TESOL needs context! Considering local education settings in teacher training and development


Local TESOL settings vary enormously - why doesn't the style of training?

Imagine you were retraining as a teacher of Mandarin to Speakers of Other Languages (MSOL), to meet the growing international demand for this emerging global language. This is a specific skill, which requires expert input and guidance as you develop as a teacher. You arrive at your training centre, nervous and wondering if you will be able to manage the intense workload that has been promised…


You meet your trainers, who have just arrived in the UK, and will return to China the day after the end of the course. Your first task is to memorise a list of teaching terminology in Mandarin for the exam which will be held on day three of the course. If you do not pass the exam, your course grade will be significantly compromised.


Day two of the course arrives, and your tutor explains (in English) that in order to ensure maximum attention on the teacher at all times, the tables in the room must face the front in rows, and that this layout must not be changed, as a lack of focus could mean that trainees miss important information during the course. In addition, trainees are not encouraged to speak together or ask questions during session time, as the tutors assure you that they will demonstrate the correct way to teach Mandarin Chinese during the input sessions.


How do you feel about these two important aspects of the training course you are attending? What would be your response? This is the kind of educational culture shock which greets many non-European teachers of English when they attend TESOL training courses and CPD events, and are trained by experts in specific ways of teaching which may not relate to the local context where they work every day. The resulting reaction can be very strong, especially in teachers from cultures which have long-standing traditions of education based on long histories of practice which are at odds with the accepted Communicative Language Teaching traditions we take for granted in Western-paradigm TESOL contexts.


An additional issue with this hypothetical training event may be that the MSOL trainers themselves have come to the UK only for the duration of the training, and may have little to no idea of the UK contexts where you might be teaching Mandarin - secondary schools, language institutions and other organisations who mainly adhere to communicative methodology. How will this new approach fit into their existing systems? How will the British students feel about the MSOL methodologies which you will bring to their classrooms?


As trainers, we need to be aware that one size does not fit all, and that communicative methodology is not the only way to skin a cat. Yes, CLT is effective when teachers, managers and other stakeholders appreciate its purpose and value, and work in line with each other towards the same goals, but it can equally cause division between schools of education, as was felt by Jim Scrivener in his (in)famous debate with Wang Jun, of New Oriental (a discussion worth watching to recontextualise what we do as TESOL professionals in the West) with a view to China and its ancient traditions of education.


My talk at IATEFL in Liverpool next week will investigate the phenomenon of culture clash (or, more accurately, paradigm clash) that exists when teacher educators ‘jet in and jet out’ of specific education environments, billing Western-style communicative methodology as the magic bullet for all language learners worldwide.


I am speaking at 4:20 on Thursday 4th April, in room 13, so if you are attending, I hope you can make it there to further this debate in person.



Tom Garside is the founder of Language Point Teacher Education Ltd., an education development organisation which leads professional development and teacher training activity with the aim of empowering teachers in the contexts where they work and increasing sustainability to the development activity that they participate in. He also delivers Trinity CertTESOL courses to English language educators around the world.

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