What We Have in Common

Brock Brady I’ve been in Santiago, Panama for the last 10 days,
facilitating a 2-week Training of Trainers session for Peace Corps
staff.   There are 15
participants from 10 countries including Costa Rica, Ecuador, Micronesia,
Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Samoa, Tonga, Ukraine, and the United States. 

Despite the far flung nature of the participants we find we
share much in common.  In most of
the countries represented it is difficult for English teachers to find full-time work and when they can find full time work, it is often either without
benefits or the pay is so low that the teachers must take a second (or even a
third!) job. In almost all
countries there is a severe shortage of texts and in many countries a culture of
reading is not widely
developed, due to under resourced educational systems and simply a lack of affordable books. 

BradyMayorgaChacon_withCaptionOn the other hand, in almost every one of the countries, there is an absolute mania to learn English, and far and away most teachers really care about finding ways to make learning more effective and engaging. Our students, while not always angels, respect us and genuinely want to learn.

This gap is disappointing. The demand for English is unquestionable. Governments regularly list a command of English among 21st Century Workplace Skills. Daily more and more interactions are conducted in English between people who are not native speakers of English. Despite this, too many English teachers strain to make a living wage—or to obtain the benefits that make up part of a living wage.

True, in the rush to provide English language services too many teachers have been pressed into service as English teachers without proper
teacher education and in some cases without sufficient English
proficiency. On the other hand there are many dedicated, qualified English language teachers that deserve more. What can we do?

PanamaCanal_withCaptionFirst it is clear that the native speaker fallacy (that native English speakers are “naturally” the best teachers) hurts us all.  Internationally, native English speakers abroad often earn more than educated, experienced English teachers in the country in question. In English-dominant countries like the United States, the notion that being a native English speaker is “good enough” to be an English language teacher depresses wages despite demand.

Education is part of the solution. We need to inform governments and the general public that you need to know how to teach—and teach ENGLISH to help students learn English effectively.  Being a native speaker is no magic bullet. Second, I think we must stand up and always show ourselves as the professionals we are. We have worked hard to be well-educated, experienced teachers.  If we show the results of that every day, we will make progress to better compensation for us all. It won’t happen today, but we can build for tomorrow.

What is your employment situation like? 

About Brock Brady

Brock Brady
Brock Brady is the programming and training education specialist for the U.S. Peace Corps, a volunteer development agency. He was President of TESOL International Association from March 2010 to March 2011. Before coming to Peace Corps, Brady served as Coordinator then Co Director of the American University TESOL Program in Washington, DC for 12 years. Brady also directed English Language Programs for the State Department in Burkina Faso and Benin, lectured at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) for two years in Korea, served as a Fulbright Scholar in France, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, W. Africa. Brady’s research interests include English language planning and policy, program and course design, and pronunciation. He has also taught English or engaged in educational consulting in more than 20 countries
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6 Responses to What We Have in Common

  1. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    I was glad I could help. What have your teaching experiences been?

  2. Mikaela says:

    You cannot even imagine how helpful your article has been to me! I have read the book, suggested by http://www.pdfspirit.com/informator-za-upis-u-srednje-skole-2010 a ebooks search engine, and felt completely confused. But thanks to your article I have finally understood everything. Thank you!!!

  3. Brock Brady Brock Brady says:

    Yes, two hours a weeks is so little and yet it seems like administrators expect us to do so much with so little time. This is another concern I find almost everywhere. We have few contact hours with our students in English class yet at the end of college (or maybe even high school) it is expected that they perform like highly proficient language users.

  4. Fabiana Azurmendi says:

    Well, I teach EFL in Argentina. Students are not much interested at school and it is difficult to engage them to participate, specially orally..
    My native language is Spanish and I am pursuing a certification to teach Spanish as a foreign Language and ESL.
    As regards Spanish, Although I know all the rules of my language I still feel more comfortable because I ve been trained pedagogically. Methods and pedagogy and Knowledge of the subject is what makes a teacher a professional.
    I understand that when teaching ESL, grammar is fundamental, ESL students interact all the time with/in English outside the classroom and they need to “polish it” learning how to use it properly, specially for academic purposes but… Do they master grammar or you need to teach it first? If they are Spanish speakers and you teach them the gerund that follows “to go” probably they will need to know first what a gerund is. The worst part is ,in Spanish, Infinitive follows “to go” and they will ask ” how do you say ‘a’ in English?”
    My students of Spanish know nothing about grammar so I cannot explain the rules, they want to learn Spanish and they tell me ” if you are a teacher you have to manage to teach me Spanish no Grammar”
    I currently teach EFL. In my case it is very important to teach first the function of certain lexical groups to cope with everyday situations. My students at primary school (10 years old) haven t learned grammar yet in their language class, needless to say at kindergarten level. But that is not the worst part, they listen and use English two hours a week.

  5. Lbr says:

    CORRECTION: Brock, not Bill, sorry.

  6. Lbr says:

    I currently teach adult ESL at a private language school in New York. However, I am pursuing a masters that leads to K-12 certification. As a Native English Speaking Teacher (NEST), I agree with Bill that it is important to get very good teacher training. As a “NEST,” I definitely lacked declarative knowledge of grammar. I never remembered learning the rules. When I first started teaching, I had never taught grammar. I found myself saying, “I know it’s right, but I cannot explain why.” I suppose this epitomizes my grasp of procedural knowledge and deficiency of declarative knowledge. It was embarrassing, though. While my “global learners” brushed it off, my “local learners” were frustrated. Why didn’t I know the rules? I was a native speaker, and therefore a presumed expert of English. I also recall my embarrassment when a student asked me if a verb was transient or intransient. I admit that I had no idea what he meant. I felt that knowing all the tenses was mastering grammar, but that was just the tip of a very large iceberg.
    The only way I have learned grammar is to find a good book and teach it. I recommend the Azar series. They’re very teacher-friendly. At the beginning, I tried just doing the exercises, which was somewhat helpful. However, actually teaching was much, much better. I had to explain to students, who in turn helped educate me. I actually love teaching grammar now, because I feel like I am learning. Even yesterday, when introducing gerunds that follow “to go, ” I learned a new rule. I still cannot explain everything -although I haven’t completely taught all three books 🙂 – but I feel much more confident. I’ve also gotten better at learning inductively myself – recognizing a pattern that I can then explain to students. So, I agree that every English speaker – native or not – needs to understand how to explain the language.

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