Teaching Practice: why do you need it?


This post aims at helping candidates preparing for a training course. It is addressed to teachers who have never undergone any official training, either pre-service teachers or more experienced ones. It may prove especially useful to teachers who have only had traditional academic experiences and never been on a hands-on, practical course. What makes a practical course different from more traditional course formats including lectures and written exams is the element of teaching practice. It is therefore very apposite to take a closer look at it. So, let’s get started!

Usually referred to as TP, teaching practice is a series of actual lessons with real students in a real classroom, either a physical or an on-line one. It can range from informal micro-teaching sessions of 15-20 minutes, where the other trainees on the course may play the part of students, to formally assessed sessions of up to 60 minutes, which play a crucial role in your passing a course. Obviously, the first kind of TP can prepare you for the second. Most of my comments below aim at describing the more formal kind of TP.

Typically, the students are non-native speakers of English, often teenage or adults, in a monolingual or multilingual setting. They may be attending regular English classes, or they may be offered a free English course on which they will be mostly taught by the trainees. In the first case, you may or may not be the regular class teacher, but you will have to work closely with the regular class teacher anyway, in order to make the best of the situation and integrate the TP into the series of regular lessons seamlessly. This means you may choose to do your TP with one of your own classes, if that is feasible within the course limitations. In any case, however, you will have to teach at least two different levels of instruction. In the second case, which is becoming more and more common, you will have to teach a class which you have – at best – seen only once or twice being taught by an experienced teacher. If you are also being assessed at the time, which you will most probably be, you can understand that the stakes can be high and stress levels may go through the roof.

More often than not, you will have been given specific materials to work with, e.g., a page off a coursebook, and you will have received support by your course tutor on how to prepare a lesson plan via written notes and/or a tutorial. You are also encouraged to work with the other trainees on the course when preparing your lesson plan and adapting your materials. However supportive your tutor may be though, you will probably feel uncomfortable being observed while you teach, especially if it’s your first time!                                                                                                

The obvious answer to that is that teaching is a craft, a practical trade. You can learn only so much from talking about it and analysing it but, unless you actually do it, you can never get the full picture of what it entails. So, what are the practical aspects of teaching that TP offers insight to?

  • Teaching techniques, of course.
  • Classroom management skills: an actual lifesaver in real classrooms.
  • First-hand experience of the actual language problems real learners are facing.
  • Some awareness of how different learners learn: the skills and strategies involved and the ensuing challenges.

Beyond developing these core aspects of teaching, TP also has a more dynamic character: it focuses on progress throughout the course by providing a scaffolding process for you to build upon until you feel more confident with handling lesson planning and actual teaching more independently. This is why the actual objectives of TP change as we move on towards the end of the course.

At the beginning, TP mainly aims at:

  • Allowing you to simulate a real teaching situation under sympathetic supervision and support.
  • Giving you the opportunity to try out new techniques.
  • Getting you used to being observed, as it is common practice in many teaching situations.
  • Exposing you to learners at a range of levels so that you develop some understanding of the different approaches required.
  • Developing a sense of responsibility for your learners.

As the course moves on, more objectives come to play:

  • Offering you the opportunity to have your teaching evaluated and to receive constructive criticism.
  • Becoming more independent as a teacher by gradually increasing the freedom to make your own choices.
  • Helping you develop your own teaching style.
  • Developing self-evaluation and self-awareness.
  • Assessing your progress on the course.

That last point is the one most trainees focus on, often at the expense of all these other benefits mentioned above. This “tunnel vision”, albeit quite understandable, can create two very common misconceptions:

Needless to say, this is wrong. TP is an opportunity to experiment and find your boundaries. Your tutor should let you know that and should also be very clear as to what you need to focus on, to begin with. For example, no tutor expects a perfect – or even a fully completed – lesson plan in your first TP! The idea is that you make short achievable steps from TP to TP, with the full support and guidance of your tutor; and, above all, that you learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are not viewed as definitive proof of failure but rather as an opportunity for growth. You may fail again and again but everything is going to be alright as long as you show that you are learning from your mistakes and that you are improving.

