Tag Archives: Professional Development

Issues Facing the Korean NET Program

This is my second direct response to an article published here. The article was, unfortunately for hard working NETs in Korean public schools, a plethora of generalizations based on half-baked truths, completely void of any facts and based purely on the experiences of the author who had worked in one public school in Gyeonggi-do. Whilst I believe sharinPictureg one’s experiences is an integral part of teaching, I don’t believe it is suitable to draw such large generalizations about the roles of other teachers from them. In fact, it was quite surprising that someone who later claimed to have an MA Education degree would post an article that makes such broad generalizations from such limited experience. In this article I try to offer a more balanced view of some of the issues involved and, where possible in the spare hour I have between my speaking tests, draw on the facts available to me.
I have tried to keep this analysis as objective as possible, however I feel it is important for you to bear in mind that many of the ideas I discuss are based on my experiences and those of people who I know, I therefore do not claim that what I discuss in this article is generalizable to the whole of, or even the majority of, NETs experiences in Korea.

Historical & Cultural Influences

To discuss the current state of English language teaching in Korea it is important to understand the historical and cultural background from which it developed. I am going to try and cover the main points here as briefly as possible. You see, the modern Korean education system can still be considered in its infancy, as finding its way and its place in a culture that has changed beyond all recognition in the past 50 years. As late as 1945 Korea had no formal public education system. Its education had, for the past 3000 years, been based on Confucian and Buddhist teaching spreading south from China. This was, of course, before the oppressive regime of the Japanese denied many Korean children education (Thomas & Postlewhaite, 1983). Following its liberation, Korea introduced a public education system based on a Western model and, by the 1990’s, had reached a high school graduation rate of 90% as well as almost completely eradicating illiteracy.

Confucian teaching has, however, (and quite understandably) maintained a strong influence on everyday life and the education system. I mention this because it seems as if many NETs, coming from their Western idealized background, expect Korea to have, in a period of 50 years, completely eradicated these 3000 years of cultural influence. At the same time as this educational transformation, Korea also developed from an impoverished nation to what can now be considered an economic heavy weight on a global scale (Park, 2009). As such, in 1995 the Korean government decreed that there was a need to increase the English language communicative proficiency of the nation, and in doing so also decided to adopt the communicative language teaching methodologies current being utilized in Europe and north America (Li, 1998). To help with this transformation, the English Programme in Korea (EPIK) was created, with the objective of placing native speaking teachers in Korean public schools to help promote cultural understanding and increase the authenticity of language use (Song, 2012).

Teacher Centered Learning

I have tried to keep a very complex background as concise as possible, but I feel it is important to be aware of this background if we are to discuss many of the problems NETs face. One of the main criticisms levied against English education in Korea, and one of the main problems NETs encounter, can be seen as a direct influence of this cultural background. That is, both teachers and students find it difficult to move past the heavily teacher centered ‘hierarchical’ learning environment (Hu, 2002) that evolved from it. Although, in my experience, there are noticeable changes in attitude being made, most classes are still teacher centered, and students understandably struggle when a NET suddenly expects them to be able to deal with a communicative, student centered, approach. It is simply a method of teaching they are not accustomed to and is in direct contrast to Korea’s cultural background. However, I think it is important to reiterate that changes are happening, teachers are trying to adapt to a student centered approach, but, understandably, it is difficult when there is 3000 years of culture having an opposing influence on you.

Knowledge Based Learning

The second problem many NETs struggle to overcome is the influence of the University Entrance Exam which has had a strong washback effect over the entire educational system. This exam is a multiple choice ‘right or wrong’ selection of extreme significance (Choi, 2008). As such, English education in Korea is also seen as being able to be taught on the principles of ‘right or wrong’. For a NET to explain that often, in the English language, something could be right, or it could be wrong, as language is fluid and constantly changing, they are often met with a complete lack of understanding, only to be asked again which answer is correct.

This knowledge based view of learning is again strongly influenced by the historical background mentioned above, and is in direct contrast to the communicative approaches being advocated by the Ministry of Education. However, again it appears to me that there are signs of this way of thinking about language, and the corresponding examination system, changing, but it is important to remember we are talking about 15 years Vs 3000 years of influence.

Korean students, being so competitively exam focused, were often found to be unmotivated by the idea of an English class that would not be in their University Entrance Examination, students often entered the classroom with the attitude that the class was unimportant as it was not on the exam (Jeon, 2009). This, coupled with the clash of teaching methods described above, caused NETs serious problems in the classroom. This was magnified by the fact that, as I describe in more detail below, NETs sometimes did not possess the knowledge or skills to overcome these issues, not that this was necessarily through any fault of their own, it was simply that many did not possess the experience or qualifications necessary for this combination of issues.

Influence of NETs

There are also structural issueswith the EPIK program itself that have held it back. The first of these is that EPIK set itself the goal of hiring a huge number of NETs in a very short space of time, and while a large number of NETs arrived in Korea with the attitude of working hard for a year and making their time here as effective as possible, a number also came with the attitude that their time here would be a working holiday. Of course, it is possible to argue this could have been avoided if they had only hired teachers with basic qualifications (which they now do) or checked resumes more thoroughly. The effect of this was that there were a number of unprofessional and/or unqualified NETs employed into the public education system (Jeon, 2009). While many NETs were doing fantastic work in their schools, the media were, of course, focusing on those that did not take their job so seriously, creating a climate whereby all NETs were, by some, stereotyped as unprofessional and a waste of money.

The influence NETs could have was very limited. They were often not allowed to contribute to the exam system or to teach by themselves and were simply left to their own devices. While many teachers were left with the overwhelming workload of preparing 22 different communicative based lesson plans a week (22 classes a week is the stipulated amount of classes a NET should have) others were left to teach only two different lessons a week as their main formal responsibility and had little formal guidance as to what they should fill the other 15 hours a week with.

This combination of factors meant that a number of teachers didn’t use time outside of classes effectively or appropriately as they were not formally required to do so. There was also little communication from the central organizers as to what should be done with this time. This meant that, for those that came with the intention of treating the time as a working holiday, it was a golden opportunity to get paid to do very little. On the other side of spectrum, for those that NETs that came highly motivated, it was a change to engage in many activities, to experiment, to learn about their trade or to form creative ways of engaging with their students in a way they may not have had the chance to in a normal public school teaching role.

I feel there is a general misunderstanding as to what we mean by using this time effectively, you see while Korean teachers had mountains of paperwork and other formal requirements, NETs didn’t. A NETs role was simply not that of the average public school teacher. For me, simply speaking to students around the school can be considered a useful way to spend this time. In fact, this may be the only chance a student gets to speak one on one with a non-Korean before entering university. Even having a conversation with a co-teacher is an effective use of this time, it is a chance to build up the confidence of Korean teachers, for them to practice expressions they are unsure about or for them to ask you questions about English they are unsure about. While this certainly isn’t formally considered work, it is certainly not being paid to do nothing.

One cannot deny that a reasonable number of NETs did spend this time doing nothing, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I believe this was their choice. As I’m sure any serious public school teacher anywhere in the world would agree, there is almost always something that can be done, be it speaking with students, engaging in reflective practice, grading assignments, developing the syllabus and materials or in this case simply communicating with students and co-teachers. While some NETs did chose to do very little, there were also many NETs in Korea who would still be working long after the final bell rings, as, to overcome the challenges described earlier, a huge amount of effort, knowledge and time is required outside of the classroom. In fact, to overcome these challenges, being an effective NET in a Korean public school can, in my opinion, be considered one of the most challenging teaching jobs around, especially for those asked to teach in many different schools and, often, many different levels. These are people I’m sure would not consider themselves paid to do nothing. 


The final issue I wish to discuss is that of co-teaching. Personally, I am convinced that co-teaching can be an extremely effective method of teaching, yet many NETs in Korea complain of the inefficiency, ineffectiveness and inadequacies of this method. I am certain they are correct and not just complaining for the sake of it (mostly). So at what point does a potentially effective method of teaching become ineffective? I believe a major reason is the lack of guidelines and training in how to co-teach effectively. In three years I have been to several development workshops provided by the MoE, yet I have never been to one with my co-teacher. There is also the fact that Korean teachers are, like most public school teachers, overworked. They are, therefore, often happy to sit back and take a rest or catch up on other duties, and understandably so given that they also are probably not aware as to how effective co-teaching can be. These highly qualified and trained co-teachers were also given the (in my opinion) demeaning role of having to help the NETs with their day to day life such as getting internet installed, helping when things go wrong, ordering internet shopping items etc,. This meant that, while co-teachers were often not provided with adequate training and support, they were also understandably begrudged about their role as a co-teacher. Of course, this was not always the case, many co-teachers (if not the majority) loved working with their NET, but it was an issue that often surfaced and could have easily been dealt with and overcome.

