Teachers’ Professional Development: A Lifelong Journey

Abstract

It is not debatable idea that teachers should learn throughout their life. But under this idea lie many issues which the teachers may not accept unanimously. This article basically deals with the meaning of teachers’ professional development, the changing perspective about it, its rational, and ways, and the roles of different agencies. It further discusses the problems in teachers’ professional development and suggestions for improvement in Nepalese contexts. Finally, a brief conclusion has been drawn based on the discussion.

Key words: Professional development, life-long learning, narrative inquiry

Background

Learning is a lifelong process and this applies to the professional life as well. The knowledge and skill one masters at one time is not sufficient to cope with the problems he/she may encounter at different walks of life. There are new challenges and threats on the way to professional growth. Teachers also need to learn different things throughout their career. Learners’ needs and nature keeps on changing everyday and there are innovations almost every day in the present day world. Everything changes in course of time and so has to by a teacher. Only those who can prepare themselves for the changes can survive in today’s cut-throat competition.PD6

This process of change by the teachers for the growth in their career is referred to as professional development. It is on-going, self-directed and autonomous effort of a teacher to acquire new knowledge and skills and continually improve them after initial formal training in their career (Soproni 2008, p. 32). The concept behind professional development is that teachers should never cease to develop in the course of their career. Teachers’ professional development (TPD) includes both formal as well as informal experiences. It is not restricted to the formal training, seminars, work-shops and conferences. If fact, a teacher is also learning from his own classroom teaching experience, peer talks, observation of other’s classes, etc.  Glatthorn (1995) defines teacher development as the professional growth a teacher achieves as a result of gaining increased experience and examining his or her teaching systematically (as cited in VillegasReimers, 2003, p.11)

Leung (2009) says “a professional is a trained and qualified specialist who displays a high standard of competent conduct in their practice”. Leung (ibid) further states “In discussions on teacher education, professionalism issues are often addressed through questions such as What should teachers know? And How should teachers go about their business?” In this regard, Villegas-Reimers (ibid) has pointed the following characteristics of professional development:

  • It is based on constructivism rather than on a ‘transmission-oriented model’ (Teachers these days are taken as active learners not just transmitters of the ‘proven knowledge’)
  • It is perceived as a long-term process.
  • It is perceived as a process that takes place within a particular context.
  • This process is intimately linked to school reform.
  • A teacher is conceived of as a reflective practitioner.
  • It is a collaborative process.
  • Professional development may look and be very different in diverse setting (there is no single form or model of professional development)

Professional development may be formal as well as informal but it is the teacher him/herself who has to take initiative. He/she should realize what needs to be improved on his/her part and then only the professional development packages can be beneficial. Those packages should be designed and based on real needs identified by the teachers in their daily activities not by the ‘experts’.

Professional development may have different meanings to different people. For some teachers, it may be a way of learning new techniques but for the others it may be a process of gaining insights on different aspects of education not just the ‘teaching’ part. The teachers have to learn new things in changing contexts and may have to adopt some new ideas leaving their old habits. Awasthi (2010) calls this as ‘unlearning old habits’ and recognizing owns ‘ghost’.

For the serious educational reform that the present day educationists talk about, it is necessary to make the teachers professionally competent. This can only be done if the teachers motivate themselves to learn throughout their life. Lifelong learning is inevitable to a teachers’ career. The professional development of teachers is a lifelong process which begins with the initial preparation that teachers receive and continues until retirement. Scrivener (2005, as cited in Awasthi, 2010) asserts any teacher who stopped leaning has probably also stopped being useful as a teacher.

The changing scenario

The concept of teachers’ professional development is not so old. It was introduced in the literature during 1980s and became popular in the western world during 1990s. Earlier, the teachers were just treated as the followers of the experts and had no role in determining what would make their teaching better. In this regard Johnson and Golombek (2002,) mention “For more than a hundred years teacher education has been based on the notion that knowledge about teaching and learning can be ‘transmitted’ to teachers by others”. But this notion has changed a lot now and teachers are taken as the agents of change. Jonson and Golombek (ibid) further state:

The reflective teaching movement (since the early 1990s), the predominance of action research and  teacher research movement have helped a lot to give the experience of teachers a better recognition ultimately recognizing them as the key agents of change for themselves as well as the whole education system.

Teachers’ knowledge is continually reconstructed because of their experiment in the classroom as well as in the society. They also understand which methodology is appropriate in the particular social context. Therefore, teachers should lead the changes in education not the so called ‘experts’ who just refer their theories, many a times, without any grounded verification.A Variety Of Write About Amusing Quotes Quotes On Teacher Professional Development Quotesgram

The researchers were supposed to be the experts in the field of education and they know what and how to do certain things in the classroom. They created the knowledge, hold it and bestowed it upon the teachers. They were supposed know what good teaching is and what god teachers do. The researchers were usually the theorists and the high profile educationists. Teachers hardly got any role and recognition as the agents for change in their own professional change.  They just followed the knowledge and skill recommended by the ‘experts’. This is called knowledge transmission model.

Only in the past few years has the professional development of teachers been considered a long-term process that includes regular opportunities and experiences planned systematically to promote growth and development in the profession (Villegas-Reimers, 2003).There has been a significant increase in the level of attention and support that the teachers throughout the world are receiving in their professional development. Moreover, now, they have realized that they have to change for a good cause and should not wait for someone to help them in their professional development. Today, it is well accepted idea that teachers should always be working to learn and innovate and that self-development is the only key to the path of success.

Now the teachers are supposed to be responsible for their development not the experts. They are the creators of the knowledge and skill necessary to further their career. Unlike in the past, they should learn to grow themselves because no one else is responsible for their growth.

Why professional development?

Teachers are the most important agents of change in education system and it is very important for them to change themselves first to cause the change in the society. Today’s ever-changing world denies the existence of absolute knowledge and skill. Therefore, the knowledge, skill and attitude teachers have should also be revised time and again. The way teachers believe and behave in their personal and professional life should always be as par the recent trend. One of the prime motives behind teachers’ willingness to learn is to become more informed about their field of study so that they can perform better next time they take a class.

The more professional knowledge teachers have, the higher level of student achievement can be obtained. It is directly proportional to student achievement. Professional development also helps teachers to have dignity (self-respect) because it helps them to be competent and gain confidence in their area making their possibility of getting paid higher. Teachers’ professional development and educational reforms are reciprocal because without developing teachers’ competence no plan in the schools can succeed. Therefore, in a broader sense, teachers’ professional development is a vital tool for the reformation in the whole education system of a nation.

Knowing the subject matter, understanding how students learn, and practicing effective teaching methods translate into greater student achievement but focusing on these areas shouldn’t restrict the teachers to the scores gained by the students in the name of higher achievement.

Teachers today are under growing pressure to perform. But most new teachers are not adequately prepared to meet the needs of their students, and many experienced teachers have yet to adapt to new standards .Teachers need to deepen their knowledge and improve their skills if they really want to maintain the dignity of their profession and this can only happen through teachers’ professional development.

Every teacher needs to upgrade his/her skills. One may be skilled at the time of entry in teaching but the things don’t work out the same way throughout his/her career because of the innovation and diversities emerging every day.

It is common and very interesting fact that during the first 4/5 years’ tenure of most of the teachers, the students’ achievement increases and it slowly decreases as the time increases further. It indicates that they are using the gained knowledge and skills during the initial years but lose the track after some time resulting in a low performance by the students. If the teachers try to grow professionally, they can perform even better as they get experienced.

Quality teachers can do a lot irrespective of any other variable affecting the achievement of the students. Therefore, the government and other stake holders should initiate to help the teachers improve their quality as teachers as well as persons.

What do teachers need to know/learn?

Professional development is very much demanding task. To grow professionally in their career, the teachers need to know different things ranging from child development to learning process, subject matter to instructional strategy. Villegas-Reimers (2003) believes that teachers should have the knowledge of the following areas to grow professionally:

  • General pedagogical knowledge
  • Subject matter knowledge
  • Pedagogical content knowledge
  • Knowledge about the students
  • A repertoire of metaphors
  • Knowledge of strategies
  • Knowledge of recent technology used in education

The teachers should also learn about various teaching and learning strategies to make their teaching more students friendly. There are many things that the teachers should know besides the classroom teaching strategies – assessment techniques, production of materials, relation between language and culture, how to deal with different problems in the classroom, etc. Wright (2000) claims teacher development involves the following key areas. 

