Language Teacher Education

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Language teacher education – of what should it consist? Some would argue that it is largely an issue of providing teachers with successful classroom activities. Others may identify it as more of an academic endeavor with a course of study to pursue. Are these, in fact, two different perspectives? Or can these views of teacher education coexist? This chapter will provide an overview of such views and debates related to language teacher education, closing with perspectives as to how we might best prepare teachers for their role as language educators.
First, let’s begin by asking if teachers need to be formally educated in order to teach language? Certainly, we have all seen job announcements for teaching positions in which being a “native speaker” seems to be the only qualification required. Is it possible that simply being a successful user of the language is sufficient for translation into a successful teaching career? Undoubtedly, there are some very successful language teachers out there who began their careers with such qualifications. However, we also frequently see these teachers, sometime later, seeking workshops or enrolling in teacher education programs which suggests that, in some way, some level of further preparation is needed in order for teachers to be successful in their classrooms and in their professions. But what should this education consist of? Is it enough to have novice teachers work with mentor teachers in the classroom? Or do teachers need academic instruction in certain theoretical areas?

What Is “Teaching”?

Pennington (1999) presents a continuum of perspectives on teaching, ranging from the view of teaching as “magic” to a view of teaching as “science” (p. 100). In the former, teaching is perceived as something “mysterious . . . dependent on personal and individual factors that can never be fully known or described” (p. 101) and thus may not require or be conducive to formal training. In the latter view, however, teaching-as-science, teaching is viewed as something that can be clearly delineated, defined, and presented – a body of knowledge to be learned, courses to be taken. As an alternative to these two ends of the continuum, Pennington (1999) proposes that we view “teaching-as-profession” in which “the aim of teacher education can be characterized as helping teachers to synthesize and consolidate personal and shared knowledge in a professional persona which bridges the subjective and the intersubjective, the ‘art’ and the ‘craft’ – or the ‘magic’ and the ‘science’ – of teaching” (p. 106).
Wallace (1991) shares a similar perspective. He first outlines a distinction between teaching as a “craft” and teaching as “applied science.” In the “craft” model, teachers learn their skills through the observation and imitation of more experienced teachers. The “applied science” model, on the other hand, views teaching expertise as being gained through study of scientific findings in the field. He notes that both models have their strengths and weaknesses. The former, the “craft” model, acknowledges the role of what Wallace terms “experiential knowledge” in successful pedagogy. However, this model may lead to imitative, non-reflective teaching, as novice teachers may simply “do-as-they-see” without necessarily reflecting upon whether or not their observations were of sound practices The “applied science” model, on the other hand, allows for continued input and development of teachers based on a growing body of research and knowledge, but may simplify (or sometimes even ignore) the teaching context.

The Training of Teachers

Wallace (1991) proposes a “reflective” model of teacher education which incorporates teachers more actively into the education process. In this model, teachers draw from both the received knowledge of the field and the experiential knowledge of the classroom practitioner. This suggests that as teachers utilize experiential and received knowledge in their practice, they engage in reflection which allows them to re-examine their practice in light of their decisions, concerns, experiences, and knowledge. This reflection feeds back into their practices. In this model then, what teachers bring to their practice in the form of reflective behavior plays a role equal to that of the received and experiential knowledge gained from more traditional perspectives of teacher education. In fact, Freeman and Johnson (1998, 2005a, 2005b) and Freeman and Graves (2004) feel that what teachers think and believe about their practices comprise key components in determining what their students do or do not learn.
Johnson (1997) states, “those who construct theory are . . . generally held in higher esteem than and hold positions of power over those who construct practice” (p. 779). Hedgcock (2002) says that such beliefs lead to “a particularly damaging dichotomy” set up between theory and practice (p. 308) which leads many novice teachers to see theory as something “authoritarian and prescriptive” (Clarke, 1994, p. 9). In fact, Clarke (1994) has argued that the “distinction between theory and practice . . . is generally dysfunctional for teachers” (p. 9).

