August 2004 issue

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Teacher courses

As employment prospects improve in the language teaching industry worldwide, programmes aimed at experienced or new language teachers are likely to rise in demand, according to schools working in this sector already, which also means that there are business possibilities here for agents, says Amy Baker.

Franco Staffa from Associazione Culturale Italia-Inghilterra in Italy reports that he only enrols two or three students a year on teacher training programmes overseas, and his experience seems typical of many agencies around the world.

However, as Victor Cedeño of Gaia ISC agency in Venezuela points out, there are opportunities for agencies to grow this sector of their student placement activities, especially if they have regular interaction with local language teachers. 'Around 15 per cent of our clients are teachers and they are looking for these kind of [teacher] programmes,' says Cedeño, who reports that teachers enquire about programmes when the agency organises seminars at local schools. 'Some of them are very interested because there is an opportunity to improve their English skills and share experiences with other teachers,' he says.

Cedeño underlines, however, that price is a crucial factor when selling these programmes. 'We make special promotions when a school gives us a special price, which is very important to promote these kinds of courses,' he relates. Time can also be another consideration for clients, as many teachers will use their own holiday time to attend a teacher training/refresher course overseas.

Rather than their schools arranging their trips, teachers often arrange courses themselves. As Audrey Montali of Indirizzo Inghilterra in Italy puts it, teachers are 'an independent bunch and often organise things on their own'. She continues, 'I don't get many teachers [booking courses] but do provide lots of courses on my website. A whole section of my website with seven or eight sub-pages is dedicated to teachers and one sub-page lists refresher courses.' Montali estimates that only three per cent of bookings, however, come from teachers.

This niche market is obviously quite a difficult one for agents to tap into, but schools that work in the sector testify to a steady growth in demand. Montali relates that teachers often ask for a variety of accommodation options so that they can take their friends or family with them when they go on their course. Carving out a reputation for being able to organise such requests will lead to good word-of-mouth recommendation among the teacher community.

Targeted provision
As Beth Abbott of the Teacher Training & Professional Centre at International House (IH) Sydney in Australia points out, language learning is gaining in importance in the school curriculum in many countries around the world. Abbott relates, 'The 'new' markets of Asia are currently very promising for teacher training providers due to new educational policies being implemented by many of the governments.'

According to Abbott, demand shifts from region to region, although 'it is increasing all the time'. 'We offer short-term intensive teacher training programmes, which are practical in nature,' she says. 'Courses are available for native and non-native English speakers, as initial training for those without experience [or] for experienced/qualified teachers looking for professional development.' There is a range of programmes on offer in this sector, from certificated courses from established exam boards to specifically tailored courses (see box, right). Many schools active in this sector offer both. This is the case at IH Sydney and at Alpha Educational Institute (AEI) in Christchurch, New Zealand. Kathryn Thorne at AEI says that their tailor-made course is a new venture 'in response to requests from Asian teachers of English to have a practical and innovative training programme accessible to them'.

Demand from non-teachers
Robin Adams at KTC Language Centre in Vancouver, Canada, underlines that more general students seem to be interested in teaching programmes. Their school offers one five-week course focusing on how to teach English to children between the ages of two and 15. 'Some students may feel that they are growing tired of so-called 'Lenar' classes - learning English for no apparent reason,' he says. 'Low employment opportunities are also forcing [some] students to look at teaching as a means of work or increasing their income.'

Adams suggests that another reason for rising demand could be that students with higher levels of English are no longer content to take general language courses. 'Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese students seem to be particularly interested in [our] course,' he says. Irene Yu at Robinson College in Toronto, Canada, agrees that her school is seeing 'pent-up demand in Asia' for its Teaching English as a second language (Tesl) course.

In the UK, meanwhile, Liz Brynin, Director of Studies for Geos Brighton & Hove branch, paints a picture of many different nationalities enrolling on their programmes. 'We run [Cambridge Esol] Celta courses several times a year and we also offer overseas teachers courses (OTC),' she explains. 'With Celta courses, we are getting more and more non-native speakers, such as Russians, Italians, Spanish etc. OTC [recruitment] was largely in the South American market, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil - although this is now [down] due to the financial situation there.'

Abbott in Australia lists an expansive range of nationalities as typical teacher students at their centre, while Thorne in New Zealand says mainly Asian nationalities have enrolled on the Alpha Teal course for non-native teachers. 'I am sure that demand will continue to grow, but our client groups are rightly shrewd and will be looking for quality and credibility,' she says.

Opportunities for agencies
Teachers are clearly price sensitive and independent, but many seem to be interested in professional improvement and training. There is great potential here for agencies, to either reach already-active teachers through innovative mailings and seminars, or to 'upsell' to older experienced clients who might be keen to consider gaining teaching skills. This is certainly Adams' point of view. 'Agents are missing out on a lot of 'second phase' registrations,' he observes. 'Agents might start looking at getting students to spend three to six months in a general programme and then do a teacher training programme towards the end of their course.'

Abbott in Australia adds that as well as individual students, clients for teacher training courses also include Ministries of Education, 'which are the typical client base for [some] agents'. She says that having concentrated on the local market primarily, 'now we are working with more agents to build up our profile [in this sector] internationally'.

Alan Whitehead, Director of Saxoncourt Teacher Training in London in the UK, offers one word of advice. He underlines that for established certificate courses, some agencies understand the courses and the entry requirements and tailor their services to the needs of the training centres. 'But others don't,' he says. 'It is particularly important.'

Types of programmes

There is a variety of programmes and courses available to potential students looking to brush up on their teaching skills, get an introduction to teaching methodology or gain a qualification in teaching a language. Most agents active in this sector say that programmes related to English language teaching make up the main market.

In terms of certificate programmes, the most well known qualifications seem to be the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (Celta), offered by Cambridge Esol, and the Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Cert.Tesol) offered by Trinity College. Alan Whitehead of Saxoncourt Teacher Training in London, UK, confirms that these 'entry-level courses are the most popular' at their centre.

Cambridge Esol actually offers four certificate courses - one of which specialises in teaching to young learners - and two diploma courses, and is developing a new Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), suitable for non-native teachers. TKT will be available in 2005 and is currently being trialled.

As David Hughes, Director of LSI in Toronto, Canada, points out, enrollees on certificate programmes often tend to be native English speakers, rather than non-native English language speakers who teach in their own country. 'The Celta itself requires an extremely strong command of English,' he relates, although he adds, 'We have had German, Japanese and Iranian trainees, [although] most are Canadian or American.'

As well as certificate courses, there are many programmes developed in-house. Hughes says, 'We run the Celta [course] as well as a modular seminar programme for non-native English teachers, which is based on the Celta course.' At AEI in Christchurch, New Zealand, Kathryn Thorne relates that as well as offering the Trinity certificate, AEI has developed the Alpha Teal (Teaching English as an Additional Language) Certificate. 'We have based a lot of content around topics covered in Trinity Cert.Tesol, but pitched [the course] at an Ielts level five-plus or intermediate/upper intermediate band,' she says.

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