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Continuous Education for Teacher Trainers – What is it All About?
Mariza Riva de Almeida
Piri Szabó

It is normally assumed that teacher trainers are responsible for the education of teachers in general. But what about their own progress in their careers? Being a teacher trainer involves much more than having a certain post in a given institution. The search for further development has to be a constant aim if one takes teacher training seriously. It is in fact at this stage that one should go deeper in his/her studies, reflection and research.

It seems to be crucial for teacher trainers to go beyond aspects already proposed for the training/development of teachers. First of all it is necessary to demystify the idea that the word trainer has got a negative connotation. Although associated to pre-service, i.e., preparing teachers to start their work in a specific institution, it also involves helping teachers to become independent and confident, thus setting their own goals for their careers.

The need for constant reflection requires constant questioning of a series of aspects involved in teacher training and education. The following questions can help teacher trainers think about their careers:

1. What is the difference between being a teacher and a teacher trainer? Does one exclude the other?

2. Teachers have difficulty organizing the progress in their careers. What can we say about teacher trainers? Are you afraid of the word trainer ? Do you prefer to be called facilitator/mentor/ tutor ?

3. What are the difficulties that we (teacher trainers) face ? Are we engaged in continuous education ourselves or are we just passing on the knowledge we have acquired so far ?

4. Are we preparing teachers to face this changing world/ global world in which the behavior and the expectations of students and also the social and emotional aspects play an important role, or are we just concentrating on techniques and new trends in teaching the foreign language ?

Normally in pre-service it is expected that the trainers prepare teachers to work on learning strategies in the classroom, but only emphasizing the direct strategies proposed by Rebecca Oxford, and normally presented and worked with in different teaching materials. These strategies include cognitive strategies that have to do with dealing with the language itself (reasoning, analysing, practicing, using rules, and some others), memory strategies which help storage and retrieval (applying images and sounds, creating mental linkages, reviewing well and employing action), compensation strategies which mean dealing with the lack of knowledge, guessing intelligently and overcoming limitations.

As part of the continuous educational process, trainers should help teachers work on the indirect strategies also proposed by Rebecca Oxford. They certainly cater for a more humanistic perspective in teacher education, involving meta-cognitive strategies related to planning and organizing the students’ learning and centering and evaluating the students’ learning, affective strategies basically working on feeling and emotions related to the process of learning a language and finally the social strategies associated with human intra and inter personal skills.

Analysing both sets of strategies, i.e. the direct and indirect strategies, it seems to us that the indirect strategies have to be more carefully studied since they are very important in the process of learning a language. If students are aware of their strengths and limitations, they can learn how to cope with them, avoiding what Benson calls cognitive distortions, illogical ways of thinking that can lead to negative emotional states. When people can identify their cognitive distortions, they can begin to challenge them.

It is necessary to be aware of the possible cognitive distortions so that we learn better how to deal with the teachers and the students in our classrooms. They may include the following behaviors:

1. All or nothing thinking. You tend to evaluate situations in extreme, black-or-white categories. For example, a straight –A student who received a B on an exam concluded, “Now I’m a total failure.” This type of thinking is often the basis of perfectionism. Any mistake or imperfection is feared as the sign of a complete loser, inadequacy and worthlessness.

2. Overgeneralization. You see a single negative event as part of a continual pattern of defeat. One job interview that does not lead to an offer, arouses fears of life lifelong unemployment. The pain of rejection is generated almost entirely from overgeneralization.

3. Mental filter. You pick out a negative detail in any situation and dwell on it, thus perceiving the whole situation as negative. For example, after a midterm a student becomes depressed because she could not answer twenty out of one hundred questions. When her test was returned, a note said : “Congratulations ! You got eighty out of one hundred, by far the highest grade of any student this year.”

4. Discounting the positive. This is the tendency to transform neutral or even positive experiences into negative ones. For example, upon receiving a compliment, you think to yourself: “They’re just saying that to be nice.” This is one of the most destructive forms of illogical thinking because the price you pay is the inability to perceive good things in life.

5. Jumping to conclusions. You conclude the worst, even thought it is not justified by the facts . Two examples :

Mind reading : You assume that someone is reacting negatively to you, but you don’t bother to check it out. For example, you leave a message on a friend’s answering machine but she doesn’t immediately call back; you automatically assume she does not want to talk to you.

Fortune-telling: You anticipate that things will turn out negatively, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact. For example, a woman waiting to take a routine mammogram assumes she will be told she has cancer. This is often referred to as anticipatory anxiety.

6. Magnification. You exaggerate the significance of a negative event or a mistake. For example, if your bus is late and you have an important meeting, you say to yourself “I can’t take this .” This is an exaggeration - of course you can “take this”, you are already taking it. Conversely, you may inappropriately minimize positive personal qualities or events until they appear trivial. For example, when, complimented on an outstanding job, you say, “No big deal !”.

7. Emotional reasoning. You consider your emotions evidence of the truth. For example, you say, “I feel inadequate” and you think “therefore I must be a worthless person.”

8. “Should” statements. You try to motivate yourself by saying, “I should do this” or “ I must do that.” These statements not only make you feel pressured and resentful, but also, paradoxically, apathetic and unmotivated. Notice how much better it feels to say “I want to do that “ or “I choose to do this”. “Should statements directed toward others usually annoy them.

9. Labeling. This is name-calling. When you make a mistake, rather than simply acknowledging this one mistake, you label yourself, saying, “I’m a such a jerk” or “ I’m so stupid .“

10. Personalization and blame. You assume responsibility for negative event when there is no basis for doing so. For example, a student does not do his homework, but the teacher feels worthless and inadequate because the student is not motivated. This causes unnecessary guilt and self-blame. Conversely, some people blame others for negative events or feelings, even when there is no basis for doing so. For example, a man stalled in his career might say, “If my wife were more supportive, I would be a success.”

These distortions will vary from person to person and, of course, from group to group. The same way teachers should be aware of the potential distortions in their groups, teacher trainers should try to spot them in their trainees and help them deal with them. A very effective way of studying the cases would be through the development of action research as proposed by David Nunan or exploratory teaching as proposed by Dick Allwright, since research is necessarily a concern of teacher trainers and trainees.

When thinking about the continuous education of teacher trainers, it seems that the image of a loop applies perfectly well. The concerns and aims that teachers should have regarding their everyday practice and their students are similar to the ones of teacher trainers regarding their trainees. After all, a teacher trainer, no matter if he/she calls himself a facilitator, a mentor, a tutor or anything else is in essence primarily a teacher who should provide a very good model for his trainees. If not, the loop may not work – do what I say, but don’t do what I do should not be the message conveyed.


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