Tony Gurr

How Good Are Your TEACHers?

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Learning on 07/07/2016 at 10:29 am


This is one of the first questions I ask when I sit down with a School Director or Teacher Trainer to develop a new PD (or CPD) initiative at one of our many Schools (both State and Private) and University Prep Schools (Hazırlık – also both State and Foundation) here in Canım Türkiyem.

Questions (Joseph O Connor quote) Ver 03

It’s not a bad question to kick off with, if you believe (as I do) that the talents, skills and savvy of language teachers is one of the critical determining factors in determining the level of LEARNing and success that LEARNers ultimately achieve.


Some TEACHers do not like it!


I guess that is because they assume I am only talking about the quality of their language and that I am taking on the role of the judgy-judger Native Speaker (NS) TEACHer – pushing elitism…and native speakerism!


I’m not – and my question is wider, closer to the advice of David Crystal:

“If I were in charge of a language-teaching institution, I would want to know four things about applicants: are they fluent? are they intelligible? do they know how to analyse language? are they good teachers? I would not be interested in where they were born, what their first language was, or whether they had a regional accent. There are absolutely no grounds for discrimination these days”.


Like David, my question is both about language quality and TEACHing ability – and, for safe measure, it is also about what a TEACHer knows about language / student LEARNing and what s/he does with that knowledge in (and out of) the classroom. It’s a question that touches upon the core ‘Educational Literacies’ that all TEACHers need.

Sith army knife (TG)


However, that question of mine is so often boiled down to a Language TEACHer’s knowledge and skills in English – their ‘Disciplinary Literacy’. And, I’ve been asked (a lot more than once):

So, what should the CEFR / GSE minimum level be – for a TEACHer?




I’ve spent a lot of time thunking this one over, reading journals, and jumping around blogs this year. There are many that are pushing for minimum proficiency levels for TEACHers (including major ELT organisations and those that produce/administer ‘tests’…wonder why, acaba) – especially since the ELT paradigm shift towards performance-based understandings of what it means to ‘know’ a language. There are others who are resisting this idea…for many reasons.

TELLing the truth


Just like we would not want our kids to be taught maths by someone that did not know their multiplication tables (or even use a calculator effectively), the vast majority of LEARNers / administrators / parents (esp. parents) want their language TEACHers to be as good as they can be. Undergraduate TEACHers-to-be want their programmes to prepare them to be the best version of themselves before they step into the classroom. Being able to hear the answer to my question is surely the ‘right’ of each and every one of these critical stakeholders.


The problem is, of course, we all know (well, at least those that have LEARNed a second language) that language is not a finite or clearly defined entity, which you either know in its entirety or not at all. You do not ‘know’ a language in the same way you know ‘content’ – a poem, mathematical theorem or chemical formula. You can only know it more or less thoroughly. I know many people that ‘know’ Turkish grammar far better than I…but still struggle to win a battle with the Tax Office! I’ve also met many TEACHers with off-the-charts ALES scores (the m/c test all TEACHers need to pass to get a job in a Turkish university – and ‘technically’ the only tool these universities can use to hire their TEACHers)…but cannot have a half-decent chat with me!


However, most people seem to agree that language TEACHers need to:

  • be fluent
  • be intelligible
  • know the language they are TEACHing
  • be confident language users
  • know how to analyse language
  • know something about the language their students use (L1)
  • be an active language LEARNer themselves (improving their own language day-by-day)


The question, it seems to me, is how exactly a TEACHer (both NS and NNS TEACHers) ‘knows’ these things about him/herself – and how they ‘evidence’ these abilities to others.

What if 06

What do you thunk – remembering, for now, we are are only talking about the language skills / talents (or ‘Disciplinary Literacy’) of our TEACHers?

  • Could we add anything else to this list?
  • Should there be a minimum proficiency level for TEACHers here in Canım Türkiyem?
  • How should we ‘measure’ this proficiency level (do not say ALES)?
  • If not, how can we ‘know’ exactly how good our TEACHers are?
  • Should NS TEACHers here also be required to demonstrate the same proficiency level?



Tony (logo new) 260316 ACG

  1. I am going to play Devil’s Advocate here and say your ideas are good as far as they go, but you should also allow for good educators to admit that their practice is improved by what they don’t know as much as they know. They should be prepared to embark on voyages of discovery, both academic as well as psychological, with the awareness that such voyages will seldom be easy or readily understood. There will be plenty of obstacles to negotiate, and it is up to the educator to develop strategies to negotiate them.

    • Totally agree! Thanks for the comment…not devilish at all 🙂

      This little listicle was really based on the ‘disciplinary literacy’ (language skills and talents) that ELL teachers need – we need to elaborate on the other literacies any teacher needs – pedagogic, learning, curriculum and assessment. What you are talking about is perhaps under one of the other two meta literacies that we all need to embrace – “human literacies”.

      I’ll work up to that one…promise!

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