Due to the rise of English as an international language many more people around the world are studying English as a foreign or second language. As it is now believed that non-native English speakers (NNESs) outnumber their native speaking counterparts (Jenkins, 2000), it is highly likely that there are more non-native English speaking teachers (NNESTs) than native speaking English teachers (NESTs). As these trends continue, a more democratic ownership (Norton, 1997) of the English language is emerging; this applies to the acceptance of Englishes, or varieties of English, as well as those who teach English.
English teachers can be grouped in various ways. We can categorize them, for example, in terms of whether they are qualified, experienced, or effective. We may also consider where teachers come from, whether or not they are native speakers, and how these factors impact their teaching. In my own experience, having trained, managed and worked alongside many native and non-native teachers, I would argue that some people put far too much weight on the native speaker criterion when judging the effectiveness of teachers. There are non-native teachers who have an excellent command of English and who, having learned English themselves, have a good, intuitive understanding of the language learning process.
Below, I focus on a very particular group of teachers: namely, NNES state school teachers in developing countries. The reason for this is that I believe this group has many issues in common; so, in many ways, their problems are more generalizable than other groups. Since these teachers and the institutions and communities in which they work are economically burdened, they face particular challenges, including poor facilities and a lack of resources. In addition, many of these teachers do not receive proper pre-service or in-service training. Finally, many state school NNESTs in developing countries have a limited command of English. I therefore see this group of teachers as being unique, and in need of support which can help them overcome these issues.
For the past few years I have trained teachers and trainers in Vietnam and Cambodia. For the IH branches in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City I trained state school teachers to prepare for Cambridge TKT examinations. This course consisted of a combination of test preparation and ‘hands on’ training whereby teachers were introduced to a variety of methodologies, techniques and activities and were given the opportunity to try them out in training sessions. Currently, in Cambodia, I work with trainers in Phnom Penh and provincial areas training trainers who in turn train pre-service secondary school teachers.
Despite a number of differences between those that I have trained, teachers in both countries have much in common in terms of the challenges they face as English teachers. To give the reader an idea of some of the common problems they face, here is a list of some of the more frequently mentioned issues:
- Class sizes can be as large as 50, 60 or 70 students.
- The abilities of the students are very mixed.
- Lateness and absenteeism are common.
- Some students do not have the course book.
- Teachers are underpaid and must hold other jobs to make ends meet; and this leaves little time for planning and preparation.
- The facilities are lacking, e.g., there is no electricity, tape/CD player, OHP, etc.
- There are few teaching resource books available.
- Teachers or students must pay for any copies of materials, and paper is considered to be expensive.
- Cheating is common.
- Teachers have not been properly trained, receive little or no ongoing training, and have a limited command of English.
I realize that it would be an overgeneralization to say that all state school teachers in all developing countries face these issues. Nevertheless, from my experience and from talking to other trainers who have worked in developing countries in other parts of the world, it can be said that these are commonly heard problems of such teachers.
When conducting in-service training sessions for teachers, I have been asked for advice on handling the problems above. Many of them are not easily solvable, however. For example, if a teacher does not have electricity he or she is necessarily at a disadvantage. And the fact that I have little experience myself working under such conditions makes it less easy for me to offer the perfect solution. At the same time, as trainers, it is our responsibility to help others when they come to us for advice. I would never want to lose the respect of my trainees by telling them that I cannot help because I have little personal experience with their problems.
So how can trainers help trainees with such problems? Trainers can act as problem solvers by observing, analyzing problems, and looking for solutions. And they can also help to motivate and encourage their trainees to do the same. Some more specific action points are listed below:
- Provide teachers with language support. Practical Classroom English published by Oxford University Press (Hughes & Moate, 2007) is a good resource which contains teacher language arranged by classroom situations, e.g., classroom routines, involving the learners, managing the classroom, etc. We can also help teachers with pronunciation by drilling classroom language and drawing their attention to stress or other phonological features they find difficult.
- Encourage them to support one other, especially if their institution is not providing effective in-service training. They can do peer observations, share resources, and participate in peer-led training sessions.
- Help them with problem solving issues by encouraging discussion and sharing ideas during training sessions. And encourage them to hold regular teachers’ meetings to exchange ideas.
- Teach some of their classes so that you can understand their problems first hand.
- If teachers lack confidence, explain to them that no one else is going to teach their students. They can benefit from their trainer’s endorsement of them as teachers.
- Make them aware of their strengths as teachers: they know their students better as they come from the same country; they understand the particular language problems their students face due to L1 transfer; as NNESs, they understand first hand many of the challenges of learning English; they are accustomed to the school conditions in which they teach.
- Observe teachers and help identify the solvable problems and offer solutions. While teachers working in tough conditions face many obstacles, trainers can focus on the things which can be more readily fixed. For example, if a teacher’s use of the white board is clearer, or if she projects her voice louder, she can better deal with a large class.
Trainers cannot provide teachers with a magic formula that will make their problems go away. Unfortunately, it is likely that many state school NNESTs in developing countries will continue to teach large, mixed-ability classes, with limited resources and comparatively lower English proficiency levels. But these are the realities which must be accepted, at least for the time being. Another reality which must be understood is that it is not possible to mobilize enough externally trained teachers to replace these teachers-nor is it desirable. By accepting these realities, we can then look to what can actually be improved. And by empowering the teachers so that they understand that they are the right people for their students, they can gain confidence and become increasingly responsible for tackling problems on their own.
In closing, it is worth considering how the emergence of English as a global language reflects our changing world. For never before has there been a language which was so widely used; and, particularly in the developing world, the ability to communicate effectively in English can provide real life changing opportunities for teachers and their students. The IH Core Values embrace the notion of changing worlds, and they provide a kind of road map for how trainers can help with English language learning in less developed parts of the world. In supporting state school NNESTs in developing countries, we first need to understand the teachers’ situations. If teachers are effectively supported, we can inspire them so that they and their students are able to achieve more. This will enable them to better communicate locally, regionally, and globally, and these teachers can then imagine and realize better futures for themselves and their students.
- Hughes, G. and Moate, J. (2007) Practical Classroom English. Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Jenkins, J. (2000) The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Norton, B. (1997) Language, Identity and the Ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.
- Issue 31 – Contents
- Issue 40 Editorial – One Teacher Trainer to Define Them All?
- Developing teachers – Sandy Millin
- The Cambridge guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Edited by Jack C Richards and Anne Burns. Cambridge University Press
- Training vs Educating; the fundamentalist teacher educator – by Jamie King