Supporting New Teachers’ Professional Growth: What Works?

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How does a person become a good language teacher? The task is challenging. As teachers of English, we often work in settings – in schools and communities – that are unfamiliar. Like all teachers, we must consider the individual needs, goals, and interests of our students. Unlike some other teachers, we often work with people from traditions of education that differ from our previous experience. Imagine a young woman from a small town in Louisiana who takes a CELTA training course, signs a contract for a new job, and finds herself facing a large classroom of boisterous adolescents in Busan, South Korea in just a matter of a few months. What does she know about her students, their community, or the best ways to teach them? How can she grow into the position she has taken on to make the best choices for her students?

Traditionally, teacher-training programs have fallen into two broad categories: a craft model and an applied science model. In the craft model, the novice teacher works with an experienced teacher who demonstrates techniques and provides feedback. Many intensive programs, such as the four-week onsite courses offered by Bridge, roughly follow this model. Many university-based education programs follow an applied science model: students read research that indicates which teaching behaviors are successful under certain conditions and write papers to indicate their understanding of that research. In both models, the teacher is then asked to practice and become competent during her first years of teaching. This expectation can put new teachers in a stressful, isolated, and precarious place: sink or swim.

During the last decade, a third option for teacher training has emerged – reflective language teaching. In this model, the teacher’s knowledge, training, and experience become part of her teaching. Teachers then “consciously take on the role of reflective practitioner, subject their own beliefs about teaching and learning to critical analysis, take full responsibility for their actions in the classroom, and continue to improve their teaching practice” (Farrell, 2008). In this way, novice teachers are actively engaged with continually improving their work and making it as relevant and responsive as possible. Our young teacher in Korea no longer feels that she and her students are isolated and adrift; she knows they are moving together in a positive direction.

Farrell, T. (2008). Reflective practice in the professional development of teachers of adult English language learners. CAELA.

February 28, 2013