Language Teachers’ Beliefs in Their Own Ability

This month we are publishing Exploring Language Teacher Efficacy in Japan by Gene Thompson. In this post the author writes about his experience running language teacher workshops in Japan.

How confident are you about successfully completing different teaching activities? What are the factors that influence those beliefs? Are there any experiences that have influenced your confidence towards different teaching tasks?

I confronted these questions during my time contributing to language teacher training workshops in Japan. Working with a licence renewal program and teacher developmental initiatives in a regional prefecture, I observed a huge difference in the confidence of attendees towards implementing government mandated language teaching curricula reforms that encouraged a more communicative focus in English language classes.

For secondary school teachers, the new policy required them to use English as a teaching language. Certain individuals were very confident about doing so – even excited about it. Others were less certain of their capability to carry out lessons effectively if they had to use English with students. Some were completely devoid of any certainty that they could accomplish anything with their students if they were forced to use English when teaching.

What lay behind these beliefs? For many teachers – as users of English themselves – personal ideas about their own English language seemed to be an important factor. Equally, for many teachers, the demands of their teaching environment seemed to be an important part of the equation. For some participants, their school had a motivated and well-resourced teaching staff. For others, student motivation was low and many of their learners had not mastered the skills taught in previous years.

Many participants observed our seminars and simply rejected everything we presented. Quite quickly, my colleagues and I realized that our seminars were much more effective when we made them into workshops. Generally, we would provide a ‘recipe’ for using a teaching strategy (e.g. using the ‘sandwich’ technique) with a certain learner group, then push our attendees to think about how they could change or apply that technique in their classrooms – often challenging them to try them out on each other using microteaching or other practice activities.

We couldn’t cover as much ground in our sessions in workshop fashion. However, we found not only that our participants developed knowledge about different teaching strategies, but also that our sessions could influence – to a greater degree – the extent to which participants felt confident in their ability to actually employ the ideas from our workshops in their classrooms.

This experience stimulated the research presented in Exploring Language Teacher Efficacy in Japan, as I became interested in the relationship between teacher beliefs of capability, their personal abilities, and the influence of contextual demands upon their beliefs and practice.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.