Bridging

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Image courtesy of Jeff Fenton

In January, I moved across Canada to start work as an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instructor for a university in Northern Ontario. The program was still really new and had, and is still having, a difficult time bringing in new teachers. It isn’t that the school wants to bring in outsiders, but the lack of local, professionally-trained teachers is posing a real problem. There is a push from the university to raise up teachers from within the local area through the creation of a teacher training program.

The TESL certificate program was in the design phase when I arrived and in April, I was a approached about possibly designing the material for the program as well as teach it. At the time, I was the only one who was qualified to run the program under the guidelines set out by TESL Canada. Full confession here, I hadn’t even considered being a teacher trainer, let alone help design a run a full program, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. May rolled around and I found myself on my first day standing in front a group of eager students waiting for the class to start. It hit me. Here I was about to teach others on what it means to teach. Me. I started to think, “What am I doing? These people think I actually know what I am talking about”.

The course set off on its five-week journey followed by a seemingly endless stream of practicums. It was during my observation times that I noticed students making similar ‘errors’ (or as I would define them, anyway) which we had covered in class. I couldn’t figure it out. Why was there such an issue with these things and not in other areas? What did I do wrong? How could I avoid this in the future? I started to reflect on my own first few months as a novice teacher and realized that I had made a number of those same choices even though my instructor had covered them. The problem was not in the instruction, but in the implementation. Bridging the gap from training to teaching was more difficult than I had anticipated.

Farrell (2012) in his article Novice-Service Language Teacher Development: Bridging the Gap Between Preservice and In-Service Education and Development proposes a two-pronged approach to dealing with this issue. He suggests novice (ie. newly-trained) teachers become more reflective in their work, especially in their first year. This is only possible if these new instructors are given the guidance on how to become more reflective. This is where Farrell introduces the idea of an additional course during the training time that deals with teaching during that first year on the job. Here are some of the things that he suggests take place in that class:

  • help teachers develop reflective skills
  • become a “thinking teacher”
  • help in dealing with classroom management
  • develop a profile of a place in which they would ideally like to work
  • find a balance between lesson content and delivery
  • match contents to the participants in the classroom
Farrell would also like to see a commitment from the school to match up experienced teachers with novices and allow for time for them to meet on a regular basis. There would also need to be a training set up for the mentor to help facilitate these meetings. The focus of these meetings should be set by novice teacher in order to become more aware of the gaps between their understanding and their implementation in the classroom. These reflections should come in the form of a story that can be archived and used in future training session for new teachers.

Farrell also discusses the use of formal and informal professional development. This is where I feel that connecting with other professionals is really important in your development as a teacher. Mentors need to be modelling this for the novice teachers and helping them to develop connections that could lead to further learning.

Here are some things that have helped me ‘bridge the gap’:

  • Conferences: Meeting with other professionals in my field of work has been incredibly helpful. Also, I have attended a number of great (and some not-so-good) sessions which have caused me to reflect on how I do things in the classroom. Giving sessions has been one of the best ways for me to reflect on my own thinking and to connect with others who are interested in the same things as I am.
  • Professional associations: There are a number of local, national, and international organizations that can help in connecting and developing teachers. Being a member is one step, the other is to get involved in some capacity.
  • Research articles: I have mentioned this a number of times, reading academic articles has caused me to think more deeply about how I teach. Reading, comparing, critiquing, and summarizing has helped me to make more and more connections between knowledge and practice.
  • Training: Taking webinars or local seminars has been a wonderfully enriching experience. There are so many others out there that I can learn from. Taking my MA TESOL was a great experience and I would highly recommend furthering your education to help you to realize the ‘gaps’ in your teaching.
  • Social media: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are great places to connect with others, learn from one another, and share ideas. Take part in a Twitter chat, share articles or websites you have found, and just be yourself.
  • Blogging: This is my latest obsession (as many of you know), but it has been incredibly challenging, encouraging, and rewarding. I enjoy reading, thinking, and writing about what is happening in my life as a teacher. It has connected me with so many great educators. I can’t believe it took me this long to get into it!
  • Staff room: The last place I worked at had an incredible group of people who enjoyed just talking with one another in the staff room. I was able to share and learn in that environment. If your staff room doesn’t have that, start asking yourself why it doesn’t.
I know there are more places to help young teachers, but this is what I have found to be helpful. If there is one more thing I would share about this subject, it would be about yourself. Stop making it about yourself and others. Start making it about ‘we’. Oh, and never stop learning. I guess that is two things. Oh, well.

References:

Farrell, Thomas S. C. (2012). Novice-service language teacher development: Bridging the gap between preservice and in-service education and development. TESOL Quarterly, 46(3). 435-449. Retrieved from http://www.reflectiveinquiry.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/tesq36.pdf

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3 thoughts on “Bridging

  1. If I remember correctly, Farrell’s paper was part of a special TQ issue on novice instructors. You might find some of the other articles useful, too. Keep up the good work, Nathan!

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