Posted by: Alastair Grant | July 30, 2011

Share and Share alike

Yesterday, in a relatively inconspicuous location in Buenos Aires, there took place the best conference I’ve ever been to.

And I’ve been to a few. Don’t get me wrong; I LIKE conferences. They’re the greatest places for adults to pretend they’re still in freshers’ year and/or summer camp ever devised. And if you’re lucky, you might even learn something/get some practical ideas for your classroom, for your teachers etc., apart from a workshop on “How to Pretend you don’t have a Hangover on the Second Morning of a TEFL Conference.”

But the Share Convention 2011 had something (as it always does) that set it apart from the rest.

Picture the scene – 600 delegates, all bright, young, enthusiastic teachers completing their teaching degree (called the “profesorado” here – this is essentially an MA in Applied Linguistics but a lot more practical) who had travelled from all over this massive country to share their ideas and experiences for two days.

So why blog about it – who cares?

We should. The other day on an ELT forum, I was arguing that it was essential to pay our teachers if we expect them to come to training. But then yesterday I saw 600 teachers who were training simply because they wanted to. Because it would help them with their professional development and therefore their students’ development – 24 hours bus rides, no pay and a late Friday night finish notwithstanding.

The conference culminated in a prize-giving, with the kind of singing, dancing and laughing delight in a sense of a shared professional community that can all too often be absent from the ivory tower of institutionalised native-speaker EFL.

To have this profession of ours taken seriously, we need to start having some serious fun. Start training our teachers like it’s the essential, educative, delightful and professional career that ELT is, and we’ll start producing teachers with the same dynamism and calibre as those I saw yesterday.

Isn’t it time we started helping our teachers understand and develop the value they bring to the world by making teacher-training sessions an essential part of the job, instead of apologetically offering a 1-hour Friday afternoon drilling workshop on the staffroom whiteboard?


  1. Great photo, lovely links and souns sentiment – all in all a top post. Nothing wrong with that Friday afternoon drilling workshop mind…

    • Ha Ha – thanks Neil!

      I’ve no issue with drilling workshops though, be they related to repetitions of words or about the right way to make holes in walls.

      My issue is the “apologetic” offering: I think being firmer about it – i.e. – this training is part and parcel of the job – is the way to make people take it more seriously as well as seeing the value in their profession.

  2. I’ve been here for 20 years and I totally agree!
    Am sick of the smug and serious repeaters of learned theory who cannot put it into practice.
    Here it just won’t be tolerated!

    Thumbs up to the practising teachers who can transmit the passion and the parctice.
    Susan Hillyard

    • Hear hear Susan!

      I wonder if the practising teachers sometimes aren’t taken as seriously as the non-practising ones…

  3. Nice to see you “re-reflect” on the idea of teacher training. We’d all love to see it be a more dynamic happening, and sometimes it does take a bit of fun.

    I guess my question is— why do you think those 600 teachers chose to go, and what would make everyone want to go to the staffroom— i guess it’s a chicken or egg question—

    Was it the teachers that wanted to go to the event, or the event that drew the teachers ? cheers, b

    • Great question Brad.

      I think it’s a difference in attitude towards the profession. Here in Argentina, the profesorado degree is what people want and need to become professionally recognised English teachers. There’s clearly a difference between that and a 4-week course that the natives have to do.

      While there is nothing wrong with said 4-week course, for many institutions, the rest of the learning is “on the job”, meaning all the study of language skills and systems (phonology, discourse, language awareness etc etc) is performed in the teacher’s own time, usually while lesson planning.

      Professional development should not begin and end with CELTA. Institutes need compulsory weekly teacher development, covering all the points above. It’s pretty much criminal that there is, in any one institute, dozens of years of teaching experience that remains unshared and the teachers undeveloped and demotivated.

      Little wonder there is such a high turnover of native speaker teachers, and that we question the right to call this a profession.

      • Interesting response— attitude, culture— which serves as an answer to why “criminal PD” is allowed elsewhere. I’m not as interested in right/wrong, but how to move towards what helps teachers, and hence their students.

