A teacher’s tale

When I embarked on my CELTA course there was no way I could imagine I would now be a CELTA Tutor and Assessor as well as a DELTA tutor and even a teacher development centre owner!

As a young man, I wasn’t sure I wanted to work as a teacher. Teaching seemed particularly challenging, even daunting back then. Instead, I briefly worked as a translator of fantasy novels – naively believing that this was going to be easier – and had to find a McJob on the side to make a living; translation did not pay much, I quickly came to realise.

One day, a friend suggested I should give teaching a try. He said it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, he explained how rewarding it could be (albeit not financially), he even compared it to what I was doing at the time and in the end asked “how much worse can it be?”. I started having second thoughts and reluctantly took his advice and started applying to language schools.

A few weeks later, one of these schools did get back to me and, after a nerve-wracking interview, I was offered a teaching job. By the way, that foreign language school located in Nikaia will always have a special place in my heart – so will the owners and the learners I got to teach there.

Ms. K.M. had given me my first opportunity to teach. I’m not going to dwell so much on all the blunders I made in my lessons – they were a lot; however, I did try hard not to let anyone down. I kept studying, asking for advice, experimenting…

When the academic year ended, I realised my teaching wasn’t good enough and I had to do something to become a better teacher. I hated the fact that, in my students’ eyes,my lessons would be considered just one more inescapable slot of absolute boredom in their heavy daily schedule. At the same time, I did not want to betray the trust the centre owner had shown me.

So, I applied for an intensive summer CELTA course. I learnt a lot, I worried a lot, I even panicked at some point. The course itself naturally had its ups and downs; but I still have very fond memories of some of my colleagues on that course! How they helped me during the stressful weeks, how much fun we had, how we learned from each other!

September came and I returned to the Nikaia school. I was feeling much more confident. I could finally see exactly what I had been doing wrong and was able to reflect on my own teaching, exchange ideas with colleagues in the teacher’s room, plan lessons of different kinds; I was able to use a number of different techniques to get the students interested, to cater to their individual preferences; most importantly, I was able to finally focus on the students themselves since the burden of not knowing the basics had stopped exclusively occupying my mind during the lessons.

As the school owner/director started noticing my improvement, she offered me more and more hours and I finally got to work for her school full time. In the years I worked there, I taught different levels and age groups, I kept learning from my students as well as from my colleagues and I developed as a teacher. I went on to teach in different contexts, gained a lot more valuable experience, and a few years later I did the DELTA and started working as a trainer – and that has been a completely new adventure, with its own challenges.

When I reminisce about my journey in ELT, however, I always think of my CELTA as the beginning of everything.

  • Could I have gained this invaluable knowledge and experience without having done the CELTA?
  • Would I have improved my job prospects without it?
  • Would I have met all these lovely colleagues who helped me on this journey?

The (obvious) negative answers to these questions might seem to be overly romantic and immaterial now. Yet, I wouldn’t be able to ask them if certain things hadn’t happened exactly the way they did. And the CELTA course was one of them.

It gave me the confidence I needed as a teacher to share ideas and experiment even if that meant occasionally failing to achieve my lesson aims; it gave me the ability to reflect on those failures, identify the problems, isolate them, and work on them to get better and better as a teacher – sometimes as an individual, too. Last but not least, it opened up a whole new world of opportunities in the world of English language teaching; a world I couldn’t have imagined actually existed.

A teacher (trainer) is a teacher is a teacher

WARNER BROS
Dame Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall  in Harry Potter

A learning experience that made my day

Recently, on a particularly stressful afternoon during which I was in an awful mood, I attended a webinar delivered by a very well-known, highly respected teacher trainer and it changed the course of my day. It made me feel refreshed; it calmed me down and helped me feel good about myself, about my colleagues and my profession in general. I had been de-stressed, re-energised.

Later that same day, I sat down and tried to reflect on the experience and try and identify what it was that made that webinar so good. Which shows that the webinar didn’t just inspire me, it also urged me to delve into the process of reflection once again and, therefore, help me work on my own presentation skills.

