Recently, I was reading about a new educational proposal. It was straightforward – if we get students to start using the skills we teach in practical ways, then learning will improve.
It reminded me of one sunny afternoon, back in October 1998. I was living in South America, and on a teacher training course. An educational expert had been flown in from the USA to suggest exactly the same approach. The course lasted months, and around the room, other subject teachers struggled to put the principle into practice. Even back then, twenty years ago, my reaction was, ‘But we’ve been doing this in EFL for decades?’
Sometimes I think we forget just how many times we’ve been ahead of the educational curve. So, with huge thanks to the entire EFL community for making this such a brilliant subject to teach – and I do mean every single one of you – here is my list of the top 5 reasons why I think we should be proud of working in EFL.
1. Our big fish are in a very big pool
Our teachers negotiate on ‘high standards’ on a global scale. Our approach to excellence is second to none. The sheer numbers and skills overcoming communication and cultural barriers, make it possible to have large teams of full-time, professional teacher trainers, school leaders, assessment experts, authors and researchers, all driving the field forwards around the world.
At the IATEFL UK conference alone, over 2,500 delegates attend in person, and over 60,000 watch online.
2. Our students use what they learn
From day one, our students start using their language skills in real-life scenarios. Who can even remember the days when English was taught or tested by translation alone?
When I help my son with his elementary vocabulary list in German, and it contains words like ‘fairy tale’ and ‘global water shortages’, I wonder just what conversations they imagine he’s going to need to have at the ticket office in the train station. We haven’t done that for years. Databases like Pearson’s Global Scale of English (GSE) Learning Objectives, or EVP, have broken down the complexities of effective communication into evidenced, functional, manageable chunks.
3. We embrace progress
Back in 2000, Cambridge Assessment became the first major examining body to move their high stakes assessments online. Since then, whole countries have followed suit*. We’ve adapted to technological progress so quickly, I can still remember explaining what a Learner Management System was to an IT teacher over lunch.
More importantly, we’ve grappled with the pedagogical changes that go with these new developments. EFL teachers have been evaluating pedagogical uses of learning tools since the days of tape cassettes. And when we need to stop pushing so hard, and just play a game or sing a song for the sheer joy of it – we can do that too. And it’s still educational!
4. We prepare learners, not students
Our students may hope to become fluent one day, but we’ve never seen it as our job to take them all the way there. We’ve been training students to be independent learners for longer than I’ve been in the profession, and we’ve got better and better at it. Of course, we’d like them to perform well in their next exam, all teachers would! But every EFL student walks out of the classroom fully prepared for what to do next, after the test results have come in and the door has closed…
5. We teach a lifelong competency
… and this leads me to the final point. What other subject teachers know – without a doubt – that the subject they teach will really matter one day. At some point in the lives of every one of your students, they’ll find themselves at an airport, or in a meeting in a foreign city, and they’ll need to use English. There will be a day when they realize ‘You know what, Miss Walsh taught me this back in 12th grade. I’ve got this!’ We prepare kids for life, and THAT is a huge reason to celebrate what we do!
*Nigeria moved its UTM university entrance exam online several years ago, and the OECD’s influential national comparison science and maths exams, the PISA exam, was delivered online for the first time in 2015, among many others.
What makes you proud to be an English teacher? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to enter the 2019 Pearson English Global Teacher Award. Share your teaching stories with the world for the chance to win an all expenses paid trip to IATEFL (UK) or TESOL (US) 2019!