makes a good trainee? Jenny Johnson asks experienced trainers...
Would-be teachers who are considering
doing a TEFL course may find comments from experienced trainers
about the qualities of a good trainee helpful in helping
them decide if they have what it takes to do well on a training
course. I asked 5 very experienced trainers 5 questions
to see if we can clarify the areas trainees need to consider
when they are deciding whether they are good raw material
for a TEFL course.
1. What qualities do you spot in good trainees
when they first start the course?
T1: It’s a gut reaction generally, you can spot them
easily. I suppose it’s to do with their openness:
no hang ups, ability to get on with new people, friendly
and smiley. The foreign language lesson on Day 1 is a good
way to see those who are willing to learn: they participate
fully in the lesson and in feedback.
T2: Somebody who looks the part, i.e. looks alert, relaxed
and non threatening /confrontational. Organised, files things
away, takes notes in session and asks questions at the same
T3: They listen to students and almost automatically grade
their language to be intelligible. They check they've understood
the students with such things as 'I think you mean...? etc.
They look happy when with the students, they spend coffee
breaks with the students, they are often good learners themselves
in foreign language lessons, they worry about what they
wear (casual but smart), they are punctual and they offer
help to their colleagues.
T4: ability to talk to group in open class - maintain eye
contact, project a bit - show empathy - be a little funny
T5: I look for people who show a bit of 'get up and go',
people who, despite their nerves, are willing to participate
fully in activities and try out new things. I notice particularly
which trainees ask questions during input sessions and look
for signs of 'good instincts' in teaching. People who can
reflect on their own experience(s) of being a (language)
learner and draw conclusions about the nature of the teaching-learning
process. Above all, I look for reflective qualities: those
that are able to reflect on their knowledge and skills,
identify key areas of strength and be pro-active in setting
their own agenda for future development.
2. How do good trainees organize themselves?
T1: Simply by getting a file and putting session notes according
to the topic. They plan their day to study and prepare the
lessons and then relax with a beer on the terrace. It’s
all about time management and asking if anything isn’t
T2: Separate files, begins thinking about the next lesson
straight after the last one, makes bullet points about areas
for improvement. Fast to change and take on Tutor instructions
T3: Often they ask about ways to organise their notes,
they allocate time for such things as planning lessons and
stick to it. As opposed to going out for drinks at the drop
of a hat
T4: get a file - file everything on a daily basis - re
read their notes, do their material preparation the night
before and before they go home
T5: good trainees organise themselves to maximise learning.
This often shows in trainees who organise their files so
information is at hand when they most need it. Trainees
who take notes (often including small drawings or other
visual support). Well organised trainees know where they
have filed handouts and can access them quickly. They have
usually read the timetable and pre-empted the session by
thinking about issues (e.g. planning, skills work, management,
etc). Well organised trainees manage the workload well and
set up routines of study to keep ahead of the game. These
trainees usually hand in their plans early in the day and
keep their portofolio up-to-date as they go.
3. What is the most problematic area even for the
T1: Dealing with language effectively: illustrating the
meaning and ensuring that the students get sufficient meaningful
practice. This means making sure that the learning process
is meaningful to the students and is useful for them in
their own lives. Responding to students’ difficulty
with expressing themselves: Students can express themselves,
but the key is to listen and then help them say it in a
different, more eloquent way: shaping, really.
T2: Dealing with student questions during their lesson
(throws them a bit), being able to stand back and assess
their own lesson, not trying to take on too much at the
same time (points to work on), have a tendency to try
and incorporate everything rather than bit by bit (they
don't create their own building blocks, they try to make
a house everyday instead!)
T3: Language analysis/awareness: there is masses to learn
in no time at all. Really good trainees apply for courses
well in advance of the start date and pack in the research
T4: language analysis. And identifiying the teacher role
- what is it that language teachers do - different form
all the teachers they have had - eg sit down, don’t
ramble on explaining everything
T5: Burnout around week three. CELTA, in many ways, works
against sound educational principles. Whereas in class we
make sure we don't overload the students, we stress that
new learning takes time to be integrated into existing knowledge.
We don't expect immediate accuracy or fluency from learners
(unless we are pushing the old PPP dream). Unfortunately
CELTA promotes these ideas. We know that there is only so
much the brain can handle and only so much information that
people can take in. Finally, a big issue for some trainees
is the realisation that the grade will not reflect true
potential in teaching but their mental stamina. The final
grade usually reflects NOT what the person could achieve
but what they could do during four super-intensive weeks.
4. Are there any skills which cannot be learnt on
T1: Not really: the course is intensive and there is a lot
to learn. But it gives a trainee the basic skills to cope
in the first year of teaching. The key is then to try things
out and keep reflecting on what works (and doesn’t),
a case of continuing professional development.
T2: Being a people person, not letting others intimidate
you (a lot of this is to do with personality and previous
T3: I'm not sure but to be a teacher you have to be a natural
communicator. This may be the one thing we can't teach.
Such things as confidence we can, however, teach: trainees
need to be confident from the start.
T4: probably - but it’s difficult to identify these
- and they are probably not essential to being able to teach
T5: Interpersonal skills: the ability to motivate and engage.
The ability to build rapport. While I do not believe that
teachers are born (and not made), it is clear that such
skills are more developed in some people and are difficult
to learn. We might say that these skills fall under the
heading of 'aptitude'.
5. Are there any classic critical incidents which
stand out for most trainees, ie when the penny drops and
T1: It happens at different stages of the course for different
people. That’s the beauty of it, seeing the change
and reaction when it all finally ‘clicks’.
T2: Once they stop worrying about the jargon and when they
realise they don't have to change themselves, just be themselves.
T3: Yes. When they learn to grade their language, when
they finally realise that their job is to get the students
working rather than lecturing the students on grammar etc.
At some point they realise EFL is a demanding profession
and suddenly become far more professional about the course
T4: when they stop ‘doing activities’ - "we
are going to do a listening" "only one more thing
to do" - and start helping students to understand the
text or say what they want to say
T5: I often feel that for most trainees the penny drops
while observing their tutors, typically after the handover
in week three. At this time the trainees often have a lot
of bits of information and skill. They have worked on discrete
bits of knowledge in their teaching practice but typically
they haven't joined the dots. During the observation they
notice how all this knowledge and skill combines into a
dynamic process in which the learners are the protagonists.
The trainees usually zone in on the areas of teaching that
they find difficult or need to work on during the last phase
of the course.
So, a great deal to consider and take on board! Good luck
with your course!
Thanks to all the trainers who took part in this survey.