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Teacher Education What Does It Mean

Teacher Education What Does It Mean

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Published by George Vassilakis

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Published by: George Vassilakis on Nov 29, 2009
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Teacher Education: What does it mean?by George Vassilakis
Introduction: an anecdote
Here is what happened in a lesson that I observed recently: the teacher began thelesson by asking the learners to turn to page 42 of their textbook, read a text out loud,then asked each student to read out 3-4 lines of the same text. After that, she askedwhether there were any words the students didn’t know, which elicited a series of ill-formed
‘what means X?’
questions from the students. The teacher translated andwrote on the board all of the vocabulary queried, and directed the students to thecomprehension exercise in their textbook. Asking one question of each student inturn, she completed the comprehension activity in less than five minutes and then readaloud and translated the grammar explanation included in the textbook. The bell rangat that point, so she assigned the rest of the textbook material for homework.When I saw the teacher after the lesson, it transpired that her main concern was thatthere was never enough time to cover all of the material in the textbook. I asked anumber of questions, to which I cannot say I received any clear answers. Here are justa few:
 
Is it necessary to
cover 
everything that is in the textbook?
 
Why did she read the text aloud?
 
Why did the students read the text aloud?
 
Why was all of the vocabulary dealt with?
 
Why did she translate the vocabulary?
 
Why did she translate the grammar explanation?It is, of course, not easy to ask a
why
question of a teacher whose lesson you have justobserved without sounding critical, and this teacher, like many others, was initiallyvery defensive, but when I finally managed to convince her I was genuinely interestedin hearing her rationale for these decisions, and after a lot of non-judgemental soul-searching, it turned out that she was not really aware of the reasons why she wasdoing things the ways she was in the classroom.As this teacher had learnt English herself as a foreign language, I suspected that manyof the techniques that she used had actually been used on her by her English teachersin the past, and I asked her if she remembered anything about her language learningexperience and her favourite English teacher. She had a lot to say about her favouriteEnglish teacher, obviously a role model for her, who was
‘very knowledgeable,’
 
‘demanding, but rightly so,’
and who, naturally, used exactly the same method as thisteacher had used.
Teachers’ Theories
I consider that this half-conscious imitation of models of teaching and learning thatwe have experienced in the past is the gravest obstacle in the route to teacherdevelopment. Unfortunately, teacher beliefs and theories (cf. Borg 2001, Richards1998) tend to be uncritically based on past experience, and, whereas they affect
 
teacher behaviours and decisions in the classroom, they are rarely consciouslyaccessible. In other words, the beliefs and theories which guide and determine ouractions and reactions in the classroom are not necessarily rational, nor open todiscussion or critical scrutiny, because we ourselves do not realise they are there.The significance of the
beliefs
that teachers bring to the classroom and to teachereducation programmes has been pointed out repeatedly (e.g. Freeman 1996, Roberts1998, Roberts 1999, Woods 1996). In simple terms, it appears that teachers, likelearners in other situations, do not respond to the input provided as part of a teachereducation programme as is, but rather construct a meaning of the input which iscompatible with their own schemata, and assimilate or accommodate it depending onwhere it stands in relation to their personal (often unconscious and unarticulated)beliefs and their social and educational context. Thus, to be effective, a teachereducational programme has to be based on the teachers’ own experience and socialcontext (cf. Bax 1997) and take explicit account of their
implicit theories.
 
Teacher education, training and development
I have argued elsewhere (Vassilakis 1998) that the difference between teacher trainingand teacher education is a very sharp one, which we should always remember indiscussing the issue of becoming a better teacher. According to Widdowson (1983:16-20) education refers to the acquisition of competence, which involves a deeperunderstanding of principles as well as the element of conscious choice from arepertoire of techniques and activities available; training, however, refers to thedevelopment of a partial competence, which endows one with a limited number of ready-to-use techniques without ensuring that an understanding of the underlyingprinciples has been achieved nor that choice can be made with reference to a set of criteria. Thus, a teacher education course necessarily aims at bringing teachers’
‘hidden’
beliefs and theories out into the open, so that choice can be conscious andinformed. A teacher training course, on the other hand, does not encourage the teacherto challenge her (or his, occasionally!) underlying beliefs – at best, it adds
‘activitiesthat (seem to) work’
to the repertoire of the teacher in question, therefore adding tothe body of unchallenged, unthought-about beliefs and theories.As for teacher development, this is clearly a desideratum in education, but the termhas, unfortunately, often been misused as an alibi for what is essentially lack of development! Teacher development presupposes teacher education, and the way todevelop as a teacher is by making sure you are constantly educating yourself in thesense described above. It is very difficult to see how, for example, development canresult from two teachers talking to each other in the staff room of a school, tellingeach other what they did in the classroom, but not why they did it, why it worked ordid not work, or how they might do it differently. And the kind of awareness thatwould enable them to discuss the latter, more salient, questions is the awarenessresulting from a teacher educational process.
Components of Teacher Education Programmes
Given the definition of teacher education as primarily a process of change, perhapswe should look next at the elements of a teacher education course that serve thisobjective.
 
There are basically two components in a teacher education course of the kinddescribed here: experiential and awareness-raising ones (cf. Ellis 1990, Wallace 1991,Woodward 1991). Experiential practices would include team-teaching, peerobservation and teaching practice work, while awareness-raising practices wouldinvolve course participants working on tasks based on experiential data. Thus, ateacher education course should consist of the following components:
1. Experiential Component
 
Teaching Practice (including micro-teaching, peer-observed lessons and tutor-observed lessons)
 
Language Learning Experience (English or a third language)
 2. Awareness-Raising Component
This component should contain tasks and procedures based on data drawn from theexperiential component, as outlined below.
 
Data
o
 
lesson plans
o
 
videoed lessons
o
 
audio recordings of lessons
o
 
lesson activity description
o
 
case studies of learners, classes and/or teachers
o
 
lesson transcripts
o
 
samples of student work 
o
 
textbook materials
o
 
 
Sample tasks
o
 
comparing (e.g. two lesson plans)
 
o
 
evaluating (e.g. textbook materials)
 
o
 
 justifying (e.g. teacher’s choices as recorded in a lesson transcript)
 
o
 
 
Sample procedures used in performing tasks
o
 
brainstorming (e.g. rationale for a teacher decision)
 
o
 
elicitation (e.g.. of similarities and differences between two lessonplans)
 
o
 
lecturette (e.g. on the principles behind a textbook structure)
 Experiential Practices
Experiential practices are of course those most clearly connected to actual teaching:micro-teaching as part of a teachers’ course, actual teaching practice observed bypeers and/or tutors, but also, language learning experience, whereby the teacher learnsa foreign language so that she can gain a better understanding of the process from therecipient’s end.Discussion of a lesson taught, also known as a post-lesson conference or feedback session, is obviously an extremely important part of the experiential practice. Thisdiscussion, however, should not be directive (Freeman 1982:21-28), as theeducational goal should not be to assess teacher performance, but rather to help

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