There are actually three channels to record your progress on during such a training course:

Woman is showing the problem in documents

–> Self-reflection and self-evaluation, by keeping regular written records and discussing them with your peers and tutor.

–> Feedback from observers, either your tutor or your peers or both. Many useful insights can be gained by comparing notes on a and b.

–> Feedback from your students, e.g., on what worked for them and what didn’t, on what their interests and problems are, etc.

Finally, I’d like to close this post with a list of what you should expect after completing a series of well-designed TP sessions:

  • Increased awareness of the language areas you are teaching.
  • Increased awareness of what helps learning in a particular class and what doesn’t.
  • Control of basic classroom management skills (giving instructions, making corrections, etc.)
  • Ability to present, practice and revise specific areas of grammar, vocabulary, etc.
  • Ability to use activities and texts to develop language skills, e.g., listening, writing, etc.
  • Ability to use your coursebook to plan a series of lessons relevant to what your students need to learn.
  • Ability to help learners develop awareness of how they learn and what learning strategies suit them best.
  • Ability to think critically and creatively about your own lessons.

Alexandra Koukoumialou

Alexandra is a CELTA and DELTA trainer with ACE TEFL. She has been a teacher trainer for over 10 years now, doing both online and face-to-face courses, while working with hundreds of trainees both locally and internationally. Her background in teaching makes her training style practically oriented, as she enjoys designing her own materials and sharing classroom tips. She has been passionate about teaching for most of her life and she brings that to her training courses, together with her enthusiastic personality.

Bibliography: TEACHING PRACTICE, Gower, Phillips & Walters, Macmillan, 2005

All pictures by Freepik.com and Lovepik.com

When teachers plan, fate guffaws!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Planning lessons

Lesson planning is an essential part of a teacher’s professional life. In some cases, it consists of merely having a quick look at the syllabus and/or coursebook material a few minutes before the lesson and making rough decisions about what to do during the lesson. In others, lesson planning can be a tedious process involving thinking about the learners, their progress and their needs, the learning objectives that would be most appropriate at this point in time, the activities and materials which would help achieve those objectives, the problems that might crop up and possible ways of dealing with them – the list can go on!

On most qualifying teacher training courses, teachers are expected to draw up the latter type of lesson plan and produce a document that contains details of every decision the teacher has made and, on an advanced course like the Cambridge DELTA, the reasons why they made those decisions. While this may not be the type of lesson plan the teacher will be expected to produce on a daily basis in their professional career, compiling a detailed lesson plan is seen as an essential part of the teacher learning process and is part of the assessment requirements on many qualifying courses for teachers. 

Benefits of lesson planning

The general consensus both among trainers and among teachers is that detailed lesson planning is indeed conducive to the teachers’ professional development, as it forces them to carefully consider all the parameters that can affect learning, the most important of which I would summarise as follows:

  • the learners themselves and the learning context
  • the nature of the language and/or skills the lesson is intended to focus on
  • the methodological principles that constitute good practice in language teaching
  • the materials, resources and tasks that can aid learning

I asked two groups of teachers who had just completed teacher training courses with quite a heavy lesson planning and teaching practice component whether they thought lesson planning on the course had helped them and how it had helped them. All of them, with no exception, agreed that lesson planning had helped them enormously, while the reasons the novice teachers, who had just completed a CELTA course, gave included the following:

  • ‘I had to think about what was important and what not’
  • ‘It kept me focused while teaching’
  • ‘It helped me organise my time better’

Experienced teachers on the DELTA course also mentioned some of these points, but they also added points like the following:

  • ‘I was forced to think about the learners more: what they would benefit from, what they would appreciate, what they would find helpful.’
  • ‘I found the process of anticipating problems valuable; in spite of having taught for so many years, I still find it difficult to think on my feet and racking my brain to anticipate in advance what might go wrong in each lesson has meant not only that less goes wrong in the actual lesson but even when it does go wrong I instantly know what to do about it.’
  • ‘The best thing about planning as meticulously as we had to on the DELTA is that the learners can tell! They knowwhen you have prepared, they can sense it, and they show their appreciation in so many ways.’ 
  • ‘For the first time I realized that I am not a slave to the coursebook, that I can actually select what to pay attention to.’