As I was brainstorming and listing some of the things that were great about the webinar, I suddenly remembered several other occasions similar to the webinar: decades ago, when I used to attend exam-prep lessons with another teacher. The parallels were obvious. Back then, those lessons made me feel equally good about myself; they always made my day –not in a Coelho-esque superficially positive manner. On the contrary, they genuinely sparked my curiosity and hunger for learning; they stimulated my brain for wanting something more profound, something insightful and unique. And that ‘something’ was not a goal in itself, that ‘something’ was not a prize, but a process. In fact, the goal (passing the exam) had almost become immaterial at that moment.

Teachers vs. teacher trainers

It was clear to me that there were a lot that the trainer whose session I had just attended and the teacher who had taught me decades ago had in common. Inevitably, the obvious question came to me: Is there an essential difference between teacher training and teaching the language itself? Or even better: what are the similarities between training language teachers and teaching the language to a group of students?

I should say that the more experienced I become, the more discussions I have about this specific topic, the more webinars I attend, the more books I read, the simpler the answer is: what makes a good teacher and what makes a good trainer are basically the same few things. And it can be dangerous for a trainer not to realise the similarity!

I am, of course, like everyone, talking about my own preferences and prejudices when I talk about what makes a good teacher. And admittedly, I may be dwelling more on the characteristics that I sometimes feel, or fear, I fall short of.

What makes a good teacher?

So, in my opinion, what makes a good teacher is…

  • our ability to listen to our students: One of the most important characteristics of a good teacher; if we cannot actively listen to and understand our students’ needs, wants and preferences, then how are we supposed to help them?
  • our ability to empathise with our students: once we take an active interest in our students’ preferences and needs, we can start showing empathy towards their difficulties, their problems, and the things that make their learning more challenging perhaps. We can establish good rapport and mutual trust.
  • being open to feedback from our students: getting used to accepting criticism and getting feedback from others can sometimes be a painful process; however, only then can we actually become better at what we do. No matter how experienced we might be, there will always be things to work on and improve.
  • our willingness to show we’ve taken our students’ feedback on board: accepting feedback means nothing if we do not take it on board and actively show our students that their opinions matter and have value.
  • being humble enough to admit we cannot know everything: once we get into the role of a teacher, we tend to forget that we are not the light of the world, and we tend to believe we have the answers to everything – even if we knowingly sometimes give answers which are inaccurate and misleading. It is absolutely fine not to know the answer to a question a student might have, as long as we then do our homework, find out the answer, put it into words that are easy for the student to understand, and get back to them at the first opportunity.
  • our overall sense of duty as educators: that’s admittedly a huge discussion. However, what I consider important is the sum of our ability to listen, to simplify and explain, to monitor, to reward, to correct, to provide a safe space, to motivate, to subvert.

Why is this relevant to teacher training?

Some teacher trainers seem to believe that they are now in a position to advise and admonish teachers, as they are no longer just teachers themselves. After all, a teacher trainer enjoys a higher financial and social status, right?

Well, not exactly – even our government does not seem to think that way, and that speaks volumes!

There are certain dangers lurking behind the deliberate and misleading divide between teachers and trainers.

  • Thinking that we trainers are it: becoming a self-professed authority and losing our humility is the gravest of dangers which logically leads to arrogance; consequently, we do not listen to our students’ feedback, we cannot learn from them (or anyone else for that matter) and we end up detaching ourselves from them (and reality) growing more and more distant.
  • Resting on our laurels without caring to develop ourselves any further: arrogance tends to have that effect on teachers turning us into so-called gurus negligent of the fact that we might be resembling dinosaurs as time goes by.

No matter our title (director of studies, teacher trainer, teacher educator, trainer trainer), we remain teachers. Only upon this realisation can we make the difference and bring about some genuinely positive changes – and not just in the relatively limited environment of the classroom.

Teachers and Corpora

Do you use corpora?

If you think you don’t use corpora in your planning and teaching, think again! Because we teachers actually do use corpora all the time, perhaps unknowingly, for example whenever we google a word or an expression, looking for examples of its use, or when we go through texts online to find the one with the required linguistic elements for our class.

