ELTChat Summary: what makes a good teacher trainer? (26 September 2012 9pm GMT)

This is a summary of an ELTChat for the benefit of the #ELTChat community

What do you get when you pose a question like this to a bunch of committed teachers and teacher trainers? Before anything else happens, you get an argument about definition of terms.

 09:01pm @victorhugor: What’s the difference between teacher trainer and teacher educator?

Marisa Constantinides found this link to a discussion of the distinction between Teacher training and teacher education (from his classic Aspects of Language Teaching).

The basic distinction that teacher training tended to occur more in a pre-service setting (hereafter: PRESET) whereas teacher education tended to happen more at in-service (hereafter: INSET) level was queried but not seriously disputed by most participants.

However, as the chat went on, it became clear that this “false dichotomy” (as I called it) led, once accepted, to some fairly radical statements about the nature of teacher training.

 Are you experienced?

Most initial comments stressed the need to have lots of teaching experience – both past and current.  It was less clear whether teacher trainers needed actually to be teaching regular classes at precisely the same time as they were training; experienced trainers seemed to question this necessity, largely on logistical grounds)

 ceririhannion 09:05pm RT @PhilPethybridge: They have GOT to still be teaching! #eltchat; some can’t fit both in – training schedules 2tight 4 classes as well?

Wide experience was also deemed important – perhaps because of Marjorie Rosenberg’s comment about non-universality of advice:

marjorierosenberg 09:05pm But also understanding that what works in one place for one person may not be a universal solution. #eltchat

This connected later with the point that Teacher Trainers needed to be prepared to adapt their own ideas about teaching – and admit that they might, on occasion, be wrong.

 marjorierosenberg 09:07pm Trainers also need adaptability in their training approach; flexibility. Might have to admit you are wrong s.times. #eltchat

Sharon Hartle listed endless stamina, being a good listener, being open minded and possessing all the qualities of a good teacher too as essentially summing up the skills set that teacher educators needed to have.  In this, she anticipated a later and lengthy discussion about whether or not teacher trainers needed actually to be any good at teaching.

Before this was explored, though, the question of whether or not a teacher trainer needed familiarity with the teaching and cultural setting of their trainees was raised by several participants, but no conclusive agreement was reached.  However, there was a sense that at INSET level, less familiarity with the specific setting could be tolerated:

 cerirehannion (09:12pm): “in INSET situations I think trainers can facilitate learning from peers without sharing the same teaching experience”

As the discussions continued and interweaved, an interesting question started to emerge: if qualities of good Teacher Trainers are identical to those of good Teachers, can all good Teachers be(come) good Teacher Trainers? Marisa Constantinides thought yes, though this does not happen in practice.  The question is whether this means in theory it is not in fact possible.

Related to this was the other question of whether a good Teacher Trainer needed to be (or have been) a good Teacher (and therefore, an elite Teacher Trainer – however one would define such a person – would have needed to have been or be an elite Teacher).  This led to a brief digression into sports which suggested that several tweeters thought “not necessarily”: sports coaches are usually reasonable at their game, but often no more than that.

theteacherjames 09:25pm @rliberni Jose Mourinho wasn’t a particularly good footballer! #eltchat

cerirhiannon 09:26pm  #eltchat you need to recognise good teaching (and bad) and be able to help others recognise it and move towards it (coach analogy)

rliberni (09:28pm) @theteacherjames I doubt it how can you teach what you are not good at? #eltchat

 “Wrong! Do it again!”

Sooner or later, the issue of dealing with sub-par performance had to arise.  Shaznozel nailed this key skill (09:16pm):

to be a good TT you need to know how to approach an adult and say well actually that was terrible

This was put slightly differently by cerirhiannon (09:16pm):

(teacher trainers) need to be able to be objective and dispassionate when necessary – also motivating and inspiring when necessary

Somewhat embarrassingly, this brought to mind something I had heard the novelist Graham Greene saying in an interview which was part of a listening activity in the first edition of Headway Advanced (unit 2, if you are interested!), where Greene says that, to be a good novelist, one needed “a splinter of ice in the heart“, a capacity to observe and process events dispassionately.  Several participants seemed to agree that this was a useful metaphor to describe this observer’s quality.

Changing their mind?

Sharon Hartle made the point that Teacher Training can often be a matter of sharing expertise whereas Teaching is not.  This suggested that Teaching is essentially more transmission-mode biased than Teacher Training, which is an interesting argument left unexplored by most of the discussion.

Leo Selivan’s later comment about its being easier to “impart” knowledge at PRESET level is based on this notion that trainees in PRESET are somehow more Tabula Rasa than experienced teachers undergoing INSET:

leoselivan 09:36pm surely pre-service Ts lack knowledge but it’s easier to “impart” it than help Ts develop #eltchat

My rejection of this notion is based on the apprenticeship of observation idea – you might be interested in a teacher trainer’s recent discussion of this idea here as it might apply to learners and their tacit beliefs about learning and teaching:  )

 Same, same, but different?

There was also the question of whether whole-course/pre-service Teacher Training and INSET Teacher Training were fundamentally different and therefore required different skills from the trainer (this question was posed by Shaun Wilden at 09:27pm).

One aspect of this large question that got nailed down was the fact that INSET tended to be more discrete and packaged (eg “using wikis” as a single target for the training session) whereas PRESET needed a more integrated, holistic approach.

marcosgazzana (at 09:32pm) distilled several nascent comments and ideas when he mentioned the idea of culture.  Shaun Wilden thought this hadn’t been mentioned up to that point but in many ways it had (the idea of knowledge of and adaptation to the setting and background of your trainees, the willingness to learn, the attendant notion of the teacher as font of wisdom and so on.)

Does it matter where you come from?

The Native speaker /Non Native Speaker distinction in teacher training was summarily dismissed almost as soon as it emerged (09:50pm).

In my end is my beginning (T.S. Eliot)

In the dying moments of the chat, the comments centered once again on openness to ideas from trainees:

marjorierosenberg 09:55pm Also need willingness to take on ideas from trainees. #eltchat

Perhaps appropriately considering the initial comments, this suggested that, first and foremost, a good TT needs to be a good learner.

Here is the complete transcript of the chat in case you want to follow up any of the threads mentioned here.


  • Difficult to disagree with the idea that good trainers are good teachers, but that very much begs the question about what makes a good teacher! This is always a live question, but current ideas from Dogme and the recent Demand-high ELT are challenging the kind of teachers being produced by training (presumably run by ‘good trainers’ reflecting ‘good teaching’)! In both discussions here and on Demand-high ELT earlier in the year, there’s surprisingly little comment on language. That might be because of the nature of Twitter, but I throw out this idea: a good TT be very good with language, be experienced in dealing with a large variety of language and responding to students output. They also have an enthusiasm for noticing new patterns and possibilities of language to teach. They can enthuse new (and old!) teachers to notice language, to give good examples and to ask good questions about language.

    • Thank you very much for commenting, Andrew, and deep apologies for such a late reply.

      I agree that Dogme and Demand High ELT both entail the need for highly language attuned teachers, and this dies suggest the need for similarly attuned trainers and training programmes. Interesting that you suggest this isn’t typically the case in your view.

      This was one reason we changed our CELTA to prioritise developing teacher listening skills and language scrutiny from day one: for me, this is the foundation of a good teacher of language especially to adults.

      I recall your colleague Hugh Dellar mentioning a course you run which seeks also to do more in terms of developing teacher language sensitivity – can you say a bit more about this?

Join the conversation...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.