Planning vs. teaching

And yet, during the course, the very same teachers often complained about having to plan their lessons in so much detail. And all of them were extremely reluctant, especially the first couple of times that they were observed teaching, to make any changes to the lesson plans they had prepared, but stubbornly followed the lesson plan even when it was very clear that the activity they had proudly planned was not working. In a few cases, when an activity absolutely had to be abandoned because there was no time left to do it, the teachers had a meltdown after the lesson, experiencing very deep frustration that they had invested so much time and effort in preparing materials and activities which were then not used.

This is understandable, of course; and fair. Nobody wants to spend hours preparing for something that never happens. But then, lesson plans are just plans: sometimes they can be implemented, sometimes they have to be abandoned. More often than not, they need to be adjusted. You can anticipate what may happen, but you can never know, unless you decide to teach the lesson plan rather than the learners, i.e. to ignore the learners and just stick with your lesson plan in spite of everything. Teaching an observed (and even assessed) lesson is not really that different from teaching any lesson: the important things are that the learners should learn and that the learners should have a good time, not that the teacher should showcase all of the materials they have prepared and not that the teacher should execute every iota in their lesson plan just to prove that they planned well. In fact, willingness to adapt and adjust your lesson plan to the learners’ emerging needs during the lesson is a characteristic of a professional, experienced teacher; it even forms one of the criteria for assessing lessons on the Cambridge DELTA course.

modern train departing from train station
Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

In fact, each and every one of the following is, for me, reason enough to depart from your lesson plan:

  • the learners don’t understand
  • the learners are not interested
  • the learners are tired, anxious about something else or in a bad mood; their ‘affective filter’ is up
  • the learners demonstrate that they can already produce what the lesson was intended to help them learn

What would I advise a teacher? In very simple words, I’d tell them to teach the learners, not the lesson plan, the material, or the book. It is the indirect object of the verb ‘teach’ that carries the weight, the fact that you teach someone something. What you teach them can in fact only be evaluated after you have made sure that you have understood what they need. So even though lesson planning is a valuable learning process for us teachers, it is the learners in the classroom that will ultimately dictate our final decisions as to how much of the lesson plan we have prepared is relevant and useful and how much will have to be abandoned or changed.

[first published in OUP’s newsletter ELT World in July 2022]


George Vassilakis
George Vassilakis

George Vassilakis (BA Education, MA ELT, Dip.RSA, Dip.Trans, Dip Lit.) is an ELT teacher, author, trainer and manager. Over the last thirty years, he has taught English in a variety of contexts and trained teachers of English on courses such as the Cambridge DELTA and CELTA as well as a variety of short courses and workshops, both face to face and online. 
As an ELT materials author, George has written coursebooks, teacher’s books and supplementary materials for young learners, adults and young adults, while he also has extensive experience of academic management in language teaching, teacher training and language testing organisations.
Teacher education, however, remains his main professional interest. George is  the co-founder and director of ACE TEFL, a teacher development centre in Athens Greece, where he continues to train teachers on a daily basis.

Correct me if I’m wrong…

Recently I felt a strange sense of camaraderie with some unknown to me Vietnamese teachers. I was reading a case study (Ha & Murray, 2021) investigating how training can affect teachers’ beliefs and their practices regarding oral corrective feedback (OCF). It was comforting to realise that I was not alone: the questions I have had about OCF for years are also being investigated by others across contexts, cultures, and time. To date, research has, admittedly, provided some answers but there are still quite a few questions that have not been resolved. As OCF is, in most cases, an integral part of classroom practice, I thought I would share some of these questions, starting with the most obvious one: 

What is OCF?  

