Or at least to make a list of the characteristics that the best possible version of you would have. Whether you will spend less time on Facebook, go swimming more often, and clean the juicer straight after using it, only you will know — but deciding to be the best possible teacher you can be will bring you joy, benefits to your students and to your career. 

Here are a handful of activities and habits that you can put into practice straight away to make you an even better professional.

1. Take a Course

While there may not be such a wide variety of courses for English teachers to take, there are some out there which are held in high regard and that will furnish you with ideas and inspiration that you can take with you for years to come. Some of the most well-known are run by Cambridge Assessment. TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test) is exactly what is says — a knowledge test that will bolster your CV. The DELTA is considered the main stepping stone after the CELTA. It is at master’s level, and for teachers who have been teaching for a few years. It is theoretical and practical and there is increasingly more flexibility in how you can take the modules. For something more specialised there is the Business Certificates (BEC) also from Cambridge which is divided into Preliminary, Vantage, and Higher.

 

Aside from these formal certifications there are online courses that you can do to support your development as an English-language teacher. For instance, Coursea and Future Learn offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are designed as tasters to promote certain universities and their courses but nonetheless can have great content. With these you will not gain a qualification that you can necessarily put on your CV but you may well learn something useful and enjoy participating within the community of learners that attend the online courses.

2. Read Articles and Blogs

English teachers are often avid readers, and many of then are writers too. Sometimes at the end of a long day teaching a teacher would like to escape into the other-worldliness of a great novel. But putting aside some time to read around topics which interest you in teaching and learning can be equally engaging and can bring benefits to your teaching too. There are lots of academic articles and current research papers which can offer insights into what is happening now in the field of ELT and could help you to overcome issues you might be having with your own teaching.

Google Scholar is a good place to start for searching for articles on topics that interest you and institutions like The Linguistic Society of America offer insights and links to articles and here is a great website which offers lots of links to free articles on linguistics and teaching. If the day has been too chaotic for you to possibly read a full-length academic article then why not browse some of the many ELT blogs in cyberspace that have the right balance of light reading and deep insights? Check out this list of ELT Blogs to follow in 2018. And if you have something to say — why not create your own blog?

3. Join the Community

Being a part of something bigger and communicating with others about what you do can be reassuring and can offer much needed support. There are tons of different groups on social media where you can interact, share, and gain information. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ all offer something slightly different so take a look, join some groups and get involved! Additionally there are forums where you can chat about specific questions such as at TEFL.net and ESL Base.

Quora is a relatively new phenomenon which is somewhere between a forum and social media. It is a place to ask and answer questions, gain knowledge, and comment. There are not so many English teachers on there, but you can change that!

4. Self Appraise and Create a Training Plan

Reflection is a necessary step in effective learning, according to Kolb’s Learning Cycle. As teachers we might be too busy teaching to be learning because we might not have enough opportunity to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well in any given day. Setting aside some time for this and creating a learning path for yourself can give more confidence to your teaching, enable you to see what you have done in the past, and to make plans about how you want to develop in the future.

Self-appraisal is the start of this process. It can done as a simple list of Strengths and Weaknesses featuring what you know you are good at, and what you could do better. From there you can form personal objectives based on the areas you want to improve. You can plan how you will meet the objectives: will it be through peer observations? Reading contemporary research on the subject, or even carrying out your own small-scale research? Taking an extra qualification or attending a seminar? Any of the items in this post could serve as instruments for improvement, the important thing is to articulate what you want to do and follow through as best you can. If you would like a template for a teacher training plan you can contact me and I will send one to you.

5. Attend Conferences

From the plethora of conferences in the TEFL world we can see the dedication and vibrancy in the industry. There are conferences, large and small, across almost every continent, every month. Conferences serve multiple functions. The first of those is educational. When you attend you can prioritise the topics and speakers that mean the most to you. The speakers may be giants of the field or complete newbies giving their first presentation. The second benefit of attending conferences is meeting like-minded people. A lot is made in today’s world of social capital and networking but if that isn’t your thing then simply meeting people and having fun with TEFL professionals is a good enough reason to be there! And that brings us to the third point which is that conferences are exciting and fun. The vibrancy is tangible and it’s revitalising to mix with people who work in your field and with it comes a sense of community and mutual support.