The EPIK was not doomed to failure from the start, but there have certainly been a combination of factors that have made it less effective than it perhaps should have been. Some are the result of 3000 years of cultural influence, some are the fault of the way the program was administered, some were the fault of unprofessional NETs seeing their time in Korea as a working holiday, some were due to a lack of utilization of the large amount of professional NETs here to do their absolute best, and some were simply the result of an educational system that was not prepared to absorb 20,000 NETs into its core. But, overall, I also believe there are a huge number of hardworking NETs who will reflect on their time in Korean public schools with a sense of pride for what they achieved and the influence they had while teaching in Korean public schools, who see their time as anything but a failure.

If you feel there is an issue I’ve missed, or something I have not presented fairly, I really would love for you to let me know. I will happily add any missing perspectives or information to the post.


Choi, I. C. (2008). The impact of EFL testing on EFL education in Korea. Language Testing, 25(1), 39-62.

Jeon, M. (2009). Globalization and native English speakers in English Programme in Korea (EPIK). Language, Culture and Curriculum, 22(3), 231-243.

Li, D. (1998). “It’s always more difficult than you plan and imagine”: Teachers’ perceived difficulties in introducing the communicative approach in South Korea. Tesol Quarterly, 32(4), 677-703.

Park, J. K. (2009). ‘English fever’ in South Korea: its history and symptoms. English Today, 25(01), 50-57.

Song, J. J. (2012). South Korea: language policy and planning in the making. Current Issues in Language Planning, 13(1), 1-68

Thomas, R. M. & Postlethwaite, N.T. (Eds.). (1983). Schooling in East Asia. Oxford: Pergamon Press.


Rob Dickey
14/06/2013 16:40

Well argued! While I don’t necessarily agree with all the conclusions, and even a coiple of the attributed ‘facts’ could be challenged, it is eefreshing to see a blog post ehere someone has taken the time to cite their facts and argue their points clearly. You also recognize that you don’t speak for all, but that neither does the other writer. (I was caught up in one of these a few years back — can native-speakers lose their nativeness in speech?)


M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (4) with Michael Griffin

My fourth interview in this series is with Michael Griffin, a teacher trainer in South Korea. Mike is the first person I’ve interviewed who took his MA TESOL course in the United States. I’ll let Mike do the rest of the talking…

Q1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you cho
Picturese to complete an MA TESOL?

I am a teacher and teacher trainer/educator. I have a blog too. I am living in Seoul at the moment and working at a university here, among a few other jobs. To be clear, without my MA this job would have been impossible without the MA in hand simply based on the visa requirements.

.So, aside from actual job stuff, I just thought it was time to shit or get off the pot. I mean, I had been teaching for 8 years and it seemed to be the right time to decide if I was going to seriously consider this TESOL stuff a career or not. There was that and also the fact that I was generally and genuinely curious. I wanted to know more about this field I’d been working in for so long.

Q2. So I guess you decided to make a career out of English language teaching?! What opportunities do you feel have opened up for you since completing your MA?

Two opportunities come to mind immediately. As above, the first thing is simple; without my MA in hand I would not have been able to get my current job due to visa regulations and hiring policies. 

The second is how the MA program I took introduced me to a teacher training center here in Korea. The connection to the program was pretty much enough to give me a chance to work there on a short-term basis, which eventually turned into a more long term thing. Just being in the process of doing the MA was a foot in the door to teacher training.

You asked about other opportunities. I would have to include working with and meeting great instructors and classmates while on the MA as a great opportunity. Also, through the teacher training work that I did during and after my MA I was able to meet lots of people that guided, challenged, influenced and helped me. These people include other trainers as well as my course participants.

In terms of making a career out of English teaching and training, it sure seems that way. I remember working in different contexts (mostly in Korea and Japan) and feeling like some very silly things were being done but I didn’t really have the words to explain why they were silly. So, in a sense doing my MA helped me articulate some fundamental problems I had with how English language education was being packaged and performed. 

Q3. Do you feel that these opportunities were influenced at all, especially with regards to the contacts you made and people you met, due to the method of study you chose for your M.A course?

Maybe. I did the majority of my MA online. I think there is still some trepidation about doing so but I think in the future employers will look askance at MA holders that did their whole degrees offline, face-to-face. I imagine someday MAs done completely offline will raise some eyebrows. “So you just wrote papers and listened to face-to-face lectures with people all in the same immediate area?” potential employers of the future will ask.

Doing most of my MA online,  I will never forget how hard it was for me to jump from the online world to the face-to-face world. Yes that is right, I struggled to deal with face-to-face interactions. Let me give an example. When I was studying online I was able to quickly skim the contributions of my classmates and decide which discussion board posts deserved more of my attention. I certainly had (and have) a lot to learn but I had been working in the field for a while and had done a fair amount of outside reading previously. Online it was very easy for me to determine which posts I wanted to give more thought to. Offline, however this was impossible because decorum prevented me from simply jumping up and walking away when a partner was talking about something I felt very comfortable with. It was a nice chance to improve my listening skills and manners but I didn’t think it was as helpful for expanding my knowledge of methods and materials as it could have been.

Q4. It seems like overall you were very happy with this mode of interaction, do you feel like there were any other drawbacks at the time, such as not having the opportunity for face to face discussions with tutors etc.?

Oh no! On the contrary. I felt very well connected to to the instructors and was able to catch a lot of insights from them. For me, frequent contact with and feedback from instructors online more than made up for any desire to meet face-to-face.

Also, for peers, I was able to make some extremely meaningful connections. My theory is that because (and not in spite of) the written communication and distance we were able to forge better connections and open up more to others.

I will never forget the moment I met a long-time classmate at a party in New York City. A stranger came running up to me and gave me a big hug. I had no idea who she was till she identified herself. It was a magical moment which has stuck in my mind as an example of the type of relationships I was able to develop online. 

Q5. Even though your course was online it seems like it involved a large social element, perhaps even more so than a face to face course?

I can’t say for sure either way but I think that is it not fair to assume that all online courses are faceless and impersonal. I think it is important to distinguish between courses/programs that are online and those that are distance courses (or distance courses made into online courses with seemingly little effort or care). A simple way to distinguish is if most or all of the work on course could be done through the mail then it is what I am calling a distance course. Not that there is anything wrong with it, just that it is different.

If you will permit me to not speak from experience for a moment. One thing I have often heard from friends doing MAs distance or online or some combination of these is that they are not pleased with the amount or quality of the interactions they have with their peers and instructors. It seems to me that a key aspect here is if online interactions are considered to be a central part of the course and if they are assessed. It might sound overly simple but potential MA students looking for MA courses with lots of online interaction might want to consider if online participation is assessed (and how it is assessed) or if it is just a seemingly disconnected add-on. I don’t mean to suggest that online participation being assessed is the only key but I do think it is something to consider along with online tasks being closely related to what is going on in the course.

I was very happy I decided to do my MA online (and very happy that I had lots of interactions with classmates and instructors) and also very happy I decided to work while completing it. I felt the direct connection between what I was learning and what I was doing in my job. In fact one time, I was a bit freaked out in the middle of class as I compared the beliefs I had stated in an MA course recently to what I was actually doing as teacher in class that day and noticed a sizable gap. Although I was dizzied I thought it was an incredible learning experience. 

Q6. Drawing from your experiences again, is there any advice you feel like you could offer people to help them get as much out of their MA as you did?

If I had to offer some advice I guess it would be about doing your best to make what you are learning your own. In one particular term I took much more than the recommended amount of courses for people with jobs. So, partially out of necessity I tried to relate all my assignments to my (then new) job as closely as possible. For example, for one MA assignment I was asked to create an assessment rubric for students. I did it for the group I was working with and used it in class. I feel like I got much more out of it by focusing as much as possible on my then current context. So, in few words my advice is something like, “Try to make everything as relevant to you and your context as possible.”

Some people will say that MAs are just about writing papers and gaining esoteric knowledge. Surely this is the case sometimes but it need not always be. There is a wide variety of programs out there so I would encourage people to do their research. Find out about the courses and the instructors and what the alumni are doing. Don’t just focus on the cost (which is of course an important factor) and find out how prospective programs fit into with your needs, interests and goals.  If you are not sure about your needs and interests you might consider why it is you are considering doing an MA. If you are still thinking you might want to read this post by Dr. Geoff Jordan. 

Q7. I’d like to refer back to the MA course you took now if I may? We have heard mostly from people who took their course either in the U.K or the country they were teaching, but I believe you took your MA with a university in the US? Where exactly did you take your MA TESOL and could you tell us a little bit about its structure and focus?

