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Does teaching practice make perfect?

Melanie Butler weighs up the advantages of teaching certificates

One of the main changes the pandemic has brought to EFL is the rapid growth of online teacher training. It’s not altogether new – International House (IH) London has been offering an online CELTA for well over a decade. However, with Cambridge now extending its permission for all CELTAs to be offered online and Trinity launching its own online self-study course for teaching online, the trend looks set to continue.

Most of the major players in teacher training are now offering online courses: Bell; Teaching House in the US, the UK and Australia; IH all over the world, but there are reservations. NILE in Norwich, a pioneer in online and hybrid, blended learning courses for teachers has drawn the line at entry level qualification.

Blended learning may actually be the optimal method. IH London, the school where the course that became the CELTA was first developed over 50 year ago,

reported a few years back that having the trainer input sessions delivered online, often asynchronously, can be more successful than when they are delivered in person. It’s easier for trainees to follow recorded sessions at their own pace, at a time of their choosing and as many times as they want, and then ask any questions at a live session with a trainer.

“The UK certificates tend to focus exclusively on adults, arguing that 
teaching kids follows the same basic principals”

The giant US teachers’ association TESOL also recommends hybrid courses with the teaching practice done face to face. It names CELTA, Trinity and the course from the School of International Training in Vermont as fitting their requirements and has developed the TESOL Core Certificate programme (which is currently being redesigned).

Whether online or hybrid, one great advantage of the US certificates over the UK ones is that they include both a module on the core teaching theory in the designated area and the opportunity to choose to specialise in one age group: adults, adolescents and children. The UK certificates tend to focus exclusively on adults, arguing that teaching kids follows the same basic principals. This may be true with older teenagers, but seems very odd when it comes to teaching English to pre-schoolers – probably the fastest-growing EFL market in the world.

Teaching practice – or practicums, as they are often called in the US – are the hallmark of acceptability for four-week certs across the Anglosphere and many foreign governments require foreign teachers to have a certificate with at least 30 hours practice with students to work as native-speaker teaching assistants in their state schools (yes, most do still insist on native speakers, I’m afraid). There are exceptions. Neither the JET scheme in Japan or the Spanish scheme for language assistants in state bilingual schools need any teaching qualifications. A certificate is theoretically needed in Thailand and one with teaching practice is preferred, but demand is such that many foreigners get jobs without a cert, as long as they have a first degree.

In fact, a bachelor’s degree is the one thing that is more vital than a certificate with teaching practice in the whole of the world.

The only places we are aware of that allow non-graduates to teach English are Malta, the UK and – only if you are a EU citizen – some language schools in Europe. As a rule of thumb, if you need a visa to teach somewhere, then you need a degree and if they also want you to have a certificate they generally insist on one with teaching practice.

Will online teaching practice do? It’s beginning to look that way, not least because so many teachers are now required to teach online even when they’re working abroad. Indeed, most online teachers aren’t based in the English-speaking world and in China it’s now illegal to teach online unless you live there.

It’s certainly true that the class management skills you need in a physical classroom are different from the ones you need online. However, it’s also true in reverse: knowing how to run a classroom lesson is not the same as teaching in the digital world. Nor indeed, is practising your teaching with adults going to prepare you for a class of three- year-olds. In the best of all possible worlds, teaching practice would include a wide range of contexts

In the real world though, when it comes to opening doors to a good job, any teaching practice with actual students is better than no teaching practice at all.

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Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.

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