What’s the difference in your development as a teacher between engaging in:
- Formal, assessed training
- Less formal workshops or INSET (in-service training)
- An ELT conference
- Planning a lesson
- Thinking about a lesson you taught, what worked and what didn’t.
- Reading books, journals, magazines in the field.
By engaging in any of the above, or in none of them, consciously or not you are structuring a knowledge base that will permeate and influence your teaching in a historical manner. By historical I mean each action being influenced by previous actions; each idea being influenced by previous and actual mindsets, yours primarily, and other’s secondarily (in fact, where other’s finish and yours start is pretty blurry).
Let’s suppose that after 10 years teaching you have formed a very clear idea of what good teaching is. Even if you often revisit and challenge your own ways of thinking about teaching, there are probably some rooted conceptions that will make you stand where you are. And let’s say that these roots are what gives you a sense of identity as a teacher (and as a person, why not?).
You’re then faced with a new challenge: to teach following someone else’s guidelines, principles, ideas, etc. Maybe because you moved to another country, or you’re taking an assessed training course, so you have to fit in the box; but the box is full of things you don’t believe.
You’re a bit confused now – the course has somehow changed your beliefs, and you started to agree with many things you would’ve considered ‘wrong’ before the course.
The body of knowledge that the course is offering you (or imposing) is validated by an external organization, delivered by more experienced professionals, accredited by top universities, and recognized in the market place as the best measure and screening device for recruitment and pay scale. Moreover, the body of knowledge offered there has a price, a timetable, a certificate, and other administrative qualities.
Now, your knowledge, if you are technically undertrained (though you might be ultra-developed) was acquired by ‘mere’ practice, and it doesn’t have any of the above. Who accredited your 10 years experience? No-one. Therefore, your knowledge has a much lower value, if any.
In practice, we know it is not true. What we learn by doing is indeed priceless and timeless.
So, the question is:
how do we validate, or legitimate, the individualized knowledge we have about teaching?
The most basic answer is: you talk about it, you make it public.
How you do it and what you get from it will depend on an array of factors, of course. I’ll address a few in the next post.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.