Beth Melia-Leigh and Nicholas Northall work on a variety of accredited teacher training courses, both face-to-face and online, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate TESOL modules at the University of Sheffield.
We put 10 questions to Beth and Nicholas about teacher training and their new book ETpedia Teacher Training: 500 ideas for teacher training in English language teaching.
How did you get into teacher training?
BM-L: Although I had delivered the odd TD session over the years, I started working with teachers on a more regular basis back in 2005 when I worked in Italy. I was responsible for mentoring new teachers, observing and giving feedback and in-house teacher development at the language school I worked for. I also delivered TKT preparation courses to local practising teachers. When I moved back to the UK a few years later, I trained up as a CELTA tutor and, later, a Delta tutor here at the University of Sheffield. I love teacher training and I haven’t looked back since!
NN: Several years ago, I was asked by Sheffield Hallam University if I could help with their observations of CertTESOL candidates. Since I had done my Cert and DipTESOL as well as my MA with them, they knew me quite well. And because I was in Sheffield, I was an obvious choice to be trained up to work on their courses. Following this, I was able to transfer these skills to train up as a CELTA tutor at Sheffield University, where I currently work. I guess, it’s not what you know...
As a teacher trainer, what is your typical working day like?
NN: Variable… At the moment, as well as working on a part-time CELTA course, I also work on all three modules of Delta as well as being involved in the practical module for our MA in TESOL. I also teach EAP in a couple of departments. So a typical day (is there such a thing?) involves looking at and giving suggestions on draft lesson plans, commenting on online forums, preparing a workshop or lesson and then either teaching or delivering the input session. I also try to keep up with my reading of EFL literature. And when possible do some writing or preparation for a talk.
BM-L: During the year, I would say pretty much the same as Nick. During the summer, however, things tend to be a bit different. Some years this might involve working on an intensive CELTA course with looking at draft lesson plans first thing, input sessions in the morning, supervised lesson planning at lunchtime, teaching practice and feedback in the afternoon and marking assignments in the evening. This year I will be involved in observing experienced EAP teachers working on our busy summer school, working as an online CELTA tutor, delivering a week-long train-the-trainer course as well as an intensive TKT preparation course for overseas teachers. So lots of variety!
From your perspective, what’s the biggest similarity between teaching language students, and training teachers?
NN: Ensuring that you find out as much as you can about the teachers you are working with. What are their contexts? What experience do they have? Why are they taking this course/workshop? What do they hope to get from it? What are their needs?
BM-L: I’d also add the importance of variety in order to keep everyone engaged and motivated.
What skills do you think are essential in a teacher trainer?
NN: Being able to work with people. I know this might sound like a cliché, but working as a teacher trainer means working with a vast variety of people from a range of backgrounds. Working successfully with such diversity means treating everyone as an individual and being able to respond to their changing needs.
BM-L: I completely agree. And, as we mention in the book, this pastoral side is an aspect that is sometimes overlooked when teachers think about moving from teaching to training.
As co-authors, how did the planning and writing process work for ETpedia Teacher Training?
NN: We used Google docs (not a plug!) as we find this a much easier tool to use than say sending various versions of word documents back and forth. It also meant we were able to work when and wherever we wanted. As it can sometimes be uncomfortable seeing someone editing a document you are working on, we avoided working on the same part of the book at the same time. Once one of us had finished a unit or tip, the other one would read through it, perhaps edit it or add something or, where necessary, add a comment for the original writer to respond to. The edit tool in google docs was particularly useful as it meant we could ask questions or make suggestions and then respond to them asynchronously. We are happy that every part of the book has been written by both of us. Perhaps some parts have more of one of us than the other, but overall the whole book bears both our signatures.
B-ML: It was definitely good to have each other to be able to bounce ideas off and share the load!
What did you learn from writing the book?
NN: That although, at times, it was challenging, it was also a very engaging and exciting experience. It made us reflect on our own practice, what we know and what we had to find out. It made us think about aspects of our training that we had forgotten about. It also made us think about our profession and why we both enjoy it so much.
BM-L: And it made us want to write another book!
What is your favourite unit or tip in the book, and why?
BM-L: I think section 7, which deals with training in different contexts, is particularly useful because it has tips and suggestions to help trainers working on a variety of different training programmes, so there really should be something for everyone in this part.
NN: I really like the whole section on assignments and written tasks. I think this section almost wrote itself and also because this was the first time we had seen anything giving trainers advice about dealing with written assignments.
ETpedia Teacher Training is aimed at both new and experienced teacher trainers. What does it offer to new teacher trainers in particular?
BM-L: The whole resource is intended to support those new to training. Sometimes new teacher trainers can find it difficult to know who to turn to or where to look for ideas or activities or suggestions or advice, so we hope the book will go some way towards filling that gap. I also like the fact that it is so practical and there are lots of photocopiable resources for trainers to use.
NN: Throughout the book, we wanted to include advice for new trainers working in a variety of contexts and situations. We don’t think there is one particular tip (although unit 3 is especially aimed at those new to training) that is only aimed at new trainers. Instead, we hope that new trainers will consider the context they are working in and look for a tip to help them in their situation.
What do you think makes it useful for more experienced teacher trainers?
NN: Again, experienced trainers should find tips and suggestions throughout the book which will be relevant to them. We know that, like any professional, it is very easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing over and over again, perhaps forgetting activities we used to do, or ignoring activities we don’t think are relevant or useful to us. We hope that more experienced teacher trainers will find something which they had perhaps forgotten about or even something which they actually hadn’t thought about!
BM-L: Yes, there are lots of ideas in there which experienced trainers will be able to use to extend their existing repertoire. Unit 50 also has lots of suggestions for ways in which more experienced trainers can continue to develop their skills in other areas.
What advice would you give a teacher looking to move into teacher training?
NN: I have to be honest here: teacher training is not for everyone. We know a lot of teachers who have moved into teacher training and then shortly afterwards realised it was not for them. Although it can appear glamorous and exciting, it can be a very difficult job. We would advise doing your research, finding out as much as you can about what it entails and, where possible, shadowing and speaking to other trainers.
BM-L: This will definitely give you an insight into what the role actually involves and help you to decide whether it’s a good fit for you or not.
ETpedia Teacher Training by Beth Melia-Leigh and Nicholas Northall is published by Pavilion ELT in February 2020. Find out more and order your copy here.