This week in our #ELTHeroes series we’ve been speaking to Amol Padwad. Amol teaches English in J. M. Patel College, Bhandara, Maharashtra. He is the Convener for AINET – the All India Network of English Teachers, and an ELT consultant with a special interest in teacher development.
1) Tell us a little bit about your career in English language teaching (ELT).
I worked as a primary teacher for two years and a secondary teacher for another two years before becoming a college teacher (for over 28 years now!). I became a teacher without any teaching qualifications; it was temporary employment to support myself during my higher studies. But I quickly realized that I loved teaching and decided to make it a career. Then I went on to do my Masters in English, MPhil, PhD, PGDTE and MEd TESOL, all the while working as a teacher. I am sure that the first four years in primary and secondary schools provided me with a solid foundation in ELT and in education in general. I am fortunate that over the years I could also go through richly diverse learning as a trainer, course designer, consultant, researcher, project manager and teacher association leader.
2) What advice do you have for teachers when they’re developing their skills and knowledge in the professional practice ‘understanding learners’?
Understanding our learners is a way to understand ourselves too as teachers and learners. In teacher education there is a notion called ‘apprenticeship of learning,’ which implies that when we become teachers we constantly rely on our memories of our own teachers to get ideas for our teaching. I would strongly recommend recalling not only what and how our teachers did, but also recalling what we did as learners, how we felt, what we wanted and what we got. There are many insights to be gained from our own experience as learners. (However, these insights need to be weighed against the radically changed circumstances of learning and profiles of learners now!) The process of developing skills and knowledge in ‘understanding learners’ should not ignore the simple fact that our learners are human beings and treating them as ‘whole persons’ should be the bottom line of all skills and knowledge in this area.
3) By what simple techniques can I make my colleagues and learners more active in using spoken English?
Unfortunately, there are no ‘simple’ techniques which can ensure quick output. A lot of complications – emotional, linguistic, contextual and situational – are involved when we find people hesitant to speak in English. I think, apart from insufficient language, fear of speaking in English is a key reason behind such hesitation. Developing language competence is a long and laborious process. Neither the teacher, nor the learner, should waste their time running after non-existent ‘Fluent English in xx Days’ kind of solutions. Language learning takes time. But what we can and should surely do is to promote a safe and encouraging atmosphere in staff rooms and classrooms, where people will not be afraid of speaking (and making mistakes). In this connection, one specific behavioural precaution we English teachers can take is not to ‘show off’ our English, tolerate mistakes made by others and concentrate more on what they say than how they say it. Whatever may be our actual English competence, others generally tend to view us as ‘experts’ and already feel extra pressure using English in our presence. But once they see that they could communicate in their ‘poor’ English (which may not be actually poor) and nobody bothered about the wrong grammar, a lot of fear is gone!
4) In today’s dynamic work environment, how can a teacher keep herself/himself motivated for their own continuing professional development (CPD)?
There are two opposite ways this question can be approached. We may begin by assuming that teachers are originally (‘by default’) unmotivated and hence they need to be motivated. Or we may assume that teachers are by default motivated, but there are ‘dampeners’ or obstacles which work against that motivation, which need to be removed. I think the second approach is more productive and does not take a ‘deficit view’ of teacher motivation. Because, in John Holt style, I wonder ‘do teachers have any vested interest in not growing?’ And I can’t yet find any.
So, if one wants to keep oneself motivated for CPD, I would suggest exploring what those ‘dampeners’ or obstacles are which work against our original interest in professional development. Some usual suspects are apathetic environment, unsupportive administration, lack of resources, heavy workload, lack of freedom and absence of incentives or rewards for CPD. Many of these are beyond the control of an individual – we probably can’t do much about them. It will take a long time and huge efforts to change the system, which may not happen until we retire. So the options are clear – we surrender to circumstances and confess that nothing can be done, or we accept them as reality and try to find hundreds of small ways in which we can do something for our own CPD. If you look around you will find a surprisingly large number of teachers doing wonderful little things in their small individual spaces and refusing to turn into ‘educational daily-wage labourers’. Let’s look up to them for motivation!
5) Some authorities and some teachers are very active in education. How can we make this process more inclusive and have active participation from all stakeholders?
I assume the word ‘active’ means making constructive and productive contribution to education. (Because there are authorities and teachers ‘active’ in education in many different ways!) Before we think of how to make this ‘activeness’ inclusive of other stakeholders, let’s first wonder why it does not include all (or most) authorities and teachers. Why only some authorities and teachers? Plausibly, these ‘some’ authorities and teachers are active of their own accord, active because they have some personal commitment and interest. The real challenge is how to develop an educational culture in which every teacher and authority shows such commitment and involvement. (And if authorities and teachers come, can other stakeholders be far behind?) This is a hugely complex challenge and I can’t think of any ready suggestions on how to tackle it. My hunch is that this issue of educational culture is related to the fundamental confusion our education system seems to suffer from – whether we want to run education as charity or business.