Lightbown and Spada, (2013) define oral corrective feedback as an “indication to a learner that his or her use of the target language is incorrect” (p.216). OCF can target a broad range of errors in learners’ production, can be immediate or delayed, and it can stem from different sources: the students themselves, their peers or their teacher (Loewen, 2013). It is also known as error correction or negative feedback. The latter can be contrasted to positive feedback, which is “an affirmation of the content or correctness of a learner utterance” (Nassaji, 2015, p. 11) intended to provide the learner with affective support.

Can we do without OCF in class? 

Well, OCF naturally occurs in class to varying degrees, whether intended or not, especially when meaning is negotiated (Loewen, 2013). Whether OCF should be provided or not depends on our beliefs (actual or stated) regarding language learning. From the nativist perspective, for which naturalistic exposure or modified input is the sole condition for learning, OCF is irrelevant; it hardly plays a role in the language acquisition process (Li, 2018). On the other hand, theoretical perspectives such as sociocultural theory, social constructivism and interactionist approaches claim OCF has an important role to play. For interactionists, especially, providing opportunities for learners to produce output and to receive feedback are core components (Mackey et. al., 2013). Experimental studies to date, mostly from the interactionist perspective, demonstrate beyond contention that OCF can facilitate L2 development (Li & Vuono, 2019).

From the pedagogical perspective, OCF was not considered significant in a range of different teaching methods, from humanistic approaches to the Natural Approach and to early versions of Communicative Language Teaching . In later versions of Communicative Language Teaching and in Task-Based Language Teaching, though, OCF was reinstated, as it was considered important for both accuracy and fluency (Ellis, 2017). Teacher guides (e.g., Ur, 1996; Scrivener, 2005) argue in favour of a “preventive pedagogy” (Lightbown, 1998, p. 189) that leaves little room for errors, but do advise in favour of OCF and even prescribe how and when OCF should be provided, so as not to interfere with communication and negatively impact affective factors.

Do all the errors that occur need to be addressed?

Research advocates focused OCF, i.e. addressing only some of the errors made (Ellis, 2009). Finding out about this research was a great relief for me, because growing up in a red-pen culture I felt overwhelmed with the number of errors corrected. It is not just that it was demotivating, it was also that after a while one simply does not pay attention anymore. A less-is-more approach is also what my experience as a teacher has taught me: As a novice teacher I was pressured into correcting everything explicitly to satisfy a demand for total accuracy that often equated teaching with testing. Learners, of course, due to cognitive and affective reasons, were not able to notice all the corrections in a process that was, it turns out, not conducive to learning. 

So, the subsequent question is if not all, then which errors need to be addressed. This, in theory at least, is an easy question to answer according to teacher guides (Ur, 1996; Scrivener, 2005): Teachers should prioritise those errors that can lead to communication breakdown or affect larger stretches of discourse (impeding, global errors) and those due to lack of knowledge over the ones that do not affect comprehensibility of whole utterances (local) and those that are not systematic (known as performance errors or mistakes). However, research does not fully support this convenient recipe: there is evidence in favour of correcting local errors as well as non-systematic mistakes in addition to impeding, global errors. In any case, it can be difficult for teachers, especially less experienced ones, to make distinctions between global and local errors or errors and mistakes in the short time afforded to OCF (Ellis, 2009; 2017).

When is the best time to provide OCF? 

Both immediate OCF, provided immediately after an error occurs, and delayed OCF, provided at a later point in time, have been found to be beneficial (Ellis, 2017). Immediate correction can have the benefit of incorporating the correct form into learners’ attempts to communicate and, thus, not compromising form over meaning in communicative tasks (Li, 2018). There are valid theoretical arguments in favour of delayed OCF, too. Quinn and Nakata (2017), besides affective reasons, note from the theoretical perspective of cognitive psychology that longer intervals between error and OCF lead to better long-term retention (p.37). Empirical research has not been conclusive as to when is the best timing for OCF (Quinn & Nakata, 2017). Teacher guides (e.g., Ur, 1996; Scrivener, 2005) suggest immediate correction in accuracy work and recommend delaying it in fluency work. Research, though, does not support the avoidance of OCF in fluency work, as it has been found to assist acquisition (Ellis 2017). 