Yes, my MA was through the New School in New York City.
There is a lot of info here.Some things that might jump out (besides the names of some of the instructors) is the “major focus on the political, cultural, and ethical implications of English language teaching in an era of intense globalization.” I should also add that from my view and experience the focus was very much on teaching and learning and learning teaching and not as much on writing academic papers. Of course, there were plenty of papers and a great deal of reading and writing but the focus was on how to become better teachers.

A recent commenter on the KELTchat Facebook page here (in reference to this series of interviews) mentioned something about the degree in which the importance of research varies from program to program. My sense is that the New School program would be at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of the importance of research. Again, not to say that there is no research, but just to say that I never had that sense of being given a reading list and being sent off on my own in order to write a paper. On a related note, a guided professional project and a teaching practicum are options that New School MA TESOL students can take.

I should also mention there are two concentrations; teaching and curriculum development. I took the latter and was very pleased as I was able to take courses like “Writing ESOL Materials” and Curriculum Development and Course Design” which I found to be invaluable learning experiences. I enjoyed and got a lot out of designing an English and teacher training course for Korean public school teachers in my curriculum development course. It was a great experience to work towards creating a  final product like that, completing a different component each week. Another highlight for me was the professional project in which I created a book proposal for a discussion book for Korean students.  

Q8. You are obviously happy with your choice, I wonder if there are any other programs you have come across that you feel might offer similar experiences?

That is an interesting question. You want me to suggest programs other than the New School in the States? Since you are twisting my arm I will suggest SIT and Marlboro College. I think these programs have a lot in common with the New School and might be a good match for like minded people

Q9. Mike thank you so much for your time in answering all these questions, before we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Deciding to do an MA is obviously a big decision. Do the research while continually thinking about the kind of program you are looking for and make your decision from there. Don’t take the decision likely and be sure that doing an MA is what you really want to do. 

If you would like to hear more from Mike you can visit his extremely lively blog here.

AlienTeachers now has (after 1 1/2 years!) an email update system. You can just enter your email address here to get the most recent ‘thoughts & reflections’ straight into your inbox! Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter here or like the Facebook page here.


M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (3) with Martin Sketchley

Welcome to the third part in my series of MA TESOL/Applied Linguistics based interviews with ELT professionals. Today I’m discussing what differentiates the MA courses from other ELT qualifications, such as the CELTA or DELTA, with Martin Sketchley, a teacher currently based in the U.K.Picture

Q1. Hi Martin, perhaps we could start off with you telling us a little bit about yourself and what part of the ELT industry you are currently involved with?

Hello Alex.  I have been involved with ELT since December 2005.  I was what you would call a “backpacker teacher”. I had very little experience in language education and hadn’t really learnt a foreign language before. I decided, due to limited employment opportunities in the UK, to relocate to South Korea with my family. I was snapped up very quickly with a private language institute and spent about a year there before deciding to undertake a CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul.  I decided to take the CELTA Course to reconfirm my desire to be involved in ELT.

Around the beginning of 2009, I returned to the UK and worked with a local school, LTC Eastbourne, and have been with them for a good four years now (with a short period in Bucharest with the British Council and teaching EAL at the University of Sussex).  Since returning to the UK, I have been a Cambridge ESOL Examiner, a British Council Aptis Examiner and developed a blog related to my experiences of ELT.  I am currently involved in curriculum and academic development and teacher training (with my current employer) as well as maintaining my links with a charity, English in the Community, which delivers ESOL for immigrants and asylum seekers in Sussex.

Q2. I think it would be fair to say you have been involved with many different parts of the industry in a relatively short period of time, at what point did you decide to commit to an M.A program in English Language Teaching (ELT) and what was the stimulation behind the decision?

Thank you. I suppose what motivated me to do an MA in ELT was that I noticed a lot of teachers in the UK had the CELTA with some having the DELTA as well.  Not many of my peers had an MA and I thought “Why not jump ahead of them (in terms of qualifications) and complete an MA?”.  What motivated me most was when I arrived at a hotel for Cambridge ESOL Examiner training (with marking done onsite), and I met some wonderful language teachers at the same time.  At lunch, I sat down with some people and they were chatting about ELT and qualifications but I couldn’t really provide much in the way of input and I thought “I must really do something about this!”.  In the summer of 2010, I applied for an MA at the University of Sussex, met the Convener and decided there and then that this was the right choice for my career.

Q3. It seems as though you have a lot of experience with both Cambridge ELT certifications such as the CELTA and DELTA as well as the MA in ELT.  In your experience, for those trying to decide which type of course would better fit their career path or goals, would you say each course is directed towards different aims?

For those that have successfully completed the CELTA (or equivalent), it can be an intensive yet rewarding course for those new to the ELT profession.  However, within those four weeks (if undertaken full-time), it teaches the basics such as planning lessons, classroom management, instruction giving, etc but there is very little time to look at other areas of teaching.  I suppose the DELTA and MA are different in a few respects:

  • The DELTA (or equivalent) is more suited for teachers, with a number of years teaching experience and only the CELTA, wishing to continue their professional development in the classroom as well as to extend their knowledge of language teaching and learning.  Language schools and institutions hold the DELTA in high esteem and it can now be quite competitive to secure employment without this qualification.  The DELTA does set you apart from those teachers who only have a CELTA and limited experience.  If you complete the DELTA, some universities do take your DELTA course into account and credits could be awarded towards an MA.
  • The MA in ELT/TESOL/TEFL can be quite academic and, if you are not used to academia or it has been a while since you were last at University, it could be a bit of a shock.  Furthermore, the MA attempts to enhance and improve a candidate’s ability to undertake action research in areas that they are interested.  In my experience, the MA could set you apart from other teachers and it does open up opportunities for PhD research, publishing or developing coursebook material but you do need to keep on top of current reading post-MA.

I guess it would be best to find an MA which offers the DELTA (or equivalent) as part of the course.

Q4. I’d like to draw on your experience of the ELT industry in both Asia and Europe now. Would you say there is a difference between the types of qualification (be it CELTA, DELTA or MA) that ELT educational institutions are seeking in Asia and Europe?

I guess that in Asia, particularly in China, Thailand, Japan and Korea, there is very little recognition with the CELTA and DELTA forms of qualifications.  Most ELT teachers in these countries only require a degree in basket weaving from an English speaking country for you to be eligible to teach.  Unfortunately, this does not do any wonders for the professionalism of the industry, but I am now aware that in South Korea, public schools that recruit native teachers require applicants to hold a certificate, such as the CELTA, including a number of hours of teaching experience, so there is hope that in Asia the ELT profession will develop to something more reputable.  In Europe, there is greater regard for those teachers that hold a CELTA, even greater regard to those that have a DELTA and wonderful opportunities for those that have completed an MA.  Furthermore, in Asia and Europe, if ELT professionals wish to teach at a University, an MA is a prerequisite – so there are some similarities between the two regions.  However, if I was unable to secure employment in South Korea (due to possible strict requirements), I would never have been able to become a professional English language teacher.  So I guess there are opportunities available for those hot off a degree course who are keen to become teachers with limited teaching experience and/or ELT-related qualifications.

Q5. Something a couple of other people have commented on is (as you have also highlighted) the theoretical nature of an MA. Some people feel perhaps this makes it hard to apply what you are learning to your classroom, is this something you would agree with?

The theoretical nature of an MA course is part-and-parcel of any academic course.  If you went to see a doctor, I would feel rather uncomfortable if their course only included just theory or just training.  I think a balance has to be struck between the two, which is why many doctors now complement theory with practice.  If teachers are able to combine the theory of ELT with their practice, it benefits the student (who can sometimes play their part of a patient with our experimental teaching practice or action research).  However, I can see how there is little regard with an MA and its suitability or applicability within the classroom.  Yet the same could be said for just a practical course such as the CELTA: what benefit could this course provide if you only learnt the practical aspects of language teaching?

Q6. So would you say it is necessary for a teacher to take both courses and combine elements of both?

Fortunately, for most English language teachers, they are not going to find themselves performing thoracic surgery.  The life-cycle of the teacher is dependent upon the qualifications and experience gained.  For those starting out on their career, a CELTA is usually enough.  Teachers may find that they are stuck in a rut or doing the same thing “year-in and year-out” so they may decide to supplement their experience or move away from their monotonous routine by undertaking a DELTA.  I suppose this would enhance practical and theoretical knowledge of the classroom.  Yet, there might be a few teachers that are asking “How does a student learn English? What is the best way to learn a language?” and may find an MA course would benefit them – this would be the best opportunity for teachers to learn more about the theory of language learning and teaching.

At the end of the day, it is much related to the case of the individual.  We can always debate about the practical advantages of the CELTA/DELTA opposed to the theoretical and academic theories of an MA in ELT until the cows go home.  In a very TEFL answer, it depends on the teacher and what their aims are in relation to their career and life-cycle.

Q7. Lets bring it back to focusing on the MA, what advice would you give those starting a language teaching related MA to help them take full advantage of the experience?

