Professional development and beyond: An interview with Briony Beaven
Briony Beaven is an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer, and teacher. She was for many years the Director of Studies in the English Department of the Münchner Volkshochschule, and is currently the Münchner Volkshochschule Delta (Cambridge ESOL teaching awards) Tutor Team Leader. She is also a CELTA tutor and assessor. Briony was Coordinator of the Teacher Trainers’ and Educators’ Special Interest Group of IATEFL for two years and Editor of IATEFL Conference Selections from 2005-2009. She is an associate teacher trainer for the Norwich Institute of Language Education (NILE). Her ELT qualifications include the Dip. TEFL and a Doctorate in Education in TEFL.
ETAS caught up with Briony to discuss her thoughts on teacher training and continuing professional development for teachers.
On the subject of teacher training, why do you think the CELTA is the preferred teaching certification of many language schools? What makes the program stand out?
The Cambridge ESOL CELTA is an initial teacher training course for teachers of English that provides substantial teaching practice in real classrooms. This teaching practice is conducted under close guidance from highly trained and qualified tutors and with expert feedback. Employers know that CELTA-qualified teachers are in possession of a set of tools and a framework that enable them to function as competent teachers of English.
For those considering completing a CELTA, what advice would you give?
Just do it! Even if you have gained some useful teaching experience without a formal ELT teaching qualification, you are unlikely to regret acquiring a principled, coherent set of skills and knowledge that will stand you in good stead throughout your career as an English teacher.
If you could change something about the CELTA syllabus, be it adding something or taking something away, what would it be?
If there were more time available, I would like to see CELTA trainees read more widely about learning theory, about teaching methodologies, and about language. There is nothing in the syllabus that says they can’t read widely but in practice most of them don’t manage to fit it in.
Why do you think that so many students feel as if participating in the CELTA is a harrowing experience?
Consider that lots of people who train as various kinds of teachers undertake a course of study that lasts several years. Then consider the fact that CELTA is a course of only 120 hours (plus 80 private study hours) that also aims to equip people to teach. You can quickly see that there is an awful lot to learn and many skills to acquire in a very short time. This naturally leads to a high workload and some stress. Yet most trainees would not want to pay a greatly increased course fee as would be necessary if the course offered more hours and even more tutor support. For those candidates who are likely to find deadlines and pressure particularly stressful, a part-time CELTA – the same number of hours over more weeks or months – may be a wiser choice than a full-time CELTA.
And what about Delta? Who is that for and why might teachers want to do it?
Cambridge ESOL Delta is a post-TKT and post-CELTA higher level teaching qualification. It is recognised as a qualification at Master’s degree level and offers not only the chance to develop your understanding of the theories that underpin our professional practice but also to develop your practical teaching skills to a very high level, again with the benefit of expert tutor guidance and feedback.
You train teachers and you also work with teacher trainers. How does a teacher make the transition from teacher to training teachers?
There is no career structure as such for ELT teacher trainers. You may be able to get some hands-on initial experience by guiding and mentoring new colleagues at your place of work on an informal basis. You could move on from there to setting up a teacher development group in your school, bringing together a group of teachers to create supplementary materials, for example, or peer observing each other’s classes. After that, you might offer to run a one-off workshop for your school or local professional organisation. Up to this stage you might find that you do not have to demonstrate possession of formal qualifications, either as a teacher or as a teacher trainer. It is, after all, up to any individual organisation or employer to decide who can work with their teachers, and many teachers have interesting ideas well worth sharing with their colleagues. However, to go beyond this and become a ‘proper’ teacher trainer, you will need a higher level teaching qualification such as the Delta and/or an MA TEFL/TESOL/Applied Linguistics. You may later decide to add a qualification in teacher training such as an MA TESOL Teacher Education (e.g. University of Leeds, UK) or a MEd Trainer Development (e.g. University College Marjon, Plymouth, UK). Alternatively, you could select an MA that includes a Trainer Development module (e.g. NILE, Norwich, UK) or take a two-week introduction to teacher training course (e.g. NILE or Hilderstone College, both UK).
What are some of the qualities of a teacher trainer?
A teacher trainer needs to be an effective and capable teacher with a good knowledge of language systems, skills in classroom management, skills in empathy and understanding, and knowledge of methodological approaches. They need to have worked with different levels and different kinds of General English class as well as having some additional areas of teaching experience, perhaps in teaching exam classes, or literature classes, or Business English classes. In addition, they need to be able to articulate their teaching principles, be able to demonstrate those principles in teaching behaviours, and be familiar with a range of teaching and learning options for any given teaching situation. A teacher trainer needs to know more than the average teacher about language systems, and to be up-to-date with language teaching theory, including theories of second language acquisition and methodology. They will be able to manage teachers as well as learners, and to make their training classroom a place where many different techniques, interaction patterns, and classroom management decisions are demonstrated and discussed.