Who should be the one to provide OCF? 

According to teacher guides, correction should be attempted in a very specific order; self, peer, and finally teacher (Ur, 1996; Scrivener, 2005). However, this suggested good practice regarding OCF is inconsistent with learners’ beliefs and expectations: learners generally have positive attitudes towards OCF, prefer more explicit correction of all errors if possible, and expect to be corrected by the teacher rather than their peers (Li & Vuono, 2019). My own experience of observing teachers in various contexts also indicates that most teachers don’t seem to follow the suggested practice anyway.

How should OCF be provided? 

This is a difficult question to answer since the contextual, individual, and linguistic features affecting the delivery of OCF are intertwined (Yu et al, 2018). Teachers are often expected to make an on-the-spot decision about how to correct, which will inevitably be influenced by their own beliefs. Teachers’ beliefs regarding the provision of OCF, shaped by education, training, and experience both as learners and as teachers, are often rigid and can even contrast with research evidence (Junqueira & Kim, 2013). For many years, I advocated in my practice as a teacher providing focused (i.e., selective) OCF in an implicit way, so as to have minimal impact on fluency, taking into account affective factors as well. I believed it was best not to spoon-feed corrections and that self-discovery was both cognitively and affectively the optimal choice. I consciously avoided using any explicit OCF strategy, although I was aware of empirical evidence attributing merit to explicit correction, including those corrections which make use of metalinguistic clues (Ellis, 2017). By following closely pedagogical suggestions, I was in fact being dismissive of research and effectively limiting the range of my OCF repertoire. 

I remember once I employed an elicitation strategy for a grammatical error that occurred during a short dialogue (I not like dogs in parks) in an adult elementary class. After all learners finished their contributions, I initiated an elicitation process as I had done successfully before. This time however, it ended up being a tiresome, awkward, ambiguous, and ultimately ineffective elicitation process. It would have been best to address this error with an explicit correction after the contribution was concluded. It would have been concise, closer to the occurrence, and since the omission of the auxiliary is a common error with low level learners, it could have provided others with an accurate example of the form to use in their contributions. Apparently, even in the most accommodating of contexts, even well-informed teachers’ beliefs do not always lead to efficient OCF practices. 

How can a teacher decide on a recipe for OCF that works? 

Unfortunately, as is true with many things in life, there is no such thing as a single foolproof recipe for OCF across contexts. I have found this to be the case in many of my previous learning experiences as a learner and as a teacher, as my example above illustrates. In fact, there are no definite answers provided either by research or by teacher guides (Ellis, 2017). Perhaps the search for a single recipe is misguided as “the constellation of moderating variables” (Russell & Spada, 2006, p.156) cannot always be simultaneously satisfied even in the same context.

What are teachers supposed to do? 

As Ellis (2017, p.14) notes “the best advice that can be given to teachers is to deploy a variety of strategies”. This is good advice, but it presupposes that teachers are knowledgeable, have a good grasp of classroom complexities, and are willing to challenge their beliefs. For those less experienced and/or less knowledgeable what emerges as an invaluable step towards more efficient delivery of OCF, is teacher education and training (Borg, 2011). Delivery of OCF in the L2 classroom is demanding and difficult for all teachers, even those with a lot of experience and knowledge. In my experience, it is not always easy to adapt successfully to the challenges posed by the dynamic process of OCF. Consideration of the profile of your class and a comprehensive language analysis in lesson planning help to identify potential problems and subsequently elect OCF strategies more appropriate to the context. Voice, posture, gestures, choice of words are important elements to consider especially since these can enhance saliency of the OCF provided.

The way teachers provide OCF can also serve as a model for peer correction. Learners need to be trained how to provide peer correction and, as with teachers, this is a process that requires time, effort, and opportunity. Planning, acting, reflecting, observing, sharing experiences of practice, are key towards a more reflective practice.

