The TDSIG Blog is up running again after a busy #IATEFL Conference this year. Huge thanks to all our readers who have been sharing the posts and, especially to those who got in touch with us, we love hearing from you!
We are very proud today to showcase the writing of our new blogger, Marcela Cintra, from Brazil. Marcela works for the Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, she has taught English for 20 years and is currently involved in pre-service training and teacher development programmes. Marcela is a DELTA holder, as well as a CELTA and ICELT tutor. We had a great time working with her at our pre-conference event this year. In this thoughtful post, she explores the notion of accountability and the conditions we create for teaching. We hope you enjoy it!
ACCOUNTABILITY: ARE WE TEACHING?
BY MARCELA CINTRA
After Martin Parrott’s talk at IATEFL this year, I considered his advice on the need for ‘more teaching’ and reflected on how accountable for their lessons and results teachers really are. Often times, we hear teachers talking about how demotivated students are or how poorly developed the materials are to justify unsuccessful learning outcomes – students’ results, retention and engagement, for instance.
Once teachers made the choice of working with the complexity of education, it would only seem logical to assume that they are acting in order to improve results rather than outsourcing responsibility. However, reality seems to be different. How many times have we heard colleagues saying ‘I’m teaching, but they are not learning.’, or ‘I do my best, but the course book is not suitable for the group.’?
What concerns me the most is that teachers might be looking at the classroom as if things would only work under perfect conditions that depend on many variables. The fact is, teachers are the ones who create the conditions. The knowledge, skills, awareness and attitudes (Freeman,1989) we bring into the classroom will impact learners’ progress, engagement and consequently promote an atmosphere conducive to learning. On that note, I would like to mention Donald Freeman’s plenary, where he talked about the ‘myth of sole responsibility’.
From my perspective, it may be very dangerous to give teachers the chance to be held unaccountable for what happens in the classroom, rather than inspire them to look for better ways of approaching their lessons to provoke learning and engagement. Nobody ever promised teaching would be easy, but once one chooses this career path, one should be expected to embrace the challenges pertaining to education in language learning.
Teachers are responsible for the learners in their classrooms and they should be accountable for what they do about what goes on in their lessons. Those teachers who want to make a difference and are willing to develop in order to cause an impact certainly feel the weight of responsibility and act upon the circumstances to achieve higher and higher. If, however, teachers blame poor results on materials and students, learning may end up being accidental as nobody is taking responsibility.
I believe effective teachers should not fear accountability, but seek for different ways to motivate learners, varied ways to maximise learning opportunities, effective ways to use materials available to inspire learning. Before complaining about the conditions, teachers should empower themselves and the profession, by developing strategies and effective practices to be able to teach unplugged (Meddings & Thornbury, 2010) and make the most of human resources in the classroom. Lesson planning should then be more about how the process is going to unfold than what tools one chooses to use. It is quite easy complain about course books and source texts, but if they were to be accountable for learning, teachers would be unnecessary. Teaching goes way beyond choosing materials and fun activities; it is a lot more about the rationale behind what is done, the communication with stakeholders, asking the right questions (to oneself, to colleagues and to learners), using what is available to maximise people’s potential to learning. Definitely not a job anyone who simply speaks the language can do.
Teachers bring more than knowledge to the classroom and that is what may impact their performance and make them more effective in the classroom to help language learners. Also, a teacher who feels responsible for their learners is probably one that feels accountable for their own professional development and are proactive in achieving excellence (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2006), engaging in continuous inquiry and improvement to promote change (Fullan, 1993), towards an impact on results and learning outcomes. An English language teacher should be reflecting on and in action to develop their awareness of what their actions and decisions promote in the classroom. Also, one should aim at working collaboratively with colleagues in order to strengthen the connection between learners’ development and their own (Fullan and Hargreaves, 1991).
Because of the number of variables that permeate classroom events, we should be careful not to fall prey to outsourcing responsibility when results are not as expected. As hard as it may be, feeling accountable, making different decisions to influence language learning and taking action towards improvement will still help teachers move forward and achieve higher. Then, whn the approaches chosen, questions asked, materials used do not cause the intended results to one or another learning, one may say ‘As a teacher, I proudly did my best today. I’ll try it differently tomorrow.’
I believe this is the kind of teacher that would definitely do ‘more teaching’ and inspire more learning, not necessarily holding the sole responsibility, but aware of the fact that they should be held accountable for the results of the work they chose to do.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Bransford, J. (2006). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass.
Freeman, D. (1989) “Teacher Training, Development, and Decision-Making” TESOL Quarterly, 23(1) 27-45.
Fullan, M. (1993) “Why teachers must become change agents”. Educational Leadership: The professional teacher. Vol 50: 6. Pp. 12-17.
Fullan, M., and A. Hargreaves. (1991). What’s Worth Fighting for in Your School? Toronto: Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation; Andover, Mass.: The Network; Buckingham, U.K.: Open University Press; Melbourne: Australian Council of Educational Administration.
You bring up a very important distinction for all educators…is this a job or a profession? This topic goes right to the heart of one aspect of teaching we cannot develop unless the individual already has the right “dispositions” to be a professional rather than just “doing the job”. Having the right dispositions to be professional becomes increasingly important when the field is changing rapidly and the traditional methods have to be massaged using not only the knowledge but the skill that a professional educator should carry into any classroom.
Time and time again it is within the accountability system that we can separate the wheat from the chaff and determine those who have the professional attitudes and those who do not. Since there is no test of the dispositions that would make a professional educator .. it is the accountability systems that demonstrate clearly when one is truly engaged with the art or simply going through the motions of teaching.