Tidying out my office ahead of the new academic year, I came across an A4 sheet I used to give to new teaching assistants in the English department at the University of Nice when I coordinated the oral English programmes (1995-2004).
We had eight or nine lecteurs, or temporary native-speaking EFL instructors. They were generally untrained, with only their own experience as language learners to rely on, sometimes not even that, and usually spent a single year with us, sometimes two. So it was more survival training than continuing professional development.
We needed these teachers to run pronunciation practice in our old language labs (audio-cassettes), and teach listening comprehension and speaking. The programme had phonetics lectures supplemented by audio-lingual lab exercises, listening comprehension using lectures or news articles read aloud on tape, and conversation classes. I tried to update to a more communicative approach, using Headway Intermediate for pronunciation, and encouraging pair and group work in listening and speaking classes. The students were mostly undergraduates, in either English studies or applied languages with business.
I was a new PhD in linguistics (second language acquisition) with an MA in TESOL and applied linguistics, with no training or experience in teacher education. Looking back twenty years on, with a lot of both pre-service and in-service training of language teachers behind me, I find my old list surprising in a number of ways. First perhaps in terms of my own confidence in simply setting out such an explicit and unequivocal set of guidelines. No justification, no hedging, no references. I would probably still be prepared to defend each point, but I’d certainly go about it differently. The second thing that strikes me is perhaps related – the very teacher-centred perspective I have taken. There is very little on identifying learner needs, setting up and monitoring activities, or providing feedback. I suppose at least I am consistent: I tell the teachers how to teach, and they tell the learners how to learn.
The next section of my handout does tackle feedback. I remember at the time feeling a little frustrated that my teachers didn’t know the phonetic alphabet, so we had to rely on native-speaker intuition. Nowadays I generally avoid IPA in my feedback to students, since it is often more of an additional burden than a help in improving speaking skills.
And for good measure I had some advice for the students on class participation and giving presentations.
Again my contemporary teaching and training self would take issue more with the form than the content of these remarks. I’d be interested to hear from teacher educators trained in different times and working in different contexts on these brief guidelines. I’m going to be moving more towards English medium instruction (EMI) and ESP in higher education in the coming months, so starting thinking about what is essential for teachers in those contexts.