What is a corpus?

Corpus (plural corpora), the Latin word for body, has come to mean, in corpus linguistics, a “collection of electronic, naturally-occurring texts (written or spoken) which are selected to be representative of a particular language or language variety” (McEnery et al, 2006, p. 5). Corpora usually include millions, if not billions of words, not only as used by native speakers but also by L2 speakers. They can provide evidence of language use in different genres and registers and reveal patterns in language.

Accessing all these becomes feasible with the use of corpus software tools. For example, have a look at the three figures below, which illustrate how I used Sketch Engine to produce frequency lists for the word teacher (figures 1 and 2) and to create a concordance for the same word, based on data from the British National Corpus (BNC).

Figure 1. Visualisation of a frequency list for ‘teacher’ generated by Sketch Engine
Figure 2. Different view of the same search of a frequency list for  ᾽teacher᾽ generated by Sketch Engine.
Figure 3. List of concordance lines for the lemma ᾽teacher´ generated by Sketch Engine. 
KWIC stands for keyword in context

Frequency of linguistic items can inform curricular decisions about the order these items should be taught in, materials to be used, as well as test development. Concordances, i.e. all the instances of a linguistic item listed in their immediate context, are not to be confused with collocations, ie.the way individual lexical items are used together regularly. Collocations can be traced in concordance lines, along with other information on language use in context which can be utilised in teaching.

Why is it a good idea to use corpora?

So, corpora can provide a wealth of information about authentic language use of different registers and genres, and corpus software tools can help explore them. But why should teachers use corpora? Most importantly, why should learners use them?

Teachers can use corpora to enhance their research skills and develop their language awareness to inform their teaching. Quite often teachers need to adapt or supplement published materials which cover to a limited extent desirable linguistic features, or in which natural speech instances are not presented, or need to be presented using a different approach (Walsh, 2010). Teachers can source instances of natural language from corpora to provide tailor-made activities to cater to specific learners’ needs considering level, context, system and skill. They can modify corpora or use them as is to demonstrate a language pattern in context or ask learners to notice features of a function or compare data from native and L2 corpora for error correction. Imagination is the limit. 

The use of language corpora as a resource holds significant benefits for the learners on many levels as well. Cheng (2010) states that it “has been shown to contribute to the acquisition of both implicit and explicit knowledge” (p.320). It can support exploratory and discovery learning, which is motivating for the learners and as they engage more actively probably retain knowledge for longer. Autonomous learning is encouraged and since learners acquire or practice essential learning skills such as noticing, making inferences, and reflecting, they can transfer all these to other fields of study (Gilquin & Granger, 2010).

The cognitive, pedagogical, and motivational benefits of the use of corpora in language learning in the form of Data-Driven Learning (DDL) have been discussed repeatedly in presentations in conferences of local and national TESOL associations, and the annual IATEFL conferences over the years. ELT Blogs often feature corpora and there is even a dedicated FB group promoting the use of corpora in language teaching. Why is it then that teachers are reluctant to apply DDL and mostly view the use of corpora as a tool limited to lexicographers, academics, researchers, material developers and test designers? 

Challenges associated with using corpora

McCarthy and O’Keeffe (2010) point out that teachers’ attitudes towards DDL are not favourable as “it turns the traditional order within the classroom upon its head. The corpus becomes the centre of knowledge, the students take on the role of questioner and the teacher is challenged to hand over control and facilitate learning” (p. 7). Attitudes aside, teachers’ limited time and workload, lack of computer skills and training on how to access and use corpora are major issues. There is also the cost to access corpora since many of them are not freely available. To that, schools will need to add the cost of the investment in computers, training of teachers and students, and software tools. And with empirical data on the effectiveness of language learning still limited it is not even a guaranteed investment for them to make (Gilquin & Granger, 2010)! Apart from teachers’ attitudes and logistics, learners’ attitudes towards DDL are an additional reason why interest in DDL is still limited. There are challenges for the learners, especially when little training is given, or they do not have appropriate proficiency level and technological knowledge (Soruç & Tekin, 2017). 