For those starting their MA course, it is necessary to develop rapport very quickly with your peers and tutors.  The tutors will be the people marking your work and although it is meant to be anonymous, they can quickly find out who is writing based upon their interests, research, etc.  I have always found that if you keep your thoughts to yourself, work and study hard and support your tutors, you are more likely to receive favourable marks.  Furthermore, have a coffee and a chat with those other students on the course.  They may be able to open doors and provide opportunities for you which would have been closed.  I met many people that I quickly realised were able to assist me in my career.  However, it is more than just taking from others, you need to be able to support your peers: listen to their thoughts, suggest ideas for their career and work together.

With regards to academic study, get a reading list early on and start reading.  You are bound to learn more about linguistics and language acquisition theory, so why wait? Buy that book before you even consider applying for the course.  If you are put off by the reading, how could you consider studying the subject?  You need to really enjoy the subject, start a blog, write your ideas down and share with others.  This was one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place.  If you are studying full-time (face-to-face), consider taking time off work to complete your MA. Although you may turn up to lectures two or three times a week, the rest of the time should be focused on reading and studying.  You really won’t be able to commit to any work during your studies.  If you are unable to give up your work commitments, you could look at part-time courses (some are long distance courses while others are face to face in a physical university).  Part-time courses expect a commitment of around once a week and you should be able to juggle between work and study.

Q8. Finally, is there any advice you would give those who are just finishing their MA?

Nearer the end of your MA, you will be focusing on your research.  Don’t worry if you find yourself a month away from the start of your dissertation/thesis with no idea what to do.  I was in the last term of my course before I realised what I was going to research about.  During the research period, you should try to take a month off to write up your dissertation and analyse your primary and secondary research.  You will have to say goodbye to your social-life for a bit but it is worth it.  When I was nearer the end of my MA course, I sent my wife and son to Korea for five weeks otherwise I would have been distracted and been unable to achieve 80% for my research.

Once you have completed your course and graduated.  You could then start to look at career opportunities.  There are numerous opportunities including: authoring coursebooks, publishing research in journals, attending and giving talks at international conferences, promotion (DoS or Academic Manager), etc.  I suppose the first thing that I did was attend the Glasgow 2012 IATEFL Conference a few months after graduating to share my research on the application of Dogme ELT with teachers.  I really enjoyed having the chance to voice my research with others and meeting like minded professionals.  If you attend conferences and put yourself out there, you are more likely to meet people who are able to help you with your career.  You do need to be patient with your career and realise that the opportunities don’t just happen straight away but you do need to pick yourself up if things don’t work out and carry on.  It is the loss of those that don’t believe in you but I always follow the mantra: “Short term gain, long term loss”.  I would finally recommend anyone to commit and complete an MA.  It will improve your employability and it demonstrate to current or potential employers that you are willing and keen in this profession.

If you would like to hear me from Martin he runs an extremely informative blog over at ELTExperiences which I highly recommend keeping up to date with.

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to be notified when the next interview is complete you can sign up for email updates here (I think, I’m still testing the new system), follow me on twitter of like the facebook page.



12/06/2013 00:10

Thanks for this interview series – it is really interesting to find out about other experiences in the TEFL field. Sometimes reading about courses, commitments and requirements can be daunting but understanding how other students have handled the pressures and managed to fit their lives around the studying process is really encouraging.

M.A TESOL/Applied Linguistics Interview (2) with Manpal Sahota

This is the second part in my series of interviews that look to shed some light on the range of options available to those interested in obtaining language teaching related MA degrees. You can find my first (and very different) interview with Tyson Seburn here.

Today I am talking with Manpal Sahota, a Canadian teacher who Picturecompleted his M.A TESOL at a local university in Korea while teaching EFL full time. Manpal is currently working at an in-service teacher training center for elementary and secondary school Korean English teachers in Daegu, South Korea.

Q1. Hi Manpal, could you tell us a little about your teaching context when you decided to take the M.A TESOL and how that influenced your decision to commit to it?

I was teaching at a language institute at university in Daejeon. I had a mixture of hagwon (Korean language institute) classes, college classes and university classes (the language institute, college, and university are all under the same name and run by an umbrella education foundation). I was teaching elementary/middle/high school/adult students at the language institute and mostly first year students on the college and university campuses.

There were over 60 foreign English teachers working for the language institute. The university has a graduate school and they have a TESOL program that is taught in English. Several of my co-workers were taking the program. I thought about taking the program for a couple of months but was hesitant since I wasn’t sure if it would be valued outside of Korea. After many bar conversations with workmates who were in the program and with the director of the program (an American professor) I decided to enroll.

Q2. When you enrolled, what were you hoping to get out of the investment?

I think my main motivation was career advancement. I thought I could get a better job if I had an MA, especially when I return to Canada. Another motivation was as a foreigner I received 50% off the tuition. With the regular cost already being much lower than an MA from Canada, I could save a lot of money doing an MA in Daejeon. Also, I thought I could learn about practical teaching methods and techniques that I could use in my classes. And I guess a lesser motivation was thinking that there was an element of prestige to having an MA.

Q3. I think it is interesting you have picked out the desire for a strong practical element in the course, would you say your course delivered on that and if so how was it structured to do so?

Not at all, the program was very theory-heavy. The only practical ideas I got were those that I learned/stole from one of my professors. These ideas were not part of any course content, but rather little things he did in class that I felt were cool/interesting/unique. I continue to use those ideas in various new forms in my classes today. Ultimately, I chose this professor as my thesis advisor.

Q4. With it being so theory heavy how did you go about applying what you were learning to your classroom? Was it a struggle?

To be honest, there was not much that I could directly apply in my classroom. But I still very much enjoyed my program because it made me question my beliefs about what I teach and why I teach. Through reflecting on those areas I made new decisions about my class content and teaching practices.

Q5. I see, could you talk a little bit more about how it made you questions your beliefs, I mean, what was different about you as a professional educator once you had finished the course compared to before you started?

After I took my first course on critical pedagogy it really made me look differently at what and why I was teaching in Korea. In fact, there was a short period where I considered leaving the teaching profession because everything I was reading in the course really made me look at what I was doing as an English educator in Korea in a negative light.

But through taking more courses on critical pedagogy, and one particular course on teacher identity, I came to a place where I was comfortable and confident about the kind of teacher I wanted to be and what I wanted to teach.

Q6. Wow, it sounds like you got a huge amount from your M.A, would you say that without the M.A course you might not have discovered this or did it just speed up the process? (the kind of teacher you want to be and what you want to teach?)

I think without the MA I probably wouldn’t have reached this discovery. And possibly I might have left the teaching profession altogether. While at the start of the program I consider quitting and returning to Canada, by the end of the program I had a new found vigor and passion for teaching, and teaching in Korea in particular.

Q7. I’d like to come back to the fact you chose to do your M.A in a non-native English speaking country if I may? This is unique because it allowed you to teach at the same time as taking the M.A in person. Was this a big benefit at the time? How would you say it affected your experience? 

It was helpful financially, as I was able to still have an income while I studied, and as I mentioned earlier I received a 50% discount on tuition as a non-Korean student.

More importantly, teaching and studying in the same context allowed me to focus my assignments on real-life experiences that I was having and discuss/share ideas with classmates who were also teaching in the same context. I think it allowed for a richer learning environment for me. I could make connections from the theories in the program to the teaching context at my work.

On a bit of a side note, after receiving my MA I was turned down for a university job in Busan because my degree was from a Korean university and not a university from a native English speaking country. I remember laughing at their rationale as I considered myself a stronger applicant compared to others who studied outside of Korea and perhaps didn’t have the same awareness of how various ideas/theories apply (or don’t apply) to the Korean teaching context.

Q8. That must have been frustrating, have you had similar experiences since or do you think that was a one off?

That is the only one that I am definite about since I heard about the rationale directly. It could have also been a factor in the hundreds of other jobs that I applied for but never received a response, but this is just speculation. Of course, there are other possible reasons for not hearing back from the places that I’ve applied to, reasons that are beyond the scope of this interview. 

Q9. Coming back to the course itself, did you find it difficult to work full time, study part time and maintain a personal life or were you able to strike a good balance between the three?

For the most part I was able to have a pretty good balance. I think what helped me in my situation was having a core group of friends that worked at the same place and were also taking the MA at the same time. So, even when we when we were socialising in bars we would also be having discussions about work and what we were studying. The MA program director was also a fan of fermented beverages so on many weekends we essentially had extended classes in soju tents until the wee hours of the morning. Looking back on it now, I imagine our other friends who weren’t taking the MA must have thought we were proper geeks.

Of course, when I started writing my thesis I had to remove myself from social situations and revert to a hermit lifestyle for 3-4 months. But again, with having friends who were at various stages of the MA and who knew the time needed to write a thesis, I had a lot of support and understanding from my social circles.

