Implications of defending CBs

Photo posted with the permission of Yesim Cakir

Photo posted with the permission of Yesim Cakir

The discussions usually revolve around why using Coursebook is good and we find the three main arguments below coming up over and over again.

  • Saving prep time afterall teachers don’t have the luxury of time to prepare the same quality material.
  • Novice teachers need them. They do not have enough experience to design good lessons and still learning how to manage classes.
  • Non-native teachers may not have enough control of the language to be a good model so CBs packs are really useful.

In all the discussions I’ve seen so far these three points come up as the main defense of course books.  None of them, however talks about language learning or is really related to pedagogy. They are lame excuses which are being perpetuated without giving much thought of the implications and also protecting the interests of some. Not teachers and not learners of course. So, here is why it is so.

Saving prep time shows that teachers working conditions suck.

Novice teachers are usually left to deal with their own PD.  It says that the coursebook will do the job for them and that novice teachers are not good enough to take the job on their own hands.

Novice teachers need a good PD program with mentors. Shall we start talking about working conditions? Or why not all teachers are seen as professionals but reduced to instructors?  There is a huge problem in the way the service is provided and no one seems to care. Not even those who pay for the sevice – learners and parents. because no one tells them about the novice teacher or unqualified teacher.

The third argument is my favorite, but also the one that makes me cry every time I think about it. Teachers who got a degree in uni here are disrespected by students and colleagues without a proper qualification because they don’t have a good control of the language while the ones who do haven’t got a clue of how unqualified they are to teach.  This reduces teaching English to knowing the language, and qualifications as secondary or to some contexts not even a pre-requisite for teaching. Language schools market themselves based on their method or having native speaker teachers. Teachers are really secondary for the business especially when they work with cheap labour, those without qualifications. Do you see the problems that raise with this line of thinking? At the same time that people argue that lack of quality in teachers is a problem, they also defend a good material to solve the problem. Is it like that in your country? It’s in Brazil. The problem here goes from University not preparing teachers for teaching in English to opportunists like me taking jobs in language schools and helping the system roll. Why don’t people consider the reason why teachers are leaving uni without being a competent user of English and try to make things change from there?

But here is the real picture: classes in uni are in Portuguese and then there is the need to have teachers to teach English. A perfect combination for those who lived abroad or finished their courses in a language school at the age of 17 and love the language. AND also why regular schools perpetuate the structural syllabus and traditional practices.

So grammar focus survives despite of its inneficiency. Why? Easy to teach and test (but let’s not forget hell to learn). The easy to teach and test is every where. To enter university English test is about grammar and that explains why they have to teach grammar in regular schools. This is just a cover up for the real problem.

Unqualified teachers with good control of English, thank God, can’t teach in regular schools, so the proliferation of language schools continue marketing that globalization demands you to know English well.  All of this continue to support this oppressive system where business rules. But who cares! At the end of the day what matters is that we get our paycheck and survive this horrid system.

Let’s face it! The industry of teaching English doesn’t care about quality and few schools do. Politicians are the ones who dictate what language to make mandatory and behind it there is a long history of why it’s done this way. And this leads us to another reason why native speakers are sought to replace local teachers and supports the idea that all you need is to know the language.

For countries like mine where most people haven’t got a clue why they have to learn English, the education that would prepare teachers to teach better in regular schools does not exist yet. English in schools  are mandatory but conditions to really teach are not given, cared for or valued and because of that, it will continue to perpetuate the fallacy that you only learn English if you go to an English country, or study with a native, But as there aren’t really as many natives working here and most of us won’t be able to travel abroad, learners are stuck with language schools which can be anything really.  More often than not it is about money and keeping customers so they spend big money on creating a brand name and marketing while there is no much money left to improve teachers conditions or making an investment on a mentoring program to prepare newly qualified teachers or unqualified ones.

Stop talking about teaching and focus on learning and see what happens. 

If we move the discussion from teaching to learning we will get a different picture and I wonder if learners participated in this debate how would they feel.  As a language learner, I know how I feel: deceived.

#Notallcoursebooks are bad could be a starting point to eliminate the ones that are.  I just saw one recently from OUP that was video-based, focused on speaking and listening and light enough to adapt. This was a superficial evaluation that needs further look at the type of tasks, the principles that underlies the material pedagogy, etc.

A lot of discussions also argue that teachers do not have the know-how to assess or create their own course even if they are experienced teachers, and another point is that research rarely makes the classroom.

Do you wanna know why research does not meet classroom practice?  Because research inform us of better practices and help us evaluate purpose and context, and industry dictates how and what we teach even in regular schools. The book industry is everywhere. Remember what I said about English been mandatory but most teachers with a college degree do not have enough language control and the conditions to teach suck? Well that’s when the superhero comes in. They have the solution to all our problems. A grammar syllabus packed beautifully makes English look good and easy to teach and test. Then experienced teachers job is only to adapt to the material. They have the solution, there is not need to look for trouble.

Are we ready to unveil reality as it is and take action? Are non-native teachers going to fight for their own quality education so they don’t have to feel less than those who had a chance to learn English abroad or had the money to go to an English school before entering uni?  Are teachers ready to fight for quality education for everyone?

Are there people out there trying their best to minimize the damages of the system and contribute to a better world?  Yes and I’m in fact a product of their efforts. But this is a social problem that can only be solved if we tackle the root of the problem and it is much bigger than we might have realised, and much more cruel than we want to acknowledge.

Avoiding discussing the problem and the social, economical and political aspects of this debate and focusing on the pedagogical side of it (promoting more PD to solve the gap of qualification and language proficiency) only contributes for a fraction and does not promote real change. I can see friends shaking their heads in disbelief now after all, I had a promissing career in ELT industry. But I can’t really see this debate from the pedagogical perspective only. If change is possible, I’m fighting for it. If not, I’ll end up without many friends. I understand I can’t have it both ways. But I won’t apologise for taking a stand and choosing not to be neutral in this debate.

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3 thoughts on “Implications of defending CBs

  1. Oh bravo! bravo! bravo! Rose. Learning, learning, learning. Almost always, it has nothing to do with me, but with the person in front of me who is managing it in his/her own time. Create a safe, inclusive, stimulating space and the learning will happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Coursebooks: the Thick and the Thin End of the Wedge | Freelance Teacher Self Development

  3. Pingback: Coursebooks: a necessary evil? (part 1) – tjhampson

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