To address the challenges learners experience, time and effort need to be invvested in training in using corpus tools, reading and interpreting corpus results, and interpreting quantitative results may be needed (Sripicharn, 2010). The step preceding this, though, should be the training of the teachers. Corpus linguistics is more common nowadays in initial language teacher education but besides basic knowledge, development of skills is required in a way that would promote active engagement with corpora. 

Conclusion

Should we then abandon the use of corpora in non-academic teaching contexts? In my humble opinion, no. It is a tool that could contribute very positively not only to language learning but to teacher development and most importantly to learner autonomy in a way very fitting to today’s COVID-19 pandemic online teaching and learning challenges. Forced into a world which requires learners to be technologically adept and more independent provides the perfect opportunity to explore the world of DDL especially when more corpora can freely be accessed nowadays, and a quick online search produces results for corpus software tools that are not just free but also user friendly. 

A few corpus resources

For those interested in exploring corpora and their use further, some indicative sources follow:

General reads in corpus linguistics 

Corpora 

  • British National Corpus (BNC)
  • Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA)
  • The International corpus of learner English (ICLE) (via CQPWeb)
  • Longman Learner Corpus (via CQPWeb)
  • Cambridge Learner Corpus (not freely available)

Classroom resources based on corpora 

Corpus software tools

References

Cheng, W. (2010). What can a corpus tell us about language teaching? In A. O’Keeffe & M. McCarthy(Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (pp. 319-332). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203856949.ch23

Gilquin, G., & Granger, S. (2010). How can data-driven learning be used in language teaching? In A. O’Keeffe & M. McCarthy (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (pp. 359-370). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203856949.ch26

McCarthy, M., & O’Keeffe, A. (2010). Historical perspective. What are corpora and how have they evolved? In A. O’Keeffe & M. McCarthy (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (pp. 319-332). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203856949.ch1

McEnery, T., Xiao, R., & Tono,Y. (2006). Corpus-based language studies: An advanced resource book. Taylor & Francis. 

Soruç, A., & Tekin, B. (2017). Vocabulary Learning through Data-driven Learning in an English as a Second Language Setting. Educational sciences: theory & practice17(6), 1811–1832. https://doi.org/10.12738/estp.2017.6.0305

Sripicharn, P. (2010). How can we prepare learners for using language corpora? In A. O’Keeffe & M. McCarthy (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (pp. 371-384). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203856949.ch27

Walsh, S. (2010). What features of spoken and written corpora can be exploited in creating language teaching materials and syllabuses? In A. O’Keeffe & M. McCarthy (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of corpus linguistics (pp. 333-344). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203856949.ch24

Elisavet Kostaki - Psoma
Elisavet Kostaki – Psoma

Elisavet has been involved in various aspects of TESOL for more than two decades: as a teacher, an examiner, a mentor and a teacher trainer. For the last two years she has also worked on various CELTA courses as an approved tutor. It is our pleasure to welcome her to ACE TEFL!

A, B, C, DELTA

What is the DELTA?

The DELTA is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, so it’s what follows ABC. It’s also the name of the modular Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, which makes sense, as that’s a qualification that defintely goes beyond the ABC of language teaching methodology! However, the name of the Cambridge DELTA has nothing to do with the Greek alphabet – not everything was invented by the Greeks! DELTA used to be an acronym for Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults, but as the scheme evolved over the years, it naturally became more context-sensitive and is no longer limited to teaching adults; the brand name, though, was retained, so the names of the two popular Cambridge qualifications for English language teachers, CELTA and DELTA, continue to rhyme!

Who is the DELTA for?

As an advanced, Level 7 qualification, the DELTA is not intended for those with little or no previous experience or training in ELT methodology. It is, indeed, a qualification for experienced teachers, who are already familiar with the principles of ELT methodology and have a high level of language awareness.

The DELTA is, therefore, in many cases a requirement for more senior (and better paid!) ELT-related positions internationally, such as EAP Tutor or Director of Studies. It can also be an important step to becoming a teacher trainer – in fact, a DELTA (or an equivalent qualification) is a Cambridge requirement  for those who wish to train as a CELTA tutor.