Q10. I think you’ve done a really nice job of outlining the positives and benefits of choosing to do an M.A at a local university while also teaching at the same time. If someone was interested in going down this route, is there any advice you would give them? 

I would talk to current/former students and see if they are willing to share their experiences with the program. I would definitely talk with the professors to find out which courses they will be offering and what their areas of expertise are. Also, I think it’s helpful to be part of a community with other classmates so that you can have a space where you can share ideas (or concerns). I feel this is the best way to accelerate your personal growth and help you get the most out of a program.

To be updated with the next interview you can follow me on twitter here or like the AlienTeachers facebook page here.


An Introduction to Professional Development

I was recently asked to conduct a workshop on ‘Professional Development on the Job’. I had planned on videoing the workshop and posting it here with my reflections, but unfortunately the video didn’t work. What I do have, that could be useful, is all the materials that were given the the teachers at the end of the workshop.If anyone is wondering how they can get involved with professional development without having to pay for courses etc. I thought this may act as a useful guide to getting started.

I hope it comes in useful :-)Alex (@AlexSWalsh)


Gemma Lunn
19/09/2012 19:17

Great ideas. I’m thinking of getting some detailed student feedback as part of my Trinity Diploma coursework on motivation. May use your questionnaire (from previous post) for ideas so thanks in advance!

Students, the harshest teacher trainers?

This semester I decided to compile as much data as possible from my students and co-teachers regarding my performance and effectiveness over the past four months. The results have been invaluable as a tool for my own professional development, but I also believe that, despite the variation in contexts, they can provide some useful tips and insight for other educators too. Here are my reflections on the feedback I received and the lessons I’ve learnt.

I’ve embedded the full document with my students and co-teachers feedback at the bottom of the blog.

My Reflections

The feedback from both my students and co-teachers has been unexpectedly positive, my co-teachers have enjoyed being a part of the lessons and my students seem to have really appreciated the structure of the lessons and my passion for their education. I’ve been overwhelmed by how constructive (both critically and  favourably) and honest their feedback has been, it has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to improve as a teacher.

I’m going to split my reflections into three sections: firstly, I’ll look at things I need to keep doing (that I have started doing and have worked well), secondly, I’m going to consider things I need to start doing and finally, things I need to stop doing!

Things I Need to Keep Doing (I’m going to concentrate here on things I don’t feel I did so well in previous semesters.)

i) Use of Short Films

The student response to the use of short films in class (usually between 1 minute and 10 minutes in length) indicates that students are really enjoying them, that they are seeing the benefit of them and that they have been extremely important a motivating and holding the concentration of my students. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

1) Teenagers now live in a much more visually stimulating world. Everything is on computers or T.V’s, and this is what the students are used to.

2) Some of my classes are very mixed ability. Short films allow my low level students to understand the general gist of what is happening, the information they get visually can help them understand and contextualize the language that is being taught. For my highest level students videos often come with very natural pronunciation and expressions, this presents a great opportunity for them to hear language how it is naturally used and challenges them to pick out language and expressions they wouldn’t find in a text book.

3) Videos allow students to absorb culture as well as language. I find my students genuinely interested in other cultures around the world and video present a great way for them to explore that.

ii) Praising the Students and Displaying Their Work

It has really become apparent to me this year just how important praise is to the students. My girl classes visually show how much they want positive feedback and so it is easy to find opportunities to provide them with positive feedback and praise. At this age boys can’t really be seen to desire positive feedback from the teacher, I think this is especially apparent if the teacher is male. This means it is harder to find opportunities to provide them with positive praise and feedback. From the student feedback it seems I have done this successfully with my first grade boy classes, but not my second grade boy classes. The classes are much larger and the boys are naturally much louder and more boisterous, so it is harder to find opportunities. Next semester I really need to actively find opportunities to provide them with positive feedback.

We’ve done two activities this semester purposely designed to give the students opportunities to make some really great work that can be displayed all over the class. The feedback shows the students have both acknowledged and appreciated this. Other than this feedback I have noticed the students really taking a keen interest in other classes’ work that is displayed around the room. It seems to have created a kind of competition between the classes.

iii) Having Clear Rules

Although I have the same rules this semester as last semester, I am working at a different school that provides more levels of support when enforcing rules. This semester has shown just how important the support of the institution is in enforcing rules. As an example, last year if a student walked into class 5 minutes late eating cake nothing was done about it, although I disciplined them, the institution itself took no interest in this. This semester there are clear consequences, both from myself and the institution, regarding the consequences of a student’s actions. It has become very clear how important having your institution on your side regarding discipline is.

iv) Catering to Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles

Something that has been made absolutely clear in the feedback from the students is the variety of learning styles and preferences the students have. The students indicated that they recognized the use of many different forms of activities, but when asked what they would like more/less of next semester and what they enjoyed/didn’t enjoy, other than wanting more short films, there was a huge variation. For me, this clearly shows the importance of providing students with a range of activities and stimuli in order to keep all students motivated and interested in class.

Things I Need to Start Doing

i) Giving Students More Time to Complete Activities

Although the students rated me favorably for this it was still one of my lowest scores, and I have to say that on reflection I absolutely agree with them. For the majority of the semester I was at conflict with my institution. They wanted me to teach key expressions every class, I wanted to teach skills. This meant I was trying to fit both into a 50 minute period and the classes felt a bit too rushed. I’ve now reached a compromise with my school; we are going to have spread topics over two classes, meaning half the compulsory amount of expressions and more time for skills. This will hopefully result in the classes being less rushed. It’s amazing just how observant and sensitive the students are to issues such as this.

ii) A Better Introductory Lesson

I started at a new school this semester and my directives were to start teaching my syllabus from the very first class. They asked me to only take up 10 minutes for introductions etc. and I used this time for making the rules of the classroom clear and introducing myself. I think this was a mistake and something I should have strongly objected to. The students have shown in their feedback that they weren’t sure exactly what they were supposed to achieve from the course, something that should have been made clear to them in the introductory lesson. Although almost all the classes adapted well I think this could be partially responsible for the behavioral problems one class faced at the beginning of the semester. Quite simply they weren’t sure why they were there. This is a mistake I won’t be making again.

iii) Explaining the Reason behind Activities

On reflection something I hardly did this semester is tell students why we were doing the activities we were doing, what skills were we practicing, what could they achieve from the activity, how is it useful for them in real life etc. This is shown in the relatively low score for ‘providing students with opportunities to practice creative thinking, divergent thinking and critical thinking’. Although I strongly believe these skills were practiced in almost every class I didn’t make the students aware of this. This is definitely something for me to bear in mind next semester.

Things I Need to Stop Doing

i) Compulsory Homework

Feedback from the students is quite clearly against homework, and on reflection I think they might be right!

Why am I giving them homework? The honest answer is ‘I’m not sure.’ Maybe because it’s what my teacher did when I was at school, maybe because I want them to see my class is serious, maybe it just felt right.

What did I achieve from it? Probably not much, the students who wanted to do it did it, and I hope gained from it (it was usually to interview someone, in English, on the topic we had done in class), but by forcing students to do it who didn’t want to meant that all they were probably doing was either copying their friends answers or making it up. Next semester I will make students aware of the reasons for doing the homework, but make it optional. This will also mean I have fewer to grade and so can do a more thorough job.

ii) Presuming I Can Motivate 2nd Grade Boys with Stamp Sheets!

The 2nd grade boys have made it very clear to me this semester they really don’t care about stamp sheets (a technique that works very well with my other classes). So, I’m going to have to think of something new, something sports related. At this point I’m not sure what, but I have a month to figure it out! For me this was a really clear reminder that we teach students, not lessons, and all students have different needs we must adapt to.


i) This is the first time I have performed such an extensive self evaluation and the amount I have learnt from it has been invaluable. I wasn’t required to do it by my school or regional office, and it took a lot of time to put together all the data, but I highly recommend doing it. The main reasons I have never done this before is firstly, because I’ve never been required to do it, and secondly, because I was nervous that the feedback might be negative. However, I really encourage teachers to do this once or twice a year as you will be surprised how much you will learn, both about what your co-workers and students appreciate in your work, and what you can improve. In terms of professional development, it seems essential.

ii) The low score for the ‘level of the exam was appropriate’ is something I haven’t mentioned as it is not something I had much (or any) control over. The results of that question have been fed back to the institution I work and it is something that we are going to work closer together on next semester to rectify.

If you took the time to read this I really hope it was useful for you. I would love to hear any comments regarding these reflections, especially if you’ve got any tips for motivation 40+ 17 year old boys 😉

You can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh


08/07/2012 19:27

wow a very brave and honest post! This was really useful for me and probably something a lot more of us should do but are to scared of doing, so well done!

