What Makes a Good EFL Teacher and How Can Teacher Educators Best Support Them?

This month we are publishing Early Professional Development in EFL Teaching by Chitose Asaoka. In this post the author explains how she came to study student teachers’ professional development in a Japanese EFL context.

Over the last twenty years, I have worked as a teacher educator of English as a Foreign Language in Japan. In order to become a secondary school teacher in Japan, you need to attend a teacher certification programme offered at a university and acquire a teaching qualification upon graduation. As a teacher educator in one such programme, I have always tried to mentor and accommodate student teachers (most of whom are native speakers of Japanese) through many situations and contexts.

In a teacher certification programme, student teachers learn about up-to-date approaches and methods of teaching English, such as communicative practice and student-centred approaches. They also learn how to use English effectively as a medium of instruction, which is one of the most-recently introduced education policies in Japan. During a three-week period of teaching practice at schools, however, many of the student teachers face the reality of the classroom and are asked to adjust to school contexts. Thus, they often cannot freely put what they have acquired into practice. For example, I frequently hear post-practicum stories from them, where they are asked to teach with the grammar-translation method, since passing the entrance exam is still a big priority for students. Moreover, they are not often allowed to teach in English, for various reasons, which is different from their pre-practicum expectations.

In many such cases, student teachers are often isolated and struggle to resolve the challenges by themselves. I am also remote from their actual school-based experiences and can only monitor their development through their teaching logs or stories when they come back to the university. Thus, questions were raised in my mind, and I started to feel the necessity to re-examine the process of student teachers’ professional development in a Japanese EFL context, as well as the kinds of experiences and challenges that they typically go through. For them to become good English teachers, what qualities are necessary, and what kinds of support can we provide as teacher educators? These questions inspired me to embark upon an empirical study in which I monitored how student teachers developed their teacher expertise, how their views on what makes a good English teacher shifted and developed, and what factors had an impact on their learning-to-teach processes.

Through detailed case studies created from interviews and reflective journals, this inquiry delves into the particular context of initial teacher education in Japan and draws out unique perspectives on student teachers’ professional development in initial teacher education. This book also shows the possible need to intervene at various stages of language teacher education, which is highly relevant for other settings of initial teacher education programmes beyond Japan. I hope that the findings presented in this book will be of interest and value to future teachers, in-service teachers, teacher educators and researchers interested in teacher education and the professional development of foreign language teachers.

Chitose Asaoka
casaoka@dokkyo.ac.jp

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Reflective Practice as Professional Development by Atsuko Watanabe. 

Reflective Practice as Professional Development

This month we are publishing Reflective Practice as Professional Development by Atsuko Watanabe. In this post, Atsuko explains a bit more about the background to the book.

Reflective Practice as Professional DevelopmentThis book attempts to fill an important gap in the professional development of English teachers in Japan.

In March 2003, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan announced an action plan, Japanese with English Abilities, to foster the English abilities of Japanese nationals. The action plan had an unprecedented impact on the nation’s extensive English language teaching sectors, one of which was a compulsory teacher training seminar for all the English language teachers of public junior and senior high schools in Japan to improve their ‘teaching ability’ of English. MEXT was influenced by the business community which promoted the importance of improving teachers’ English proficiency in order to compete at an international level. What was missing from the teacher training seminar was taking account of the teachers’ experiences. Reflective practice, which encourages the teachers to look back and examine their ideas and experiences of teaching, is an essential element of professional development.

This book illustrates a study of reflective practice which was conducted with a group of in-service teachers. By looking back at one’s teaching, reflective practice also allows teachers to enhance self-awareness and to foster autonomy.

As reflective practice was a new concept in Japan, the book took into account some Japanese conventions which are deeply rooted in the culture, such as tatemae (official front) and honne (real intent) in communication, and hansei (self-critical reflection). As a researcher, I attempted not to influence the honne of the participants and not to engage them in hansei. This approach involved the teachers in different types of dialogue: with the researcher, with other teachers, and with themselves. The book also explores what it means to reflect, and examines whether reflection follows a hierarchical sequence and specific stages. The book discusses the following:

  • The reflective continuum as opposed to hierarchical stages of reflection
  • Consolidation of professional identity for novice teachers
  • Consolidation of professional identity for experienced teachers
  • Teachers’ exploration of teacher cognition
  • Teachers’ engagement in reflective interventions, focus group discussion, journal writing, and interviews.

This book outlines a novel approach of allowing teachers to look at their teaching through different perspectives which lead them to develop professionally through shaping and reshaping their professional identity and teacher cognition. Through the illustration of the researcher’s engagement in reflection and reflexivity, the book is also useful for researchers who are interested in conducting a study of reflective practice. Reflective practice is an essential part of professional development and this book will help all teachers to understand reflective practice and engage in it in their teaching contexts.

Exploring Japanese University English Teachers'€™ Professional IdentityFor further information about the book, please see our website. You might also be interested in our other title Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’€™ Professional Identity by Diane Hawley Nagatomo.