Gary Barkhuizen: Language Teacher Educator Identity

When I wrote my post on social media, I made positive comments about Twitter. Not only can this social network help you connect with like-minded individuals, but you can also find out about some interesting offers. This tweet caught my attention a couple of months ago. Gary Barkhuizen, a professor at the University of Auckland, announced that his brand new book was available for free for a limited period of time. Since I like collecting useful resources, I took advantage of that option and downloaded the book. To my delight, I found out that Language Teacher Educator Identity is based on the author’s interviews with English teacher educators based in Colombia.

Gary Barkhuizen: Language Teacher Educator Identity

At the beginning of the book, Barkhuizen lists fourteen types of language teacher educators, ranging from academic leaders to teachers of English for specific purposes. He also differentiates between continuous professional development, which focuses on developing a knowledge base, and intervention-based teacher training. I am particularly interested in the latter because even though you can learn a lot from reading books and academic articles, I feel that I have made a lot of progress as a teacher thanks to my CELTA and Delta Module Two tutors. A simple comment from an experienced teacher trainer who has observed your lesson can lead to positive changes in your teaching practice. Of course, many teachers eventually figure out a lot of things by themselves, but quality teacher training can considerably speed up the process.

By the way, it was quite amusing to see the usual Colombia vs. Columbia mix-up in the book. This is a touchy subject because Colombians usually aren’t happy to see their country’s name misspelled. The good news is that this is the first time I have seen someone make the mistake the other way round! It seems Barkhuizen (or possibly his editors) decided to join the good fight by referring to the place of his doctoral studies in the US as ‘Teachers College, Colombia University’. Twice. I for one approve of this change in spelling conventions!

The main body of the book refers to a study that was conducted with seven teacher educators enrolled in a doctoral programme at a Colombian university. Barkhuizen interviewed them twice, and the book includes their biographical information and key comments from the interview. This is very valuable data and I really enjoyed reading it. I was particularly intrigued by mentions of decolonial pedagogy and social justice in some of the respondents’ answers.

As its name implies, Language Teacher Educator Identity deals with who teacher educators are, what they do, and how they feel about their role. Barkhuizen points out that the transition from being a language teacher to working as a teacher educator often leads to experiencing identity tensions because teaching students is not the same as training teachers. I hadn’t really thought of this before, but since I would like to become a teacher trainer in the future, this is something I need to be aware of.

The author also makes several recommendations relevant to language teacher education pedagogy. I agree that is important to take the context of teacher education and language teaching into account, and that teacher educators should make their goals explicitly clear. It is also necessary to pay attention to the teachers’ needs. Not doing so may result in delivering ineffective workshops serving only as a box-ticking exercise with no practical use. Another crucial point is keeping in touch with new knowledge and not relying on outdated ideas.

After describing what roles teacher educators usually fulfil, Barkhuizen focuses again on Colombia. He references Viáfara and Largo’s article Colombian English Teachers’ Professional Development: The Case of Master Programs, which is worth reading. Among other things, the authors mention ineffective policies, lack of support, unfavourable job conditions and other issues that MA candidates and graduates have to face, which won’t surprise anybody working in education. Barkhuizen then refers to his interviews with the group of Colombian teacher educators again, this time presenting their reasons for pursuing their PhD degree. It was nice to read their honest answers, and many teachers who are in the same situation will undoubtedly sympathise with them.

The final section includes forty questions encouraging research into teacher educator identities. I appreciate the fact that the author doesn’t shy away from topics such as opposing or resisting the existing system and its practices, which is something that deserves to be researched. There are quite a few thought-provoking topics that I would like to find out more about. I would definitely be interested in reading experienced teacher trainers’ answers to some of the questions.

