The opening keynote address to TEC15 was by Rod Bolitho who is the academic director of the Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE) and was the co-editor of a recent publication from the British Council titled CPD – Lessons from India.
Bolitho stated that there were essentially two curriculum issues when it came to teacher education: subject knowledge and pedagogical know-how. He suggested that the definition of subject matter knowledge in ELT is all too often knowledge about language, instead of language. His specific examples alluded to teachers in India who could quote from Shakespeare but without the ability to speak the language, as well from the former Soviet Union, where immersion in philology produces teachers who are well versed in the structure and meta-language of English with barely any communicative proficiency.
Bolitho underscored the criticality of English teacher education by suggesting that the scope of English teachers is far more than meets the eye because the status of English in the curriculum is perceived as tantamount to literacy in the mother tongue. English provides a window on to the world and teachers, therefore have to take responsibility for cross-curricular dimensions.
He went to state that in the face of disruptive changes we are experiencing, learning takes place beyond the boundaries of the classroom and the teacher cannot set these constraints any longer. They are required to think both outside and inside the box if the box is their classroom. As a result, CPD is a multidimensional enterprise struggling in the face of institutional management styles that seek to maintain control.
Attrition rates are apparently startling and in Australia, 50% of young teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years. Bolitho then remarked that the qualifications ladder is set up such that it takes the best teachers out of the classroom and into administrative roles. This really struck a chord with me – because I’ve struggled with how I’ve been disincentivised from spending more time in the classroom as I’ve progressed in my career.
He then revisited the issue of quality – extorting the audience to question everything. I was elated to hear him mention the dodginess of Multiple Intelligences and how we’ve all subscribed to it without thinking it through critically. He concluded by telling us that his goal was to infect everyone with the quality bug.
Some of his questions to teacher-educators and trainers included:
- How do you take care of your own professional development?
- How do you relate to your students?
- What part does student feedback play in your teaching/training?
- How often do you share ideas with colleagues?
- What steps can you take to combat isolation and stagnation?
His questions to providers included:
- How do you vet the quality of entrants to initial teacher education courses?
- How do you select teacher educator/trainers?
- Is there coherence between the values and beliefs underlying your course and the way the curriculum is designed and delivered?
- Is your curriculum up to date and fit for purpose?
- Is there a clear connection between theory and practice in your programme?
- How are assessment standards set and maintained?
- How do you provide for CPD for your educators/trainers?
- What internal provision do you have evaluating quality?
- Is your institution developing or standing still?
That last question is truly food for thought.