In connection with continued learning and development, and in your experience, do most ELT teachers engage in continuing professional development once they have completed their initial training?
I think it is very hard to engage in professional development as a newly qualified teacher unless you have support from more experienced colleagues or managers. Unfortunately, in my context freelance teaching is the norm and this leaves many teachers without skilled support right from the beginning of their teaching careers. It is greatly to their credit that nevertheless some teachers do find ways to develop professionally. I would say that teachers’ organisations such as ETAS in Switzerland and MELTA in Munich, where I live, are extremely helpful in making professional development possible even in unfavourable contexts.
How do you define professional development?
Well, professional development is often defined as the growth of teachers and teacher trainers through their work. The term can be applied to individual growth but can also refer to the growth of a team or of a whole institution, such as all the staff of a language school.
What are some informal and formal professional development activities that you’ve found to be successful in your experience?
Formal professional development activities would include following courses that lead to further qualifications in our field (CELTA, Delta, MAs, etc.). These long-term courses with well-rounded syllabuses provide a framework for individual professional learning and enable teachers to approach ELT ‘gurus’, ‘methods’, books, and their own courses with an appropriate set of critical tools. Two kinds of informal professional development activities that have worked well in my context are teacher development groups and peer observation. I am particularly keen on peer observation as I feel that the learning which occurs in teacher workshops and seminars can be very usefully deepened by observing and being observed in a non-critical, supportive, collegial manner.
You did a presentation on ‘Teacher Stories’ last year at an IATEFL event. For those who haven’t already seen it, could you summarise the idea? Why is storytelling important to teacher professional development?
Teachers get together and tell each other stories of what happened in their classrooms. To do it, they need a safe group, where authentic relationships can be cultivated, a comfortable place to sit or gather with something to eat and drink, and perhaps objects in the environment that stimulate storytelling – a photo, a book everyone knows, an old-fashioned or brand new item with resonance for those present. The sharing of stories between teachers is valuable in building relationships between colleagues, providing reflection on practice, and shaping deeper pedagogical understanding. Stories capture the complex nature of teaching and allow teachers to come to a better understanding of their classroom experiences.
At this same presentation, you also stated that what matters most for teachers is what happens in their classrooms, not necessarily what the latest research offers. How can teachers remain up-to-date with ELT research without getting bogged down in academic theory?
I don’t think I can give a recipe that will suit all teachers. For some, it may be useful to start with publications that are very much about the practical application of theory. I’m thinking here of magazines like English Teaching Professional. For others, it may be a reference given in a teacher training session handout that can lead them to an issue of interest. Another possibility is to conduct a small classroom research project, for which some background reading will be essential. All these ideas have in common links between practice and research/theory. Find topics that you want to investigate because you feel that better knowledge of them will help you in your teaching. Then you’ll be genuinely interested, not merely dutiful, and hopefully won’t get ‘bogged down’!
You’ve said that processing through reflection may enable learning. What does reflection mean and what are some ways that a teacher can reflect?
The reflective teacher makes use of their anticipation and their memory of events in their classroom as a basis for professional growth. Thus reflection on teaching is rooted in the personal experience of teaching. Reflection may also involve the consideration of public theory, i.e. what experts say and write about teaching and language in books, articles, and websites. In reflective practice this theory is used to interrogate and better understand personal teaching experiences, not as a set of instructions to be followed.
On a personal note, what are some projects you currently have underway?
I’m the Tutor Team Leader for all the Delta courses at the Münchner Volkshochschule. We currently have Module 1 and Module 3 Delta courses running and will be starting new part-time courses for all three modules from early 2013. If anyone might be interested in those courses, visit www.mvhs.de/delta and/or email me at email@example.com
I’m piloting an oral skills course that I wrote for the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. It’s designed to help student teachers of English upgrade their skills in classroom English.
And I am a NILE Associate Trainer. I’ve recently started work on the Trainer Development Module of their MA in Professional Development for Language Education, a new challenge which I find very rewarding. If interested in that course, visit http://www.nile-elt.com/content/courses.aspx?m=76
Have you ever been to Switzerland? If so, when and what did you do?
Yes, I spoke at ETAS conferences a couple of times, in the late nineties I think, but I can’t actually remember when! Both conferences were very rewarding and I had a number of interesting conversations with colleagues working in Switzerland. Much more recently, I have visited both Geneva and Baden as a CELTA Assessor. And I travel through Switzerland regularly en route to my holiday home in the south of France.
What would we be surprised to know about you?
Mm, I’m not sure. Perhaps the fact that I’m a fifth generation teacher? And that I spent my rebellious teenage years telling my family that I was never, ever, ever going to become a teacher!
On behalf of ETAS, thank you, Briony, for taking time to share your ideas and experiences with us.