These are some ways you can grow as a teacher but good habits, like dogs, are not just for Christmas; they are long-term investments in yourself that will pay dividends for a long time to come. But why wait till 2018!? There is time to do these things now!

If you have any other suggestions, then leave them in the comments below. Otherwise, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

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Read: ESL, EFL, ELT…WTF?!

Read: Making Friends with Corpora

Read: Plato’s iPad: The Latest Trends in ELT



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ESL, EFL, ELT… WTF?

Acronyms are everywhere in English-language teaching. They describe what we do, how we do it, and to whom. But is the myriad of acronyms necessary? Can we streamline and agree on a single solution for the English-teaching sector?

As I look for social media groups to join, websites to search for jobs, and blogs to read, I never know which keywords to start from: English Teaching? Teaching English? TEFL? TESL? TESOL? ELT? ESL? EFL..?

My preference is for ELT because it includes, to my mind, everything I want to talk about: Teaching, learning, and English; and Scott Thornbury uses it!

But, alas, not for the first time most of the world doesn’t agree with me. Instead, according to Google, they favour in this order:

1. ESL
2. ELT
3. TEFL
4. TESOL
5. TESL

These acronyms are not strictly interchangeable but in reality they do not individually carry a specific meaning — each acronym is simply more popular in certain regions of the world, and ultimately are all used to talk in general about English-language teaching and learning.

Let’s have a quick look at what they stand for and where they are used.

_______

ESL: English as a Second Language

In theory for English taught in English-speaking countries. Did you get that from the acronym or the actual words? I didn’t. And apparently neither did Dave from Dave’s ESL Cafe, who created the online jobs board and forum for English teachers abroad.

Most popular: Almost all the world, including the USA, Australia, and Canada.

_______

EFL: English as a Foreign Language

Here the implication is that we are teaching learners in their home country, in which English is a ‘foreign’ language. Not too clear or helpful either.

Most popular: Eastern Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana.

_______

ELT: English Language Teaching

Teaching English!

Most popular: Cambodia, Turkey, Peru, Colombia, and Ethiopia.

_______

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
As EFL but with ‘teaching’ in front of it. Widely used for the teaching qualification.

Most popular: China, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Ireland.

_______

TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
In theory all-encompassing, as with ELT. Used often for conferences.

Most popular: China and Australia

_______

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language
As with ESL.

Most popular: Not really popular but used mostly in Canada.

_______

In an era of English-language teaching in which we celebrate diversity and avoid labels, could it be time to define more clearly what we mean when we say we are teaching learners who are learning English as a ‘second’ or a ‘foreign’ language?

Firstly, we cannot easily label people anymore in this way. People move, live in countries where English is used for bureaucracy, used for gaming online, they spend some time in English-speaking countries, then move, they learn on-the-go, online, and fluidly. We can not pin some down to being an ‘S’ or ‘F’ learner.

There is a further debate here because we can argue that, in fact, someone who is learning English in rural China needs to be considered in a different way from someone who is learning English while living in central London. But this of a degree not binary.

Of course the learner in China will need to be taught in a different way and will need different skills than someone who is living in London and uses English on a daily basis; but this is what teaching is about — adapting to the learner in front of us and finding strategies to facilitate effective learning.

I favour ELT because it does not walk on the increasing rickety path of differentiating between ‘types’ of English, it is clear, simple, and I understand it. But, it is not up to me, it is up to us. And we don’t have to choose one over the other, but we do need to be careful about the words we use; we are language teachers after all.



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Making Friends with Corpora

We teach what is in the course book, or we teach what we know. We draw upon our own highly personal experience and assume that we are teaching English as it is used every day. What if it isn’t? What if we are teaching  grammar structures or lexical items which are actually not used in the way we are telling students they are used? What if what we are teaching doesn’t accurately reflect the English of the ‘real world’?