  • psychology of the self, others and of groups
  • managing stress
  • coping with changing circumstances and understanding the change process
  • motivation – self and others
  • physical and psychological well-being
  • learning about learning itself
  • how spiritual and moral well-being relate to teaching (as cited in Gnawali, 2008).TD0

According to Craig et. Al. (1998) an effective TPD programme has the following characteristics:

  • A thorough and participatory needs assessment of teachers and staff is required for the design of an effective TPD;
  • The design of an effective TPD program must be derived from an overall strategic vision and framework for the continuous implementation of the professional development effort:
  • Teachers, school staffs, and administrators must participate in all atages of planning and implementation. There are also successful examples of community involvement in the earliest stages of TPD planning.
  • The curriculum of the TPD program should combine pedagogy and content, rather than overemphasize one or other; and
  • There should be a commitment to continuous improvement through ongoing guidance, monitoring and feedback and technical support (Craig et. al., 1998, as cited in MacNeil, 2004)

To sum up, teachers should focus on learning four components if they want to develop professionally: knowledge of content, knowledge of methodology, reason or purpose for teaching, and knowledge of the context.

Peer support as a tool for professional development

Teachers can learn many from their colleagues. In fact, colleagues are the immediate guides for the teacher in case of emergency. They can share their experience with the fellow colleagues so that there can a common solution for the problems raised.  Teachers’ narrative inquiry can also be of use for many novice as well as experienced teachers. In this regard, Jonson and Golombek (2002) state:

Narrative inquiry conducted by teachers individually or collectively, tells the stories of teachers’ professional development within their own professional words [.…]If teachers talk about their professional development that discussion itself becomes a step of professional development.

Peer discussions also help them to understand what and how to know about themselves and their work. Narrative inquiry enables teachers to organize, articulate and communicate what they know and believe about teaching and who they have become as teachers (ibid).PD9

Observing others’ classes also helps the teachers, specially the new ones, to learn the way classroom delivery can be made effective. Many a times the teachers may feel that they need a change in the way they are teaching in the classroom but don’t actually have any idea about what to change or introduce. That’s why they need to observe the classes of the other teachers and the importance of peer support comes into effect here. Every teacher, either new or experienced, surely possesses something different than the existing teacher and has to be consulted if teachers really want to improve themselves.

But in our context, it is hardly practiced. Most of the teachers fear that their weaknesses will be revealed if they allow the fellow teacher(s) to observe their classes. They do so because of their ignorance of the benefits peer-observation brings to them. If a culture of support is developed among the teachers in a single school or across schools, teachers’ professional development can easily take a significant move.123

Nepal English Teachers Association (NELTA) has provided many English language teachers a platform to share their problems. Its web-based publication-cum-interaction portal Nelta Choutari has further helped its members to come to a single forum to discuss and share their experiences. The Teachers’ Experience/Anecdote section has made it easy for the members to share their experience in different situation. The ‘NELTA model’ can be taken as one of the finest examples of peer support in Nepal.

The HOW factor

As the professional development of a teacher completely depends on the particular teacher who wants to develop, the choice of the types of activities to be conducted is also depended on the same teacher.  Wajnryb (1992, as cited in Gnawali, 2008) is of the opinion that teacher development is voluntary and it comes from the individual teacher or the group and that nobody can force teachers to develop. The process differs from person to person. Therefore, there is no fixed model or process of teacher development.

Teacher development is a never-ending task. It starts at the time when an individual has the slightest sense that he/she is going to enter in teaching profession and continues until he/she quits this profession or retires from his/her active life as a teacher. Gnawali (2008) supports this idea and says “Teacher development should start when the teachers are at a novice stage and continue until the end of their career”. During this period, they may be in need of knowledge and skill on various areas. So, they should try to develop the expertise accordingly. The list of activities to be carried can vary on the basis of the level of knowledge, need and demand of the teacher(s) and the available resources.

One of the most effective techniques is journal writing and self-monitoring. These techniques help the teachers learn about their own performance. Reflecting on owns activities is supposed to be one of the most widely used tools for personal and professional growth. But there are many who criticize this on the ground that a teacher may not be able to learn effectively from his own experiences and practices.

MacNeil (2004) assumes networking and inter-school collaboration can help a lot in professional development of the teachers. If the local schools and/or colleges share their experiences with each other, they can solve their common problems easily.

Professional development should be a permanent process of change and growth. In professional development packages, teachers are given new experiences to reflect and learn from (Awashi, 2010). The teachers are supposed to examine his/her teaching systematically and draw conclusions based on their self judgment as well as discussion with the colleagues.

Reflection is one of the vital tools for teacher development and teachers can learn a lot from reflection. Mann (2005, as cited in Soproni, 2008) also lists reflection, research, self monitoring and self-evaluation as vital sources of development.

Professional development is never an easy task. It needs a rigorous and careful planning and practice. In the literature, professional development is characterized as a stressful, painful but unavoidable phenomenon. It is also regarded as closely tied to teachers’ experience. For development to take place it is crucial for a teacher to enter into a dialogue with their experience, to turn the experiential knowledge into propositional knowledge (Bond et al., 1993, as cited in Soproni, 2008)

Awasthi (2010) proposes two types of experiences that can be utilized by teachers for professional development:

  1. Formal: attending workshops and professional meetings, mentoring, attending university classes, participating training sessions, etc.
  2. Informal: Reading professional publications, watching TV documentaries, etc.

Teachers associations can also help teachers in their professional development. These associations can organize trainings, work-shops, seminars, discussions, conferences to help their members grow professionally.

Teacher training as a tool for professional development

Earlier in-service teacher training was taken as professional development but there are many more models used these days. In-service teacher training is essential but not sufficient for professional development of teachers. Many people take teachers’ professional development as synonymous to teacher training. In fact, teacher training is just one ways of teacher development. There is a distinction between initial training, in-service training and continuous professional development.

As professional development is not possible in a single training course, whether pre-service or in-service, teachers need skills to lead their own development as their career advances. Teacher training certainly helps teachers to grow professionally but it is very difficult for the concerned authorities to provide the teachers with timely teacher training packages. In fact, the teachers themselves should work continuously to learn new ideas and skills. Too much dependency in teacher training had led to a state of ‘no development’ in countries like Nepal where the teachers don’t realize the importance of autonomous and continuous development.

Teacher training, either pre-service or in-service, should only be taken as one of the means of teacher development and the teachers should keep on searching for the other ways to grow.

Action research as a tool for professional development

Since teachers are the people who know what is happening in the ground level, they should take initiatives to solve the problem that arise in the classroom. The fundamental thing is that the teachers have to ask themselves several questions and try to answer them in the classroom experimenting with the new things.PD11

Many teachers fear that the introduction of the new method or technique in the class may not make the students and the school administration happy. But if they want to be the agents of change in their field, they have to have this much courage. One of the solutions to this fear can be to introduce the new elements gradually not to change everything in a single class or session. So, they should adopt the policy of ‘wait and see’. If they see the new element having positive (or sometimes neutral) effect on the students and the administrators, they should give it a ‘go’ thought but if the opposite happens they should avoid the element for the moment and try another one. This is the true spirit of action research and much can be learned this way.

The findings gained from action research can be shared with the other teachers so that it can further be applied in another classroom setting by a new group of teachers.

Role of schools/colleges and society

It is very important for the teachers to get support from the school/college they are working at present. Highlighting the role of the schools and colleges, Villega-Reimers (2003) states:

Teacher development programmes can not be successful unless the schools support it wholeheartedly. Teaching is a collaborative activity and needs support from various sectors like the school, society, local authority, etc.

