By Laxman Gnawali
Senior Vice President, NELTA
Whenever the issue of teacher training comes up, I start visualizing an event which I witnessed as a student in 1976 when I was a student at Grade VI. This event left an indelible question in my mind. As an inquisitive student I used to listen to what my teachers said and observe what they did to find a correlation between their words and deeds. Once our English teacher told us in class that he was going to Kathmandu for a three month training course; there he would gain knowledge. He returned after three months and resumed his work. Intuitively, I had developed an expectation that when he came back, he would teach us in a different way. I did not expect a better way as I had no idea of what good teaching was, but I expected some difference in his activities in his classroom teaching. To my disappointment, he started with the same method of translating the texts, giving us grammar exercises and asking us the Nepali equivalents of English terms. There was no difference in him and his practice. A question struck me: what had he been doing for three months? I thought training meant learning new things. What had he learnt then? For years the question lingered: What difference did the training make to my teacher?
In 2000 I went to the College of St Mark and St John Plymouth (now, University College Plymouth St Mark St John) to a Master’s course in Teacher Development, the interactions with my tutors and other professionals, professional literature, visits to different institutes and conferences answered the question that haunted me for years. Then I realised that any training that does not relate to the real classroom world, examination system, local context, and trainees’ mental constructs, their needs and expectations cannot achieve the desired goals. Training that takes place away from the school environment without monitored school-based practice or follow–up cannot be transferred to the classroom. Training contents based on trainees’ needs and participant-centred experiential learning approach in the training can make a difference in teacher learning. For teachers to develop in the job, they need to constantly reflect on their practice. As Burns (1999:12) says
‘reflective analysis of one’s own teaching develops a greater understanding of the dynamics of classroom practice and leads to curriculum change and that enhances learning outcomes for students’.
Appropriate ways to structure the reflection are classroom observation and collaborative action research. Justifying the role of classroom investigation for professional growth Burns (1999:12) writes,
‘researching one’s own classrooms and teaching contexts is something which can, and should, be considered by language teachers, as a realistic extension of professional practice’.
Now I understood why my teacher did not show any difference in his classroom practice.
In the dissertation I submitted to the College, I tried to justify my view on the role of classroom observation and classroom action research for teacher development. I also discussed my belief that in-service training can be an important step to guide teachers towards their self-directed developmental activities. Based on these discussions, I proposed a course which incorporated training-centre-based activities and school-based practice.
Since my return, I have invested all my energy to implement what I proposed in the dissertation through the MED and PGDE programmes at Kathmandu University and NELTA-led in-service training and the results have been positive. However, as there is so much to be done in this area, I keep reciting Robert Frost’s lines:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Modified excerpt from the Introduction to my dissertation Investigating Classroom Practices: A Proposal for Teacher Development for the Secondary School: Teachers of English in Nepal submitted to the College of St mark and St John, Plymouth, UK, 2001)