What does it mean to be a teacher of English?

This is a summary of a talk held by Jack C. Richards at IATEFL 2016 on Friday 15th April 2016. I’m afraid I’m not as hot-off-the-press as people who seem to the spend the entire conference tweeting and typing… but for those who couldn’t attend, here are the main tenet’s of the talk. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below!

So what does it take to be a teacher of English?

1. Expert language proficiency

Language competence needs to be strong, the must have the ability to produce accurate English spontaneously and improvise in the classroom. The teacher also needs to have a command of the specialised vocabulary of teaching, as well as being able to modify their language production for teaching purposes.

2. Content knowledge

This essential knowledge falls into two categories – disciplinary core knowledge, for example in linguistics, second language acquisition, etc., and also pedagogical knowledge to support teaching and learning, such as knowledge of methods, course design, testing.

3. A repertoire of teaching skills

This will include ways of opening a lesson, setting up group/pair work, and guiding a variety of effective practice tasks. With experience comes the ability and confidence to improvise more and integrate more creativity into the classroom activities, as the teacher becomes able to automatise small decisions about classroom management. Also, the ability to see the bigger picture of the lesson within the course framework will serve the teacher well.

4. Contextual Knowledge

This means having an understanding of the social and physical context within which you are teaching. The culture of learning defines what is considered ‘good’ teaching in different places and societies, and teachers need to be aware of the norms and expectations of their context.

5. Identity as a language teacher

What it really means to be a language teacher is devolved from a sense of motivation and beliefs about the profession. It may be defined by the different roles the teacher sees themselves in, e.g. planner, facilitator, mentor, model. Personal attributes (who I am), social constructs (who I am right now) and a professional identity (who I am at work) come to form a language teacher’s overall sense of identity.

6.  Learner-focused outlook

This will be evident in teachers’ aim to reduce redundant teacher-talk from their lessons, letting input from the students to direct the lessons, and not having lessons slavishly riven by a lesson plan. Teachers with a learner-focused outlook view the subject material from the students’ perspective, and are able to re-shape their lessons based on learner feedback.

7. Specialised cognitive skills

Teachers think slightly different to people in other professions; with a key point being an understanding of how to pedagogicalise content. When given input to teach from, teachers identify its potential, define goals, assess potential difficulties, etc. and are able to make these decisions very quickly, as this has come to be a natural thought process for them.

8. Ability to theorise from practice

Teachers develop and modify a theoretical understanding of teaching/learning based on their own experience and practice: This is how we understand our own teaching, decisions and actions. From our experience and understanding, we develop teaching principles or  philosophies which drive our teaching practice.

9. Membership in community of practice

Within such a community, teachers can relate and interact to achieve shared goals, for example through team-teaching, peer observations, or other forms of collaboration.

10. Professionalism

This can be either institutionally prescribed, imposed in a top-down manner, or involve the teacher making independent decisions regarding their own CPD engagement (bottom up), but is essential for a career in ELT.

IMAG0723
Jack C Richard’s slide: My photo.
So what do you think? How strongly do you agree or disagree with his points? Are there any dimensions of our work that are not covered here? Please leave your comments below – I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Clare

Note that a more thorough discussion of the points in this presentaiton can be found on: http://www.professorjackrichards.com and on the Cambridge English website:  http://iatefltalks.org/talk/mean-teacher-english

 

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