A couple of days ago, before I read this post, a rather disturbing idea crossed my mind: how come that there are teachers out there who don’t give a damn about professional development, yet, their students’ learning outcomes are just fine. On the other hand, there are teachers who enthusiastically follow all the new trends in ELT, yet, their students’ results are rather average.
In the post I mention above, Steven Watson argues:
It is not through conscious thought, nor through identifying the most effective means of learning that establishes the way we teach. Teaching is a cultural act that is passed on through generations, it is characterised by routines and dialogue that ensure the class runs smoothly.
In my opinion, there are at least four factors influencing the way we teach: 1) the way we were taught, 2) the way we think we should teach, 3) how experienced/competent we are (have become) as teachers and 4) the external conditions which determine what we will actually do, i.e. what our employers actually require us to do/expect from us.
This classification would explain why it is not always fundamental what you think about the efficiency of various teaching approaches. In other words, sometimes you simply can’t apply a method because the conditions and/or your teaching context don’t allow/enable you to do so. For example, some teachers believe that grades are a hindrance to effective learning rather than a useful tool. Still, they have no choice but to use summative assessment. Many teachers believe that technology is the future of education, but they don’t even have a computer available in the classroom.
It would also explain why teachers who used to be taught/trained by very competent instructors, who have a decent amount of experience, and whose conditions enable them to do what they think is best for their students, can be successful professionals regardless of their lack of interest in an ongoing professional development or current ELT trends.
Steven Watson’s made a couple of points which made me ponder what kind of a teacher I am myself, i.e. which factors influencing my teaching I regard dominant.
Although I see myself as an experienced and competent teacher keen on professional development, I must add that I teach in a state controlled school, which, coincidentally, I used to attend 25 years ago as a student.
As for the basic teaching philosophy, I would say that not much seems to have changed since I was a student. In other words, based on what I’ve observed and experienced, the school, i.e. its administration, has not undergone any major shifts in how it looks upon education in general. And I’m not sure whether it actually can. Although there have certainly been some beneficial changes since then, there are still classrooms with a traditional seating arrangement, there are grades, tests and coursebooks.
The way I was taught is the past and the external conditions seem to be given then. What is important now is the internal factors, i.e. my experience, which nobody can take away from me, and what I believe is best for my students, which is largely influenced by my professional training and professional development.
However, as experience comes to me quite automatically, with years, so to speak, I have no direct control over it really. Experience simply happens through practice. So, the only factor that I can influence directly and consciously is how much I invest in my professional development, i.e. how much I read about ELT, how often I attend conferences and how much I’m willing to learn from my colleagues and PLN.
This brings me to a conclusion that an ongoing PD is the most powerful and liberating force out of the four which shape me as a teacher. I believe it is the most important factor because it is the only thing that is fully under my control. Thus, it is the source of creativity and endless opportunities, which can ultimately make up for all the potential deficiencies or seeming imperfections. But not only that; it also has the capacity to gradually change the current external conditions in education and thus positively shape the past of the future generations of teachers.