Excellence in the Language Classroom. Native or non-native speaker?
In most work places people get jobs because of their qualifications and experience, yet increasingly we see institutions in the state or private sector advertising posts for ‘native speakers’ to teach languages. No mention of teaching qualifications or professionalism, simply ‘native speaker’. Could this be considered discrimination? Some people clearly feel it is.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU article 21 states:
Any discrimination based on any grounds such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinions, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited
Within the scope of application of the treaty establishing the European community and of the treaty on European Union, and without prejudice to the special provisions of those treaties, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.
So, what exactly is a native speaker? According to the Cambridge Dictionary of English, a native speaker is “someone who has spoken a particular language since they were a baby, rather than having learned it as a child or adult”. Noticeably, it does not say that a native speaker is a language teacher. Neither does it allow for those who have grown up in another country with immigrant parents speaking their own tongue at home.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the title. Well, I want to write about professionalism and excellence in language teaching and I want to be certain that you understand that I am not defining teachers by their origins, but by their skills and qualifications, their educational values and their willingness to invest in CPD.
What would I expect from a professional language teacher?
To begin with, I would want to know that they hold a CELTA or equivalent TEFL qualification alongside their degree or a higher-level teaching certificate.
They would know how to plan a lesson around learner needs and have at least a basic knowledge of the CEFR level descriptors. Their lesson plan would have a clear aim linked to student learning outcomes and would fit logically into a sequence of lessons. If asked why they are doing something, I would expect to hear a considered rationale based on the learner (level, needs, interests, age, background, learning style, etc.) and class (the number of students, classroom layout, teaching aids, etc.)
It follows, then, that there would be stage aims linked to the main aim, just challenging enough without being demotivating. The transitions from one stage to another would be smooth and seamless, as would the time allocated to each stage. I would want to see how the teacher plans to introduce and teach new lexis and language and if it is relevant to the learners. Predicting possible learner difficulties and being ready with solutions. These are the signs of a true professional.
What about the lesson itself?
The lesson should be centred on the learners and provide plenty of opportunities for the learners to speak and learn. If a learner comes to the classroom and says, “I have a terrible week!” I would hope to see the teacher focusing on the sentence to develop language and lexis even if it was not in the original lesson plan. After all, learning is exciting, messy, and unpredictable. No plan can predict everything to perfection.
Good board work is a visual aid and supports what is being presented in class. Teachers should think about directions that are easy to follow, resulting in learners understanding better and being able to organise and develop the taught language functions and notions. As with any other tool that supports the learner, be it technology, handouts, or realia, board work needs to be useful.
Monitoring and feedback are paramount. Pronunciation needs to be corrected and improved. The way in which errors are dealt with and when they are dealt with should be considered too. I like to see teachers using the space well and managing the classroom so as to create a dynamic learning environment: moving the desks and other furniture appropriately is a must!
Reflective teaching is essential, but reflective learning is just as important. Planning time for learners to reflect and discuss what they have or have not learnt is also useful feedback for the teacher to plan the next lesson.
Teachers working for a good, accredited language school will be supported and offered continuous professional development and training in innovative methodology. It is reassuring to know that an institution is an accredited member of and adheres to a set of quality standards, such as those set down in the AISLi or Eaquals Charters. I would know that these schools guarantee professionalism and experience in their academic staff and that the teachers, no matter what their native tongue, are able to motivate, inspire, and believe that every student can achieve success.