|Language programmes that cater specifically for teachers of their own or another language are a useful addition to schools’ portfolios and many report that the teacher training sector has been booming in recent years. Government initiatives to improve the language skills of teachers in state schools, combined with a greater worldwide interest in language learning overall and a burgeoning work and travel industry whereby students and recent graduates meet travelling expenses by teaching a language overseas means that there is no shortage of takers for both initial teacher training and refresher courses.
Sarah Wall, Business Development Manager from Anglolang Academy of English in Scarborough in the UK, says that the teacher training sector is now a large part of their business. “[Our four different teacher training courses] are our most popular courses except for summer vacation [programmes],” she says. “In recent years they have become more and more popular due to funding possibilities.”
One of the most significant factors currently driving growth in the teacher training industry is the fact that many countries worldwide are investing in improving the language skills of their state school teachers. In Europe, teachers of an official language of the European Union, who teach in a state school in a European country, can apply for funding to participate in an in-service training course to improve their language and teaching skills. The Comenius programme, operated by the European Commission as part of its Lifelong Learning Programme, has definitely helped boost interest in teacher refresher programmes, according to agent Gabriella Perfetti from Auriga Servizi in Italy.
“The main opportunities are offered by Comenius programmes,” she says. “This year teachers are given E1,500 (US$2,022) for a two-week stay [on a language course overseas]. I think that refresher courses may become one of the leading sectors for us due to the fact that lots of young teachers are now prepared for such experiences abroad and also because competition among teachers is very high due to the increasing demand for language courses from people of any age who wish to learn or improve a foreign language, above all English.”
Under the Lifelong Learning Programme, teachers from the 25 EU member states are eligible for European funding, as well as the three candidate countries of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, and these nationalities are well represented on teacher training programmes in language schools in Europe. Nationality trends can also reflect the availability of information regarding teacher grants in different countries. Martin Mayer from Horizonte in Regensberg, Germany, says that the majority of students on their teacher training courses are from the Czech Republic. “We have quite a strong demand [from] Czech teachers since one agency recommends our teacher programme for teachers who can get a European grant for the course,” he says.
Outside Europe, Kallie Rougos from RMIT English Worldwide in Melbourne, Australia, relates that demand for their teacher training programmes has grown by 400 per cent in the last two years. The school provides teacher programmes for English language teachers as well as teachers and academics delivering courses in the medium of English. She says, “The reasons behind the change are probably related to certain government education departments funding the professional development of their teachers and building local capacity instead of relying on foreign language teachers.” She adds, “[Our largest student markets are] China, Korea, Japan and Thailand.”
However, increasing demand for teacher training programmes is not solely dictated by the availability of government grants. Jon Wright, Director of the Language Project in Bristol, UK, says that interest in teacher courses has been growing year on year. “Before it was largely European teachers, now we have teachers from Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea, Latin America and more,” he says. “One combination we have seen develop a lot: group leaders accompanying groups of students often take part in our courses, so while the students are on our classic English summer courses, the group leaders are also kept busy. This works well.”
A typical teacher training course differs depending on whether it is catering for students who are native or very high level speakers of the language they want to teach (see box) or whether it is a refresher course for already qualified teachers of a language. Refresher courses for non-native speakers are usually divided into two components of language tuition and teaching methodology.
Stanislav Chernyshov, Director of Extra Class Language Centre in St Petersburg, Russia, says that their course for Russian language teachers in other countries covers aspects of teaching the Russian language itself as well as “culture and history issues, modern or recent Russian literature, media or politics [and the] economic situation”. He adds, “The thing is that people often learn Russian with a specific purpose and are motivated to learn more about these areas, while teachers may have difficulty finding reliable up-to-date information to answer their students’ questions.”
Learning more about the culture associated with a language is an important part of keeping language lessons up to date and relevant for students, and refresher courses need to address this requirement in their content. Another important aspect is to provide instruction in new or different methods of teaching a language. Neil Harris from Excel English in London, UK, says, “We aim to be as up-to-date as possible in terms of language development and methodology by adding new sessions each year. Recently we have added sessions on memory and its application in the language classroom as well as on the implications of English as a lingua franca and recent crossovers between material development and corpus linguistics.”
In France, Laurent Bailleul from Accord in Paris says that they also develop their teacher courses regularly to stay abreast of recent developments and new technology. “For instance, we offer a course that looks at how to exploit radio stations online in the language classroom,” he says. “Another course deals with the pedagogical advantages of the blog and one of our latest courses is about conceiving a comic strip using specific software.”
One particular development in the teacher training sector is an increasing demand for teacher courses for primary school teachers. Graham White, Principal of Eastbourne School of English in the UK, says that they have recently introduced a specific course for teachers of primary-aged children. “Increasingly we are attracting primary teachers as the age to start learning English goes down all over Europe and teachers need training,” he says. “English for Primary Teachers is a new course for teachers who need English language skills because they are now asked to teach English alongside their specialist subjects. The focus is on classroom interaction and classroom management in English.”
In some cases new course developments reflect the particular activities of the school providing the teacher training programmes. Rougos in Australia relates that they have recently introduced a specific course in order to train teachers for their own schools around the world. “We have developed teacher training for aviation English [and] deliver aviation English programmes around the world,” she says.
With interest in teacher training programmes likely to continue, and fuelled by government funding initiatives, some schools say that they are planning to focus more on this sector of language training in the future. White narrates that his school is likely to undertake more specialist teacher training in the future. “In the last two years we have been involved in an EU-funded project with two Ukrainian universities, giving consultancy in-country on methodology and materials development [and] providing courses for Ukrainian teachers in the UK, both in methodology and in language improvement,” he says.
In Russia, Chernyshov hopes to generate increased interest in professional development among teachers of Russian in the future. “This year we are launching Astra, Association of Schools and Teachers of Russian Abroad, which is aimed at promoting professional exchange and assistance, including teachers’ training courses and conferences in Russia, among Russian teachers in different countries,” he relates.
Teaching English overseas
For many native and advanced speakers of English, gaining an English language teaching qualification overseas is a good way of getting to travel and schools who offer such language courses report strong demand among students.
“In Noosa we have seen an explosion in numbers [for our Certificate IV in Tesol] in recent times,” says Ian Pratt from Global Village Noosa in Australia. “This is fuelled by our own demand for teachers in our Teacher’s Homestay programme. This is also a general acknowledgement in the community that Tesol training provides a wonderful opportunity to develop a highly marketable skill for travel overseas.”
Potential English language teachers can either undertake their course in an English-speaking country or in a country where demand for English language teachers is high. These courses are attractive for both those wanting to travel and support themselves overseas as well as in-country teachers. Sea English Academy in Brisbane, Australia, conducts courses for English language teachers in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia and the USA. “In the next few months we will commence our teacher training courses in Afghanistan,” says Kim Edwards at the school. She adds that their courses attract a “very high number” of students from non-English speaking backgrounds. “In Asia, our courses are very popular among Korean and Chinese teachers,” she says. “This is due to the increasing demand for English teachers in Korea and China. There is a particular increase among kindergarten and primary teachers in Asia,” she concludes.
Lyn Scott from English Language Company in Sydney, Australia, says that currently 50 per cent of students taking their teaching English as a second language programme are non-native speakers of English. The programme is offered twice a year in Beijing and provides a guaranteed placement as a teaching intern in a Chinese primary or high school for a period of six months. “The programme is particularly popular with recent graduates and those taking a gap year,” she says. “Many plan to become teachers in their own countries while others hope that their Mandarin skills and experience of living and working in China will be of benefit to their careers in business,” she says.