The society has important roles in helping the teachers develop professionally and teachers and schools should also have sense of responsibility towards the local community. This cycle of responsibility forces both the parties to work for the mutual benefit. The working conditions of teachers and the learning environment in schools also determines the level of professional development of the teachers

In order to develop teaching as a reputed profession, teachers need to be prepared, perceived and treated as professional. But in doing so the teachers’ role is most important because it is up to them how they want others to take them. The teachers have to work really hard to maintain their professional skills updated and work for the betterment of the society. The society can never turn its back towards the problems of the teachers if they think that the teachers are making some efforts to help the society progress educating their children.

The society also plays role in helping teachers grow professionally. If the professional teachers get high level of respect and are liked in the society, more teachers show their willingness to develop professional qualities. The society can also pressurize the teachers to meet their expectations in different forms like parents teachers meetings, informal discussions.

TPD and teacher associations

Teachers’ associations can play a great role in making the teachers professional. They can organize trainings, seminars, work-shops, conferences and make their members updated with the recent trends in education. But in Nepal, most of the teachers’ associations have just been working as the means to fulfill the political agenda of one or the other political parties. Though they boast of working for the teachers’ development, there are hardly any programmes they conduct for such development.

Planning and implementing professional development opportunities for teachers is a challenging task and needs a lot of hard work and determination on the part of all the stakeholders. Follow-up, support and pressure by the guardians and authorities also helps teachers develop professionally and teachers associations can and should play vital role in this move.

Challenges of TPD in Nepal

Professionalism is very difficult to find in Nepalese education field. One of the reasons behind the poor performance by the public school teachers in Nepal is that they hardly bother for their professional development. The government and other stakeholders have also neglected this area. But how can we expect a teacher to perform better without making even the least effort to upgrade his/her knowledge and skills?

Many teachers don’t even know the basic things about profession and professional growth and retire without knowing what teaching is and what it is for. They spend their whole life (career?) doing just a ‘job’.

Another challenge is the load that the teachers have to carry in their school/s/colleges. They have to take six to eight lessons a day and have to do the correction work of the exercise books of their students as well. So they hardly get any time to think about anything else let alone the professional development.

To sum up, the major problems for the professional development of the teachers in Nepal are: unwillingness of the teachers, financial constrains, apathy of the school management towards teacher development, poor monitoring system, etc.

The way ahead

Every problem has some solution and so has TPD. The teachers in Nepal have not been able to make themselves professional but they can certainly do it if there is a willingness to do so. Some teachers really want to develop in this way and are also trying to but because of various constraints they have not succeeded in that.

In Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Japan, teachers have time in each day or week when they do not work with children but, instead, plan curriculum and lessons and evaluate one another’s teaching (McRobbie, 2000). The teachers in Nepal should also be provided with sufficient time and opportunity to discuss with other teachers so that they learn from people from their own profession.

The teachers associations should work for the development of the profession rather than as the agents of the political parties. They can really make a big difference provided they transfer themselves into professional bodies.

The government policies should also address this issue and should design programmes to keep the teachers professionally fit. The current ritualistic training packages should go through a serious change to take the shape of effective professional development packages.

Moreover, the teachers themselves should be conscious about the benefits they can have through professional growth. They should be busy thinking about innovative ways of professional development not just the career growth.

Conclusion

Teaching is life long journey of learning rather than a final destination of ‘knowing’ how to teach. This is the main mantra behind professional development movement. Teachers should be in a constant journey of learning and relearning throughout their career.

It is a collaborative process and sharing of knowledge among educators helps them grow together. At the same time, it should be connected to other aspects of school change not just the classroom teaching.

Teachers associations and school networks should work hand in hand for teachers’ development as McRobbie (2000) states “collaboration can help ensure that lessons are more highly polished, students’ needs are better met, and curriculum is cohesive from year to year”.

In Nepal, we don’t find much difference between the teachers in their initial years as teachers and the experienced ones. It’s all because of the lack of professional development. The teachers hardly have time and motivation for their personal and professional development and fail to develop as successful teachers in course of time. Otherwise, if there is an incessant and sincere effort made it, is not that difficult to develop professionally in today’s technology-driven world.

Piecemeal teacher development policies are not beneficial to the teachers .So there should be a concrete and life-long policy for the teachers to develop constantly.

 

References

Awasthi J. R. (2010). Do teachers learn or teach? Paper presented at 15th International Conference of NELTA: 21 Feb, 2010.

Gnawali L. (2008). Teacher Development: What is it and who is responsible? Bodhi: An Interdosciplinary journal. Dhulikhel: Kathmandu University. 2:1.

Jonson, K .E. and Golombek, P. R. (Eds.). (2002). Inquiry into experience: Teachers’ personal and professional growth. Teacher’s narrative inquiry as Professional development. Cambridge: CUP.

Leung C. (2009). Second language teacher professionalism. In A. Burns and J. C. Richards (Eds.) Second language teacher education. Cambridge: CUP.

MacNeil D. J. (2004). School- and Cluster-based Teacher Professional Development: Bringing Teacher Learning to the Schools .USAID.

McRobbie J. (2000).  Career long teacher development: policies that make sense. San Franscico: WestEd.

Soproni, Z. (2008). The way language teachers learn: Professional development through the eyes of experienced language learners.  In Practice and Theory in Systems of Education, Volume 3:2.

Villegas-Reimers E. (2003). Teachers’ Professional Development: An International review of Literature. Paris: International Institute of Educational Planning. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/iiep on 20 March, 2011.

 

Quality Education through Quality Teachers: How to Bring Intelligent Individuals into the Teaching Profession?

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I was talking to a group of students in a reputed private school last month and asked them what their professional goal was. Most of them expressed their wish to be doctors, engineers and bankers. As a teacher and teacher educator myself, I was expecting some of them to mention that they wanted to be a teacher in the future. I was taken aback by their responses and started thinking why youths these days do not consider joining teaching as their career. This also reminded me of my post-SLC days when I decided to join faculty of education to be a teacher in the future. Unlike most of my friends and against my family members’ suggestion, I had chosen to pursue my higher education in a teacher education college. This did not make them happy at all as they thought that I could enter teaching profession any time in the future and, therefore, should try other disciplines like science and management. Two of my other classmates who had also got first division in the SLC examination with me chose other disciplines, as per the trend.

 

Most of the ‘bright’ students in Nepal these days do not consider entering teaching as their career. This has severely affected the ‘supply’ of quality teachers to the job market. If someone gets first division or higher in the SLC examination or Higher Secondary Level, s/he thinks of joining science or management. They rarely think of joining faculty of education. Even if these ‘smart’ students join this noble profession in the beginning, they are always looking for a ‘better’ job – may be one in the government offices or at least in I/NGOs with lucrative salary and facilities. In the paragraphs that follow, I have attempted to discuss the reasons behind this apathy of the intelligent students towards teaching profession?
The conceptual problem: Anyone can do it!
Teaching is not considered as a ‘profession’ in Nepalese society mainly because there is a strong belief among people that one doesn’t require anything else besides having a formal college degree to enter into this profession. If we analyze the practice adopted by schools (both government and private) in Nepal, this fact seems to be true. Most of the schools recruit the individuals in their relation or those who are ready to work in a low salary. The principals and management committee think that if a person has a bachelor’s of Masters’ degree, s/he can easily teach in their school/college. This has resulted in poor classroom activities ultimately affecting the learning outcomes of the students.
Poor input: Poor output
In the recent years, even the individuals with a teacher education degree have failed to perform well in their teaching profession. This is the result of our defective education system. The basic fault lies in the way we prepare, recruit and deploy the teachers in our schools. It is important for the government to realize that unless the bright students or the high achievers are attracted and brought to the field of teaching, the much awaited facelift in the field of education is a far cry. It is the responsibility of the universities and teacher education colleges to ensure that they attract, enroll graduate individuals with sound knowledge and skills to teach the children.
Although the government claims to hire competent people through Teacher Service Commission examinations, the standard of teaching and learning in our schools has fallen sharply in recent years. Moreover, no formal training is required to be a teacher in most of the schools. They just hire anyone who has formal degrees from the universities without considering their skills in teaching. This shows that schools have shown a 9character of sheer negligence not paying attention on the human resource they employ to educate the young kids.
The facilities and appraisal system
Many people cite financial reason for leaving teaching and choosing other profession. Therefore, one way the government can use to attract bright students into teaching is to pay teacher little higher than the other profession. Although financial gains alone may not guarantee a flow of capable youths into teaching, this can be a strong reason for them to join it. If teachers are financially sound and have good economic status, they may also gain some respect in the society. This will stop them from thinking to quit this profession.
The government hardly have the system of valuing the quality teachers on the basis of their level of commitment and quality of classroom teaching. The present system compensates all the teachers the same pay neglecting the criteria of merit and performance. Teachers’ pay should be based on the quality of the work they deliver and the positive results they bring in the school and learning outcome of the students, not just on the years they have served. This will also encourage and push the teachers to perform better in the schools.
Many schools in remote districts lack teachers to teach subjects like English, Mathematics and Science. The government should try to attract teachers to go and serve in those far flung communities to improve the status of education there. Like in other professions like medical science, opportunities for promotion and further education should be provided to teachers who go and serve in the rural and remote areas for a certain period. This will help the schools in the remote areas get the required qualified teachers ultimately uplifting the quality of education throughout the country not just in a few cities.
Conclusion
Although teaching is a demanding profession, it is not much respected profession in our society. This attitude discourages the bright students with interest in teaching divert their mind in other professions. Some of the reasons for the apathy towards this job are can lack of respect in the society, discrimination in facilities provided in comparison to other government jobs, lack of vertical promotion like in other administrative jobs, etc. The policy makers need to think – is this job rewarding and joyful enough for the people entering it? Since the future of any country rests on the excellence of education it provides to the children, we need to think about education seriously more than ever. We need to have good physical infrastructure and other facilities too, but human resource is the most important component to provide quality education. We need to understand that the quality of education delivered to these children is mostly determined by the quality of teachers teaching them. Therefore, bright students should be attracted, trained and supported to join and continue teaching profession. We should create appropriate environment to attract, train, support and reward excellence in this noble profession.

Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances: A Conversation with Dr. Richard Smith

7Dr. Richard Smith is a Reader in ELT and Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick, UK. He is also Deputy Chair of the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust and ‘Key Concepts’ editor of the ELT Journal. He co-founded the Teaching English in Large Classes (TELC) network (http://bit.ly/telcnet-home) with Dr Fauzia Shamim in 2008 – it now has around 2,000 members internationally. In recent years, he has given workshops and been involved in projects with teachers from Cameroon and Chile as well as Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan with a focus on issues connected with teaching in difficult circumstances, including at the NELTA conference in 2013 and two Hornby Regional Schools in Kathmandu, in 2013 and 2014.  I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Richard Smith recently on the issue of teaching English in difficult circumstances.
Laxmi: Could you please tell us about your career as a teacher of English and teacher educator in brief?
Richard Smith: My first real English teaching job was in Japan, where I taught in high schools and universities, and also taught some private classes of children, teenagers and adults. I first got involved in teacher education at a university in Tokyo, where I was helping prepare Japanese students for teaching in secondary schools and at that time (in the mid-1990s) I also got involved in giving workshops for practising teachers. Since moving to the UK in 2000 I’ve been teaching MA students from Asia and elsewhere, including a few from Nepal but mainly from East Asia (China, Japan, Korea). Some of my students have had no experience of teaching before, while others are more experienced. I’ve also been working with teachers in developing countries, including the Hornby scholars at Warwick and participants in workshops and projects in Chile, Cameroon, India and, quite recently, in Nepal, of course.
Laxmi: We know that you have been researching and giving workshops on teaching in difficult circumstances – what inspired you to have an interest in this area?
Richard Smith: Yes, this has been an interest of mine since I became aware that far too little research has been carried out into some of the important challenges that most teachers in the world have to deal with. I’m referring to what could be called ‘difficult circumstances’, including large classes, few material resources, and extremes of heat and cold. I think it was my own experience in Japan, initially, which made me realize that ideas developed in comfortable western language school type settings aren’t necessarily appropriate in classes of 45 or more senior high school pupils (and of course in some countries and contexts class sizes are much bigger – even over 200 in some primary schools in Cameroon, for example). But ‘difficult circumstances’ became even more strongly present in my mind as an important issue when I started teaching students from developing countries at Warwick, including Hornby scholars like Harry Kuchah from Cameroon (now a lecturer at the University of Bath), who I’ve been sharing ideas with quite a lot since then. I see my role as being that of a kind of mediator or facilitator of collaborative work, not as an expert, though – obviously I’m not teaching in difficult circumstances myself any more, and I see teachers as the main experts about their own situations, anyway.
Laxmi: What does ‘difficult circumstances’ mean for language teachers?
Richard Smith: Well, Michael West came up with the phrase in 1960 – he used it in the title of his book Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances – and that’s as good a starting point as any. I’ve put some extracts from this book on a website, as it’s difficult to buy the book these days. He talks about a mixture of factors including high student numbers, congestion in the classroom, mixed ability and multi-grade classes, teachers who lack confidence in their English proficiency, high temperatures, and high drop-out rates (for example, due to needs to work to support their family).  He doesn’t directly mention lack of textbooks or other published learning materials, but that’s another factor in many contexts of course.
In fact, I’m not entirely happy with the phrase ‘difficult circumstances’ or with West’s definition of them since the phrase can be taken as implying that there is some kind of ideal, northern/western state of affairs – in other words, a situation where there is ‘no difficulty’ versus a southern/eastern state of affairs characterized as problematic. Of course what’s important is whether teachers and learners themselves perceive their situation as difficult, not what a western ‘expert’ thinks compared with his or her view of ‘ideal’ conditions. If we use the phrase ‘challenging circumstances’ that might be better – or even ‘Iow-resourced classrooms’. Labelling a situation as problematic (‘difficult’) means we may not see what’s positive in it, or ‘normal’ about it – we may be ‘pathologizing’ it, in other words. Of course it also masks the real diversity in classroom situations in developing countries.
For the moment, though, we probably do need some kind of label to continue to draw attention to the kind of conditions faced by the majority of teachers in the world, conditions which aren’t at all taken into account in most writing about ELT / TESOL that you come across in northern/western journals or books, which often tend to assume a hi-tech, small class environment. We need some kind of phrase to keep the circumstances in developing countries in focus (otherwise they get neglected) – but ‘difficult circumstances’ isn’t a perfect label.
Laxmi: What are the most pertinent issues in teaching English in such circumstances around the world, and what are some possible solutions?
Richard Smith: Teachers report a number of issues specifically to do with large classes, by which I mean classes of over 40, including burden of homework, not all students participating, noise level, getting students’ attention, difficulties of building rapport and so on. Together with Rajapriyah Anmpalagan, I’ve made a list of commonly cited large class teaching challenges, with possible solutions on a website that I maintain for the Teaching English in Large Classes (TELC) network, and we’ve been doing research to see what teachers’ own responses are to these challenges worldwide (some findings are on the same website). These responses include ideas like forming teams of students, each with their own leader, peer assessment to help with the marking load, and getting students to write brief notes to the teacher to share the difficulties they’re having. One of my PhD students, Mais Ajjan from Syria, found that English lessons considered most effective by university students in classes of 400 or more in her country were ‘interactive’ ones – not necessarily ones that involved a lot of verbal participation but ones where teachers asked questions to the whole class that all students had to think hard to answer. I shared some of these findings in my keynote talk at the NELTA conference at the beginning of 2013, where I referred also to some research carried out by another TELC committee member, Prem Phyak. After that I gave a talk at the CAMELTA conference in Cameroon, where I started to take a different approach, that is, asking teachers themselves more directly what issues and practices were important for them in their teaching situations, rather than necessarily ‘pathologizing’ their circumstances by assuming they were facing problems. Within CAMELTA, Harry Kuchah and I subsequently made a questionnaire to get more detailed information. We’re going to reflect these ideas back to CAMELTA teachers at their annual convention in August and will make them more widely available, but in the meantime Harry has written an interim report here.
Laxmi: What else can a teacher do to meet the challenges of teaching English in a large under-resourced classroom?
Richard Smith: Rather than providing quick-fix solutions, you’ll have seen that we’re keen on research, and especially on researching how teachers themselves view their situations and whether they have insights of value which they can share with other teachers. This is because there’ve been too many quick-fix so-called ‘solutions’ imposed onto teachers in the past which don’t work because they came from other, quite different contexts.
What we can’t do, I think, is assume that what’s good in one context is going to be good in another. That attitude has been surprisingly common, and it’s why I favour a more bottom-up approach, starting with identification of strengths in what teachers already do, and sharing those – rather than coming from outside and making recommendations.
What’s really important I think is for teachers to share ideas with one another locally, for example via teacher associations like NELTA. In fact, maybe it’d be good if NELTA members got together to do some ‘TA [Teacher Association] research’ into Nepali teachers’ successes, problems and solutions like what we’ve been doing in Cameroon. We will be happy to help if you decide to do this! One of the biggest problems teachers in developing countries face is demotivation due to all the problems confronting them, and one thing we are trying to work towards is seeing how teachers can gain a sense of agency, and of self-confidence. I’ve come to realize these can come through sharing of successes as well as problems, as I think you’ll recall from the Hornby Regional Workshop in Kathmandu in November 2013, when we first met.
Laxmi: You are familiar with ELT situations in Nepal as well. What do you suggest to overcome the issues that schools and teachers face in Nepal?
Richard Smith: I’ve been really lucky to visit Nepal three times and to interact with Nepali teachers like you, Laxmi. I can’t claim to be really familiar with the Nepali context, though, and  – sorry to keep repeating the same message! – I think identification of issues and solutions really has to come from teachers themselves, since you really are familiar with the context! How I’ve been able to help, perhaps, is by providing some opportunities and tools or workshop processes to help teachers work things out for themselves, for example in the two Hornby Regional Schools on Teaching and Learning in the Low-Resource Classroom that I directed, working with Dr Amol Padwad and Dr Jovan Ilic, in 2013 and 2014 in Kathmandu. Some video and written material from those workshops is going to be put on the British Council’s TeachingEnglish website later this year, which is great, as some really good, contextually appropriate ideas were shared by participants from Nepal as well as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Actually, two sample videos from that workshop are already available here. I remember that some important issues for Nepali teachers in particular were how to deal with classes which are very diverse due to the multilingual and multicultural realities here, and how/whether to incorporate use of students’ mother tongue(s). We heard that, instead of diversity being viewed as a problem, a multicultural classroom can offer opportunities to enrich learning and that, via tasks of mutual interest on topics of citizenship, equality and justice to promote mutual respect, students and teachers can learn from one another. I’ve also been impressed recently by an article in the NELTA ELT Forum titled ‘Teaching English in Post-disaster Situation’ by another of the School participants, Janak Pant. Of course people like Janak, yourself and other NELTA members are the best people to share suggestions for the current very difficult circumstances relating to the post-earthquake situation, from your own experience.
Laxmi: Any other ideas you would like to share with our readers?
Richard Smith:  Well, I’d just like to explain again why I’ve been focusing in this interview mainly on research and on needs for teachers to share ideas with one another locally, rather than offering many solutions myself.  That might seem not very practical, but I think finding out what challenges teachers face, from their perspectives, and what solutions they can imagine, is actually much more worthwhile in the long run than coming in with quick-fix solutions. Unfortunately, it’s not done enough so teachers are always the victims of other people’s ‘good ideas’ and policies. And I wanted to say also that teachers can get involved in research themselves, in a very practical way. That was the theme of the two Hornby Schools in Kathmandu in fact – how teachers can identify areas of concern for themselves, then ask questions to other teachers – and, just as importantly, consult their own students to find answers. Even children can themselves get involved in researching classroom issues, as we’re finding currently in a project with my Warwick colleague Dr Annamaria Pinter and Professor Rama Mathew of Delhi University, working with Indian primary school teachers. Again, these are forms of bottom-up exploration and improvement that can be quite useful and empowering. Teacher-research is something I’ve been looking into also with secondary school teachers in Chile, who themselves have quite challenging circumstances of more than 40 students per class and up to 40 periods of teaching per week. Based on that experience, with Paula Rebolledo I’ll be bringing out a practical Handbook of Exploratory Action Research for teachers that will be freely available on the British Council’s website, hopefully next year. I’ll be sharing more information about these publications and initiatives on the TELC network website and TELC Facebook group, which I invite anyone with an interest in teaching English in challenging circumstances in developing countries to join!
Laxmi: Thank you very much for sharing your ideas and these resources!
Richard Smith:  Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work in this special issue – I hope it’s been useful, and hope we keep in touch!
(Also published on NELTA ELT Forum, July 2015 issue)