        I guess what I’m looking for is what will draw teachers to want to participate in professional development at their institutions (especially in those areas where there is none and little desire)?

        How will those schools create an environment much like what we have here on blogs, on twitter— one that is open and sharing.

        It’s more of a philosophical/management question— how do we make people want what they ‘should’ want— initiating a law to wear motorcycle helmets, or just encourage safety— Require teacher development every wednesday evening or simply put the option out there with a few nice suggestions.

        I agree with you, of course, I just question what the path is to move from levels of “criminal teacher development” to self-motivated, rich and enjoyable PD. Again, it’s culture— and how to change culture is neither a new or easy question to answer.

        Like this discussion. Thanks Alastair

  4. Thanks to you too Brad – you are very insightful and I greatly value your contributions.

    Attitude, culture and cash are, I think the main forces here.

    I’m sure I’m not alone in uttering a deep inner wail when I read things like this:

    I think we have to be realistic – many teachers understandably see TEFL as a means to an end. I’m not judging that for a second: hell, I know I did. I wanted to travel, see South America, and all of that good stuff.

    But what I take issue with is the amount of institutions which clearly still favour this culture of mediocrity. The director who honestly doesn’t give a damn about whether their students are learning or whether the teachers develop, so long as the fees are coming in and there are bums on seats.

    And this is reciprocal – you invest to make a profit. This is how we make people want what they should want – institutions need to make sure that their teachers know they are getting compulsory TD from day one.

    Let’s look at a law firm: the training is far from optional and is provided to make sure the trainees achieve high standards. This profession needs more of just such standards. More training, more goals, more benchmarks. Don’t get scared, I’m only saying that the job needs to be more accountable. If not, we don’t take it seriously and neither do new teachers.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with you – that TD should be “self motivated, rich and enjoyable” but to get this the profession needs to set itself more standards. This is a question of culture change, as you say – so let’s dare to be accountable and change it. Do I sound dogmatic? I feel it!

    • You do sound dogmatic but your vision is in the right place, so maybe dogmatic negative connotations should be flittered away in this instance ;-).

      In the end, it’s a must-do if “physical” schools are to keep up with the growing tide of virtual schools and e-learning apps. As all things, our profession and professional market will change, and I do think the responsibility is in both the administration and teachers’ hands.

      Thanks for making me rethink it all too. I’ll be back for more convos soon ! Cheers, b

  5. You make a really good point that on going development should be more of a priority for teachers and institutions. After completing my CELTA my first job was at an institute where most teachers turned up did their hours and then got out of there as quickly as they could. I was a bit of a shock to the system to enter that environment of apathy straight after doing a CELTA where the opposite was true. I learned a lot there mostly through my own lesson planning but to their credit they did run a three month course for new teacher which basically covered the same concepts as a CELTA. There were also some compulsory sessions that teachers were asked to go to unpaid. Teachers were always reluctant to go because they were not that helpful, they usually consisted of a sales rep from a publishing company coming to talk about their new products which the institute did not have so it seemed completely irrelevant, but for the institute it ticked the ‘providing teacher training box’.
    However, teachers, like students have to want to learn if they really are going to. I was at the LABCI conference recently and it was the first time since becoming a teacher that I had been surrounded by enthusiastic teachers who were passionate about coming up with new ideas and innovations.
    So I question whether making sessions compulsory is the right way, rather I suggest that putting more effort into making them useful is the way, so that teacher want to go. They should also be 2 way, bottom up as well as top down not just the institute training in the method they want to be used but also for teacher to be free to make criticisms and suggestions and talk about issues in a forum where they will be listened to. There should also be some obligation for the institute to act on these ideas. If sessions were like this then it would be easy for the teachers to see the benefit and they would want to be there.

    Colin Munro
    English Language Club

    • Colin – thank you very much for your comment. I really appreciate what you are saying about making the teacher development useful and actually relevent to the “in-classroom” teachers. I too have experienced the the “gesture” of TD, even as something that has been paid only lip-service to in order to attract new teachers, i.e. “we run weekly development sessions, you know…” only for them to have to sit and listen to monthly reports from various TEFL conferences.

