Recently in the United States, some states have been turning to hiring people who are not certified or trained teachers to fill open classroom positions. States such as Utah and Georgia are allowing schools to hire individuals with a bachelor’s degree in any content area, who are then supervised by a master teacher and/or complete an alternative teacher training program in their first 3 years of teaching. Those states are not alone, as some programs such as Teach for America place people with bachelor’s degrees in public schools with a summer training program and a student teaching experience to help them complete their required 2 years of teaching.
How does this specifically relate to TESOL education? This larger trend impacts TESOL teachers and teacher educators in that it supports the notion that one does not need extensive education about education to be a teacher. We see this often in the myth that one does not need to know much about English or education to be a TESOL educator—one only needs to be a native speaker of English. (Quite obviously, I disagree with both of these notions.) Below are my five reasons we need TESOL teacher education; feel free to add yours in the comments.
1. Attrition. Currently, two out of every five K–12 public school teachers in the United States will leave the profession in the first 5 years (Knox, 2016), which means that today’s school kids will be in classrooms with perpetually novice teachers. When teachers are well prepared by universities, they may be more aware of the challenges of teaching, and less overwhelmed and overworked by those early years, and more effective and present for their students.
2. Knowledge about teaching. It’s not enough to know about a subject; one really needs to know how to teach it. This includes general things, like classroom management, assignment grading, curriculum design, and textbook choice, but also specific things like pedagogical content knowledge, and how to transfer content in ways that people can not only understand, but process and internalize. Strategies to help students with cognition, interaction, and reflection are a huge part of the puzzle, as well. These are all things that are not easily learned, and require multiple exposures and practice for internalization before being in charge of a whole classroom.
3. Knowledge about English. English is complicated (understatement of the year). Language is complicated. Most native speakers learn their own language by age 4–5, and don’t always have explicit knowledge of how it works or how it might challenge speakers of other languages. Information about the structure and sounds of English, how to use it for various purposes, as well as all the different varieties of English, are critical pieces to TESOL teacher education.
4. Awareness and acceptance of diversity. Teacher education programs are one place where teacher candidates (should) have opportunities to explore and articulate their own belief systems, as well as be exposed to other perspectives. Today’s teachers must be aware of the sociopolitical contexts that are going to play out in their classrooms, and have some empathy/sympathy for what their learners undergo as they take on English learning for whatever the purpose. This is a key point in developing teachers as advocates for ELLs, which has been a major initiative in TESOL this year and in past years as well.
5. Knowledge of child and human development. As a parent and a teacher, I have to say that this one is one of my biggest concerns for teachers. Classroom activities, textbooks, standards, management, motivation, discipline—all of these are so dependent on the age of the learner. When teachers are unfamiliar with the cognitive and physiological stages of development, even the best laid lesson plans can fall flat. This is also a crucial one in language learning, as the brain functions vary differently in terms of language at various points in one’s life.
In conclusion, the main reason that these “quickie” teacher education programs concern me as a teacher educator is that they remove the focus from the human element of teaching and put it on the content area being taught—that is, as long as you know the content information, it doesn’t matter what you know about your learners. I think we need to remember that we don’t just teach English; we teach people, and we need to serve them well by producing qualified and prepared educators.
I’d add that ESOL instructors also need to understand things like language acquisition theories, understand reasons for providing or not providing error correction, and it is really helpful if they’ve had a 2nd language learning experience – something often required in MATESOL programs. Two days ago I told someone I taught ESL and he asked, “So how many languages do you speak?” – many people think ESL Is bilingual education. How do you teach a language to absolute beginners who come from diverse linguistic/cultural and educational backgrounds when the only language you can use is English? This is not knowledge someone has from just being a speaker of a language. And if Facebook comments are any indication, many native speakers of English are not even aware of basic rules of their own language. I think it’s people’s lack of understanding of what we do that makes them think ESL teachers don’t need extensive training. After 30 years of teaching, I feel like I need even more training that what I’ve received.
Thank you, Dr. Lindahl. It is imperative that school officials ensure that the students with the greatest needs are in classes with teachers who are the most highly-qualified. Moreover, speaking a second language does not necessarily qualify a teacher to teach ESL or Dual Immersion. Thank you for this very important reminder! Administrators are making summer decisions about staffing for the upcoming year, and so this is quite timely.
Really interesting and transparent. An effective teacher is the one who knows how to teach and use the methods that motivate his students to learn.
Another very point factor in teaching English Language Learners is the knowledge base of second language acquisition. This has been identified in the literature as a critical issue – the lack of knowledge and understanding of SLA theory and related instructional practices. Another reason putting in someone without related training sets our ELLs back.