As we launch our new online CertTESOL course, Abby looks back on what we learnt on the previous face-to-face course, which the lockdown had threatened to disrupt. We’re proud of the way our trainee teachers adapted to the challenges this presented, and for us it shone a light on what makes a good teacher.
I’m sure everybody would agree that the world has changed in more ways than we could have imagined in the last 6 months, and yet when we started our part-time CertTESOL course in January 2020, it seemed no different from the beginning of any other course. Little did we know!
The Beginning (Pre-Lockdown)
The first few weeks were spent getting to know each other and exploring some of the classroom techniques needed to create a student-centred learning environment. The trainees’ range of skills and experience allowed them to draw on each other’s knowledge, and they were keen to learn from and support each other. Through learning a mystery language themselves for their first assignment they could relate to the student experience and started to consider how this would impact on their own lessons going forwards. This was when they met their ‘guinea pig’ students and the focus of the course turned to how to plan and structure a lesson.
So now it was the trainees’ turn to put what they had learnt into practice, starting with their unassessed 30-minute and 45-minute lessons. This was their chance to experiment with lesson planning and activity design and to get to know their learners a little more. The feedback process enabled them to reflect on what had worked well and what they might do differently, and I was impressed with their positive attitude and willingness to push themselves to develop and improve each lesson.
At this point, Coronavirus started to become more and more dominant in the news with the first UK cases being reported. This sadly led to two of our trainees having to withdraw from the course for personal reasons. We kept a close eye on developments, taking things a week at a time and responding to government advice as and when it was provided.
Then came the news that we, along with most other businesses, had to close as lockdown in the UK was enforced. We had some difficult decisions to make, as we didn’t know when we would be able to reopen and the trainees had come so far and dedicated so much of themselves, despite some incredibly difficult circumstances.
We were given permission from Trinity to complete the course online, and when asked if they would be happy to do this, the unanimous response from trainees was ‘yes!’.
Our last day face-to-face was spent largely preparing trainees for the transition online. Although the approach to lesson planning, activities and techniques remained unchanged, delivering lessons online was a different ball game. Time was spent familiarising them with the tools available, and they were proactive in experimenting and practising with each other before delivering their final ‘live’ lessons online. It wasn’t what they had signed up for, but they were going to give it their best shot.
A good teacher won’t only thrive in optimum conditions. They will always be a good teacher, whatever you throw at them.
The result? Those final lessons were some of their best on the course. Their creativity and positivity made the transition look seamless, although that was in no small part due to the effort and commitment that they continued to demonstrate. But the teaching practice wasn’t all; they also completed the remainder of their input sessions online, as well as moderation day. All trainees passed with flying colours, and the ‘happy ending’ to their story was entirely deserved.
Lockdown Lessons Learnt
It was clear that the trainees had learnt a lot more than they had bargained for, but what did I learn?
Strong foundations – if trainees are given strong foundations to build on, they will be equipped to adapt to a range of unexpected situations. Regardless of the teaching context, the principles and techniques remain the same, allowing teachers to focus on how to adapt their approach rather than change it. This leads on to my next point…
Adaptability – no lesson ever goes entirely to plan, and one of the most important skills for a teacher to have is the ability to be responsive to the situation and the learners in front of them. On this course, our trainees’ adaptability was pushed to the extreme, and they took it in their stride, and always with a can-do attitude.
Preparedness – having a plan B and a plan C can take you a long way in teaching. Nobody will judge you if plan A doesn’t work out, as long as you have an alternative up your sleeve. This is why ‘What if…?’ is a good question to continually ask yourself at the planning stage. Don’t just hope for the best, plan for the best.
Creativity – I am a big believer that creativity can be learned. It’s not about being entirely original or reinventing the wheel, but it is about coming up with solutions to problems. This brings me back to the ‘What if…?’ question. If you can answer a series of these questions, you have found some creative solutions, whether it’s in designing a piece of online material, or considering how to get student feedback in the virtual classroom.
A good teacher is a good teacher – finally, a good teacher won’t only thrive in optimum conditions. They will always be a good teacher, whatever you throw at them. If you can be an effective face-to-face teacher, I have no doubts you can be successful online, and vice versa. Yes, there will be differences to negotiate, but the tools we use are only the means and not the measure of successful teaching.
My Final Thoughts
I have learnt a lot from this particular group of trainees. Their resilience wowed me, and in these uncertain times, they demonstrated that now more than ever, we need to be ready to change to the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Rather than being disadvantaged by lockdown, they used it as an opportunity to develop their skills even further, and although it wasn’t our plan A, it turns out that plan B was just as good.