I recently wrote about ‘The Latest Trends in ELT‘ and ‘The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning‘ and among the hyperbolic and prophetic statements I mentioned the use of language corpora in aiding English-language teaching.

The problem, I realised, is that very few of us really understand the possible impact language corpora and concordancers might have on ELT and additionally, most of us are unable to use them!

A Corpus

A language corpus (corpora as a plural) is a collection of samples of real-world language. Usually they contain millions of examples and may be from spoken or written sources, or a combination of both. The corpus serves as the basis for analysis of how language is used.

A Concordancer

A concordancer is a computer program tool, which can be accessed online. It is used in conjunction with a language corpus to analyse the language examples. Essentially, the corpus is the data (language samples) and the concordancer is the tool used to analsye that data.

International House Journal has a good article here on how teachers can use corpora and concordancers, and the British Council has a good post here on concordancers.

Corpus Linguistics

Khojasteh and Shokrpour (2014) wrote about the wider implications for teaching and learning from the field of Corpus Linguistics, which is the academic field which employs language corpora for research.

The literature review threw up some startling insights. For example, although we often teach that any is usually used for negative statements or for questions, it was found that in fact in between 42 – 51% of cases it is actually used in positive structures.

The paper offered several other examples of instances when what appears in text books and what we teach are not faithful descriptions of how language is really used.

What We Do Now

Corpus Linguistics is concerned about the inconsistencies in how language is used and what we teach.

According to the research paper traditional course books are ‘often largely based on the personal judgements of the materials writers’, while Scott Thornbury said that many course book creators are ‘still largely base content selection on intuition and they neglect the important and frequent features of the language spoken or written by real language users’ (Thornbury, 2004).

Although materials creators are usually skilled, experienced, and dedicated to what they do, they are not supercomputers or all-knowing beings, and so their  ‘personal judgements’ are not going to accurately reflect authentic English usage. Because of this many researchers have recommended ‘the use of corpus-based findings to inform material writers’.

It makes sense that the people who create books are basing the content on something other than their intuition.

Would we be so forgiving if our doctor, dentist, or electrician relied entirely on his or her intuition when carrying out his or her daily tasks?

Science-free Zone

When we consider that over 1,000,000,000 people are currently learning English it is quite shocking to think we are basing the education of these 1 billion people on what a handful of predominantly Western men and women think English is.

It has been accepted that course creators and textbook writers use their intuition rather than actual data when deciding what content to create because previously there was nothing else to go on.

The Four Insights

There are four areas in which corpora can help us [to become better teachers] – Khojasteh and Shokrpour, 2014

Frequency

Using a corpus we can see how often words occur in relation to others. Research suggests (for example Kennedy, 1998, Conad, 2000) that teaching words which occur more frequently is advantageous for the language learner. It allows the learner to learn first the words which are central to the language, and helps the teacher decide which words to put more emphasis on when teaching.

For example, when you teach modal verbs, which do you teach first? Which do you put most emphasis on? According to four English language corpora the most commonly occurring modal verbs in descending order are:

will, would, can, and could

Will knowing this drastically change the way you approach teaching modals in the future? Probably not. But for the people who write course books it can be a valuable insight which can help them to decide which modal verbs to give greater importance to when creating the content.

Register Variation

In linguistics the type of English which is used in any given situation is called the register. As English teachers, we often draw our student’s attention to the register in terms of formal or informal, or speaking or writing. These factors influence the grammatical structures employed, the vocabulary, and even the pronunciation. These are, no doubt, all things we are aware of as teachers.

By using a corpus it is possible to see accurately what type of English is used in a given situation. It can tell us how often the connectives however and therefore are used in academic writing compared to but and so, for example; and shed light on the appropriacy of certain words and grammatical constructions in certain instances. This could make English for Specific Purposes and Academic English teaching much more effective.

Reliability and Scope

Corpora can be used to help us see how generalisable a word is and how much scope it has. In this sense, scope is ‘the amount of times a rule is applied’.