What does the DELTA consist of?

For the majority of teachers who decide to begin their DELTA journey to professional development, the first step is DELTA Module 1. Module 1 is assessed by external examination and the syllabus covers all of the background knowledge an experiences teacher should have: a detailed knowledge of grammar, phonology, lexis and discourse, a very good understanding of the four skills, familiarity with language acquisition theories and language teaching approaches and methods, a good grasp of assessment and testing principles and practice, as well as the ability to analyse and evaluate teaching materials, techniques and resources. Module 1 then provides the background that you need to design and teach different kinds of lessons as well as plan and implement a professional development plan as a teacher, which is what Module 2 is about. Finally, Module 3 gives you the chance to focus on an area of specialism, such as teaching exam classes or teaching academic English, and design a whole course, thus extending your knowledge of teaching and learning principles and putting everything you’ve learnt in Modules 1 and 2 into practice.

How can I start my DELTA journey?

Module 1 is, as I explained above, an exam-based qualification. You don’t actually have to attend a preparation course – theoretically, anyone can take the exam, whether they have attended a course or not, and if they pass it they will be awarded the DELTA Module 1 certificate. In practice, though, most people choose to follow a course to prepare for their DELTA exam and personally I think it’s necessary, not only because you need to ensure that you have covered the exam syllabus, but also because you need to understand how the exam works and what kind of information you are expected to provide in answer to each of the exam questions.

The problem, however, is that anyone and everyone can claim to offer a Module 1 preparation course, whether or not they have the background, knowledge and experience required. So if you’re thinking of doing a Module 1 course, I would suggest that you spend some time researching and evaluating the options you have.

What should I consider before choosing a course?

Having designed and taught DELTA Module 1 courses ever since the modular DELTA was first offered, more than ten years ago, and having heard from a lot of colleagues with both positive and negative experience of DELTA Module 1 courses, I would suggest that you consider the following before you make a decision about which course to enrol on:

  • How many hours is the course and how many of those are contact hours between tutors and participants?
    Check exactly what the course provider means when they say, for example, that the course is 100 hours; do they mean 100 hours of contact or of self-study? I have found that 50 contact hours and another 50 directed study hours is the absolute minimum,
  • What is the course schedule? Does it clearly cover all areas of the DELTA syllabus? Does it contain an exam taking skills component?
    Ask to see a sample course schedule or timetable before you enrol. Make sure that the syllabus is covered comprehensively and that input is included on areas such as language acquisition theories, error analysis, approaches and methods, assessment, materials evaluation, skills development. Check also that the course includes a heavy language analysis component covering all areas of grammar, phonology, lexis and discourse. And finally, check that exam taking skills are also covered and that at least one DELTA mock exam is included.
  • Who are the tutors? Are they qualified? How familiar are they with the DELTA? 
    These are obvious questions, but often we assume that because someone has the nerve to offer a DELTA course, they must be qualified; unfortunately, that is not always the case. So do check that the tutors are Cambridge-approved DELTA tutors and that they have experience of teaching Module 1.
  • What materials and resources does the course use?
    Most DELTA Module 1 courses are offered online these days. But ‘online’ can mean very different things: from a Moodle-based course with limited contact between participants and tutors to a live online course taught on a platform like Zoom or Blackboard, where you can interact with other participants and with the tutors on a regular basis.
  • How much does the course cost?
    A DELTA Module 1 course doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. There are courses out there with a very limited number of contact hours that cost 1000 Euro or more! The question to ask yourself here is “does that look like good value for money?” But don’t forget to do your research before you make a decision!

Shall we throw grammar out with the bath water?

Do we need grammar?

My first thought when somebody asks the question do we need grammar? is “of course we do, what are you talking about?” Still, bitter experience has taught me that easy answers are not necessarily, or even usually, correct, especially when the question itself is ambiguous, so I then go on to consider the question more carefully. 

