I don’t claim to be a master of anything. As a teacher with only two years of experience, I definitely have a lot to learn. However, I was trained to believe that all teachers who take their jobs seriously have something valuable to offer to both their students and their colleagues. Professional development is extremely important to me, and that’s how I got into teacher-training in the first place.
My first experience with teacher training was entirely accidental. Our company needed a native-speaker to help with a teacher-training conference for Primary School ELT teachers using books by one of the companies we represent here in Kazakhstan. Basically, I was the teacher who put up the weakest fight when it came to choosing who would have to go. This was mainly due to the fact that I was sick with the flu and doped up on medication. As soon as I realised what I had agreed to
(been coerced into), I started to freak out. I had to design six hours of material for Primary School teachers when I had never actually taught primary-age studens myself.
Some colleagues told me not to worry about it, that I could just do a bad job and the teachers (from a small town towards the North) would just be happy to see a native speaker, and that I’d never be roped into this again. I’m not really sure why, but a part of me got really angry about this. I decided to do the best that I could with my 7 days of preparation and, in my medicated and feverish state, started doing research and emailing current and past colleagues.
In the end, I had six hours of material which, in hindsight, weren’t great. Not horrible, by any standards, but nothing special. Though, as it was my first experience, and I had only actually been teaching for just under a year at the time, I felt proud and confident when I got off of the old, Soviet-era train and walked into the town with a colleague from a different city.
This first experience is what got me hooked. The same way that my first TP in CELTA got me hooked on teaching. The teachers were kind, patient, enthusiastic and very eager to learn. I’m pretty sure that about half of the material I had prepared was useless, and that I was just rehashing stuff that they already knew; but with all the enthusiasm and energy flying around in those first sessions, no one seemed to care. I got rave reviews and was left with two very happy training groups.
On the third, and final, day of our trip, it was time to sign the teachers’ certificates. Seeing the words “Teacher Trainer” under my name 55 times; looking at how happy the teachers were to receive the projects and to be part of our event; and the feeling of having accomplished what had seemed impossible all combined to form the most fulfilling feeling I have ever known. I learned as much from those teachers as they learned from me.
After that point I fought to be given more chances to be involved with the seminars, and eventually became the methodologist for my region of the country. I improved with each seminar, and continue to do so. Teacher training pushes me to become better, not only as a trainer, but as a teacher.
Here in Kazakhstan there aren’t many opportunities for professional development for teachers who work in private institutions. Within a month of arriving I began to feel very restless, as the company that I’d worked for at home had placed considerable emphasis on professional development and was the premiere school for teacher-training in the country. Becoming a teacher trainer forced me to research and experiment in ways that I didn’t really know were possible at the time. It opened the door to autonomous professional development, and I began to see really positive results in my own classes.
Also, as I had mentioned in a previous post, most teachers in Kazakhstan just don’t have access to the type of training that teachers do in countries where the EFL market is more developed. I found that what I had to offer was in demand, and I managed to present it in a way that teachers enjoyed. More modern techniques to approach Speaking and Writing, especially, are always highly appreciated by the teachers, even if they are hesitant about breaking out of their molds.
Teacher training also made me get very serious about my own future. I now have a list of difficult but possible goals for my career. I was sure that this was the industry I wanted to work in from my very first week of CELTA, but now I know what direction I want to take. I want to become a CELTA trainer. I want to eventually become an influential teacher trainer in the industry. I know this will take time, I do not expect this to happen overnight. Though I’m actually looking forward to the journey more than the destination.
When I first arrived in this company, there were virtually no professional development opportunities. By the time I had been here for two months, I felt frustrated and felt as if I were stagnating. Moving across the world proved to be so distracting that I even stopped doing my own research. I essentially became a lazy teacher. I didn’t forget anything that I had learned before, but I was so focused on settling in to the new country and new job that I completely disregarded my own autonomous development.
As I’ve already written above, this changed when I started to provide in-service teacher-training. I suddenly had a responsibility to provide information and techniques of a high quality and standard. I needed to make sure that it was done right, otherwise, what would be the point? I noticed that the more time I spent preparing and researching for these teacher development seminars, the more my own teaching started to improve. For example, one of my first sessions was on motivation. I began to look at my own classes and started to think about how the advice I gave others was advice that I needed to take myself. I began to incorporate some of the techniques that I demoed to my trainees, and began to see some really positive results with my own students.
Also, teacher-training helped me get into the habit of doing lots of research and reading, which led to me spending more time preparing my classes and trying to find as many new techniques and activities as possible to bring into the class. This especially helped me when I started to teach IELTS. I was only given two hours of training before I was sent into an IELTS class, so I had to do a lot of research into the exam itself, the grading system and common difficulties to help my IELTS students.
Another benefit of teacher-training to large groups was that I no longer felt uncomfortable speaking in class. I had always been pretty confident in class, but I’d always get nervous before the first lesson with a new group. Having to talk to 30-60 teachers whom I had never met before, once or twice a month, made me much more confident about my public-speaking abilities. Eight to twelve teenagers don’t look nearly as scary as 50 teachers do.
I also learned a lot from the teachers I trained. Like I said above, I was trained to believe that all teachers have something to offer to their colleagues. It’s great to be able to have open and honest discussions about the profession with teachers ranging between one month and 30 years of classroom experience. Observing some of the older techniques and helping teachers work together to find what works for their specific students is an amazing experience, and I brought a lot of that into my own classes.
It’s because of all of those things listed above that I believe ALL teachers should try teacher-training in some capacity. Whether it’s a small, in-company development session once or twice a year, or a regular teacher-training job, I believe that the rewards of the experience far outweigh the sleepless nights of preparation and research, and the hours spent travelling to locations.