English Education and Dying Languages in Nepal

Abstract
Because of globalization and development of communication and transportation facilities, the world is shrinking day by day. Nepal is no exception in regard. Because of economic, social and other benefits, people are highly motivated to learn English. People send their children to English medium schools so that the children can master it well. This inclination to English language has badly affected the local languages here. This article is an attempt to bring out this issue of language shift and death due to the growing use of English language in education in Nepal. In this article, I have discussed the history of English language teaching in Nepal, the situation of language, the language policy of government of Nepal and the consequences of language shift and death. 
Background
Because of the economic benefits and social prestige, people around the globe are motivated to learn English language. English is no more a language alone; it is a skill required to stand and compete in the international arena. Realising this fact, people in Nepal are also inclined to learn English language in recent years. It is widely used in education here. English language teaching has a ‘big market’ in Nepal with hundreds of thousands of people learning and thousands of teachers engaged in it.
But teaching and learning of English language has some dark sides too. Because of the growing interest of people to learn this language, the indigenous languages are losing their native speakers. People are sending their children to English medium schools hoping that their children will master that ‘essential’ skill.
English education in Nepal
Formal education in Nepal started with teaching and learning of the English language. This continued for many years as the Ranas used English as a language to keep themselves superior to the rest of the people. In this regard, Giri (2010) mentions:
English language education formally started after the historic visit of Jung Bahadur Rana to England. After the visit, he adopted a different approach to the language because during his association with the British, he learned the power of the language and its ability to create superiority (p. 93).
But, after the introduction of democracy in 1950, Nepali language got priority. The government made Nepali the medium of instruction and it was the only language used in education. Languages other than Nepali were denied from the use in education. New Education System Plan (NESP) opened the door to establish private schools. Private schools won the heart of people delivering quality education. Quality education for many people was making the students proficient in English. These schools sold the dream of English language to the middle class people.
People saw that those with good English got better position in various I/NGOs. They got scholarships to study abroad. Private companies and offices started making extensive use of English language and those who did not have proficiency in English were denied of the job and position. This raised the parents’ expectation to send their children to English medium, schools. The private schools boomed after the restoration of multiparty party democracy in 1990.
Because of the growing interest of the parents towards English medium schools, the number of students in government-aided schools is decreasing. Now, because of the same reason, many government-aided schools are shifting to English medium education. “Parents’ growing aspiration to educate their children in English-medium school in the most significant factor behind the expansion of English in schools” (Phyak, 2011). People are ready to pay any price to provide English education to their children. They think that the private schools deliver quality education. For most of the people, quality education is confined to passing the exams with good grades and being proficient in English. English medium education has emerges as a way to sell the dreams provide quality education. Therefore as Giri (2010) asserts “The place of English in Nepal today is undeniable and incontestable” (p. 92).
Language situation and government policy in Nepal
More than 6000 languages are used in the world (Crystal, 2003). Nepal is very rich in terms of linguistic diversity with 123 languages spoken. Nepal is one of the 23 countries with more than a hundred languages (Ethnologue, 2005).
According to Census 2011, there are 123 languages spoken in Nepal as mother tongue. Nepali is spoken as mother tongue by 44.6% of the total population, followed by Maithali by 11.7%, Bhojpuri by 6%, Tharu by 5.8%, Newari by 3.25, Bajika, Magar and Doteli by 3% each and Urdu by 2.6% of the total population (CBS, 2012). The languages in Nepal have genetic affiliations to four different language families: Indo-European (Indo-Aryan), Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic, and Dravidian.
Some people think that the use of a single language unifies the nation but in a long run, the people other than the native speakers feel deprived of their rights. They feel being discriminated by the government. Panchayat era in the past had tried to foster one nation, one costume, one language (ek des ek bhes, ek bhasa) policy and kept the Nepali language and its speakers at the centre. That triggered frustration and hatred of the non-Nepali speaking people towards Nepali language. Recent conflicts and disputes on language issues are partly result of the same.
The government of Nepal has made very little effort to systematize the use of languages in the country. Many government-aided schools are shifting from Nepali to English as medium of instruction. The Constitution of Nepal 1990 had made Nepali the official language but the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 removed the tradition of the ‘language of nation’ and ‘national languages’ distinction mentioned in the 1990 constitution. The same provision was continued in the recently promulgated Constitution of Nepal. The constitution asserts that all languages spoken in Nepal are ‘national languages’. The Nepali language has been regarded as the official language of the federal government. But it shall not be deemed to have hindered the use of mother tongue in local bodies and offices as the state governments can allocate one or more local languages besides Nepali as the official languages in the respective states.
Though people are free to use their language in education and mass media, they are not really interested in doing so. One of the most important reasons for this interest is the ‘token value’ of the English language. It is the language of education, trade, and mass media. It is no more a language of the elites as in the past; it is the language of the middle class and the commoners, too.
Biased attitude of the state towards minority languages is the major reason for the lack of equal development of all languages in Nepal. Only recently, the government has realised the importance of diversity in language and cultural and started some programmes to preserve them. Most people in developing countries learn foreign languages because they provide them with immediate economic benefits. The mushrooming English language institutes around the country stand as an evidence that learning new languages has become a craze among the Nepalese people.
Language shift and death: the consequences in Nepal