If the question is taken to mean “do we need to teach grammar explicitly,” then the jury seems to have been out for at least a few decades; far from coming up with a simple, direct answer, psycholinguistic research seems to be simultaneously supporting both that we need grammar and that we don’t need it (see, for example, Ellis 2015). Nevertheless, there will always be those for whom, in the words of Henry Widdowson (1985, p. 161) “the delusion of simple answers will always be available as an attractive alternative to thought.” Thus, the dogmatic certainty of some, even today, that we should (at last!) do away with grammar can only compare to the certainty of others, more than a hundred years ago, that explicit study of grammar rules is the only way in which we can learn a foreign language. It seems to me that they are both wrong, not (just) because the truth is usually in the “middle ground” between two extremes, but because the question itself is problematic.

Reframing the question

A question like “do we need grammar?” is actually not just problematic, but quite meaningless if we haven’t defined what we mean by grammar, who ‘we’ refers to and what “we” might need grammar for. Thus, the answers I might give to the question would be very different in each of the following cases:

  • whether  ‘we’ refers to language learners or language teachers
  • whether by ‘grammar’ we mean explicit, declarative knowledge or implicit, procedural knowledge of the grammar rules
  • whether we ‘need’ grammar for interaction in basic everyday communication contexts or in order to write an article, a short story or a poem or in order to teach the language

Do teachers need grammar?

As a language teacher educator, I think I can understand why I am inclined to defend grammar: I am thinking of language teachers rather than learners, and the need for them to possess declarative, not just procedural, knowledge of grammar, so that they can compose fully accurate models of language for their students and so that  they can make informed decisions about how much (or how little!) grammar instruction their students need and what form this grammar instruction should take depending on the type of learners, their level and their learning purpose. In other words, what I am inclined to claim is that foreign language teachers need detailed, explicit knowledge of grammar even if they choose not to teach grammar explicitly in all cases. 

Why do teachers need grammar?

In fact, knowledge of grammar (and yes, I mean declarative knowledge of the grammar rules) is a prerequisite for teaching the language even if the teacher has chosen not to teach grammar explicitly. To be precise, if they have chosen not to teach grammar explicitly, it may be even more imperative that the teacher should know their grammar. Here is why:

  • They can select what kind of language to include in the models they provide, so that the models do not confuse the learners and make clear and obvious the meaning and use of the structures they exemplify.
  • They can select appropriate contexts for the structures in focus, that is contexts which naturally invite the use of the structure and which make the meaning and use very clear without the need to resort to explanation.
  • They can devise appropriate, i.e. clear and simple, checking questions to ensure  that the learners have understood the forms and meanings in focus even if no explicit presentation of the rules is provided.
  • They can anticipate what problems the learners might have and devise appropriate tasks and activities to help learners overcome these problems.
  • They can plan what to say if learners should ask the question most teachers dread: “why do we say it like that?”

Dismissing grammar and grammar teaching altogether on the grounds that explicit study of the grammar rules is not useful or not appropriate in a particular context makes little sense. At best, it’s based on a logical leap: explicit grammar teaching can be ineffective, therefore let’s not teach grammar at all; or worse, let’s not even bother to find out what grammar and grammar teaching involves. Beheading  the patient may be a radical cure for headache, but let’s not forget it inevitably results in the patient’s death. 

References
Ellis, N. (2015). Implicit AND Explicit Language Learning .Their dynamic interface and complexity. In P. Rebuschat (ed.), Implicit and Explicit Learning of Languages (pp. 3- 23). Michigan: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Widdowson, H. G. (1985). Against dogma: a reply to Michael Swan. ELT Journal 39, 1985, pp. 158-161

Respect and Inquiry in Teacher Education

‘I see myself as a transmitter of knowledge,’ a teacher trainer told me a few years ago. Her job, as she saw it, was to convey to her trainees what she herself had learnt mainly by reading about language and language teaching methodology and by attending courses, seminars and conferences. Intuitively, I’m sure many trainers would agree, to a certain extent at least. There does seem to be a body of knowledge that is relevant to our profession and that can be transmitted to teachers-in-training. One might mention, for example, the following areas of “received” or public knowledge that is theoretically transmittable and arguably useful to foreign language teachers:

