Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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In a belated attempt to follow up on my article on the importance of teacher training, I thought it would be appropriate to see what research had been done into the efficacy of such training. I was looking for studies into whether trained teachers were able to facilitate more effective learning by students (however measured) than untrained teachers (with all the obvious caveats that would surround such as study). I contacted some leading lights, intimately involved with teacher training (will name names when I have time to provide the full context) and was shocked to discover that not only were they unable to identify any such studies but felt that reseach into what was effective (however defined) was doomed to failure -- "useless", in the words of one. From Cambridge ESOL, providers of the CELTA, there was only a deafening silence. Another celebrated source contended that Gaba and its ilk were justified in hiring untrained teachers as there was no evidence that trained teachers were any better, that such evidence was impossible to get, and faith in one's gut instinct is the way to go.

To say that I disagree with this would be understating it a tad. It seems perfectly sensible to design and conduct scientific trials that would test hypotheses about the effectiveness of teacher training. Yes, such studies would be difficult to design and cost money. That's normal. So why would people and organizations who sell millions of dollars of teacher training courses and materials shy away from such studies? In his recent interview on ELTNEWS.com, Tim Murphey describes the system of ranking universities in Japan as a "house of cards" due to the incompetent construction of many of the entrance exams from which the rankings are ultimately generated. Is similar academic laziness being perpetuated in teacher training?

I hope my prominent contacts are in the minority and that Cambridge ESOL's silence is merely bureaucratic delay. More on this, you can be sure.

One thing we can also be sure of is that a number of teacher training courses (not the CELTA course, to be clear) are falsely representing themselves as being accredited or being able to provide opportunities for employment otherwise unavailable. Alex Case has been doing a sterling job of exposing organizations that prey on the gullible -- quite sad that the gullible are often armed with university degrees but no critical faculties. Alex's efforts give us hope that not all of the shysters will get away with it.

On a different note, we should applaud the ELT publishers who are now working together to provide assistance to the victims of March 11. I spoke with Pearson Japan president Brendan Delahunty last week and he confirmed that the group will be looking to provide long-term aid to the areas affected, with a focus on children. One idea is to sell packages of books, donated by the publishers, with proceeds going to charity. Great stuff.

Russell Willis
Founder, ELTNEWS.com

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It's a great question, but one I think the ESL teaching profession and the teaching profession in general shies away from answering. Because, while answering the "Are trained teachers better" question you would inevitably also be exploring the "Which training/teaching works better" question, which I think the PTB would prefer stay unexplored by real research.

What little decent educational research there is indicates that it's the qualities -- especially the planning and leadership qualities -- of a teacher that matter overwhelmingly and not the specific method of instruction he or she chooses. Discovery or re-discovery of the preceding would upset important apple carts.

Given that courses like the CELTA provide training in a number of methods it should produce teachers who are able to assess the learning needs of their students and choose approaches most suitable -- thus creating a more effective learning environment. One would imagine then, that a trial could be conducted to show that, for example, CELTA-trained teachers produce better results than untrained teachers, irrespective of the method they choose to use.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the link to Alex Case's article - so there are reasons to hope.

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