Experienced teachers sometimes ask themselves the question, 'Am I ready to be a teacher trainer?'

Am I ready to be a teacher trainer? - methodology article - guest writers
Author: 
Tessa Woodward

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:

  1. What do you need in order to be any kind of teacher?
  2. Do you need anything more in order to train, educate or mentor other teachers?
  3. 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.

Getting experience
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.

Getting ‘meta’
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.

Core tasks
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!

Note
* 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.
 

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Comments

Dear Marthita!
Thank you for the answer.
I completely agree with you, teacher training is a complex notion that defies simple definition.
Thank you for recommending me the books by Jeremy Harmer. He is also one of the authors I like.
Best wishes,
Vita
 
 
 

Dear Vitazh, Oh! Thanks so much for what you said about Ways of working with teachers. It is great to know that you find it useful! When you say about having to do lots of research before a new session...? I just love all that. It is quiet, thoughtful time when I do loads of learning and thinking and then try to make a practical session out of it all. It is like fantasizing (is that how you spell that?) about what might happen when you get with those particular people, in that particular room, for that particular session. I find it very restorative and creative! All the best Tessa  

Dear Tessa!Thank you for the answerI absolutely agree with you and have the same attitude to the research teacher training requires...Sometimes we can use materials developed by other trainers... But I enjoy the process itself, I prefer to explore the topic on my own and then decide on which ideas to focus on. It also helps me feel more comfortable & confident during my sessions.Of course, the reaction of audience can differ a lot depending mostly on the previous experience of the trainees. The same session given for different groups of trainees can get different turnings and additional focuses... That is amazing.With best wishes,Vita

Lots of food for thought here.  I agree, Marthita, that you can learn so much about your own teaching through researching, delivering training to other teachers and particularly observing and talking to other teachers about teaching.
As to deciding whether you are ready or not, I believe it is a question of desire and commitment and the willingness to listen to other points of view.  I'm a great believer in learning by doing, and I had some of my most valuable teacher training experiences a few years after doing my CELTA when I wasn't sure if I was ready or not!
I agree with Tessa that proximity and familiarity with the language classroom is important to teacher trainers.  I believe it's vital for trainers who move away from direct teaching to sustain this connection by observing and talking to teachers they train to understand their context.  Only then can you be sure that you are really targeting teachers needs.
Claire

For Claire and others, Now this is where my inexperience with blogging shows up!! Because I am the guest writer this month, I have the feeling that, to be a good web host (or the "Hostess with the mostest!"), I should respond to most of the messages that appear. But of course some messages , like Marthita's to Vitazh above, are clearly for each other and I don't need to get in the way. But then there is Claire's message above which comments on a couple of comments! I really do want to learn more about blogging. It's one reason why I wanted to be a guest writer. But I do need a bit of educating by those of you who are more used to doing it, (including Claire hopefully !) What is the netiquette? I mean, what is the etiquette in blogging like this. Claire, if I answered your message would you feel it was a bit unecessary? If I didn't answer it, would you feel sort of a bit ignored? Please tell me because I really want to learn! Thanks to all who try to "larn me"! Best wishes to all Tessa  

I am perfectly ready.This is not because of the know how but of the deep conviction of the the calling.I love carrying out reseach and in this career my best moment is always one that find myself succeeding in  something I started with little doubt.I think if one has to become a teacher trainer you most always have in mind that everyone has something to teach at any given time to someone.I very much agree with the article that, "if we start naturally with colleagues, if we start small, then most of us actually are teachers who are part mentor, part teacher trainer".This does not reject the fact that the know how in the profession is highly recommended.

 
 
Hello Mr Bob!
Wow! What a great start to your message. I love that sureness you have!
And how right you are when you say...
"..everyone has something to teach at any given time to someone..."
I find that very true, very reassuring and also , actually, quite a beautiful thought!
Thank you!
Tessa
 
 

How do you do, Mr Bob I agree with your every single written there words... so do you have something special teach to me? I'm really so interested to learn something new from really professional teacher and I don't like to assess and evaluate students am I wrong and what would you advise me about this subject?

This article is very important for me, as a biology teacher who has to teach my subject in English. 

hello, dear Tessa Woodward how are you? I'm an English teacher, at the commence on the long way of teaching we all want to be a good teacher, so as every ambitious teacher I wanted and still want to be professional at my job but time flies so fast and today I've been teaching about 11 years. Now I want to be a teacher trainer. what would you like to advise me? What do I need to be a trainer?

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