Getting started in teacher training
By John Hughes
A different kind of classroom
Unlike other career paths for experienced English language teachers which tend to lead out of the classroom,
teacher training appeals to those who actually want to stay in the classroom. As a senior trainer once said
to me, ‘There are those who are often looking to get out of the classroom and there are teacher trainers
looking for a different kind of classroom.’ If you are thinking of moving into teacher training, here are
few ideas on how people get started in teacher training and what to do next.
Who are teacher trainers?
Many teacher trainers are people with extensive knowledge and experience of the subject. They have
probably taught many different levels of student, different class sizes, cultures, nationalities, age ranges and
students with different needs – from young learners through to adults with specific work-related requirements.
Your CV or resume won’t cover every part of the ELT spectrum, but you’ll be a reasonable ‘jack of all
trades’ and perhaps even a reasonable specialist in one of two of them.
Longevity in ELT is often a job requirement for teacher training and most teachers who move into it
have been in the profession for some considerable time. However, the first signs of wanting to train can,
in fact, emerge at an early stage of a teacher’s career. You’re standing in the teacher’s room organising
some materials for your next lesson and someone asks you what you’re doing with your students today. You
explain the idea behind a lesson or task and your colleague thinks that’s a really great idea and asks to borrow
it. For many teachers, the pleasure of suggesting and sharing ideas is their starting point into training.
Run a workshop
A few more lessons and a few more good ideas later, and you’re being asked by your Director of Studies
to present your ideas at the monthly workshop for teachers within the school. This slightly more formal
setting might also include leading a discussion of any issues arising from your presentation or facilitating
teachers to share their own experiences and ideas by spring-boarding off what you have presented. However
nerve-wracking presenting to your colleagues is, if you find it satisfying and enjoyable, then you may well
like the idea of working as a teacher trainer.
In some schools there also exist systems of mentoring, where newer, inexperienced teachers are assigned
to a more ‘senior’ teacher. Again, the supporting role of mentor with the opportunity it gives to help and
develop a colleague may be something a potential teacher trainer cherishes.
These early stages of training form some of the commonest routes into teacher training. I’ve never met
anyone involved in teacher training who knew from the outset that that was what they wanted to do. They
found their way into the field by being noticed as a senior teacher, someone who was experienced and
often very helpful to less experienced colleagues. For some teachers, working in schools with formal
teacher training departments, there was possibly a vacancy to be trained up and to work on pre- and in-service
Training as a Director of Studies
One other significant category of trainer who doesn’t quite fit the description above may be the Director of
Studies. The core of this person’s job is often the day-to-day administrative management of students and staff.
Nevertheless, as probably the most experienced teacher and as part of the job description, this person will often
be called upon to provide in-house training.
Working towards being a trainer
If you are in the process of thinking about becoming a trainer or are working on your own as a trainer with
little or no formal input, then the following ideas may help you take action.
Watch other teacher trainers at work. Ask if you can observe a trainer in an input session or sit in on an
observation of a trainee teacher and the feedback process that follows. If you regularly attend conferences or
workshops, notice what the presenter or trainer does and also how your peers react.
Think back to when you first trained as a teacher and the people who trained you. What did you like or dislike
about their techniques? What aspects of the course did you find beneficial?
Volunteer to run an in-house workshop for your fellow teachers. If your school doesn’t have teacher development
meetings, then suggest that they start. Offer to run the first one.
Read journals, books and websites. Stay up-to-date with what people are talking about in the world of ELT.
Get more qualified
Because teacher training is so varied and expectations vary from country to country, it is hard to say what
qualifications you should have. If you have the specialist know-how, then you may well get a job, but in
the UK, for example, the Trinity or Cambridge Diploma qualification is often a minimum pre-requisite for
someone looking to become a trainer. Around the world, many training positions can expect a candidate to
have post-graduate qualifications, such as an MA in Applied Linguistics or TESOL.
Points to bear in mind
Jumping in too soon
As you can see, the route into teacher training in ELT doesn’t necessarily follow a formal path. If you are
lucky, you may have the opportunity to receive formal training and an induction programme. Training courses
on how to become a trainer also exist, but for the majority of trainers, informal ‘on-the-job’ learning was their
starting point. As a final word of warning, don’t skip too quickly from teaching into training. Be very secure in
your experience of teaching English before launching yourself as a trainer.
A balancing act
Many trainers juggle some training work with other jobs, such as teaching, examining and writing. Many training
contracts are irregular, so you may be forced to balance a portfolio of work. On the other hand, there’s a strong
argument that this is a healthy way to train. For example, getting back into the classroom and teaching students
who are learning English is a good chance for you to remind yourself of what it’s like for your trainees.
Nevertheless, taking gaps from training, as with teaching, can lead to loss of confidence and the concern that
you will forget how to do it. At the other extreme, it is easy to become known only as a trainer, so you’re always
either running input sessions and workshops for teachers or observing and giving feedback which, over long
periods, also becomes dissatisfying.
Time and rewards
I have yet to meet a teacher who hasn’t at some point been found bemoaning both the lack of pay and the
lack of time for preparation. Their complaints are probably all perfectly justified! Life as a trainer is no different.
Don’t expect a slow down in the rush to plan and prepare, and don’t assume your salary will suddenly increase.
You’re on your own
As a trainer, you may find you are the most experienced person in the building. Gone are the days when there
was always someone around with more experience whom you could ask. You will probably find that you are
increasingly the one being asked. If you are a Director of Studies expected to train staff, for example, you may
find that you’re quite isolated. This is where joining professional organisations and attending conferences or
local teachers’ associations will really help your development and sense of not being alone.
John Hughes is a freelance trainer and writer. He has trained teachers from all over the
world and is currently involved in the development of online teacher training courses for Cactus
TEFL in Brighton, UK. His most recent books include co-authoring on the new Business Result
series (Oxford University Press) and Spotlight on FCE (Heinle). He loves any opportunity to
come to Malta and has run a Trinity Diploma in TESOL course here as well as courses leading the
LCCIEB Further Certificate for Teachers of Business English.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.johnhugheselt.com