Many languages in Nepal are on the verse of extinction. Many children from minority communities have stopped learning the language used at home. The youths no longer find it interesting to use their mother tongue. They are hesitant to use their ‘own’ languages. People migrate to big towns and cities and want their children to master Nepali and English languages. They don’t see any ‘token value’ attached to learn and use their mother tongue. The private schools have contributed a lot in motivating people to use the English language. The government policy also promotes the use of Nepali and English not the local languages.
Because of the growing trend of globalization and multilingual societies, many people are shifting from their mother tongue to a national and/or international language. “A language dies when nobody speaks it any more” (Crystal, 2003, p. 1).The minority language speakers find themselves ‘linguistically isolated’. When the speakers of a language no longer feel that their language is important to be preserved, they start avoiding their language and thus, the language dies. Language shift has been an integral feature of urbanization and multilingual societies.
For example, people speaking different languages migrate to cities like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Biratnagar, Butwal, Dhangadhi in search of education, job or better life. They don’t find enough people from their linguistic groups to interact. As a result, they use their mother tongue only at home. When their children go to school as second generation migrants, they use Nepali and/or English in schools and with their friends which makes them feel comfortable to communicate in these languages. Gradually, they start using Nepali and/or English with their parents, too. In this way they forget their first language. If many people migrate like this and stop using their languages, the number of speakers using these indigenous languages decreases eventually leading to death of that language. The elders die and the knowledge fades away with them.
It sounds very odd when someone says s/he is a Rai (for an instance) and doesn’t know the Rai language but this has become very common phenomenon in big cities and towns in Nepal these days. Many languages are endangered and are dying. They die mainly because of the parents who think speaking a global language like English will help their children succeed in school and understand the world better. Only the parents and the elders speak the local vernacular languages. In many cases, the children understand their parental language but do not speak it. A generation later, this language is lost. The people feel that their language is inferior and stop using that. They think that speaking English adds value to their lives; a mere illusion!
Speakers of indigenous languages feel compelled to learn Nepali and English languages in Nepal. They abandon their mother tongues in order to succeed economically Toba, Toba, and Rai (2005). But in recent times, the people are also becoming aware of their linguistic rights and the importance of their mother tongue to show their identity. The 2011 census showed a huge increase in the number of languages and dialects spoken in Nepal from 92 to 123. This wasn’t because more languages were being spoken, but because people had become aware and proud of their identities. Besides, many ethnic groups urged the members of their community to register their language though many of them had stopped using their ancestral language.
Dying languages in Nepal
There are many languages which are endangered in Nepal. Most of the languages are losing their speakers every year. This is the result of growing influence and use of Nepali and English language in education, mass media, business and official documents.
According to UNESCO, a language is endangered when parents are no longer teaching it to their children and it is no longer being used in everyday life. UNESCO has identified 62 different languages of Nepal in different stages of endangered. Half the population of the world speaks 20 major languages. 4% of the world’s languages are spoken by 96% of the population. If the current trend continues, 90 percept of the languages used in the world will disappear by the end of this century (Crystal, 2003). More than 11 Nepali languages have already died, 19 are almost extinct, and 23 are endangered. The death of languages, however, isn’t an overnight phenomenon. Languages die after a long period of negligence and lack of attention from their speakers and the governments.
Nepali is the language spoken by almost half the total population in Nepal. At the same time, there are languages with very few speakers. For example, Kusunda language has a single speaker, 75 years old Gyani Maiya Sen. Although, there are other people from the Kusunda tribe still alive, they neither understand nor speak the language. Gyani Maiya is very old now and there will be no-one to speak her language after her death. Dura, a language spoken in Lamjung district, is already extinct.
Languages like Aathpahariya, Bahing, Chintang, Dumi, Jirel, Majhi, Puma and many others need serious attention from the government and other stakeholders. These languages are seriously endangered and will be extinct if effective measures are not taken to preserve them. According to Yadava and Bajracharya (2007) several languages in Nepal are dying for a number of reasons such as the marginal number of speakers, migration to urban areas, the use of Nepali alone in education, administration and mass media and so on”.
Conclusion
Diversity should be celebrated. People should understand that it is a boon not a bane. The superior-inferior attitude to different languages is leading the world towards a monolingual and monocultural place. Linguistic diversity is of great value for the humans but the sociolinguists have failed to make common people understand why preserving a language is important for them.
The government of Nepal should be serious about these issues. The individuals should try to use their languages whenever possible. Positive attitude is the single most powerful force to keep languages alive, while negative one can doom them. No language is superior or inferior in itself; it is the society and the governments that assign certain values to these languages.
The youngsters are learning a wrong concept and attitude about the use of their mother tongues and minority languages. If not worked today, it may be too late. We shouldn’t sacrifice our identity and culture in the name of modernization and globalization. Knowing English is essential in today’s globalized world but we can learn and use the second/foreign languages and maintain our mother tongues together. Now, economic importance seems to have become more important than our heritage and traditions. If we forget our languages, we will lose our origin, identity and values, too. Therefore, we should all be conscious about the preservation of local languages while learning the international language.
References
Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). (2012). Population and housing census 2011. Kathmandu: Author.
Crystal, D. (2003). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ethnologue. (2005). http://www.ethnologue.com
Giri, R. A. (2010): Cultural anarchism: the consequences of privileging languages in Nepal, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 31(1), 87-100
Constitution of Nepal. (2015). Kathmandu: Government of Nepal.
Phyak, P. B. (2011). Beyond the façade of language planning for Nepalese primary education: monolingual hangover, elitism and displacement of local language?, Current Issues in Language Planning, 12(2), 265-287.
Yadava, Y. P. & Bajracharya, P. L. (eds.) (2007). The Indigenous languages of Nepal: situation, policy, planning and coordination. Lalitpur: National foundation of Development of Indigenous Nationalities.

