Initial Teacher Education in ELT

Back in May I wrote about what matters most when education systems are trying to improve levels of English among learners. I concluded that the qualiity of initial teacher education is vital. Studies of high-performing education systems often refer to the emphasis that is placed on attracting the best candidates to teacher education programmes and on providing initial teacher education that equips graduates with the knowledge, skills and other attributes that underpin teacher competence. But it remains the case in many countries that graduates qualify to become teachers of English without doing a programme that is specific to English and, even where it is about English, without doing many courses that have a teaching focus (as opposed to literarature, linguistics or education generally). A recent report on ELT in India, for example, noted that

There are few opportunities available for initial teacher
training designed specifically for aspiring teachers
of English or for newly recruited teachers of English.
Whatever training they receive is in the form of limited
input on teaching English as part of courses or training
programmes meant for all teachers teaching at the
primary level
. (p.34)

In Iraq, English programmes in Colleges of Education have traditionally been dominated by literature and lingustics courses (though reform is taking place), while a report that has just been published about Nepal also raises questions about the quality of initial English teacher preparation. For example, one B.Ed. English programme contained 45 courses but the first ELT course was the 24th. A course on ‘An Introduction to SLA’ was the 39th. Assessment on the programme was also found to focus largely on the recall of factual information.

While different contexts require specific approaches, insights from the international literature can provide direction for the design of initial teacher education programmes in ELT. A discussion is provided in Section 3.1 of this report while further insight is also available in broader discussions of the competences teachers need, such as the ‘Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards’ proposed by Education International and UNESCO. Frameworks from our field provided by the British Council (CPD Framework) and Cambridge (English Teaching Framework) are also important sources of guidance for programme content.

This list can without doubt be extended (please make suggestions). Overall, though, initial teacher preparation programmes for teachers of English will be more effective (i.e. will produce graduates who are well-equipped to support the learning of English) when they

  • are based on clearly defined and sound standards for teacher competence
  • guided by principles of teaching and learning which are consistently applied across courses
  • model effective pedagogical and assessment practices
  • support the development of graduates’ English language abilities
  • develop high levels of teaching knowledge (specific to English and more generally educational)
  • focus deeply on subject matter pedagogy (teaching English)
  • make learning to teach (often in a particular context) the central concern
  • emphasise the development of students’ identities as teachers from the outset
  • provide insights from and experiences of real classrooms throughout programme (not just a practicum in the final year)
  • involve student teachers in a range of assessments, including those of a more performative, inquiry-based and reflective nature.

It is also important to stress the importance of teacher educator competence in effective pre-service programmes; programme reform must also often involve professional development for the teacher educators themselves (see this CPD framework for teacher educators for one analysis of the competences teacher educators need).

It would interesting to hear about pre-service programmes in different contexts and comments on what makes them more and less effective in preparing teachers of English.

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