The journey of reflective practice does not only help manage even unplanned OCF more efficiently but certainly improves all aspects of our teaching (Borg, 2011). The necessary condition, though, for all the above is that the teacher should challenge their beliefs, be ready to try new recipes. A well-guided, experiential training course does exactly that: it provides the tools to challenge the ways we do things in class including the way we deliver OCF. At least, this is what training offered me: a bold new perspective on practice and a re-evaluation of my beliefs. 


Borg, S. (2011). The impact of in-service teacher education on language teachers’ beliefs. System39(3), 370-380. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2011.07.009

Ellis, R. (2009). Corrective feedback and teacher development. L2 Journal1(1). https://doi.org/10.5070/l2.v1i1.9054

Ellis, R. (2017). Oral corrective feedback in L2 classrooms: What we know so far. In H. Nassaji & E. Kartchava (Eds.), Corrective feedback in second language teaching and learning: research, theory, applications, implications (pp. 3–18). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315621432

Ha, X. V., & Murray, J. C. (2021). The impact of a professional development program on EFL teachers’ beliefs about corrective feedback. System96, 102405. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2020.102405

Junqueira, L., & Kim, Y. (2013). Exploring the relationship between training, beliefs, and teachers’ corrective feedback practices: A case study of a novice and an experienced ESL teacher. Canadian Modern Language Review69(2), 181-206. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.1536

Li, S. (2018). Corrective feedback in L2 speech production. The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118784235.eelt0247

Li, S., & Vuono, A. (2019). Twenty-five years of research on oral and written corrective feedback in system. System84, 93-109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2019.05.006

Lightbown, P. M. (1998). The importance of timing in focus on form. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (p. 177–196). Cambridge University Press.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned – Oxford handbooks for language teachers (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Loewen, S. (2013). The role of feedback. In S. M. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 24-40). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203808184

Mackey, A., Abbuhl, R., & Gass, S. M. (2013). Interactionist approach. In S. M. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 24-40). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203808184

Nassaji, H. (2015). The Interactional feedback dimension in instructed second language learning: Linking theory, research, and practice. Bloomsbury Publishing. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474219068

Quinn, P. G., & Nakata, T. (2017). The timing of oral corrective feedback. In H. Nassaji & E. Kartchava (Eds.), Corrective feedback in second language teaching and learning: Research, theory, applications, implications (pp.35-47. Routledgehttps://doi.org/10.4324/9781315621432

Russell, J., & Spada, N. (2006). The effectiveness of corrective feedback for the acquisition of L2 grammar: A meta-analysis of the research. In J. M. Norris & L. Ortega (Eds.), Synthesizing research on language learning and teaching (p. 133–164). John Benjamins Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1075/lllt.13

Scrivener, J. (2005). Learning teaching: A guidebook for English language teachers. Macmillan Education.

Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge University Press. 

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.

Can a leopard change its spots?

Stalking Aditya Singh—Flickr RF/Getty Images

The interview

It was one of the first few times I was interviewing candidates for a teacher training course. I remember being quite nervous myself trying to make complete strangers feel comfortable enough to maybe get a glimpse of their motives by asking for their reasons for taking the course and their expectations. And there was that young confident teacher, ticking all the right boxes, up until she looked straight at me and declared in brutal honesty: “I don’t think I’ll become a better teacher or a good teacher. I only care about getting a better job”. Hm. Sure. Fine. A good qualification helps in that direction I said, smiled, and moved on. 

It got me thinking, though. The part about becoming a good teacher was perplexing. It was said in a way that made it look like being a good teacher is an unattainable goal and good teachers are only short of mythical creatures. Surely, there is no simple answer to the question ‘what makes a good teacher’. I was more concerned, though, with this teacher’s attitude towards the course, which I fear is shared by many others: almost convict-like, being resigned to do the time; keeping their heads down, avoiding trouble, reading and doing what they are told, and then finally being released into the world of ELT with a professional competitive qualification. But why take for granted that no substantial change will come of it? Why not challenge existing beliefs about teaching and learning? There are of course some valid reasons for the whys that started piling up. But still, I kept missing the point. The real question, the one that really mattered from where I was sitting, was how these beliefs could be challenged on a teacher training course. 