An example of this is our use of ‘s‘ to form a plural. It is a very reliable rule and has a large scope for application.

This information can be useful because we can prioritise the learning of rules which have a broad scope. This will enable our learners to gather momentum faster and will get them interacting in English quicker. Of course there is a time for rules which throw up a lot of irregularities, but these can be presented after those with strong reliability and broad scope.

Collocations

To my mind, this is where corpora and the concordancers come into their own and can offer a practical use for learners and teachers. Collocations are the words which are most often used with other words.

If you see: ____ a deal you will probably mentally fill in the blank with make. This is a strong collocation. Language corpora can help us out with identifying some of the most regular collocations but also serving as a reliable source when asked by a student (or even another teacher!) questions such as: Do you have or take a shower? 

Of course we can use either of those but with a corpus to hand we can give a definitive answer as to which is the more commonly used.

Conclusion

I might sound like I am selling English-language corpora for a living. In fact, I find them difficult to use, and I have doubts about whether we should be teaching just the highest frequency words because then words become self-perpetuating and fads become mainstream for longer.

Imagine a slang word that might be highly used and therefore is taught to students more often. Instead of being a funny word which passes through the language after a year it gets taught, memorised, used, and passed on; inadvertently cementing the funny slang word in the language for years to come. Sick.

In conclusion, corpus linguistics and the tools it uses are a way we can refine our teaching to better reflect the way in which English is used. It can provide us with a more realistic and reliable source of how language is used. It can provide shortcuts for learners and teachers. But, for this to happen, language corpora and concordancers need to be adapted so they can be easily accessed and effectively employed.

If, as they are for me, these ideas and the tools associated with corpus linguistics are tricky then that should not stop us trying to understand their relevance and application in language teaching. This a relatively new area of linguistics and an unfolding aspect of teaching. But to start, materials creators have a responsibility to consult with language corpora before designing courses and text books for our learners, who ultimately deserve to be taught with considered, effective, and authentic teaching resources. For our learners we need to make friends with the corpora.

The full research paper which I drew the majority of this information from is freely available here.

Plato’s iPad: The Latest Trends in ELT

The DoS Within: Being a Director of Studies

The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning

Is There a Need for Course Books in ELT?



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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Challenges for ELT, Corpus Linguistics, ELT, Teaching Practice, technology

Plato’s iPad: The Latest Trends in ELT

Teaching is a timeless profession; the Greeks were doing it, Jesus was apt, and even Einstein wanted a piece of the action, but it’s difficult to see at first what has fundamentally changed in the way we teach since Plato was expounding his theory of Forms. 

Image Credit

But Plato didn’t have an iPad. Or Twitter. And he didn’t have access to an online language corpora with millions examples of language to compare. So what advantage do we really have now compared to our sandaled friends?

There are four aspects to this: the school, the methods, the teacher, and the student.

The School

The trend with English-language schools is towards the personalised and the informal.

In general, they are moving towards creating more of an environment which replicates the environment in which language is used outside. In other words: out with the rows of plastic and metal chairs in lines and in with bright comfy armchairs arranged in casual circles. Not only does this make the language school a more appealing place to go to learn and provide an a more realistic setting, but the informal decor helps lower students affective filter, putting the students at ease and therefore facilitating language use.

The Method

Although an ancient Greek philosopher might be at home with a communicative approach to learning he or she might not be quite as at home with task-based and project-based learning.

Although these methodologies are yet to be brought wholesale into our schools and classrooms they are undoubtedly making waves in various areas of education and there is a lot to be said for them. Essentially, these approaches advocate for a personalised and participatory approach to learning, which fits well with a communicative approach.

Task-based and project-based teaching and learning rely on the teacher carefully planning tasks and projects for students which will bring the learner into contact with language. One example might be setting a project for a group of students to work together designing a new city. It will require the students to negotiate (in English), become emotionally involved and invested in the outcome, and allow them choice over the final results. It gives power to the learners and increases engagement.

The Teacher

Today’s English-language teacher has a lot of resources to hand to help him or her in being the best teacher he or she can be.

