Friday, 27 July 2012

Training to become a Secondary Languages Teacher –What You Need to Know

This year I have been invited by one of my local universities to help out recruiting PGCE candidates for Modern Languages. The process has been really interesting to reflect on the reputation of teaching as a career in general and of language teachers in particular.
Throughout the process, I have been amazed at the range of backgrounds prospective candidates can come from. From native speakers straight from college to mature students and “career switchers” and every possible other set of personal and professional circumstances in between.
So, the first thing you would need to show is your personal motivation to train as a language teacher. There is really nothing surprising here but the challenge is to address both sides of the role-the teacher bit AND the language specialist bit.
Everybody has got an opinion about what a good teacher should be like, but the teaching role seen through the eyes of a student-or ex-student-can be really far from the truth. The only point of reference any non-teacher has is always their own experience of education, which will be either seen through rose-tinted glasses or at best-gasp-outdated. Even if you left school only 6 years ago as a student in the UK, I am sorry to say, but the vast majority of your experience as a student might be obsolete already. Yes, really.   
Whether you were educated or not in the UK, you will have to show that you have done your homework and you do know what the current situation is. Please do not mention motivational problems due to compulsory language learning at KS4 as this would now affect only a very small minority of schools.
So, what makes a good MFL lesson? Your only way to find out is really to see one so ask your local school if you can come in to observe. A bit of reading might help too and there are plenty of pointers available online on the Times Educational Supplement and Guardian websites as well as many resources for language lessons. So, how would you teach a Y9 class about transport in France? Just have a look at what practising teachers did. You just need to register to have free access to the site and be able to download any resources from it. Who knows, if you do get onto that PGCE course, you should be able to return the favour too…
What else would you need to keep in mind? Showing an awareness  of the qualities needed to teach children and the wider demands of the role is useful too.
You also need to show that you have thought about specific challenges like dealing with parents, teaching children with a wide range of needs and backgrounds as well as considered some strategies to deal with classroom management issues. No, you will not be expected to know it all but if you are aware of possible issues, you will be able to develop strategies more effectively to cope with them.  
Then, there are specific issues linked with native speakers. As a native speaker myself, my best advice would be to be honest and humble.   Yes, being a native speaker can be an advantage but you will also have to show that you can adapt to a different educational context and that you can empathise with your students and provide them with the appropriate support non-native speakers need to develop their own linguistic skills. I wrote about this back in 1997 at the beginning of my teaching career and many of the points I made then on p54, I would still make now…

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