A respected colleague and veteran teacher recently shared with me her desire to focus this year on learning more about the research that is the foundation behind the curriculum she is using in her district and the approaches she is trying to implement in her classroom. Her statement really got me thinking: “Feels like I have so much 3rd hand knowledge, but no idea where it came from or why it is valid or not. Want to be better grounded.” With so much anecdotal sharing via social media (I’m looking at you #langchat), how do we know what really works in language learning?
For years, I was working as a district supervisor in two large districts that encountered a considerable turnover rate each year. That required me to train a variety of new teachers each and every summer. It was one of my favorite responsibilities and one that I looked forward to each year. Why? Because I got to interact with teachers who were new to teaching, fresh out of college, teachers who were new to the district, and teachers who had previously taught, but for a variety of reasons took a break in teaching. Interestingly enough all of those teachers had something in common: they thought they knew it all. They may have been scared about teaching for the first time or about teaching for the first time in a long time, but they thought they knew what good language teaching is supposed to be about. They had jumped through the right hoops of attending a university, receiving their certification, and successfully completing an interview. They had been chosen and they were ready.
So does following the yellow brick road prepare you for being an effective teacher? I’m beginning to think that the wizard behind the curtain has us all fooled into thinking that we can prepare teachers for what is happening in and for what should be happening in the real classroom (of Kansas). It isn’t nearly as colorful as the methods textbook have made it out be. It doesn’t sparkle quite as much as the shiny video series of effective classroom practices. And while certainly you will encounter a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion in your teaching journey, at the end of the day or the next morning, you will find yourself alone in a classroom faced with the reality of trying to help 20, 30, or 40 kids to learn a new language.
If we want learners to succeed, we need teachers who are better prepared. Teacher preparation programs have to become more than just a colorful dream, which means we need to start thinking about a shift in how we prepare teachers to get them started on a different path.
Image Credit: “Lonely Road in the Middle of Fields” http://picjumbo.com/lonely-road-in-the-middle-of-fields/