Teacher Qualification Frameworks and Equity in Hiring

Lots of university language centres in Canada get a big influx of EAP students in the Fall semester, and that often means hiring on more instructors. Although that’s not the case with our centre this year, it’s got me thinking about hiring.

In Canada, language schools or institutes might operate within a couple of different accreditation or certification frameworks in terms of the qualifications of academic staff hired: TESL Canada Professional Certification, a provincial certification process, or if it’s a Languages Canada-accredited language training institution, their Classification of TESOL Qualifications.

TESL Canada and Languages Canada are great organizations, and their existence and advocacy has contributed immensely to the professionalization and raising standards of English language teaching in Canada, especially with regards to teachers on government-sponsored immigrant language programs (Burnaby 2003; Sivell 2005; Chafe and Wang, 2008), and with regards to private language schools.

At the same time, the teaching of English for Academic Purposes in the higher education context seems to be a bit of a different beast in terms of the qualifications, background and experience of value in a potential instructor. For example, advanced degrees, research experience, familiarity with academic discourse(s) in different disciplines and published academic work is all of great value in an EAP instructor. BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework reflects this in a way that general ELT certification frameworks don’t (and can’t).

I also think that some aspects of the general ELT certification and accreditation frameworks work against diversity and equity in hiring, especially in a context like Canada. For example, for TESL Canada certification a teacher’s training has to have been carried out at an institution on their list of accredited training programs. This list is, in my opinion, very short, and every institution on it is located in Canada. If your training is from another institution, you have to apply for an onerous and expensive prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process. In an industry as globally-mobile as TESOL, and in a country with as much immigration as Canada, this is quite out of touch with the reality on the ground, where a great number of us (myself included) have training, qualifications and experience from outside the country.

Similarly, TESL Canada has a very narrow definition of acceptable English(es). They require any applicants for certification who have not completed an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university in one of the countries on this list to show proof of language proficiency. Lists of this type are common in university admissions, etc., but this particular list has a couple of notable omissions, such as Pakistan and India. In these two countries, English-medium higher education is very common, and there are also a significant number of Canadians who have received their education there. Why are they not on that list?

Finally, both TESL Canada and Languages Canada TESOL Qualification criteria prescribe training programs with a very specific minimum of observation and practicum hours. While recent certificate, diploma and degree-programs in the Anglo world might be likely to include these elements that is not the case in many contexts around the world. Folks who have received their TESOL training in the context of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in many different countries would not have had observations or practicum placements, as it’s simply not the norm.

Why flexibility and ability to exercise judgement in hiring are extremely important, as they allow me to hire who I consider to be qualified and a good fit for a given position, be they born, raised and trained in Canada, a recent newcomer to Canada, a Canadian with diverse worldwide experience, or a speaker of one of a variety of World Englishes. If someone has a degree in TESL from another country with no practicum, but a ton of teaching experience, then I can hire them. If they speak Indian English, I don’t have to subject them to an IELTS test. If they have a master’s in biology on top of their other qualifications, I can value that and put them on a science writing course. Languages Canada provides some flexibility by stipulating, for example, that “there will be a valid rationale provided for the employment of any teachers or academic leader without the ELT/TESOL qualifications specified.” This is extremely important not just to allow hiring to reflect the difference between EAP and general ELT, but to ensure I can hire a complement of qualified, experienced and engaged teachers that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population. Our educational program is the richer for it.

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Exploring EAP at TESL Canada 2015

TESL Canada LogoThe article below is my round-up of sessions from the recent TESL Canada conference in Lake Louise. It appeared in the TESL Nova Scotia newsletter.

Exploring EAP at TESL Canada 2015

The TESL Canada conference in Lake Louise could most likely go down in the books as the one of the most scenic teachers’ conferences ever. Getting to attend talks from EAP practitioners from across the country while taking in the breathtaking views of the mountains, snow-dusted forests and that turquoise lake was an absolute pleasure. It didn’t distract me from checking out several sessions on teaching English for Academic purposes, though. Here are some highlights:

Teaching EAP Students Academic Behaviours: Dianne Tyers, Christina Musa

This was a very participatory workshop where we brainstormed together with the presenters to come up with tips and techniques for developing seven non-linguistic academic behaviours (time management, self-efficacy, participation in seminars, collaboration, academic honesty, respectful communication, individual responsibility for learning) to complement the linguistic content of our EAP classes.