A new set of questions 

So, a new set of questions arose with the first thing to clarify being what beliefs are in the teaching training context.

There has been a lot of work from psychological and philosophical perspectives aiming to define beliefs in general. Borg (2011), based on that work, describes beliefs in our teaching training context as ideas or opinions individuals hold to be true, often tacit, with a strong evaluative and affective component, used as a basis for action and resistant to change (pp. 370 -371). Beliefs then affect teachers’ learning and their practices; so much so that the importance attributed to them in teacher education has reached the point of describing them as possibly “the clearest measure of a teacher’s professional growth” (Kagan, 1992, p. 85).

That much is clear then. For teacher education to have an impact on what teachers do it has to impact their beliefs, too. Obviously, the tricky part is how to impact those beliefs which are resistant to change. For us teachers the part of resistance is even more difficult to challenge because our initial beliefs about second language teaching (the ideas that we come to teacher education courses with) are to a great extent based on our previous experiences as language learners, or what Borg (2003) calls the “apprenticeship of observation”. This apprenticeship is a powerful thing that has been found to withstand training and not to waver even as teaching experience accumulates (Junqueira & Kim, 2013). The cards are stuck against us right from the start, it seems. 

Research to the rescue 

The good news is that research into the matter, and there has been plenty since the 1970s (see Borg 2009 for a comprehensive account), points to the direction that not only are there changes in the behaviours of trainee teachers but also changes in their thinking and beliefs as a result of teacher education courses (Borg, 2009). Research has also had an impact on the design of teacher training courses which acknowledge the importance of teachers’ beliefs, such as for example the DELTA, which aims at developing “candidates’ ability to reflect critically on their own beliefs about teaching and learning” (Delta Syllabus specifications, 2019, p.4). 

Some suggestions

Reflecting critically on one’s beliefs is no easy task, though, especially for many teachers for whom it can be a novel experience that requires support and examples of how to start this process by asking the right questions. Teachers need to be able to distinguish beliefs from practices and theoretical knowledge; they also need to be given an explanation as to why they are encouraged to examine their beliefs. Providing a safe space, ways, and opportunities to make their beliefs explicit, is as important as it is to be able to share this process with peers. For some, questioning their beliefs about learning and teaching leads to the verification of pre-existing beliefs, for others it opens new prospects. Either way, teachers have been introduced to a roadmap of how to reflect upon their praxis (knowledge enacted into a practical and active process), an integral part of which is to challenge their beliefs, to view them as fluid rather than set in stone.


Teacher training courses are so much more than a welcome addition to a resumé. On top of everything else, a training course is a transformative time that equips us with tools to reflect on our practice and our beliefs. Learning how to challenge our beliefs is perhaps the secret to becoming a unicorn, the mythical unattainable creature, a good teacher. As Prodromou (2020) eloquently frames it “Good teachers are not experts with answers; they are practitioners who ask questions” (p. 309). So, keep on asking. The teacher from the interview certainly did.  


Borg, S. (2003). Teacher cognition in language teaching: A review of research on what language teachers think, know, believe, and do. Language Teaching36(2), 81-109. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444803001903

Borg, S. (2009). Teacher cognition and language education: Research and practice. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Borg, S. (2011). The impact of in-service teacher education on language teachers’ beliefs. System39(3), 370-380. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2011.07.009

DELTA Syllabus specifications. (2019). Cambridge English. https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/Images/22096-delta-syllabus.pdf

Junqueira, L., & Kim, Y. (2013). Exploring the relationship between training, beliefs, and teachers’ corrective feedback practices: A case study of a novice and an experienced ESL teacher. Canadian Modern Language Review69(2), 181-206. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.1536

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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!