15/08/2012 01:24

Hi Gemma!

Thanks for the kind comment! If you do feel like doing something similar just let me know, you’re welcome to use the form I created.

Sorry for the late reply, just back from holiday!


04/08/2012 06:52

Fantastic. In my second year of teaching I did a much simpler version of the same thing and I was blown away by what I learned…it was so powerful that I continued it during my teaching career and now use it to have my staff evaluate my performance as Principal. I love your format and will crib some bits from it!

15/08/2012 01:28

Hi Iona!

First of all I’m sorry for my delayed response, I’ve been away for the past few weeks spending some time with my family!

You’re welcome to use any parts you like, and I couldn’t agree more, this is the first time I’ve done this (in my third year of teaching) and like you I was blown away by how much I learnt and how receptive the students are to what is happening in the classroom!

Thanks for your comment,


06/08/2012 05:18

Congrats! Excellent ideas! Thanks for sharing them with us!

15/08/2012 01:29

My pleasure, thanks for reading 🙂

20/09/2012 20:37

Hey Alex,

This is fantastic, and an excellent example for other teachers to follow. I am more than half way through my second year and have yet to do anything approaching this. It’s not so much because I am afraid of negative responses, as much as it had not come to my attention as to how important and helpful it really can be.

Thank you for showing us that it is integral to our development as teachers.

In addition, I would like to say that your provided example of evaluation gave me many more thoughts about what I do in class and without even asking for feedback can see things I need to improve.

All in all it is more proof that there is no cruising by in this job. If one wants to improve one must truly care about what one does and go at it full steam. You are an exemplary model to follow, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have met you, along with so many other incredible teachers, so early in my career.



PS…I will definitely be coming to Seoul, for the conference in October, with a boat load of questions! Would love to take you up on your offer for assistance!

28/09/2012 02:46

I think the things you covered through the post are quiet impressive, good job and great efforts. I found it very interesting and enjoyed reading all of it…keeps it up, lovely job.

Nicola Perry
31/03/2013 02:26

I picked this up from the teachingenglish website. I have scooped.it as I think it has some really useful ideas about getting feedback and how to use it. Thanks.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:47

Hi Nicola, thanks so much for the comment. I will certainly be trying my best to keep it up! Haha, thanks again!

31/03/2013 04:50

Hi Alex, thank you for sharing with us! I have been using something similar ( a more general type questionnaire) mainly in the higher level classes and I have to admit I always get quite impressed with the results! Something my youngest students really enjoy is the mime game. I give each one of them the name of an animal (they choose) and they try to sound like it 🙂 Every week they choose a different animal so we all have a good laugh and they never forget the name of the animal!

Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:48

Hi Ellen, it’s my pleasure, thank you for taking the time to read it! I used to teach very young learners and they also loved the mime game, or anything that got them out of their seats and jumping around for that matter!

Thanks again for reading and especially commenting!


Saima Gul
02/04/2013 00:21

You have shared a wonderful experience which can help teachers develop more and make their teaching more effective. As a master trainer I will share your document with teachers of my country’s schools.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:49

Hi Saima,

thanks for taking the time to comment, it is always appreciated! I really hope it can help other teachers develop.

Thanks again,


02/04/2013 06:47

Thanks for sharing, this is something I’ve been contemplating for a while. I’ll certainly be using your experience as a model for developing my own feedback forms.

Alex (AlienTeachers)
03/04/2013 00:51

Hi Abdul,

completely randomly I stumbled upon your blog this morning on the way to work and really enjoyed it! Amazing coincidence! I had no idea until I just clicked on the link you provided with this comment and recognised it.

Anyway thanks for taking the time to comment, I will certainly be returning the favour soon! Do you use twitter?


Are Current Teacher Training Methods in ESL/EFL a Waste of Time?

This morning I got a text message from a friend attending a ‘teacher training’ conference that resonated with a lot of my experiences with ‘teacher training’:

“guess what? Yet again all the activities they are telling us to do are for high level, motivated kids, what a surprise”

Personally I’ve had very mixed experiences with teacher training, only last week I had a great experience (thanks to @michaelgriffin), but more than its fair share has, unfortunately, been very negative. I feel that ELT as an industry suffers from genuinely believing that there is a ‘best way’ of teaching, and that many of the training courses, such as the CELTA (which I will probably unfairly focus on here as it is the benchmark of entry level teaching qualifications and something I have firsthand knowledge of), compulsory teacher training workshops and ‘assessed lessons’ amplify this problem.

From my experience it seemed to me the entire point of the CELTA and similar courses was to train teachers to teach in a certain way, to lesson plan in a certain way, and to deal with students in a certain way. You are set up with a group of no more than 20 adult students and asked to deliver a lesson that allows the examiner to tick a certain number of boxes and then tell you afterwards in the ‘feedback’ session which boxes you did or didn’t tick and why. Well that’s great and I learnt a lot of great techniques, if for the rest of my career I’m going to be in exactly the same situation. But how about when you leave your one month training course and the teaching methods you’ve been trained to use don’t work? What about if your first job is in a public school with 35 1st grade Korean elementary students? And, what if I didn’t tick those boxes? Does that make me a bad teacher that doesn’t deserve an entry level qualification? I could have a very good reason for wanting to deal with a situation differently to my CELTA instructor, but that wouldn’t matter, it wouldn’t have been the ‘CELTA way’, at least this was my experience.

It’s not that I necessarily dislike the CELTA or other similar course, or that I don’t think they teach some excellent techniques for teaching in certain contexts, but it, as all training courses, have a responsibility to make it absolutely clear to the participants that this is ONE way of teaching, not THE way of teaching. These highly regarded qualifications are completely misguiding their customers and the industry in sending them away from the course with the belief they have just learnt the right way to teach, and there is no wonder this misinformed idea is then getting passed on to other training seminars such as the one my friend has attended above and I’m sure almost every other teacher in the industry has attended at some point. For me, what these courses have a responsibility to do is encourage reflective and post-modern practice as being absolutely essential to the teachers’ further development once they leave the course, and this is where they are shirking their responsibility.

Reflective practice encourages teachers to question what they are doing in the classroom and why they are doing it. By doing this it helps teachers find their own answers, become their own expert and develop their own pedagogy to fit their context. Something I’ve really enjoyed about my M.A course (with University of Nottingham) is that it has never suggested that there is a best way to teach, but has challenged us to consider our own teaching beliefs. For me, if a teacher can become competent in reflective practice they will continually develop and improve. I was lucky enough to attend a reflective workshop seminar with Dr. Thomas Farrell last month in which he challenged us to question how we teach and why we teach the way we do, he had us question the very concept of method and even (but this was beyond me) second language acquisition. It helped us draw on all the knowledge we have as teachers, knowledge from our classroom, knowledge from reading blogs, knowledge from training courses, knowledge from research and knowledge from our instincts and experiences to create and continually develop our own pedagogy. We were encouraged to try new things, who cares if they weren’t in a trainers ‘core’ textbook, if it doesn’t work at least you tried it and can learn form it.

I think my feelings and experiences strongly resonate with Kumaravadivelu (2012) when he described the methods such teacher training courses, compulsory workshops and assessed lessons advocate as being’

“non location-specific, not derived from their classroom; it is artificially transplanted into it; it can not be implemented as is”.

We are the only people that really know our true teaching context, and so for me teacher training should be about training ourselves to improve ourselves, it literally drives me mad to be at compulsory workshops such as the one my friend was at today with someone I have never met preaching to me what I should be doing with my students that he or she has never met. I absolutely agree with the work of Kumaravadivelu (2012) and the 5 statements he makes about current teacher training:

a) any meaningful, context-sensitive pedagogic knowledge can emerge only from the classroom;

b) it is the practicing teacher who is well placed to produce and apply that knowledge;

c) current approaches to language teacher education are mostly aimed at preparing teachers to become consumers, not producers, of pedagogic knowledge;

d) the fast evolving global society with its incessant and increased flow of peoples, goods and ideas across the world is placing huge responsibilities on the shoulders of student teachers, practicing teachers and teacher educators; and therefore;

e) we need to re-view and re-vision language teacher education if we are serious about helping language teaching professionals become strategic thinkers, exploratory researchers and transformative intellectuals.
(Kumaravadivelu, 2012).

Do the people that design the CELTA and other similar courses know my students, my school, my materials or the learning goals of my institution? I believe teacher training should concentrate on providing the skills for teachers to create their own pedagogy, not follow that of others. Courses such as the CELTA and compulsory training sessions such as the above can undoubtedly and essentially increase a teachers’ knowledge as to the options available to them as teachers, but they are shirking their responsibility to the industry by failing to inform the participants that this is only one way of doing things, not necessarily the right way of doing things.

