I have been teaching ESL/EFL in different schools, colleges, and universities for about ten years. In this period, I mostly taught according to what was provided by schools; such as textbook, curriculum, and methodology mentioned in the syllabus. Particularly, schools prescribed the textbooks for my class, and I had to teach and was asked to get an excellent output from students. I did as per the school’s and college requirements, but I was not satisfied with my teaching. I felt like someone was choosing food for me. I wanted to quit teaching and do something different. At one point in time, I hated teaching the most, though teaching English was my dream job in my life. Later, I received teacher training courses and my identity shifted from teacher to teacher trainer. I got opportunities to facilitate training to English teachers from home and abroad. I designed training manuals, reviewed courses and made contextual changes, wrote and adapted materials to better deliver training. The responsibility of a course designer and course facilitator gave me immense pleasure in teaching and training. Recently, I am working as a teaching assistant and teaching English for Academic Purpose (EAP) courses at the University. When I look at my journey of ELT, an effective language teaching and effectiveness of my instruction resulted after I started to design ELT courses and implemented myself in the class. Autonomy is crucial for English teachers in selecting textbooks, methodology, and designing a course of study for their students. In this write-up, I walk through how autonomous Nepali English teachers are.
Prescription on course and methodology
Honestly speaking, teachers have been slaves as they are operated by someone else. The teachers never get a chance to discuss what they need in the classroom. The schools themselves in private schools and the government in government-aided schools prescribe books, and the teachers have to follow what they are asked to do. A few teachers get the expected outputs, but most of them fail. Somebody at the top level (i. e., expert) designs a course/textbook/curriculum for all the students in the nation, and the teachers are sent to classrooms with the course. The course/textbook designers neither consult concerned teachers nor do they go and study what the students need. They design the same course for all the locations from east to west and north to south without having proper knowledge of classroom contexts. Then, the problem comes when teachers use textbooks/courses in the class–the course books are prepared based on pedagogical philosophies or teaching methods. The teacher’s potentiality is spoiled through the activities mentioned in the books because teaching and learning are conducted according to the textbooks. In this respect, English teachers have been methodologically and organizationally slaves. Methodologically slaves in the sense that they teach English with the method that someone has developed for them, which may not be suitable for their classes. A technique/method that best works for one part of the world/classroom may not work or does not work at all for another part of the world/classroom. Therefore, it is the teacher who makes necessary changes in an established method and makes suitable for class, not the one out of the class (expert). Here, I am not questioning experts and established ELT methods, instead advocating for teacher autonomy. Similarly, teachers have been organizationally slaves because schools, colleges, and even the universities never discuss so that teachers know what they need. The organizations choose the textbooks and teachers are thrown in the classes. The question is, how do school administrations know what sort of books/courses a particular group of students need without consulting teachers and students.
Effective teaching and learning
English teachers should be given full autonomy to design, develop and disseminate ELT courses and materials for their classes. They are not only the implementers of what someone has designed but also course and method developers. Of course, all of the teachers cannot design the course for their students since they lack proper training and practice, but they must be trained in such a way that they can develop English language courses themselves or adapt textbooks and methodologies. Moreover, it is necessary to be satisfied with what is done in the classroom. How can teachers be happy and satisfied, if they cannot choose what they need in the classroom? Our students learn English from the early years of their schooling. At the end of the day, they cannot produce English. This is because the materials that they are exposed to are not appropriate to their level or/and interest. We have been teaching in the same way for years and years, and we say we are the experienced teachers. We never reflect on our teaching, for instance; how was my class? Did the textbook/materials, planning, and classroom management work today? Teachers find teaching boring because they are not given the responsibility to hand over all teaching and learning systems. Teachers should be trained to adapt to the materials/ textbooks. Textbook and method adaptation is a process in which the teachers evaluate textbooks and methods and do necessary changes according to what they need, and use in the classroom. All of the teachers must be trained so that they can adapt to the textbook, language course, and methods. Most importantly, teachers and students should be consulted while designing the curriculum, textbooks, and teaching methods. Similarly, teachers should also reflect on their teaching (content selection, content delivery, appropriacy of instructional activities) to contextualize teaching in the current classroom setting.
Unless teachers remain free from methodological and organizational slavery and they are given training, not only on how to teach but also on how to adapt teaching and teaching methods, it is difficult to see remarkable changes in students. Therefore, from an organization’s part, they should organize training for teachers on material contextualization, and teachers have to take a lead and produce teaching materials on their own without depending on the textbooks/language and methodology mentioned in them. Autonomy creates a win-win situation for teachers, students, and schools. So, let the teachers be their boss, don’t put them down.
Binod Singh Dhami is a teaching assistant at Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA. As a TESOL trainer, he served at TEFL International. He also produces YouTube videos on different aspects of teaching and learning that can be accessed on the YouTube Channel called ‘Global Online School.’ L2 writing, World Englishes, methodology and curriculum designing are his research interests.