There are plenty of online resources especially created for the busy teacher, as well as online courses and platforms for English teachers to chat and share ideas about teaching. One significant resource that some English teachers are starting to use is an English language corpus. The power of the internet has enabled us to collect and make available millions of examples of authentic English-language usage searchable. This sounds like a small thing but it is not just a collection of words and sentences.

By using a concordancer in concert with language corpura we can see which words commonly collocate or how often a word or phrased it used. This is bringing science to English-language teaching in the best possible way. It means we can actually check how often people say ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ before teaching it as required English, or which qualifier usually precedes exodus. We can show students examples from real texts from written or spoken sources. Using these tools is not easy, and just how to make the best of them so they don’t slow us down completely is still to be seen, but their potential for aiding the teaching of English is great.

The Student

Arguably though, the technological advancements we have made in the last few decades favour the language learner even more than the language teacher.

First of all there are all the (free!) resources available to students as increasingly companies find themselves giving away content that they used to charge for, for instance English File and Headway. As for teachers, there are plenty of chat rooms, Facebook groups, and Youtube videos for learners. Additionally there are also ways to connect directly with learners through sites like italki and Verbling and apps such as Hellotalk. These offer cheap or free interaction with English teachers, directly from the learner’s phone or computer.

All this technology means nothing if it is not being put to good effect but this is not just technology for technology’s sake; it actually provides something much more valuable than grammar exercises or access to an English teacher. It provides the freedom for the learner to learn when and how she or he wants. It empowers learners to reflect on their learning and ultimately it promotes independent and lifelong learning. This technology provides the degree of personalisation that has often been missing for anyone involved in education. If Plato could see us now, I think he’d be pretty chuffed.

The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning

The DoS Within

Is There a Need for Coursebooks in ELT?



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The DoS Within

This blog post looks at the Director of Studies role, what it’s about, who is suited to it, and how it could be a great way for a teacher to gain a new perspective of the school he or she works in.

It is commonly claimed that teachers are born; not made, but can the same be said of a Director of Studies?

Another common claim is that often those who get into managerial positions are the ones least suited to them. That may be because the people who get supervisory roles are more motivated to find ways to achieve a promotion rather than being the best candidate for the position. Of course there are some ambitious people in the TEFL industry; those who see themselves as managers, but I think you’ll agree that most English-language teachers are happiest working alongside others in a team, and do not by nature seek authority over others or have large appetites for administrative work.

So, why do teachers become Directors of Studies, how, and what makes a good DoS?

The role of the DoS depends on the centre’s size, ethos, and overall objectives but we can broadly say that a DoS is charged with maintaining or even improving the quality levels within the school. The role often involves recruiting teachers, delivering training sessions, observing teachers and delivering feedback, reporting to a centre manager, and the role may include aspects of business promotion and strategy.

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As is suggested in the introduction the role of DoS is a supervisory role, usually filled by someone who wants to progress in the the field of teaching. But there is something inherently paradoxical about a teacher steping into the position since inevitably a DoS will have less opportunity to teach, as his or her time is filled with other obligations.

Add to this the implicit responsibility of the job, as well as the creation of spreadsheets and the administration and organisational tasks, and you can see why at first glance the role might hold little appeal to a dyed-in-the-wool teacher.

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On the contrary, the role of the DoS utilises many of the skills we develop as teachers.

It is based on building rapport by implementing strong communication skills. Of course the presonell change but the task is the same — give clear instructions, listen to others, and communicate openly. Working with others in a team is essential for DoS just as it is for a teacher. A school is the sum of its parts, and each of those parts need to work in unison.  One of the clearest similarities between the Director of Studies and the teaching role is the in central tenet of educating and inspiring those around you. Educating teachers might seem condescending but if we see this through the lens of contemporary teaching as: facilitating others to reach their goals, then we can see how similar they are.