Language Teacher Educator Identity is a book that focuses on an area that doesn’t usually receive much attention. Barkhuizen refers to relevant research and his own study conducted with Colombian teacher educators. What I really like is that the book is interspersed with the author’s personal stories relevant to each area, which is perfectly appropriate for a text dealing with identity. I am glad that the Twitter post promoting Language Teacher Educator Identity appeared in my feed because this book provided me with plenty of food for thought, and I will definitely read it again if I become a teacher trainer at some point in the future.

Mike Long: Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching

When you start teaching English in Colombia in an entry-level position, you are usually given a coursebook and told how many units you are supposed to cover. I assume this is common in many parts of the world because it’s the most convenient way to teach languages. However, it doesn’t seem to be the most effective approach. It’s definitely a good idea to explore other options, so I would like to focus on a book written by Michael H. Long, a proponent of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT).

Long’s work deserves a lot of attention, and I recommend that you listen to this interview with him on the SLB Podcast. I had written a draft of this blog post about his book Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching several months ago, and this paragraph originally included more positive information. Sadly, Professor Long passed away in February this year. You can read more about this brilliant scholar and his impact on teachers around the world on this website created in his memory.

Mike Long: Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching

The first part of the book deals with second language acquisition (SLA). I find this topic fascinating because the fine details of our language learning process are still shrouded in mystery. Long does a great job of describing the main SLA theories and their practical implications. Even though I had previously studied ideas of well-known academics like Krashen and Prahbu, I learnt something new about their work. Right from the beginning, you will notice that Long is very diligent when it comes to referring to books and studies. In fact, there are no fewer than 56 pages of references at the end of Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching!

Long argues against treating languages as objects, and he is definitely not a fan of the synthetic approach. Dividing a foreign language into small pieces and teaching them one at a time doesn’t necessarily lead to good results. My own experience as a Spanish learner and an English teacher certainly confirms that assumption. Why do so many Colombian students say “he have” when the present simple is dealt with in one of the first units of every coursebook for beginners? I don’t think that we learn languages by simply imitating what the teacher or the coursebook says. Half of my students keep saying I am agree, but I have never taught them that and it doesn’t appear in the coursebook either. It seems that explicit teaching of individual items doesn’t always work well in real life.  

Obviously, Long proposes TBLT as a more appropriate way of teaching languages. What I love about his book is the fact that it’s not just about language. Long talks about the role of education and TBLT’s philosophical principles, and emphasises the need to treat students as rational human beings. Learning by doing, emancipation and egalitarian teacher-student relationships are one of the principles mentioned, and I think it’s difficult to disagree with any of them. I definitely feel more comfortable when my students see me as a communication partner rather than a person of authority who is meant to lecture them about the wonders of English grammar.

The book provides you with concrete steps for implementing Task-Based Language Teaching in a classroom setting. Long suggests abandoning coursebooks, which may seem like a radical idea, but there are pretty good reasons for that. If you want your course to be truly personalised and relevant, you need to conduct a needs analysis and design the course for your group of students from scratch. In addition to syllabus design, the book deals with materials, methodological principles and evaluation. It also provides useful advice related to focus on form and giving negative feedback to students.

Everything in the book makes perfect sense to me and I have no doubt that TBLT is very effective. Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching should be read by those responsible for the way English is taught in their organisation. That said, as Long himself admits, his version of TBLT is unlikely to replace traditional coursebook-driven teaching. To be honest, I can’t imagine many Colombian institutions spending money on needs analyses, course design and training teachers in TBLT when they can simply adopt a structural syllabus provided by a coursebook. It just doesn’t seem to be a financially viable option.

I would love to get a chance to work on a TBLT project at some point in the future. In the meantime, I plan to keep going beyond the coursebook as much as possible because I believe that my students benefit from using English in a meaningful manner. Even if your course ends with a discrete-point test of grammar and lexis, it’s perfectly fine to deviate from an externally imposed syllabus from time to time. Designing tasks and materials that are more relevant for your learners is undoubtedly more demanding than just following your coursebook, but it will lead to a more satisfying experience for both you and your students.