Celebrating 50 years of teacher training – an interview with David Carr, Director of Teacher Training at IH London

2012 has been quite a year for celebrations in the UK with the London Olympics and International House World and International House London have also been celebrating – 50 years since the first ground-breaking teacher training course at IH London.  We caught up with David Carr, Director of Teacher Training at IH London, to find out what have been the highlights of this special IH Golden Jubilee year, and what there is to look forward to in the future of teacher training.

After university and a stint in the Civil Service, David’s EFL career started over 30 years ago, quite by chance, when he decided to go to Milan on spec.  As neither a teaching qualification nor experience were prerequisites in those days, David immediately landed himself a job with a school. The day after he walked through their doors, he was in front of his first class. After teaching in Italy for two years he returned to the UK where he formalised his teaching experience by taking the Delta part time while teaching ESOL to refugees.  He then went to Moscow where he worked for the British Council teaching in the History Faculty at Moscow State University.  “It was an incredible experience teaching the bright young stars in the Communist party who were destined for greater things; one of my pupils went on to become a top political commentator”.  After Moscow, a short stint at IH Paris led him on to his first post at IH London where he started as a temporary teacher on 1st August 1986. He started teacher training in the following year, inspired by his own Delta tutors: “It was a really exciting time to be starting as a teacher trainer with the Soars, Martin Parrott, Ruth Gairns and other big names as colleagues”.

Fast forward to 2012 and I asked David how, or if, teacher training has changed since that initial course John Haycraft ran in 1962.

DC: It is amazing how much of what John Haycraft established in terms of ELT methodology in those early days is a precursor of what is regarded as good practice today.  Just looking at the picture below of John at the National Gallery with a group of students, it’s apparent that he was incorporating elements of, for example, CLIL, task-based learning, and live listening into his teaching.  He also saw the potential of technology in teaching and was in the vanguard by having the first language lab in London at the time.  He wanted the language learning experience to be fun and all-consuming; the total experience. He also believed that there was not one way of teaching – there’s never been an IH ‘method’; he encouraged teachers and trainers to experiment and adopt a ‘principled eclecticism’ approach by choosing elements of different practice dependent on learner needs and interests.

What special events have been organised by IH London for the 50th anniversary?

DC: We have hosted two keynote talks over this anniversary year given by two very distinguished speakers: Guy Cook and Diane Larsen-Freeman. The idea was for both speakers to be from outside the organisation and to give a critique of how they saw teacher training and the way forward: we didn’t want to be just looking back at the last 50 years or to be introspective.

What have been the other highlights of the 50th anniversary?

Collaboration with STAR

DC: There have been four major highlights for us here at IH London.  The first one has been IH London and the IH Trust’s collaboration in the STAR (Student Action for Refugees) project. STAR is a national network of student groups working to improve the lives of refugees in the UK.  One of their projects is for volunteer students from British Universities to run conversation clubs to help refugees integrate into society, and this is where IH London and the Trust come in.  IH London trainers are providing the volunteers who run the clubs with the educational expertise as well as support and feedback. The project has three stages: 1- the volunteer student leaders go to IH London for initial training; 2- creating an online resource where the student leaders can go for advice and 3 – tutors from IH London visit the conversation clubs and observe/provide feedback.  The idea is for the student leaders to cascade their knowledge to the first year volunteer students who will be taking part in the conversation clubs in the future.

IH Award Scheme

The second highlight has been the IH Award Scheme, an initiative from IHWO to celebrate the 50th anniversary. International House schools, supported by Cambridge ESOL and Trinity TESOL, generously donated places on 50 teacher training courses to those that are struggling to find work in these difficult economic times.  At IH London we donated four CELTA courses and the first ‘award’ trainees have just successfully completed their course (two of them getting a Pass B).  So, many congratulations to them and we wish them all the best with their new careers in ELT.

DIY Development – IH London Teachers’ blog

DC: Another recent project which has this year expanded to include a TT element is the IH London Teachers’ DIY Development website/blog.  The basic idea was to create a teaching community and a way of sharing teaching and teacher training ideas and best practice.  So far, it has proved hugely popular and the generosity of those teachers who have posted on it has been boundless

Innovations in lesson sharing and observations

DC: Lesson sharing and observations at IH London have entered a whole new dimension with the recent investment in Iris Connect, a video-based system that empowers teachers to reflect on, analyse and share lessons. The aim is for teachers to share best practice and also to make lesson observations much less intrusive.  How it works is that lessons are filmed by the teachers themselves with the use of a tiny camera, and these are then uploaded on the teacher’s personal library. They can then be viewed, shared with colleagues or deleted. The teacher is in control of what happens to the film of their lessons. They can also agree for them to be used for observation purposes by a DOS, and the teacher can create observation task sheets so others can also benefit from their ideas. It could really revolutionise the observation process so that it’s much more bottom-up in its approach.

So, with so many achievements and positive developments in this Golden Jubilee year for Teacher Training, what should we expect for the future?

Both Guy and Diane have answered this in their lectures to some extent but, if the past 50 years are anything to go by, there will be a similar diversity of approaches showing there is not just one way of teaching or one approach to teacher training. Obviously technology is going to be key and the future would seem to be summed up well by the title of the recent KOTESOL conference IHL attended in Seoul:  ‘Perfect Score: Metholodogies, Technologies, & Communities of Practice’. As always, our greatest resource and energy will come from our hugely talented training team!