The Great Debate

Whatever level of language awareness may be desirable, there is evidence that some teachers may not be being adequately prepared in teacher education programs to address their learners’ linguistic needs. After a recent review of studies which examined teachers’ content knowledge, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Cochran- Smith & Zeichner, 2005) reported that although teachers had basic information about their subject matter, few had a deeper understanding that allowed them “to move beyond simple statement of the principles as rules” (p. 271). They went on to say that “teacher candidates had limited and often inaccurate, knowledge of the principles of grammar needed to explain problematic cases. Subject matter courses had left many of them with gaps in the content knowledge needed to teach grammar on the basis of principles” (p. 273). Hedgcock (2002) also notes that “[l]anguage teachers are often underprepared to provide the descriptive and explanatory information that so many language learners expect to gain from classroom instruction” (p. 306).

The Need for Awareness

Wright (2002) identifies three domains of language awareness that teachers should have: the user domain, the analyst domain, and the teacher domain. The first, the user domain. Language teacher education must, therefore, focus on ways of assisting teachers with each of these three domains. It is not enough that teachers be successful users of the target language; nor is it sufficient that they understand how the language itself works. They must have a level of awareness of language that enables them to assess, analyze, and present it to learners in ways that will enhance acquisition.

Bridging the Divide

Hedgcock (2002) outlines ways in which teachers can be encouraged to examine and situate this knowledge, beginning first with an introduction of teachers to the discourses, texts, and genres that are prevalent in the applied linguistics field. As teachers gain the ability to read, understand, and critically evaluate what is being researched and discussed in the field, they are encouraged to systematically reflect – both retrospectively and prospectively – on their own practice as it relates to these theories. This awareness “can lead to a balanced integration of public and personal theory in the individual’s professional value system” (Hedgcock, 2002, p. 312).
One manner in which teachers can be encouraged to participate in public theory is by contributing to research in the field. Markee (1997) points out a number of constraints which have traditionally hampered teachers’ involvement in the research community: (1) research is written by researchers for researchers, and thus it may not be readily accessible to teachers; (2) topics addressed in research studies may not be directly applicable to language classrooms; (3) the hierarchical relationship between researchers and teachers may lead to teachers’ voices being less heard; (4) research that teachers do may not be “rigorous” enough for publication in the prevailing research journals; and (5) teachers may not want to and/or have time to publish and/or conduct research (pp. 88–9). Markee looks, however, toward action research as a possible means for bridging these constraints.
As Richards (1998) reminds us, action research “takes its name from two processes that are central to it: a data-gathering component (the research element) and a focus on bringing about change (the action component)” (p. 28). It thus seems a likely candidate for bridging the theory/practice divide. Van Lier (1994a) defines action research
“as a way of working in which certain activities occur in cycles: we plan some kind of action (based, perhaps on some problem we have defined, or an idea based on reading or research), we carry it out, we observe the process (preferably with a partner), we reflect (and converse, if possible, with our collaborator), and in the light of our reflections we revise the plan and continue with the process. (p. 8)”
He emphasizes that “practice must be seen as an opportunity to do research, and as a source of theory” (van Lier, 1994b, p. 7). Citing Feyerabend (1987, p. 284), van Lier (1994b) reminds us that “The knowledge we need to understand and to advance the sciences does not come from theories, it comes from participation” (p. 7). Thus, by encouraging teachers to participate in the research community as investigators of their own teaching practices, we can assist them not only in enhancing their own classroom practices, but also in expanding the domain of language education research to include more classroom-oriented foci, thereby, perhaps, expanding the relevance of applied linguistics research to a wider community of practitioners. As Bailey (1999) notes:
“To teach well is to take a research stance to our work – to question, to hypothesize, to be open to puzzles, to seek out data – not only to support our positions, but also to be open to data which may say things we don’t want to hear . . . It is by carefully examining the work of language learners and teachers that we improve the profession and create better learning environments for our students and ourselves. Thus, it is by encouraging teachers to examine what they do, to reflect critically upon it, and to act upon those findings, we, as teacher educators can assist teachers in participating in a broader professional community. (p. 38)”
It is with this thought in mind that this chapter comes to a close. By examining various perspectives on language teacher education, I hope to have highlighted that these diverse – and sometimes contentious – viewpoints share a common focal purpose, to best prepare teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to enhance both learners’ language learning experiences and teachers’ own opportunities for professional growth and development.
Long, Michael H & Catherine J. Doughty. (2009). The Handbook of Language Teaching. UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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