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Am I ready to be a teacher trainer?
They may ask in response to a request from a boss to run a workshop, in response to seeing a job advertisement, or in response to their own desire to keep developing and moving on in their professional field.
Each individual needs to answer the question for themselves, of course. But in this article, I’ll provide a few areas you might like to think about when turning the question over in your mind. These are:
- What do you need in order to be any kind of teacher?
- Do you need anything more in order to train, educate or mentor other teachers?
- How can I judge if I’m ready to be a teacher trainer?
What do you need in order to be any kind of teacher?
It seems to me that in any kind of teaching, whether you teach a modern foreign language to someone who doesn’t speak it, or teach tennis or physics, you need the following:
- Physical and mental stamina
- Good management skills
- The capacity to engage participants, relate to them both one to one and in groups, and find out what they know
- A good understanding of the content you teach and an ability to transform it into (a) clear, succinct messages and (b) practice via tasks and materials
- Good classroom skills – for example, the ability to hold attention, question, wait, listen well, make good quality interventions, explain, demonstrate, negotiate learning that is meaningful and relevant for participants, monitor groupwork and synthesize everyone’s offerings...
- The ability to get on with colleagues and those above, to the side and below you in your context.
In addition, it’s good if a teacher can keep up to date on relevant literature, theory and practice; have thoughts on their own role as a change agent; and keep developing.
I’m sure you’ll think of other important areas that I’ve left out but it already reads as a pretty long list. Of course, if you are a teacher of teachers, all the above still apply. But let’s look at the next question.
Do you need anything more in order to train, educate or mentor fellow teachers?
Working with adults
If you normally teach children or teenagers, then the first extra is to get some practice working with adults. Adults may differ from young people in their relaxed pace, longer concentration spans, constructive sense of humour, ability and willingness to bring in their longer life experience, their motivation and their desire to know why you are asking them to do this or that task.
To be useful to other teachers, you really need to get as much experience as possible with different class sizes, levels, types of student, types of course, materials, teaching contexts, and so on.
It’s just not enough to be able to teach any more. You’ll now have to have a good understanding of what you can do in a classroom, who with or to, when, how, and why. In other words, you’ve got to get meta – that is, look over and behind all you do from a professional viewpoint so you can comment on it lucidly and provide shortcuts for others.
Many teacher trainers/mentors/educators, no matter how different their settings, find they are all involved with certain core tasks such as: helping teachers with lesson planning; observing teachers at work; giving feedback on observed lessons; and supporting teachers while they process new knowledge and experience, map the new onto what they knew before and draw their own conclusions. There are parallels between some of these teacher training core tasks and ordinary teaching. Thus, it could be said that giving feedback on observed teaching is similar to giving a language student feedback on an oral presentation done in class. Some skills – such as using tact, providing support and giving data-based commentary – can transfer from the language classroom to the teacher training classroom. Nevertheless, the core tasks of language teaching are pretty distinct in some ways and so their content and process, their what and how, need to be learned and practised.
One other thing that is distinct, in my view, is this: By becoming a workshop leader, conference presenter, observer of teachers, or any kind of teacher trainer, you are setting yourself a little apart – not just from your new adult students of teaching, but also from your colleagues, the teachers who have chosen not to become trainers. This will have implications that depend on the culture and context you work in. In some cultures, it will immediately give you pride, respect and support. In others, you will stand out like a lightening rod on top of a building. And if there’s any static electricity around in the atmosphere, you’ll draw it – especially if you are of a gender, age, religion, race or other group that is normally either conspicuously dominant or oppressed. It’s time to look at the last question.
How can I judge if I’m ready to be a teacher trainer?
Even someone who has just a little more knowledge or experience than another can be helpful to the other, for a time. So, even if you’ve just been teaching for six months, you can still be useful to the newly qualified teacher who’s just arrived in your staffroom. We can, too, take a very broad definition of a teacher trainer and say that it is anyone who helps a colleague with an idea for their next lesson or who spends time listening to an upset colleague after a bad class.*
In this way, if we start naturally with colleagues, if we start small, then most of us actually are teachers who are part mentor, part teacher trainer. Being a teacher trainer, in my view, shouldn’t mean leaving the language classroom. For if you stop language teaching for months on end, how can you keep realistic and helpful to those who are about to be, or who still are, in the thick of it all? So to answer this final question… if you’re enjoying your language teaching, and getting better at all the tasks noted under question 1, if you’re being turned to for help and support by colleagues, as noted under question 3, and if you’re willing to work on the tasks under question 2, then you’re probably as ready as you’ll ever be!
* See Ways of Working with Teachers. Tessa Woodward. 2005. T W Publications. ISBN 0-9547621-0-X
This article was first published in the Teacher Trainer Volume 20 Number 2, pp 7-10, and is reproduced here with the permission of the editor and author.