Complexity in L1 and L2 student writing: The development of Discourse styles: Douglas Biber

This talk fell more under the umbrella of applied linguistics rather than classroom practice, which was a nice counterpoint to a lot of a sessions at TESL Canada. It was an interesting demonstration of how we tend to describe academic writing as “complex”, although it’s not complex in the way we general define the term: in terms of frequency of dependent clauses. Academic English is complex in terms of a high frequency of dependent phrases, while non-academic discourse which tends to have a higher incidence of dependent clauses. In very simple terms, academic discourse is focused on the noun and complex noun phrases, as opposed to dependent clauses built around verbs. He explored these definitions of complexity across disciplines, and over time. He didn’t delve too far into the implications for teaching and materials development though it was a lot of food for thought.

Exploring the Rationale for Task-Based Language Teaching: Jane Willis

This wasn’t a specifically EAP-focused talk, but since many EAP teachers draw on task-based language teaching (TBLT), it was quite relevant to our interests. This opening keynote presentation was a nice review of the history, principles, and essential elements of TBLT, with some participation as demonstration.

Student Input and Curricular Alignment in EAP: Marcia Kim and Gregory Tweedie

In this talk the presenters shared the results of some recent research they’ve done where they interviewed graduates of their EAP program to see how well the content of the EAP courses aligned with the language demands of their first years of undergraduate study. It was very interesting to hear which areas aligned (group work, writing) and which areas didn’t (reading, lack of informal speaking, assessment style) and those present had a very lively discussion as to why these misalignments may have occurred and what was to be done about it. This type of research should be an important part of the systematic review of any EAP course.

Building L2 writing skills using Vocabulary and Grammar Resources: Randi Reppen

This was a practical talk, in which the presenter drew on the Grammar and Beyond series that she authored to give lots of ideas for activities for EAP writing and grammar that were informed by corpora and grounded in real language use.

Getting real about paraphrasing and anti-plagiarism instruction: John Sivell

One of the highlights of the conference was this talk by John Sivell, a faculty member at Brock University. His talk revolved around the assertion that the act of paraphrasing is a substantial linguistic, cognitive, academic and cultural challenge. However, on most university campuses, despite the fact that paraphrasing is a major obstacle for both English L1 and L2 speakers, the teaching and learning of this skills is relegated to the sidelines—an online course, writing centres or in EAP courses with crowded curricula. The session ended with both the presenter and the attendees sharing strategies, tips and ideas for anti-plagiarism instruction.

TESL Canada 2015: Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay in EAP Writing

TESL Canada Logo

Three colleagues and I are off to Lake Louise to represent the East Coast at the TESL Canada conference being held Oct. 29-Nov.1.

I’m doing a tweaked and updated version of my presentation Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay in EAP Writing.

Here’s the abstract:

The five-paragraph essay is omnipresent in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) coursebooks, despite corpus-based research that shows few university students are assigned essays of this type, but rather any number of genres. This presentation will look at alternatives to the five-paragraph essay in the teaching of EAP writing and propose practical teaching ideas to bring genre into the classroom.

Here’s a video of me talking a bit about the presentation and what I’m looking forward to at the conference that I filmed with the conference organizers a few months ago.

Click here to download the slides from my presentation.

I haven’t been to TESL Canada since 2012, so it’ll be nice to catch up with colleagues from across the country. (A flight from Halifax to Calgary is the same distance as the flight from Halifax to London, hence one of the reasons why I’ve been going to conferences in the UK the last few years.) Also, TESL Canada has been going through some turmoil the last few years, so it’ll be interesting to see how the organization is pulling through.

I’ll probably be sticking mostly to presentations on EAP and will try to blog/tweet during the conference as much as I can. Shoutout to Anna Maier and Sophie Paish who will be presenting on cultural attitudes toward grading systems, and Oksana Shkurska, who will talk about metaphors in academic English.