      None of the above is inspiring, and having been to the Share convention, I too see what it means to be among really interested and enthusiastic teachers.

      On my CELTA I recall one of the teachers saying “don’t worry, you can ditch all the detailed lesson planning etc. as soon as CELTA’s over”. I was mightily relieved at the time, but think that this is taken to an extreme when (again) by the very nature of the job, teachers use it only as a jump-off for travel. It’s just the way our profession is, I know…

      I would also rather TD was not compulsory, but at the same time I feel like it IS training and it IS part of the job. Same as any other profession. And I’d like to think the TD we run where I work is all of the things we’ve mentioned: useful, interesting, worthwhile – but in a way I feel that it’s precisely BECAUSE it’s optional that teachers can and do stay away. If it’s part of the job, it wouldn’t even be a question – and again, if it were accountable with some kind of “target achieved” appraisal / reward system, it would be all the more sought after.

      Maybe this sounds rather “instrumental” rather than “intrinsic” as far as motivation goes, but I don’t see why it can’t be both?

  6. Some excellent points here from Susan, Brad and Colin, responding to Alastair’s excellent post on a conference I can’t believe I missed (I blame my school’s director – ha ha!).

    While I agree with everyone’s sentiments and have shared similar experiences both as a developing teacher and then as a Director of Studies, I do think Brad’s questions are difficult to answer. Some of the problems we have to overcome are pretty challenging and I see two of the biggest as:

    – the costs of bringing native speakers out to your institute almost prohibits letting them go if they don’t come up to (the CPD) scratch

    – getting practising teachers to realise they have as much (or even more) to contribute than the learned non-practitioners can be almost impossible

    But the solution to both seems to be the same – championing and focusing our efforts on developing, or should I say ‘providing opportunities for them to develop themselves’ the committed, locally-based teachers, such as those here in Argentina who went to the Share convention and hopefully those I’m going to meet this weekend starting out on the Delta journey in Uruguay,

    And one way of doing this is to stop organising conferences and presentations where a big name says a lot about very little and organising more conferences like the Share convention where the focus is on practising teachers collaborating to the benefit of all. See you next year at Share!

    • Hi Neil –

      Thank you for commenting and for bringing to my attention something which both Brad and Colin said which I feel I rather overlooked… they key word being “sharing”.

      The wealth of TD knowledge in any institute is a goldmine of experience and needs to be tapped. Last year one of our best TD presentations was by two of the new teachers who had just come off the CELTA course. I think that, as you’re saying, there is the idea that the ones “in the know” are the Deltas, the DoSs and the “gurus” of TEFL – in fact, even just a new activity that a teacher has tried can make a huge difference.

      So I think it is just this “sharing” that you all speak of that is key here – making sure that there is just this top-down and bottom-up forum for a fair and frank exchange of experience and ideas – that is, empowring all an institution’s teachers to realise that they are (as arguably our classes should be) equal learning environments, where the teacher often learns as much as the student (I’ve only just worked out how to use Real Player thanks to a 14 year old!).

  7. “Attitude, culture and cash”…. I’d say I agree 70% with that! Commitment is another one that comes to mind.
    I was one of the 600 people at the conference, but on the other hand, I was the only one of the 10 other teachers I work with present! This has been my fifth “Share” and I will continue attending because I feel it’s worth it. I receive no money from the institute where I work to attend PD sessions (in fact I have to pay for my own enrolment fee)
    Why don’t my colleague teachers attend professional development sessions too? “during holidays/weekends? hell no!”, “Who’s going to pay for that?”, “it’s not compulsory, so why do it?”
    Why do I go? I meet fellow teachers, I have fun AND I learn cool things to use in the classroom. Because I’m commited to what I do. Even if I don’t get paid to go, even if I have to re-transmit everything I’ve learnt to the other members of the staff in a boring staffroom meeting afterwards…

    • Hi Stefi and welcome –

      Just the kind of professional I mentioned in my original post – a pleasure to have you here!

