Fiona Dunlop reflects back on her early days as an EFL teacher, discusses the challenges and benefits of hiring newly qualified teachers and stresses the importance of hiring newly qualified EFL teachers to support their journey as well as the future of training in general.
Long long ago (30 years ago to be precise) I was a new teacher straight off my CELTA course (Prep cert in those days). I was filled with enthusiasm for everything ELT, a love for my students, and an albeit, minimal understanding of teaching and learning practices, picked up during my 4 week course in Cairo. I don’t know how good a teacher I was but I had a great time and I believe the students did too.
I bumped into a student of mine last year. He was a member of cabin crew on a long-haul flight and he remembered me from those days 30 years ago when he was a beginner level student in my very first class post-CELTA. Meeting him after all that time moved me and made me realise what an impact even the newest of teachers can have on their students. He said I had inspired him to work in an English speaking environment (and 30 years on his English was fairly fluent).
I didn’t know back then what the future held for me, but my CELTA was a springboard into a wonderful, rewarding and enjoyable career. I have lived in two very different countries, Egypt and Brazil; I have worked in all aspects of ELT; travelled for teacher training and development purposes to all corners of the world; and for the last 17 years I have worked in an extremely professional and nurturing school in the suburbs of London (Wimbledon to be exact). This is a school which has an integrated and lasting approach to CPD and training for all staff.
So what does this have to do with the future of training?
In those days that was the future. Over the last two decades I have been involved in teacher recruitment and never tire of meeting new teachers. At the school where I work in Wimbledon we have always had a policy of recruiting teachers fresh from a CELTA course. We have a large staff of mainly diploma qualified teachers, so coming into such an environment can be an incredible, if daunting, learning experience for the new teacher. We recognise that this type of recruitment of new CELTA teachers is an investment: time consuming and often challenging, but rewarding and beneficial to the teachers, the school and the profession as a whole.
I would now like to look at this in more detail with the aim of exploring this area of recruitment of new CELTA teachers more during the International House Conference on 23rd and 24th November. I hope to outline some of the challenges a school can face when recruiting newly initiated teachers then move on to consider the benefits to the school (and there are many). I will also make some suggestions as to how a school can help these new teachers integrate into an established staff with ease before concluding on the Future of Training as I see it.
Please also see the webinar I delivered a couple of years ago on this very topic.
Challenges when hiring new teachers
• They often have unrealistic time and preparation management when given a full teaching timetable
• Unable to manage school administrative demands such as report writing effectively
• Lack of language awareness/ possibly being unaware of their lack of knowledge (I know I was!)
• Limited to which courses they can be timetabled to
• No experience of exploiting published materials to meet student needs and no activities up their sleeve
• Pace is slow/thorough – pitch to lower end of a group
• Lack of cultural awareness / possibly being unaware of their lack of knowledge (yes, this was me too!)
• Not comfortable with firm classroom management/dealing with difficult students/ too eager to please
• Compared by students to previous teachers
• Get stressed/ don’t tell people/stress spreads to other teachers
Benefits when hiring new teachers
• Injection of new energy and enthusiasm to the school
• No bad (teaching) habits
• Opportunity to mould them into the type of teacher that fits your school
• Flexible – they willing to do most things including social activities
• Fast learners (with the right CPD provision)
• A pleasure to have in school ( generally)
• They love the students
• Excellent opportunities for experienced teachers to mentor and develop
• Good ambassadors for your school. Make their first teaching experience memorable for all the right reasons and they will enhance your reputation
How we can help
• Provide on-going, staged and structured induction and mentor system
• FAQs and example scenarios to talk through of things that could arise I nthe classroom
• Hints on preparation and sample plans. Provide time limit guidelines for planning, opportunities to prepare together
• Introduce and integrate to everyone from the start. Make them feel part of the team
• Provide a survival checklist of classroom admin jobs for the first day/week/month
• Check plans daily/weekly and monitor time taken. We don’t want them to burn out
• Observe regularly – could start with short bursts to lessen stress
• Provide 10 minute peer observations in first week to allow them to sit in on several classes and get a feel for the school. It also builds their confidence
• Provide a bank of last minute lessons and ideas in teachers’ room
• Run regular and practical ideas swapshops
• Arrange regular 10 minute meetings with DoS/mentor. Make them feel supported
Conclusion – the Future of Training
Well after all that, I don’t know the future of training I am afraid but I do know how we can enhance the post-CELTA work experience for a new teacher.
The CELTA is often compared to a driving test. You learn the skills after the test. I believe it is the responsibility of language schools to recognise this and invest in our future teachers. We need to put in the work to provide ongoing support and development not only for the wellbeing of these teachers but of course, because they are learning by practising on our paying clients. Close monitoring is needed along with guidance and careful planning of the timetable to maintain our own quality standards and ensure delivery is strong from the start to meet our students’ expectations.
I do not see the future of the training course as changing this situation but I do think that more and more language schools should be and may be making this move to investing in our initiated teachers. If we want our profession to be recognised positively rather than “the thing you do after university and before you get a job” we need to invest. This is a great profession and one which can provide a rewarding career path such as mine.
A possible thought to end on would be whether there is scope for a CELTA Plus certification, where an assignment or project plan is set for a teacher to complete within an amount of time in the job as a practising teacher post-CELTA.
The future as I see it is to continue to embrace these new keen, inexperienced teachers into our schools but to be aware of and address the support they need. This will make for a more robust profession where new entries feel supported and can see a future in ELT.
Fiona is the principal at Wimbledon School of English and she will be part of our Saturday Q&A panel at the Future of Training Conference.
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