And so a teacher can reap a lot of satisfaction from applying these skills in a new context. Of course there are new skills to develop that may not be standard for TEFL teachers such as leadership and managerial skills, planning and learning how to balance many different needs such including those of the business, those of the the students, and those of the teachers. These skills are all useful skills to develop and if necessary are transferable to other parts of life or other jobs.

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A good DoS will need to be analytical and organised, as part of the job can be anaylsing data and statistics. Planning and preparation go hand-in-hand and are fundamental to being a DoS. This will include planning any events that the school puts on and planning in regards to the staff.  It’s necessary to anticipate busy times of the year and ensure you have recruited the right people at the right time. As with teaching you will need to think on you feet and deal with problems as they arise. Always have two solutions to every problem is a phrase I have heard a lot recently. Most of all being a team player and getting the best out of people will determine your success in the job. People around you will expect you to lead from the front, to be worthy of trust, and to be a great communicator. So much of the job is, again like with teaching, getting people to move forward with you.

Teachers who show they have the potential to develop these skills will be in contention to become a DoS, but I would add to that that becoming a DoS is also a progression in your own education. It is an opportunity to see the school as a whole and this can feed back into one’s teaching and one’s overall professional development.

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The position requires dedication and flexibility. It requires you to wear many hats in a short space of time. A DoS needs to be comfortable creating spreadsheets one minute, covering for a sick teacher the next, while the next leading a meeting with a sales team. But as with teaching the most important and consistent thing is that you are dealing with people. The ability to work well with and get the best out of people is what made you a good teacher and what will stand you in good stead to be an excellent DoS too.

There are many people who simply love teaching and the idea of doing anything else doesn’t hold any attraction, and then for others becoming a DoS is a great way to grow and to experience the school in a different way.

To return to our first two generalisations: are teachers and DoSes born; not made? The answer is: neither; it is a choice we make to improve ourselves and the lives of others. Are those who become DoSes simply ambitious authoritarians? May be, but if so they will need to learn to change their expectations of the role because the power in a school is always with the students and the teachers, and both of these groups famously give short shrift to dictators.

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If you are interested in growing professionally and experiencing the school in a fuller way, then I would wholeheartedly recommend applying yourself to becoming a Director of Studies, and likewise if your ambition lies in being a great teacher then that is an equally noble ambition.

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Read: The Future of English-language Teaching

Read: Is There a Need for Coursebooks in ELT?

Read: Teaching Pronunciation

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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Director of Studies, Professional Development

The Future of English Language Teaching and Learning?

Technology is everywhere. It simultaneously infests and beautifies our lives. It serves as a daily necessity and a diversion, and it has both liberated and enslaved. Education is still struggling to adapt and equip students for life to this technological society, but what is the future of English-language teaching in this new world?
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We are now used to a web experience in which we can integrate images, user-generated and personalised content, as well as the freedom to browse and search for precisely what we want. It is easy to see that this pattern of activity has not yet become part of our approach to language learning, especially if we think about the traditional school setting. Although many schools are now moving towards incorporating contemporary learning styles into their architecture, it is often not so evident in the syllabus which can remain prescriptive. There is a challenge now to create an environment in which learners can determine what, how, and when they learn. 

From our involvement with the world-wide web we have developed critical thinking skills and we are now more used to the ideas of lifelong and independent learning. The near future should allow learners to create their own learning paths, as well as interacting easily across existing boundaries of space and time. Learning will therefore become more personlised, efficient, and absolutely student-led. We will rely less on generic course books, and learning itself will continue to shift in its meaning to describe the act of mindfully doing something with the intent to improve, rather than receiving given information and memorising it.  

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As English teachers become more connected to English learners around the world and the technology which facilitates learning at a distance become more adapted to the specific task of improving language and communication skills, students will have the freedom to have lessons when they want, as at any one time there will be an English teacher available somewhere in the world. Teachers will need to adapt to regularly working with students from all over the world and be more conscious of varying learning needs.