      Well, I am delighted by your comments on commitment. I have to say I can’t stand the “hell no, we won’t go” attitude – I think that, again, often because it isn’t compulsory, people just don’t go… but what you have said has also made me think… your magic word here was “commitment”. If teachers such as yourself are commited to the job, to improving their skills, then the motivation should be intrinsic.

      Perhaps making it an obligation just makes it a chore and if the TD is varied and interesting, teachers should come every week, as desired?

      And perhaps this does come back to culture – i.e. those who see the job as a means to an end, and those who love it. And I guess we can only light the fire of luuuurve by making the TD…loveable.

      How to do it?

      I know, for example, some institutes has a level system, for their TD and some teachers even sit exams, get certificates etc… is this the way forward or just even more off-putting?

      • Hi, a pleasure being here 🙂
        I think that grades and money and even competition are extrinsic motivations and our question here is how to “awake” teachers intrinsic motivation.
        Discuss 😉

  8. […] […]

  9. This is a really interesting thread and so I’ll start with a thanks to everyone for such stimulating comments.

    I work in a school with a very focused and well-received professional development set up. It’s very open and supportive, and not in the least but prescriptive, encouraging experimentation. I have the honour of over-seeing it and could not be happier with the way things are going at the moment. We have a range of workshops (anyone can give one and people are encouraged to), developmental obs where teachers can focus on an area of teaching to improve or to experiment with (importantly, not assessments), training courses and what have you, and offer opportunities to do guest sessions on TKT, CELTA for those who want to move into training and have appropriate experience (a bridge that is not so easy to cross).

    However, I am not here to wax euphoric about my specific situation. I understand that we can’t be complacent and I’m always reading and watching online content to try find ways to improve. No matter what I do, we also have a minority of teachers who take virtually no part in our CPD unless told it’s mandatory and don’t seem to want to (and I’m not going to force them – I wonder if anyone thinks that’s the wrong thing to say).

    We also don’t have many opportunities to attend conferences (I’ll be speaking at 2 in total this year, but I’d guess that none of our teachers will be there – they must know I’m speaking…). Outside the school, there are very few CPD opportunities and I’m not just talking about for our teachers, but for the entire country (Costa Rica).

    Given this state of affairs, the thing I’m most excited about at the moment is our new Teachers’ Club. This is basically a fortnightly 2-hour workshop for local teachers working in state or private schools. We do charge, but a minimal amount of $10. It’s in a nascent form just now, being so new, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re hoping to expand it in the new year and aim to repeat a session over two weeks. It is, literally, the only thing like this in the country (as far as I know, at least).

    The positive response suggests that teachers are interested in CPD but are often starved of either stimulating opportunities, affordable opportunities or simply any opportunities at all. Of course, it comes down to the individual, and all we can do as trainers is try to encourage a culture of sharing, of openness and of opportunity. Training must be affordable too. I’m sure the school wants to make lots of money from it – of course they do; it’s a business, after all – but all I could care less about is creating conditions where it can happen in supportive environment. Am I utopian? Well, you can tell I’m not an owner of a school or a DoS, but I don’t want to be.

    • Hi Chris,

      Sorry to come back late with a response – it was worth the wait for me to read yor contribution though – you sound like a carbon copy of me, here in BsAs (poor you)! I too am not a DoS nor an owner (and wouldn’t want to be!) – I love the opportunities I have to work out ways of developing our staff.

      I especially like two parts of your comment:

      1) The developmental observations – what a great idea. The observations at my insti do tend to seem like assessments (they’re NOT really, but this message still doesn’t quite get through clearly enough) and tend to make the teachers very nervous. So having a voluntary system where the Ts can focus on a sepcific aspect of their skills seems like a great idea.

      2) The Teacher’s Club – we tried this out last year and it didn’t quite take off… do you have a selection of workshops or one every fortnight?

      And I know what you mean about some teachers who will never take up the opportunity. I suppose it is their loss though – the moot point about making it compulsory is at the forefront of my mind too… not a road I want to go down but I feel as though a “culture change” needs to happen somewhere along the line… help…

      By the way – I really liked the tone of your comment: you sound committed to your job, totally unpretentious about it and modest. Good on you, Chris – we could do with more like you in ELT.

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