Post-CELTA professional development: Beyond methods

Welcome back, dear friends, to the sixth part of my ever-expanding series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. We’ll continue where I left off in the first five posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.
In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, how to approach lesson planning, how to make sure your first teaching job experience isn’t a bad one,  some advice on how to get through your first observed lesson, as well a discussion on the multifaceted layers of a good lesson. Today we continue with another great guest post from Phil Wade, who this time looks at how we can move beyond methods…
When I started out in TEFL we had to read about methodology and learning, then put into practice what we had learned. As the early grammar translation and audio-lingual ways were greatly criticized as being ‘old’, we were pushed towards the famous TEFL method which is just a mish-mash of all the trends put into one. Later, I learned to critique all the methods and to create my own mish-mash under the banner ‘eclecticism’. ‘Principled eclecticism’ was translated as ‘a good mish-mash’ while an unsuccessful one was just that, a mess. Finding that perfect blend proved difficult as I approached it like making a new recipe on paper when I should have started by experimenting and then writing the recipe.
So, fast forward a few years and I then found out that all methods were dead and that I was free to do whatever. This made me question the previous learning. After all, why study lots of things if you are just going to throw them away? I am fine with developing your own way for each situation, but only IF you have the tools. At a post-MA level with 10 years experience, you probably do, but saying this to a new CELTA grad is asking for trouble.
Or is it?
Fans of Bruce Lee know about nature and doing what fits and this is what I feel I do now. My lessons are quite similar to new non-CELTA teachers on the surface as they are very conversation-based and natural. There are no clunks and obvious gear change transitions that I had after my CELTA. I do what works. This is true for new teachers too. they prepare lessons around their clients and students and do what those people want and like.
'Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni' by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics
‘Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni’ by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics
So, the questions I ask myself are 1) what is the quickest and most effective route to this ‘post-method’ approach, and 2) what tools do you need to create your own method for each situations?
CELTA grads are often told they will learn on the job, this often means using books and learning from them. Each book is built from a certain method or approach and so that will rub off on you. Slavishly following a book for a year may get the job done but it won’t help you create your own method or way.
Perhaps the best option is for CELTA grads to just keep going. I mean, on my CELTA, we had to adapt pages of books. Some worked… some didn’t. If you start keep a diary of your teaching and have pages about each skill, pages for ‘methods’ and pages for favorite activities, etc., you will develop a progressive self-development approach. I always planned lessons quite stringently for at least 7 years after my CELTA. I generally binned each one and started fresh for the next as I was never happy with each one and always wanted to change things. Unconsciously, I developed my own method as certain things would keep cropping up in my plans. When I was asked to write an essay about my method, I realized I did have one.
Back to the diary…
Make a section for each type of class you teach. Write in anything. You could have a column for successes and one for failures. Page references to book activities you like, pictures you used, anything. When you get to the bottom of a page, make a summary or a conclusion and start a new page. In this way, you are researching and developing and honing a way or method or approach. Books will become tools and not your method. This can be done by any teacher at any stage but I think post-CELTA works best.
So many many times in my early career, I just ‘did’ activities from books. This would often just be me following a procedure form a book or worksheet and reading out instructions. This was not my method or really me teaching. why? I had no confidence. A few years later, I just stopped reading teachers notes and looked at resources and decided how to use them. For me, this kept my creative juices flowing. the more uses I could think of, the better.
If you agree with the post-method idea then I suggest you start building your own method as soon as you can. When you can say “I find doing…and…and…then…” works best for me, you are on the right track but don’t just make it about set activities, you need a main structure to start with and then branch out. think of a tree with no leaves. As you develop your way, you add on bits and branch out. Using the previous example of the new compared to the seasoned teacher as an example, from the outside, the student may just see a nice tree but the new teacher has just followed someone else’s way or stuck a few things together. Whereas the one further down the professional path has created a solid foundation with countless branches and leaves which he or she can employ effectively.