An Interview with Prof. David Nunan

DNDavid Nunan is a globally acclaimed linguist, former President of the TESOL International Association (1999-2000 tenure), and one of the leading textbook writes in the world. He has been involved in the teaching of graduate programs for such prestigious institutions such as Anaheim University, University of Hong Kong, Columbia University, University of Hawaii, Monterey Institute for International Studies, and many more. His ELT textbook series ‘Go For It’ is the largest selling textbook series in the world with total sales exceeding 2.5 billion books.He has written over 100 books and articles in the areas of classroom based research, curriculum development and discourse analysis. His recent books include What is This Thing Called Language? and, with Exploring Second Language Classroom Research (co-author).
It was a proud moment for me to get an opportunity to interview Prof. David Nunan during the 50th IATEFL International Conference at Hotel Hilton, Birmingham, UK.
Laxmi: Prof. David Nunan, it’s very nice of you to agree to talk to me.
David Nunan: Pleasure!
Laxmi: How do you see the scope of English language and English language teaching in present day world?
David Nunan: It does seem to be quite a global phenomenon. It is taught all around the world. It is being taught earlier and earlier grades as well. So, that is one of the big trend I have noticed. It used to be introduced in secondary school and now they are introducing it in upper primary, and in some places in lower primary and even in kindergarten. I’ve been working in Vietnam; and in some of the school districts they have started to introduce English in Kindergarten with four and five year old children. So the scope of both English language and English language teaching is growing every day.
Laxmi: Does it have any implication for English Language teaching profession as well?
David Nunan: It has a lot. Many of the teachers who are working with young children do not have specific training in teaching young children. Some of them don’t even have training in being English teachers. They may have been trained to be history teachers or teachers of mathematics and then they switched. So they don’t have training either in teaching English or in teaching young children; and I think this is a problem. It’s particularly a problem for teaching children because children have the case of developmental stages that are quite different from one year to the next. The way that you can teach a four year old is not the same as the way you teach a six year old, which is not the same the way you use to teach eight year old and so I think that is a problem. We need to train teachers specifically to teach young children and to then teach English to the young children.I am talking specifically about the children at the moment but I think it is less marked with adults. By the time they are late teenagers, their cognitive development is pretty well shaped. They are not going to get that much difference.
Laxmi: As a scholar who has taught and published on diverse range of topics, areas and countries, what do you think are the challenges or issues that English language teachers face around the world these days?
David Nunan:  Well, is it depends on the context. I spend most of my time working in developing world where the main challenge is lack of resources, large class sizes, and poor pay scales. I see these problems all developing countries. Besides, the issue of competence in the language is a major problem as well. One of the other problems around the world is that very often people who are native speakers of English want to travel and they find that getting the job is easy but they don’t know what they’re doing in the classroom and that’s something which is holding the profession back. People think that being native speaker is necessary and enough to be good language teacher. But I don’t think you need to have a native speaker like competence.
Laxmi: Are there any differences between teaching English in English speaking countries like US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and in non-English speaking countries like Nepal and many other parts of the world?
David Nunan: Well there are. One of the big differences, of course, is the fact that in many parts of the world learners have limited opportunities to actually use their language outside of the classroom whereas in English speaking countries there is much access to language outside of the classroom. But you have to be ready to take advantage of the environment and resources. Many years ago when I was still living and working in Australia, a friend of mine who was a doctor asked me if I would give lesson to her mother in English and I agreed. They had come from Russia and her mother had been living in Australia for 28 years and had never spoken a word of English because she was completely surrounded by the Russian community, Russian newspapers, Russian radio and all the rest of it. She did not even have to say hello. But the opportunity is there for the people if want to take advantage of it.
Laxmi: There are discussions and debates going on about the issue of native versus non-native English speaking teachers. How do you view this issue as a dichotomy? Do you think that we need a debate of this kind?
David Nunan: Well, we’ve been having that debate for many years. When I was TESOL president in 1999, I was involved in establishing a corpus for an intersect section for non- native teachers of English and that my good friend Jun Liu who was president of TESOL few years after me was one of the first non-native English speaking teachers to be president of TESOL. At that time we developed professional standards for teachers and we specifically excluded the fact of somebody’s first language background was being the factor that was not the factor. We did argue that teachers should have a certain level of proficiency in the language they’re teaching. That’s always a problem. How good somebody’s English has to be in order to be able to teach English is always contested issue.
Laxmi: That’s an issue because we are talking about need for good English but what is that good, what is the indicator to measure good English?
David Nunan: Yeah, that’s an issue. I mean it depends on the level you are teaching at. I have observed the classes where the whole lesson is supposed to be in English but there was no English at all. Imagine how long do they last if there are teachers of mathematics and don’t use any numbers. Therefore, English language teachers should focus on developing their English language proficiency first before they learn to teach.
Laxmi: Every year hundreds of teachers travel around the world to participate in conferences at national and international level like this one organized by IATEFL. How do you see the role of these events and associations in developing profession skills of the English language teachers?
David Nunan: Well, the reason I come is not really to go to presentations but to meet, interact and connect with people like you. I think conferences are platforms to meet real people and develop community of scholars and practitioners. I am now connected to you, with other scholars and we know each other and become friends. We can be reconnected and communicate with many people through e-mail and share ideas and resources. That’s the real benefit.
Laxmi: On the basis of your experience, what are the common trends and waves that English language teaching around the world I mean teachers of English should be familiar with?
David Nunan: Well, I think one of them is the notion that we just talked about. The fact that in some classes there isn’t any English but for many years the idea was that there should be only English in the classroom. That ‘there should not be any use of the first language’ is taken as a myth now. So, using the learners’ background as resources is one trend – the notion that we should be developing learners as resourceful learners. Therefore, we are working on developing a number of resources including the first language as resource in learning the second language learning.
The other trend is related to native versus non-native English speaking teachers. Eighty percent teachers are non-native speaker teachers now. But in many places like Japan, Korea and China they prefer hiring native speakers because the parents do not send their children to the school if they use only Japanese, Korean or Chinese teachers of English. That’s a big problem as well.
Laxmi: If you have to make a list of most important skills that a teacher needs to have to be effective, what would the list look like?
David Nunan: Number one will be you have to love what you’re doing. You should have passion for teaching. The second is giving care, compassion and concern for the children. You should love and care the children the way you want the teachers of your children to give them. Then you have to have a certain level of confidence to really be an English language teacher. You also need to have classroom management skills. You need to know how to organise the learning courses and how to structure learning and how to structure a lesson. You obviously need knowledge about English. One of the problems for many native speaking teachers of English is that they speak English but don’t know about English very well. They don’t know about the grammar of English; they don’t know about aspects of pronunciation and so on. Often they think they do but they don’t and that’s a major issue. The other thing is that you need to know teaching methodology.
Laxmi: The number of teacher education colleges and universities are growing around the world. What do you think these teacher preparation colleges and universities should focus on while preparing their graduates so that they best fit the market that they are going to?
David Nunan: I think they need to know the context and the situation they’re teaching and studying. For example, very often I hear people saying “well I did this course, I did the masters degree in the UK or in Australia but the content that I was taught wasn’t really relevant to my situation – the lecturers did not understand my situation”. So, I think the lecturers need to understand the situation in which their graduate students will be working in and then build that into the content and the procedures they introduce in the classroom. They have to design the programme to fit their context.
Laxmi: Any final words that you’d like to share with the readers of our blog?
David Nunan: I would like to say that it’s important for teachers to see themselves as educators first and then teachers of language. Particularly if you’re teaching children in schools, you’re responsible for the whole child not just their intellectual development. You should help in their emotional and social development as well. So, it is very important to see yourself as someone who is developing the whole child. Whether you’re teaching Mathematics or English or Geography or History in some ways is the secondary consideration but you need to be looking at the child himself or herself and thinking about the child first before you think about the actual subject matter you’re teaching.
Laxmi: Yes, that’s a nice statement! Thank you Professor for your time for the interview! It was a real pleasure talking to you!

Attending the International Conferences: Pages from my Diary

Attending Conferences has always been my favorite professional development strategy. Every time I attend one, I feel more energetic and have stronger commitment for my own as well as fellow colleagues’ professional development. I got an opportunity to attend two international conferences recently. In this narrative entry, I will share my experience of attending TESOL and IATEFL conferences. 

50th TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo, Baltimore, USA

I attended the 50th TESOL International Conference and English Language Expo held at Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Maryland, USA from 5-8 April, 2016. This was my first ever conference outside Nepal. Therefore, it was very much exciting and rewarding experience.

1The first day of the conference began with a key note speech from Aziz Abu Sarah onRevolutionizing Education: Building Peace in the Divided World. He shared his experience of how education played a major role in his transformation from a radical to a peace builder, and how his educational work in Syria, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, and the United States has helped bridge the gap between hostile communities. He further explored how education has the power to heal conflicts, from the geopolitical stage to the classroom. On the second day, Andy Curtis, TESOL President presented in his presentation entitled Reflecting Forward, Reflecting Back: Looking in the Mirror at 50 discussed the idea of teachers as reflective practitioners using the metaphor of mirror. He recalled the growth of TESOL as a community and as an organization and shared his vision about the path it might take in the future.