What have your experiences of teacher training been? Do you think we need to develop the way we look at teacher training or have I been waaaaaay to harsh? I welcome all comments!

If you like, or I guess dislike, this, you can follow me on twitter @AlexSWalsh

01/06/12 – Some minor edits as I feel I had unfairly tarred optional teachers conferences, paid for training courses and compulsory teacher training workshops with the same brush. For me, optional conferences are exactly that, they are a chance for teachers to choose to hear another teachers opinion on a certain topic and learn from that, and as such I should have distinguished them as separate from paid for training courses and compulsory seminars/workshops throughout this blog.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012a) Language Teacher Education for a Global Society: a modular model for knowing, analyzing, recognizing, doing, and seeing. New York/Abingdon: Routledge.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012b) The Word and the World. Marcoele Revisita de Didáctica [online]14: 1 – 9. Available at http://marcoele.com/descargas/14/kumaravadivelu-interview.pdf


31/05/2012 04:03

Okay I’ll bite
Firstly I think you miss understand what CELTA tries to do. I often compare it to a learning to drive. In my driving lessons I learnt to reverse around a corner, (a skill I have never used since) but I didn’t learn to drive on a motorway, (a skill I needed to teach myself.)
Initial training courses are exactly like that. Intended to give you an introduction and some basic skills.
Secondly you ask – Do the people that design the CELTA and other similar course know my students, my school, my materials or the learning goals of my institution? and say teacher training is training ourselves to improve This implies to me that teacher training should only come from within one specific environment. It is extremely closed minded and not opening the eyes to other environments we can learn from.
Thirdly i run a lot of teacher training and I admit that when demoing an activity a lot of it is ‘perfect world’ scenario. But I also question the participants and challenge them to think how it is best applied to their own teaching environments.

31/05/2012 04:58

To answer your comments, I’d first like to address your analogy, when you learn to drive and you pass your test you are made fully aware that you are by no means a fully competent driver, you are expected to display a green P sign (at least in the U.K), I don’t take any issue with the skills that are developed during the CELTA course, I am myself thankful for them and still regularly choose from the knowledge I have of teaching some of those techniques if upon reflection I feel they fit the context.

What I do take issue with is how many courses advocate it as often the best way to teach and thus discourage reflective practice in the future. Teachers need to be trained in how to instantly reflect on what is happening in their classroom at that time. It is certainly a way to teach, and often an effective way to teach, but participants have, in my opinion, to be made aware that there are other methods that may be more suitable and the skills in choosing the said methods be developed. This in turns allows continual professional development throughout their teaching career. In this I find myself in agreement with Tomlinson (2002) that such courses can result in participants either being “so convinced of the value of their new wisdom that they rush back to their schools with revolutionary zeal and unthinkingly impose methods and materials from their in-service course on their bewildered students before having to revert to their “old” approach when the received supply of materials and ideas runs out; OR become total converts to the new approach and fail to see the inappropriacy of some of its aspects to the realities of their teaching situation.”
Tomlinson (2002: n.p.)

Regarding your third comment, I wish you were my trainer during the CELTA course I took many years ago and the many teaching workshops I have attended since, I was told during my course that in absolutely no uncertain terms should I question my CELTA instructor about whether the methods I was being told to use were really the best for the given situation, and one other person on my course was warned that he may be asked to leave for doing so. However I believe that most teacher trainers are in no way like this.

But please don’t get me wrong, I learnt some valuable teaching tools during my CELTA, but I wish they had made me aware there were more out there.

31/05/2012 05:08

Sorry the comments system knocked off the top of my reply I just posted, I think I need to fix my website a bit!!! Anyway it started like this…..


First of all thanks for taking the time to read and post such constructive comments on my blog, it’s much appreciated.

31/05/2012 04:40

I’m taking CELTA this summer to open my eyes a little. I’m not new to teaching obviously but I think it’s about time I got some criticism from people that want me to present material in a different way to hoe I normally would– I know I need better CCQ awareness, I’m also taking CELTA outside of Korea where I can’t rely on my Korean crutch in the classroom when my teacher talk gets lost in translation.

31/05/2012 04:46

(comment box is not mobile friendly…)
My experiences with teacher training have been varied.
– My undergrad TESOL was vague but allowed freedom and constructive feedback.
– My grad school primary education was rather more rigid and I disagreed with a lot of the rigidity and lack of freedom to conduct leasons how we see fit… I gather this was because I marginally experienced so ‘thought’ I knew what was best….

31/05/2012 04:49

– My masters program was basically a full-time version of the Farrell workshop… so, you can imagine having a close network to question you and bounce ideas off everyday.. best educational experience of my life!

31/05/2012 04:51

Oh, and I learnt to reverse around a corner and drive on a motorway during driving lessons, and use them both almost daily 🙂

31/05/2012 05:13

Hi Andee!

Really nice to have a teacher of your experience commenting here mate!

I completely agree in that I think most teachers have had mixed experiences, I think a lot of it might depend on the trainer involved. During your CELTA you might have an instructor that encourages questioning why he advocates the use of certain methods for certain contexts. Unfortunately mine very much didn’t!

Regarding the M.A I completely know where you’re coming from, when mine finishes I’m going to feel completely lost to be honest, I might ask if I can retake and the other optional modules! Despite my rant above I’m also strongly considering doing the DELTA as I’ve heard good things about it.

I hope you weren’t reversing round a corner from a minor to a major?!

03/06/2012 19:49

Hey Alex,

This is Jason, living here in Malaysia. I remember well when we did our CELTA together. I thought that I was coming out of that program ready to tackle the world. But on first opportunity….useless!! Well, I shouldn’t say that. The CELTA method is for what you described, the “dream scenario.” I’m now doing teacher training myself here in Malaysia and agree 100% that reflective practice is needed. Many of teachers have no idea why they do things, they only know that’s what’s expected of them.

Great blog and observations!


06/06/2012 16:46

Hi Jason,

It’s great to hear from you mate! I had exactly the sentiments upon leaving our CELTA course, and I also agree that when I entered a Korean high school classroom most of it was quite honestly useless for my context.

How are you enjoying Malysia? There is a possibility that I might be looking to leave Korea in the next year or so, so I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say about it. Maybe you drop me an email? walshy210284@gmail.com.

Really nice to hear from you,


14/06/2012 22:01

Teacher training workshops by nature be can’t be very specific since teachers are coming from different schools and no two teaching contexts are exactly alike. I think the problem may lie with how the teacher trainer presents his/her ideas to the workshop participants. If they show an activity and say “this is an awesome activity and you should do it this way” then I agree they are at fault.

Teacher trainers would serve their audience better by showing some activity/method/technique, discuss why it can work well and also disclose some potential pitfalls, and then get the participants to discuss variations on how they could adapt and use the ideas in their particular teaching contexts.

For your friend who said:

“guess what? Yet again all the activities they are telling us to do are for high level, motivated kids, what a surprise”

I would say “Ok, do you have low level, unmotivated students? How do you think you could adjust the activities to make it possibly work in your classrooms?”

Many people say they are “adaptable” in job interviews… perhaps they should prove it in teacher training sessions.

I agree that reflection is lacking in many teacher training courses around the world (particularly CELTA). I wish more administrators would see the benefit of reflection and make it an integral part of their programs.

I can understand the frustrations of going to teacher training workshops and feel it was a waste of time. I’ve been there before as well. But if we truly believe in reflection, we don’t we try to be uber reflective and reflect on how we take the trainer’s ideas and mold them into something viable for our own teaching contexts?

By the way… in case you were wondering I saved Michael Griffin’s career.

14/06/2012 22:45

Hi Manpal,

First of all thanks for such a specific and constructive comment.

I believe we are thinking on very similar wavelengths here. Regarding the teacher training workshops, the one I have had with my current employer (who you know) used a process very similar to what you have described, and it was very productive. Unfortunately, my experiences with my previous employers (who you also know!), which was the same employer as who organised the workshop my friend was attending, did not provide such opportunities for reflection on how they can make the activity useful for their context.

Often such workshops are for entry level teachers who may not be aware of the benefits of, or trained in the skills needed for, reflective practice. For me, this makes it the responsibility of the trainer/employer to guide the participants into reflecting on the ideas being shared with them.

Regarding the CELTA and other similar courses, something I’ve found very interesting is that a lot of them (including the CELTA) claim to be reflective due to the nature of the ‘feedback’ sessions. For me, this isn’t the true nature of self reflection, as, in my experience it was forced reflection to try and say the right things to the trainers who often encourage a certain way of teaching and thinking. I was wondering what you think about such courses claiming to be reflective in nature?

Oh and just so you don’t have to worry about him, I’m saving Michael Griffin’s career as we speak, someone has to!

30/07/2012 22:54

I have read the article, and I want to say thanks to you for exceptional information. You have provided deep and easily understandable knowledge to us.

