It is well over a decade since I emerged from university with a master’s degree to forge a career in teaching. I wanted to be involved in a dynamic approach to teaching language, determined that I would not reproduce the book-centred approach that had been my experience at second level; an approach that was far removed from the living language I loved.
I naively believed that the Department of Education would recognise the importance of languages in developing a dynamic workforce.
The first disappointment came during the H. Dip with a methodologies session once a week. It espoused the virtues of the communicative approach but offered little or no guidance about innovative teaching approaches. So while we were told not to ground our teaching in a textbook, we were left to our own devices regarding alternatives.
When I was lucky enough to find full-time employment, I believed my desire to be the best language teacher I could would be supported by continuous professional development (CPD). In reality, there has been little or no meaningful CPD since I qualified.
I have never been offered in-service training from the Department in my language, although I have been in my other subjects, which are core curriculum subjects.
The paltry number of places on summer language schemes offered by the Department of Education means that although I have applied many times, I have never been offered a place. I am one of those victims of the Celtic Tiger who is saddled with negative equity while struggling to raise a young family so for me, travelling regularly to the country where my language is spoken is not financially possible.
In reality, any meaningful CPD I have received in my career has come about through in-house collaborative meetings between all foreign-language teachers in the school, the tireless work of my subject organisation (run by volunteers), through English websites such as tes.co.uk and mflresources.org.uk, and most recently, through the marvel of Twitter (perhaps the most under-rated CPD tool of our time).
In the meantime, I have been inspected as a foreign-language teacher on more than one occasion, a process I believe should be part of any ongoing professional development.
Yet on each occasion I have found the experience demoralising and meaningless. The inspectors did not have any knowledge of the widely spoken European language that I teach, save for “a small bit I remember from school”.
I want to improve and I want to discover new ways of engaging the learners in my classroom but until those charged with educating the educators take an interest in developing the professional competencies of their charges, the future for both foreign-language teachers and learners in this country is bleak.
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