In regards to the teacher, there is the likelihood that the function of a teacher of offering knowledge and guidance will become redundant as the internet will, if it hasn’t already, surpassed the knowledge and ability to correct that any one teacher has. The teacher will continue to move to where they offer value, in the subtleties of the language which are as yet untouched by technology and for conversation practice. This will mean a shift towards the position of an English language consultant rather than a teacher as we know it now, to be more often used as a reference for interview preparation, advising on romantic chatting in English, or helping a small company prepare for a business presentation.

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Arguably, technology is the least important consideration for a profession which is in essence about people, behaviours, brains, encouragement, human interaction, and empathy; but it is also difficult to envisage a future of learning that is not progressively more dominated by technology. 


Many of us may be dismayed by these prospects but I suggest the important thing is how we react to the inevitable move towards the learner-driven personalised content which is the now of language use and therefore the future of language teaching and learning. 

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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in technology

Is There a Need for Coursebooks in ELT?

Coursebooks are the standard in ESL and EFL classrooms across the world. As a teacher, do they light your fire, or do you think they should they be used to start one?

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The use of course books for teaching English is a rather divisive issue. Some school insist upon their use while other educational organisations insist that teachers utilise only their wits and the students in front of them as the means to teach. Dogme language teaching famously advocated for ‘teaching without published textbooks and focusing instead on conversational communication among learners and teacher‘. And yet, for someone who is new to ELT, or simply for a school or teacher who want to work from a tried-and-tested text book, they can offer guidance, inspiration, and a ready-made solution to the problem of what and how to teach. 

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It is worth thinking about what the purpose of learning materials is in the classroom, or to the independent learner. It is important to consider that learning materials need to be used, interpreted, and delivered. Anything we read or use to teach or learn exists and works only in the way we use it and interact with it. A creative and imaginative teacher can make the best of bad resources, just as easily as a lesser teacher can make good resources dull or impenetrable.

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Coursebooks sell by the millions per year and are informed by the aggregated knowledge and experience of the whole history of teaching language and the professionals who work in the field. They provide the structure and cohesion that many students and teachers crave. Nowadays, they employ a multimedia approach, are colourful, and the content is more relevant than it was. Coursebooks can be relied on to provide a level-appropriate syllabus which delineate a clear route from one level to another.

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Except, levels only exist in the abstract. All our learners are individuals with different skills, strengths, learning preferences, histories, and personalities. The most severe, and arguably the most valid criticism we can cast on a complete reliance on a text book for teaching is that they assume all English learners in the world are the same. There are currently over 1,000,000,000 people learning English. As soon as we think of these 1 billion individuals, from every corner of the Earth as one homogeneous group with one goal and one approach we have clearly made a wrong turn.

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The truth is that coursebooks need to be as generic as possible so that they can sell as many units as possible. In other words, it is in the interest of a publisher to consider these learners as all the same, and this often makes for bland content that is difficult to relate to. If English-language teaching and education has learnt one thing over the last few decades it is that to be successful we need to start from the learner and build out, not imposing prescriptive content. We have learnt that learner-produced content increases engagement and therefore increases learning. Added to this, all too often, schools, teachers, and students mistake completing exercises in a book with learning a language. Undoubtedly doing exercises helps some learners learn, but we have come to accept that learning is best consdiered as and judged by doing.

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Perhaps it is wise, however, not to be too dismissive of coursebooks. They have aided countless people to reach their learning objectives and have served a necessary function for a long time. It is easy to see, though, that their time might be up. As more and more people have access to often free online resources and are more comfortable and confident about treading an independent learning route, there is seemingly less call for prescriptive learning resources. Perhaps their challenge is, as it is ours as language teachersto adapt to the realm of free content and ease of connection between learners and the learner and teacher that we find ourselves in today.  

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The best coursebooks stimulate authentic interaction and provide a clear syllabus as well as fulfilling an emotional need for structure and cohesion. Like the gods of yesteryear — they still have a place in today’s world if we trust and believe in them but as Lindsay Clandfield said, if we need to use coursebooks and if we are going to keep making them, ‘make better ones’.


Read about The Future of English-language Teaching and Learning



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Posted by rfieldenwatkinson@gmail.com in Teaching Materials