13/09/2012 04:18

If you can get hold of swan’s article “why we need methods” you might enjoy it.

25/09/2012 19:53

Hi Russ,

first of all thanks for the taking the time to read my blog and also thanks for the recommendation, I’m going to try and find it now,


Siow Chin
20/09/2012 08:43

You are speaking my language! Recently, my school went into this ‘revolution’ of teaching method and our current methods are being viewed as outdated. I am utterly puzzled by this expiry date issue of teaching method.

I totally agree with you on reflective practice. This is definitely one of the most effective ways of improving our teaching. Our audience changes constantly and not one method we can apply exactly the same way. Only through our own reflection can we realise the actual need of our teaching.

Interesting to note that you did your masters with University of Nottingham. That is what I am currently doing and struggling. I started my course in June this year at the Malaysia campus. After 20 odd years of absence from academic study, I am struggling to complete my first assignment mainly due to the horrific workload caused by the ‘revolution’ in school. My biggest difficulty is finding and reviewing literature. Again, I asked myself if this is really what I want to do as I find it very theoretical. From your positive remarks about the course, perhaps, you could give me some advice regarding this.

Thanking you in advance.

25/09/2012 19:58

Hi Siow Chin,

That’s really interesting regarding your institutions decision, did they back it up with a reason or evidence as to why they thought the current methods are ineffective?

Regarding the M.A, I haven’t quite finished yet, but ye at the beginning I also really really struggled with time management and lack of practice with formal academic writing etc. I have to say it has got much easier now, so hang in there! I’m on my last optional module before starting the thesis and I actually find it quite relaxing these days which is a huge change to how I felt in the first couple of units/modules.

Regarding the theoretical side of it, again, I felt exactly the same as you at the beginning of the course, I’m very practical in the way I think about teaching and the way I think we should speak about teaching, I don’t see SLA as an answer to our classroom problems, and this did bother me, but it does get more reflective in nature, although it would have liked a more practical side to the course myself.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I would love to know more about your situation at your institution,

All the best,



Really very good and I appreciate it. It’s hard to sort out between good and bad sometimes; you write very well which is amazing. I really impressed by your post.

20/10/2012 04:18

Thanks for your interesting post. I agree that initial training such as CELTAs may be problematic in many ways, but I’m not sure to what extent this is due to lack of reflection. I mean, it seems to me your friend reflected on the teacher training session he received – that it wasn’t for him / low level learners. Is that ‘good’ reflection or not? I don’t know. I also find the quote from Tomlinson amusing becuase, although I actually agree with some of his views on materials, he always strikes me as quite a dogmatic and self-referential writer. Is his beef simply that the ‘new wisdom’ that is imposed is not his own?! What would an initial training which encourages divergent reflection look like – especially when the teaching practice is in one context (for which presumably the chosen pedagogy works) and where trainees have limited knowledge of ELT? These are genuine questions which I’m trying to find an answer as I’ve been developing an alternative course to CELTA myself. At the moment I’m wondering if we should just abandon the idea of reflection and just me more upfront that a) this is one way, though it’s shared by others and b) be clear on the rationale which may be later challenged.
In contrast, for me the biggest issue with these four-week courses is that they persist with a grammar-dominant view of language and consequently they don’t teach enough about giving good examples of vocabulary in use, noticing patterns, asking questions to students that generate more language etc. This is compounded by both the shortness of the course itself and of the individual lessons which inevitably lead trainees to be reluctant to engage with students and language.
However, even if we had courses that were better at this, the real, real problem is not with the initial training course, but with the schools who believe that a four-week course is sufficient training. Cambridge makes clear that a pass grade at CELTA (approximately two thirds of the candidates) means that teachers require further training and support: they are NOT independent teachers. Yet how many receive that support?

14/11/2012 08:12

Well said! Of course, we can’t deny that every one of us would have totally different classroom environments and students. Because of this, there’s definitely NO best teaching method. But yeah, we’re from Gen-Y (I’m 26). So, I can imagine learning reading comprehension in secondary school (for example) would be very boring when my teacher would ask the whole class to read for 5 minutes and find the answers. From my observation in a few schools and universities, teachers would apply conventional methods to teach, mostly chalk-talk. Well, no. It should be marker pens and talk. I realized something bad about myself – I could see myself doing it! So I chose ‘teaching reflection practice’ for my M.Ed.‘s project paper to ‘repair’ myself.
OK, maybe schools or other learning institutions nowadays already have their own evaluation system or something like that. But, the way I experienced it, it’ll just become another habit in a day’s work. Teachers would fill in the progress reports/analysis/etc. at the end of the day/week and do nearly nothing to improvise. Another factor would be Malaysian school system is highly exam-oriented. So, improvisations will only take place during the intense preparations for exam-taking skills rather than proper L2 skills. So I came up with my own reflection checklist, fill them up and analyze them every time I ended my classes, and construct countermeasures for my problems a.s.a.p. I’d ask for help from my colleagues and not from conferences or trainings, simply because ONLY WE KNOW how our students are like. Just like how you stated it.
That is why for now; I’d definitely incorporate the use of technology in my classes whenever possible because they love it! It’s the most suitable countermeasure so far. They would instantaneously pay attention/think critically/engage in discussions the moment I ask them to take out their handphones to be described with adjectives or used with verbs/tenses, or compare-contrast on two latest models of laptop to initiate academic argumentative skills, or discuss about the latest Japanese comics’ (scanned-and-translated manga) development, or even if it means only a minute or two of browsing/skimming the highlighted news at Yahoo.com. They hate books and speaking out loud in class; I don’t blame them. I can’t blame them, in fact. Maybe it’s a family/tradition thing, culture/religion thing, personality thing, who knows. I don’t have the time to do research on every student comprehensively. So the best way is to do research on myself.
p/s: Don’t really know about other countries, but most Malaysian teachers who came out from national teacher training colleges will definitely use conventional methods. This is because one of the compulsory requirements to become a lecturer in these colleges is they must have at least 5 years of teaching experience in government schools. Say you taught in universities for years, you have Master or PhD, but you had never taught in a government school for full 5 years, then you won’t be accepted. Simply put, the conventional cycle doesn’t end. Most teacher trainees are hardwired with conventional methods passed down from the conventional ex-teachers in teacher training colleges.

26/12/2012 03:38

Hi Alex,
And here I was thinking I was the only one ranting and raving… especially in my “left to hang” and “empty vessel” posts. Diverting from plans and what one is taught is kinda frowned upon. And in my course, nothing about CPD or Reflective practice was mentioned at all. I enjoyed the course more than I enjoyed learning to drive 🙂 but still lots can be done to update and improve the programme (mentioned in my empty vessel post and subsequent comments).

31/12/2012 02:56

Hello Alex,

Great post. Thanks so much for the mention as well. That workshop seems like it was ages ago. I guess it was. I now noticed there are lots of great comments here so I worry that I don’t have much to add.

As you know, I was not a super satisfied CELTA customer. I think part of it came from the idea that the trainer knew and had “the way” of teaching and our job was to follow and discover this way.
(I fully realize that not all CELTA courses are like this or that all trainers are like this. That was my experience. As you know, I felt that questioning this way (which I know believe is a great way to learn) caused me to be perceived in a less than favorable way.

This is actually one of the reasons that I am such a believer in the SIT TESOL certificate (permit me to share a link? http://www.sit.edu/graduate/6882.htm

I think it is wonderful that reflection is at the core of the course.

I think you have already seen this article but a lot of it hit home with me http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3242/1/WRAP_Mann_2_Copland_Ma_Mann_rev.pdf

Anyway, I think that part of what you were talking about is the problem of trainers (or presenters) presuming to know the way and trying to pass on this knowledge wholesale to trainees/audience members. Of course there is a a lot more to it!

I also think that the idea of simply sharing activities in workshops is problematic in this regard as well..

Ok I will stop there before it becomes 2013.

Thanks so much for the insightful blog posts throughout the year.


PS1- That interview with Kumar is great. Thanks for sharing.
PS2- I didn’t manage to find the article that Russ mentioned. (Did you?)
PS3- Nice alien logo. Very nice.

21/04/2013 09:49

OMG i’m sooo glad to have come across your page. Okay, I gotta calm down here.
I have had exactly the same feelings and opinions. I’m doing Tesol, and now i’m in the TP part and I’ve decided to call it a day. While I had enjoyed the methodology part, I think it gives me more options and more variety of different ways to teach, but if you ask me to follow exactly the procedures of each lesson type, to ‘perform’ the checkpoints for the sake of the checkpoints- I just can’t do it- I feel so artificial and forced on a personal level as a teacher. Tesol is based on idea of SLA, and who says SLA is unquestionable? Anyhow, thank you for your article. I’m glad I read it now I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!