Teacher Training in ELT: Where does it Go Wrong?

By Laxman Gnawali

Senior Vice President, NELTA

Whenever the issue of teacher training comes up, I start visualizing an event which I witnessed as a student in 1976 when I was a student at Grade VI. This event left an indelible question in my mind. As an inquisitive student I used to listen to what my teachers said and observe what they did to find a correlation between their words and deeds. Once our English teacher told us in class that he was going to Kathmandu for a three month training course; there he would gain knowledge. He returned after three months and resumed his work. Intuitively, I had developed an expectation that when he came back, he would teach us in a different way. I did not expect a better way as I had no idea of what good teaching was, but I expected some difference in his activities in his classroom teaching. To my disappointment, he started with the same method of translating the texts, giving us grammar exercises and asking us the Nepali equivalents of English terms. There was no difference in him and his practice. A question struck me: what had he been doing for three months? I thought training meant learning new things. What had he learnt then? For years the question lingered: What difference did the training make to my teacher?

In 2000 I went to the College of St Mark and St John Plymouth (now, University College Plymouth St Mark St John)  to a Master’s course in Teacher Development, the interactions with my tutors and other professionals, professional literature, visits to different institutes and conferences answered the question that haunted me for years. Then I realised that any training that does not relate to the real classroom world, examination system, local context, and trainees’ mental constructs, their needs and expectations cannot achieve the desired goals. Training that takes place away from the school environment without monitored school-based practice or follow–up cannot be transferred to the classroom. Training contents based on trainees’ needs and participant-centred experiential learning approach in the training can make a difference in teacher learning. For teachers to develop in the job, they need to constantly reflect on their practice. As Burns (1999:12) says

‘reflective analysis of one’s own teaching develops a greater understanding of the dynamics of classroom practice and leads to curriculum change and that enhances learning outcomes for students’.

Appropriate ways to structure the reflection are classroom observation and collaborative action research. Justifying the role of classroom investigation for professional growth Burns (1999:12) writes,

‘researching one’s own classrooms and teaching contexts is something which can, and should, be considered by language teachers, as a realistic extension of professional practice’.

Now I understood why my teacher did not show any difference in his classroom practice.

In the dissertation I submitted to the College, I tried to justify my view on the role of classroom observation and classroom action research for teacher development. I also discussed my belief that in-service training can be an important step to guide teachers towards their self-directed developmental activities. Based on these discussions, I proposed a course which incorporated training-centre-based activities and school-based practice.

Since my return, I have invested all my energy to implement what I proposed in the dissertation through the MED and PGDE programmes at Kathmandu University and NELTA-led in-service training and the results have been positive. However, as there is so much to be done in this area, I keep reciting Robert Frost’s lines:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Modified excerpt from the Introduction to my dissertation Investigating Classroom Practices: A Proposal for Teacher Development for the Secondary School: Teachers of English in Nepal submitted to the College of St mark and St John, Plymouth, UK, 2001)

4 comments

  • Shyam Sharma

    Relevance of education is indeed a sometimes scary question that many don’t even (dare to) ask. When the content of learning, methods of teaching, and the professionalization of teachers is alien to the reality where the learning and teaching happens, education can quickly become a ritual, a means to get jobs, etc–but not a reason to be passionate about, to create new knowledge, or to change the society. Just imagine children who have never seen the daffodil or will perhaps neither see nor have anything to do with the daffodil reading Wordsworth’s poem of that title. Just imagine students in TU reading tomes of literary theory when those theories have very little to do with the reality of life or society in Nepal. Or imagine so many of the outdated ELT concepts and methods that are still staple of our degrees. Of course, educational institutions anywhere normally suffer that time lag, but our curricula and pedagogies are more than normally out of whack quite often. This article reminds us of the dire need to ask the question of relevance in a quite effective way.

  • Hem Raj Kafle

    In Nepal, many people get training opportunities when they grey with certain habits, or when they have ceased to be receptive. In this condition, trainings become rituals and mere breaks from work. Some English teachers don’t improve being cocksure that being what they have become transcends all needs of improvement.

    My early English teacher always confused us with his typical (ethnic) pronunciation of English words. He taught us “dhyat” for ‘that’ and ‘hwat’ for ‘what’. I knew then that ‘dhyat’ was wrong, but ‘hwat’ occasionally creeps in my own English even now.

    One of my senior colleagues, a mathematician, often tells this story: He was once invited by a School Inspector (a friend of his) to visit a rural school in southern Morang, perhaps on a follow-up of an earlier training. They chanced to butt in the class of an English teacher who was drilling the beginners with pronunciation of new words. The teacher wrote ‘G I R L’ on the blackboard and loudly uttered ‘GEEREEL”. The room reverberated with “GEEREEL” when poor kids shouted after him. My colleague and the Inspector were on the verge of laughing when he turned to them and asked, “thik hai na, sar.”

    And there are many more such narratives with Nepali English learners.

  • Chandra Sharma Poudyal

    It is a wonderful opportunity to get your practice based insight with the theoretical perspective on the implementation of training in the classroom. I also have been to different training programs during my teaching career even though they were of very short duration. I was very much anxious to bring the knowledge learn from the training into the classroom activities. In my case the management of the school who send me to the training acted as an obstacles in the implementation process. It is great surprise to hear that someone send you to the training centers by paying the money but still not provide good environment to use the knowledge gain from training into classroom practices. So, for me, to transfer the knowledge gained from training into the classroom practice there need to be desire of person/ teacher attending the training and at the same time it need to be supported by good working environment.

  • In the beginning, I was much curious to learn why Laxman Sir’s English teacher could not bring change in the ways of teaching after he received a long training. The curiosity was no more as it concluded with a relevant reason behind the fact that he could not translate his learning of the training into the classroom.

    The article and a series of comments posted on it remind me of the relevance and effectiveness of the teacher training. As Shyam Sir has pointed out that there must be a reason to be passionate about the training, to create new knowledge, or to change the society, the teachers who are devoted to change the society and interested in learning new knowledge and those who are passionate about new knowledge and its translation at their workplaces should be trained.

    What I think is a reflective classroom teaching situation analysis is a must before the teachers are sent to the training. The situation analysis will help find out the room for the improvement and also identifies real classroom environment where the teachers work, e.g. setting of the benches and desks, number of students in a classroom, availability of teaching aids and materials, examination system, local context, and trainees’ mental constructs and their needs and expectations and other external factors. The training should address these external factors affecting the teaching learning situation through context based teaching learning approach. After the training, there should be a follow up visit to the trainee teachers’ classroom to monitor whether they could put the knowledge learned during the training into action. Then refresher training should be conducted for the trainees for sustainable impact of the training.

    The school and campus management committee should also create favourable situation to implement the knowledge and practice learnt from the training into real classroom.

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