  • knowledge of the subject matter to be taught, i.e. language
  • knowledge of second language acquisition research
  • knowledge of methods and techniques that have been developed specifically for teaching foreign languages

However, even though it seems intuitively obvious that a language teacher should know about such things, the type and amount of knowledge they require has been a matter of debate for at least the last twenty years. Bartels (2005, p. 411), for example, concludes after reviewing relevant research that “well-formed KAL [Knowledge About Language] does not seem to be necessary to be a superior language teacher”. Freeman and Johnson (1998, p. 412), similarly warn that knowledge of second language acquisition research may be “of limited use and applicability to  practicing teachers”. In addition, Freeman (2016, p. 161) points out that a reliance on knowledge of methods and techniques in teacher education represents a simplistic view of teacher education, while Kumaravadivelu (1994, p. 29) emphasizes the need for practitioners themselves to “generate location-specific, classroom-oriented innovative practices” in the post-method condition.

In fact, whatever “received knowledge” there is to transmit could only form part of the content of a teacher education programme. In Jourdenais’s (2009, p.652) view, this would represent the  “public theories” component, i.e. the “theories articulated in published literature and research”. However, a more important dimension of teacher education is teachers’ private theories, which are not necessarily based on received wisdom, but rather on the teachers’ own beliefs, experiences and actions. The divide between what teachers learn on teacher training courses and what they actually do in the classroom may actually have everything to do with the fact that the received (and transmitted) knowledge of “public theories” remains disconnected from teachers’ private theories, formed through practice and developed through reflection on practice.

As a trainer, then, my job is not (merely) to transmit such received knowledge, but rather, as Hedgcock (2002, p. 309) puts it, to enable teachers to question, critique and challenge public theories so that they can “construct their own operational theories of classroom practice”. Far from being a linear process of knowledge transmission, teacher learning seems to be a process of internalisation in the Vygotskian sense, whereby the focus of attention is “on the character and quality of the activities they [teachers and learners] are engaged in together, the resources they are using to engage in those activities, and what is being accomplished by engaging in those activities” (Johnson 2009, p. 62).

This is quite a humbling realisation for a teacher trainer. Privileged access to a body of received knowledge which you can use to design teacher training programmes and sessions seems a relatively easy and secure route to becoming a teacher trainer; acknowledging, however, that your work actually involves helping teachers reshape and transform their thinking in ways that cannot be predicted and in contexts which you may not be fully familiar with forces you to realise that collaborative critical enquiry is the basis of teacher education (indeed, it seems to be the basis of all educational activity): there can be no superior, privileged positions in this collaborative endeavour; there can only be mutual respect and a willingness to question public theories in the light of your own and your trainees’ situated practice.

This is not to say that there aren’t things that the trainer “knows” and the trainees do not yet “know” or that there is no room for “received knowledge” in a teacher education programme. What I am suggesting is that neither the nature nor the usefulness and applicability of such knowledge is ever a given: the body of received knowledge itself is constantly growing and, perhaps more importantly, both the trainers’ and the trainee teachers’ personal theories should also be constantly developing, based on reflection and critical inquiry, i.e. the persistent questioning and critique of the  experiences, behaviours and actions of both trainers and trainees. What there is no room for is the kind of trainers who see themselves as sages in possession of all knowledge. Because knowledge is a process, not an object to be acquired; and it cannot be possessed, it can only be questioned!

References
Bartels, N. (2005) Applied linguistics and language teacher education: what we know. In Bartels, N (ed) Applied Linguistics and Language Teacher Education. Boston: Springer.
Freeman, D (2016). Educating Second Language Teachers. The Same Things Done Differently. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Freeman, D. & Johnson, K. (1998). Reconceptualizing the knowledge-base of language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly 32, 397–417.
Hedgcock, J. (2002). Toward a socioliterate approach to second language teacher education. Modern Language Journal 86, 299–317.
Johnson, K. E. (2009). Second Language Teacher Education. A Sociocultural Perspective. New York: Routledge
Jourdenais, R. (2009). Language teacher education. In M. H. Long, & C. J. Doughty (Eds.), The handbook of language teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
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