On the third day, Jeanette Altarriba delivered a plenary on Beyond Linguistic Boarders: Language Learning Cradled in Cognition focusing on the factors to fluency in a second language like knowledge of basic contextual and motivational features that must be present in order to facilitate language learning. Taking reference of an evidence based research, she talked about approaches for effective language learning and theories used to derive those approaches for classroom use. Similarly, Anne Curzan delivered her plenary talk entitled Survey Says…: Determining What English Usage is and isn’t Acceptable.

Another notable presentation I attended was by Thomas Farrell and four other presenters in a discussion forum on Critical Considerations in Advancing TESOL Teacher Education. I have always admired the books and articles by Prof. Farrell and it a wonderful opportunity for me to interact with him in person. In his powerful presentation, Farrell talked about how traditional teacher education programs are not preparing the teachers for the real problems they will face in the classrooms. He called for a change in the way we deliver these training programs and argued that we should let them explore the skills themselves so that they become independent problem solvers. I also liked the session entitled The Evolution and Future of Diversity in TESOL by Prof. Ryuko Kubota and four others presenters. In this presentation, the presenters talked about the concept of diversity, its history, the present status and influence in English language teaching.

I presented with two other colleagues (Mr. Madhukar KC and Mr. Taranath Bhattarai) on the title Four NNESTs’ Professional Journey from NELTA to TESOL. In our presentation, we presented our perceptions and experiences towards developing our NNEST professional identity in a regional association (NELTA) to explore our leadership self to envision a better landscapes for future NNEST professional generations. We shared our teaching career trajectories, transitions from teacher-trainer-administrator-teacher trainer and formation of positive professional identity through critical reflexivity. Presenting at such a huge professional platform with 150 participants was a memorable experience.

50th IATEFL Conference, Birmingham, UK

I also got an opportunity to attend the 50th IATEFL Annual Conference held at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham, UK from 12 – 16 April. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to improve my professional awareness and skills along with international network.2

I started my IATEFL conference by taking part in the pre-conference event organized by the Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TD SIG) on the theme Teacher Voices. In the event held at University of Birmingham three presenters – Marek Kiczkowiak, Suzanne Antonaros and Liliana Sanchez – presented and discussed on three different topics (a) Critical competencies of effective language teachers, (b) Teacher culture and identity and (c)Accountability and responsibility respectively. I also got a chance to visit around the university and specially the Department of Applied Linguistics and interact with the Director of the department.

The first day of the conference began with the plenary from famous linguist David Crystal, the Patron of the IATEFL on Wednesday 13th April. In his presentation entitled Who would of thought it? The English language 1966-2066, Prof. Crystal discussed the changes in the English language in the last 50 years in the areas of pronunciation, orthography, grammar, and vocabulary. He also discussed the chief factors such as social mobility, globalization, and the Internet that have contributed for the change in this global language. In his impressive talk, Prof. Crystal also compared the changes that have taken place in the past fifty years with those that are likely to take place in the next fifty.

I attended the presentation by Jim Scrivner entitled The naive teacher walks into a classroom in which he talked about how the traditional way of teacher preparation that prepares teachers to face imagined problems fails to so on most occasions. He claimed that the only way to learn teaching is by teaching – learning to teach by teaching. Other notable presentations on the first day were The teacher Trainer Journal 30th birthday Panel by Tessa Woodward; Young learners as researchers: a language landscape project in Mexico by Nick Saville & David Graddol andTTEd SIG Open Forum. The day ended with a presentation by Paula Rebolledo, Richard Smith, Thomas Connelly on Exploratory action research – a practical introduction,in which they discussed about Champion Teachers Project conducted in Chile. They shared about how this project encouraged teachers to start with their success stories and explore their practices.3

Silvana Richardson began the second day with her presentation entitled The ‘native factor’, the haves and the have-nots… …and why we still need to talk about this in 2016. In her impressive presentation, Richardson talked about the state of equality and social justice in ELT with reference to the so-called ‘non-native speaker teacher’ thirty years on since Peter Medgyes raised the issue of non-native teachers in 1983. She criticised the discriminatory recruitment practices that still views the non-native teachers as unqualified and prefers native speaker as qualified ones discarding the professional qualities required. She further reflected on the impact of the native-speaker bias and its dominance on developments in English Language teaching methodology. This was one of my favourite presentations in the IATEFL conference and raised my awareness to various issues related to NNEST movement.4

I also attended a session by Fiona Barker & Anne Burns on Getting to grips with action research for teachers. The presenters talked about the process of action research and shared about engaging a group of teachers in an action research through different stages of planning – acting – observing – reflection leading to publication of research findings. In his presentation entitledChronicle of a death foretold: course books, classrooms, learning and language, Jeremy Harmer discussed about how over reliance on textbooks leads to lack of creativity in the language classes. Harmer shared some techniques to create dialogic interaction in the class and discussed about strategies that teachers can use to make their language class lively and interactive leading to language development. Adrian Underhill, in his presentation entitled Improvisation: a response to complexity in class and school management, talked about the importance of adaptation or changing lesson plans to respond to what is happening in the class. He shared some techniques that teachers can use for impromptu adaptation of lesson activities.

I also presented on day two on the title Leading the change: Changing approaches of teacher education in Nepal. In my presentation, I talked about the changes made in the pre-service teacher education programme in my department at Tribhuvan University by introducing semester based system replacing yearly system. I discussed how the pre-service teachers have benefitted because of the use of different ICT tools and internet based platforms to access resources to develop their understanding and skills. It was an experience of life time to get an opportunity to present in an international platform like this.

As the plenary speaker, Diane Larsen-Freeman started the third day with her presentation entitled Shifting metaphors from computer input to ecological affordances. She talked about how input provided to the learners was an inappropriate concept and focused on the need to focus on affordances. She elaborated the concept of affordances and discussed the implications of affordances for English language learning and teaching.

It was an amazing opportunity to listen to Jack Richards on What does it mean to be a teacher of English? In his presentation, Prof. Richards discussed 10 different skills that language teachers need to have. These skills included the language proficiency factor, content knowledge, developing a repertoire of teaching skills, contextual knowledge, developing one’s sense of identity as a language teacher, developing learner focused teaching, acquiring specialized cognitive skills, learning how to theorize from practice, joining a community of practice and becoming a language teaching professional.

On the fourth and last day of the conference, Scott Thornbury delivered his plenary speech entitled 1966 and all that: A critical history of ELT. He reviewed the major developments in the teaching of EFL since the mid-sixties specially the emergence of communicative methods. He argued that the notion of method has been rejected at present because of the diversity of contexts, needs, and traditions that ELT currently embraces. He summarized that established orthodoxies as cookie-cutter pre-service training, global textbooks, uniform examinations and even the notion of a Standard English itself have been challenged and this trend will continue to grow. Jan Blake delivered the closing plenary on Man, woman, life, love: stories from Africa, the Caribbean, and beyond.

Final words

Attending these international conferences has helped me be more confident about what I do in my professional life. I have a stronger network with English language professional from around the world and have more ideas now to teach, research and write. I have already started collaborating with some of the colleagues through different media and hope it will help me develop my professional skills. Besides, I feel that my spirit of volunteering for my professional community has become stronger.

I came to realize that the world of English language teaching has started discussing about new issues like diversity in language teaching, race and gender, peace building through education. We need to discuss these issues in our academia and include ideas in our education as well. The conferences forced me to reflect my own activities and the teaching-learning situations in Nepal.

I got a chance to meet and interact with some of the great scholars in the field of English language teaching like David Crystal, Jack Richards, Jeremy Harmer, David Nunan, Thomas Ferrell, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Scott Adrian Underhill, Anne Burns, Jim Scrivner, David Graddol, Scott Thornbury. I have been reading and teaching various publications from these scholars for a long time and it felt like a fairy tale and a dream come true to be with them all at the same time!

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank British Council Nepal for funding my visit to the IATEFL Conference 2016. I am also thankful to my professional family – NELTA – for the support throughout this process.

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