Teacher training: what it should aim at

S Mohanraj

Teaching, like any other profession happens best when teachers work together. In this article, the author takes a look at how important pre-service teacher training is and what aspects a training programme should concentrate on.

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We are all aware of the fact that the English language is a key tool of communication in present day education. This is particularly so in the case of students learning science subjects. Most schools teach science in English.

In India we have a complex system of schooling with a variety of languages used as mediums of instruction. In English medium schools the use of English is not restricted to English classes alone. It has to be learnt and used appropriately to understand other subjects like science, mathematics, history, geography, etc. This is essential.

Even in schools where the medium of instruction is in the regional language, it becomes necessary for the teacher to make the learner realise the need for learning English. The language of higher education in India is English, and it is important for students to learn it appropriately in their schools.

This brings us to two major issues. Cooperative learning (or language across the curriculum) and learner-centric approaches. Teacher training programmes essentially need to focus on these aspects today.

Language across curriculum or cooperative learning believes in working together. In the Indian context, a teacher of English is often treated as someone who is not very important in the school organisation. (A teacher of science or mathematics is regarded as an indispensable member.) This attitude has affected the teaching/learning situation badly. Therefore, the teacher training programmes have to focus on developing right attitudes.

No teacher can work in isolation. A teacher of science needs help from a language teacher and vice-versa. A course book in English could have some chapters describing an experiment conducted by a scientist, or giving a detailed account of his life. In order to teach this appropriately, a language teacher may need to seek help from a science teacher. Similarly, often a subject teacher may require help from a language teacher. For example, study skills which have been largely part of language teaching could be fruitfully harnessed for learning lessons in science, geography, etc.

The concept of cooperative learning also extends to the learners. We have mentioned the notion of learner-centric approaches. Though most training programmes advocate this, teachers are a little skeptical about the usefulness of cooperative learning. Often, they express doubts as follows:

  • Making learners work in groups can cause noise
  • Some learners are likely to dominate others
  • Teachers may not be able to manage several groups at one time – it may be strenuous.

Perhaps a closer look at some of the principles of cooperative learning may help us dispel these doubts.

  • When learners work in groups – it could result in some amount of noise. However, this noise would be productive unlike the silence of the conventional classroom. Further, the discussion carried out by one group is unlikely to disturb other groups at work. By adopting group work, it is possible for us to demonstrate this in a teacher training programme.
  • There is always a fear that some learners, ‘high achievers’ are likely to dominate slow learners. This may be true initially. But as days progress, the slow-learners begin to participate. It is well established that learning happens best when we teach. In a mixed group, high achievers take the initiative and help the slow-learners. In doing so they assume the role of teachers. Such a role provides for better conceptual clarity and understanding of the subject. In addition, the high achievers could also inspire the slow-learners to learn without losing their self-esteem. This aspect can also be demonstrated during a teacher training programme.
  • Learning to manage groups is a skill which can be developed with a bit of practice. Handling group work is best learnt by working in groups and this can also be part of a teacher-training programme.

The present day pre-service and in-service teacher training programmes have been making attempts to incorporate these principles. The focus is on developing teachers’ language proficiency along with professional competence. This facilitates in enabling teachers to do what they should do in their schools.

The author is a Professor in the Centre for Training and Development at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He can be reached at [email protected].

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