Support for teachers. Training.
These days where does a Catalan ELT teacher get support from?
Don't wait for it to come from outside. The main source is yourself. As a person and as a teacher each of us has unique qualities. We act best when we listen to our own internal voices. When we compare ourselves to others or copy a recipe without having added our own touch to it, we perform poorly.
The other main source is our students. What they bring into the classroom. They are not just different from each other, but have abilities we do not possess. Either we open spaces for those within the tasks, or they will use their own channels -usually noisy- to interact outside them.
You haven't mentioned educational authorities, training, textbooks, research, ... Don't we have to right to expect help from them?
Yes. Absolutely. But these are secondary sources. You're the first one.
Publishers produce wonderful books (and not just in the area of textbooks!), but their priority is to publish things that sell in a global market, not necessary those that go with your personal preferences. If you discriminate among what's on offer and find what you want, then books give tremendous support. If not, one can always get in contact with other teachers and share things, or look elsewhere. In these days of technology and easy sharing, the world is wide.
Teachers tend to think that being trained abroad is key to becoming a good English teacher.
Many teachers believe this. I'm of the opinion, though, that stays abroad are more useful for language purposes than for in-service or advanced teacher training. I also find the expression "being trained" inaccurate. Training is basically an internal process. Inputs -trainers, books, talks- are only reference points for us. And some of the best reference points can be around us or in countries with situations similar to ours, where English is taught as a foreign or second language. So, this is a relative question and the usefulness of stays abroad may lie in other aspects.
Let's talk about training. Where were you trained as a teacher? And as a trainer?
I'm a self-taught person, Gerard. On the other hand I've tried to make my working life rich in inputs -from colleagues, from books- and reflection.
We know you are not much in favour of collecting recipes. Ramon, what is then teacher training for you?
Do you want a third wheel in your bicycle when you need to ride in real time? Recipes, if adapted to your own circumstances, will help occasionally. They serve as temporary relief, but at the same time prevent you from developing your own skill. Teacher training based on recipes and ready-made answers hinders your thinking and deprives you from developing your own answers and solutions.
I believe in reflexive practice. You learn to paint by painting, to play an instrument by playing it, to teach by teaching, if all these are accompanied with reflexion. Training takes a whole life and nobody's ever fully so. Have you read Schön's inspiring book The Reflexive Practitioner?
Some teachers feel society doesn't value our job. Do you think this is the case? How could we change that?
Society and educational authorities see teachers mostly as accountable "transmitters". Sadly, many teachers meekly interiorize this position. They agonize over covering the whole syllabus and explaining every line on the page. Transmission is important, but it's only the lowest rung in teaching and it's seen by society as a simple straightforward job, something "anybody can do". More knowledgeable people see the teacher as a "transactor", an expert guide who helps the student solve problems and carry out tasks.
Finally, it takes a much more sophisticated perspective to see the teacher as what he actually is or should be, a "transformer", somebody who focuses on personal change -love for learning, for the language, education. An interesting description of these three positions can be found in Miller's and Hunt's books on the holistic curriculum.
Aren't most of us just transmitters?
It's usually the more experienced and risk-taking teachers who move into the second and third positions. For them it may be an obvious and almost unconscious step in their development. However, it's mainly when a teacher moves from being a mere transmitter to acting as a transacter or a transformer that he's seen as a better teacher and gets a higher measure of respect -from students and from society.
Can't educational authorities help more?
They should, but their priorities are a factor of other variables. Society, family needs, economy, are usually more decisive factors than teachers' needs in policy making. Also their view of teachers is often narrow and prejudiced.
A well-known Catalan politician was reported to say years ago: There are no teachers today like those in the past ("Avui no hi ha mestres com els d'abans"). This blatant falsehood made the front page of at least one big paper. Today there are many more teachers than yesterday. Some are exceptional teachers. Of course it's difficult to single out a tree in a forest. I've met incredible teachers in all subjects. Conservative thinking, though, always adores the past at the expense of the present. It's cheaper.
How important is this support?
Something many administrators tend to forget is that innovation is brought about by the teachers in the classroom, not by curriculum designers, ministries or departments of education. The job of these people is to support teachers, not the other way round.
Life in all its forms (and teaching life is no exception) will thrive in most environments provided it has plenty of time to adapt itself and reach maturity. But if you keep changing the soil in your garden and its watering or sun conditions, you'll only end up with exhausted plants and a barren place. Constant changes in the educational system make adaptation and teaching development difficult.
You've been a teacher but also an academic. How do you think university and primary and secondary schools can join forces to improve education?
In an ideal world they should cooperate. In practice their interests do not converge. This happens all over the world. Academics see teachers only as sources for the research data they need. Teachers want answers to their problems and resent being told what to do by people whose expertise is mostly on the theoretical side of things.
To act as a bridge you need both experiences and to keep a divided heart. And there is a price to pay for this dual interest in terms of time and focus. Very few academics are ready to play this role.
Who should then be in charge of training?
Initial and postgraduate training has to take place in universities. That's obvious. As for in-service training, I'm convinced that school teaching expertise is a contextual thing and that this kind of training should happen within its boundaries. Academics, if willing, can often help, mainly as sources of information, but real expertise comes from the most experienced and reflexive school teachers.