Sally Hirst offers help for those embarking on teacher training for the first time.
The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of English Teaching professional magazine.
It happens to us all at some time or another. Just when you have got to the point where you know you can keep the kids' class on task for more than two minutes, get adults to spend at least some of the time using English when they work in groups and field all those surprise questions without panicking, someone asks you to do a 'session' for teachers. And, like a lot of things that are likely to be a good idea in the long term, it is rather daunting in the short term. For all but the supremely confident, that air of comfortable competence that it has taken some considerable time to achieve, crumbles under a cloud of nervous anticipation. However, it needn't.
Transferring your skills
You'll have read about transferring sub-skills and strategies from Ll into L2, but let me jog your memory. Take reading, for example. When we read something in a newspaper in Ll, we have already glanced at the headline and the photo, so we have an idea of what the article is going to be about. This means that as we read we already have a schema, or at least expectations in place, which makes processing the words, sentences and ideas as a whole fast and effective. We are not even conscious of this happening unless something doesn't conform to our expectations, causing us to stop, go back and check and readjust our ideas. When faced with a reading text in L2, some learners fail to exploit natural strategies like prediction, approach the text in a completely different way, get bogged down in collecting the words and bits of structure they don't know and declare reading to be difficult. Many coursebooks and teachers now try to encourage learners to transfer aspects of skills from their Ll, where they are competent, to L2, where things are more difficult. You probably do this yourself on a regular basis and you have also probably found that it helps the learners cope with texts better. That is a very similar situation to a teacher who already works effectively in their language classroom trying to do much the same thing with the slightly different audience of a group of teachers. The same logic applies. You have already mastered most of the skills you need to do a great session with teachers. The trick is not to let your new audience distract you from keeping your eyes on the basics.
Know your audience
If you were assigned a new class, your first questions would be about their level, motivation and needs. The more you know about these, the better you can pitch the lesson. The same is true of teachers.
How often have you prepared a lesson in the splendid isolation of not having a class in mind, and how would you rate its chance of success were you to do so? While that chance might not be zero, you'd probably agree that it would be lower than normal and the same goes for sessions for teachers. So, if it is possible to find out how long they have been teaching, what they know about and are interested in, whether they are in your audience voluntarily or not and what they expect to get out of the session, you'll be a lot nearer your usual position of preparedness.
Know your aims
On a less than inspired day, your aim might only be to get to the end of the unit in the book. This won't work with teachers as there is no book. On an inspired day, your lesson might take off at a tangent from a point in your plan and turn into an improvisational, creative and productive experience for everyone. This can happen with teachers too, but as with teenage learners, it is not something you can bank on, so in the meantime you need clear aims and a good plan.
Your aims may be dictated by the person who has asked you to do the session, but if they have only given you a title, then try to get them to clarify what they want: practice, the theory behind it, instant activities or a little of everything. If the choice is yours, once again, your best strategy would be to find out what the teachers would like to know about.
Plan your lesson
Maybe you are thinking that this goes without saying, but you might not remember how in your early days of teaching, you planned much more carefully. You didn't have all those little tricks and techniques up your sleeve to make a lesson go more smoothly, so you relied on planning. Until you build up a repertoire of techniques for working with teachers, you need to use the support of careful planning again, and to plan, you need to know exactly what sort of knowledge you are trying to put across, draw attention to or elicit.
Practise what you preach
Remember to practise what you preach. A 90-minute lecture on the joys of learner-centredness doesn't show how effective it can be as an approach. The most effective sessions use the techniques and approaches that you are promoting, so you could do a jigsaw listening that contained information about how, why and when teachers might want to do a jigsaw listening. Tessa Woodward calls this loop input. When a topic lends itself to loop input, it gives a session a very satisfying sense of coherence for both you and your participants.
Maintain a balance
Even if you can't create perfect loop input, you can still use tried and tested classroom techniques to achieve a variety of pace and focus and a balance of activities. Milling activities, find your partner, information gap and team games can all be run using teacher content as opposed to language learner content. Consider a pyramid discussion on the use of Ll in the classroom, for example. Brainstorming can be fruitful, but don't overdo it. Vary the methods that you use to introduce ideas, and change groupings regularly.
Create your own materials
One thing that is distinctly different about writing a session for teachers is that you are probably going to make all the materials yourself. The books that are out there are more often on how to go about it in general. Rare is the book full of photocopiable activities, so there isn't the scope for browsing for something appropriate that you are used to with language lessons. It is usually quicker to accept this from the start and just get on with making your own cards or writing your own text.
Let participants participate
Think back to the very first days of your teaching and you might remember that you did a bit too much of the work and tried to pack too much into lessons. These are traps that many of us fall into, and it is all too easy to repeat that behaviour if you are feeling a bit nervous about doing something new. So plan your time, include flexi-stages and make sure you are getting your participants to do most of the work. Don't just present things. Ask for reactions, comments and how they think ideas could be adapted. Giving more power to participants is riskier. They might voice opinions or ask questions that you are not fully prepared to deal with. But remember how much more productive language classes became when you gained enough confidence to give your learners more freedom, even though it meant occasionally admitting that you didn't know something.
Perhaps you think I have only stated the obvious, and in a sense it is obvious. However, looking back through my teaching diaries, where I go through the same steep learning curve with language learners and then all over again with teachers, I have to admit it only became obvious to me with hindsight, and watching others around me suggests I am not alone in this.