TEIS Newsletter

A Taxonomy of Teacher Education in TESOL (from Fall 1993, Vol. 9, No. 1)

by User Not Found | 10/31/2011

Who are we, the members of TESOL's Teacher Education Interest Section? What kinds of work do we do? What types of programs do we work in, and what sorts of teachers do we educate? You may think you know the answers to these questions. You might even assume that all teacher educators in TESOL do essentially the same thing that you do-and you would be right, in a general sense. Nevertheless, since ESOL teacher education programs exist for many different purposes, serve disparate audiences, and operate in diverse settings, there is also a great amount of variety in what we do.

Capturing and categorizing the many different kinds of teacher education programs in which TEIS members are involved is no simple task. Nevertheless, realizing how and where the characteristics of our various teacher education programs differ and where they overlap can be extremely useful. The resulting perspective can inform and guide our work designing and improving teacher education programs and our research on the processes of educating teachers. For these purposes, I have drafted the taxonomy of teacher education in TESOL, which constitutes the remainder of this article. It is organized across six different dimensions: institutional base, objectives, timing, intensity, target teaching level, and linguistic/ cultural setting. As the possible types within each of these dimensions are presented, some of their special features and/or challenges are also briefly mentioned. In the conclusion, several more particular benefits and uses of the taxonomy are discussed.

Institutional Base

The first dimension along which ESTILL teacher education programs can be classified is based on the type of institution where they are located.

Most of the more prominent ESTILL teacher education programs are based at universities. It is interesting to note that these university-based programs are housed in a variety of departments and schools-linguistics, English, education, multicultural education, and international programs, to name a few of the more common ones. Each of these home bases reflects a difference in emphasis in the teacher preparation curriculum offered.

It is even more important, however, to recognize that many TESOL teacher education programs exist outside of universities. School districts or departments/ ministries of education are the home bases for the greatest number of them. Teacher educators in these programs create and engage in many in-service, staff development programs to educate practicing teachers about how to deal with the challenges of teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Teacher educators also work in commercial language schools, training new teachers and upgrading the teaching skills of others. Some business operations that include English teaching as part of their human resource development programs or as an employee benefit also employ experts to do "in-house" teacher training.

A final type of teacher education program involves distance learning. Its home base may be a university, a department of education, or commercial operation, but in any case it is far from the teachers who participate in the program. In fact, participants may live and work thousands of miles from the instructional base. They interact with the master teachers at the instructional base by means of television broadcasts, radio transmissions, telephone lines, video tapes, audio tapes, and/or print based materials.


TESOL teacher-preparation programs can also be categorized according to their end objectives. For example, many university-based programs lead to B.A., M.A., or Ph.D./Ed.D. degrees. Such programs are often characterized by traditional, academic approaches and emphases (i.e., they require coursework in methodology, linguistics, learning theory, research, etc.). They reflect university requirements as well as TESOL's standards for teacher preparation programs.

Other university-based programs, in contrast, lead to a teaching certificate, which may be initial (for new teachers) or add-on (for experienced, practicing teachers). Of course, the curriculum varies accordingly. In either case, participants and courses must satisfy state/provincial or national standards, such as those of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), which emphasize not only language teaching skills but also school system concerns.

A third program type on this dimension has as its goal teacher requalification and aims at retraining experienced teachers of other languages (e.g., Russian) to teach English. Relatively rare in the

United States and United Kingdom, programs of this type are quite common in other parts of the world (e.g., the Czech and Slovak Republics). The primary emphasis in these "retread" programs is on developing participants' English language skills.

A final type of program involves no degrees or certificates at all. Rather, its objective is to give volunteer teachers of ESOL the skills they need to function in a classroom or tutorial situation. Preparation programs for these teachers are usually short (since volunteers cannot be expected to invest a lot of time and energy in training) and relatively mechanical (focusing on particular teaching techniques).


Another categorization of ESOL teacher education programs is based on relative timing-in other words, when they are offered in relation to participants' teaching experience. Some are pre-service (providing instruction before participants gain actual teaching experience), some are in-service (providing instruction for practicing teachers), and a few are designed for post-experience students who return to school after they have taught in the "real world."

Pre-service programs are typically university-based. Since the students seldom know where they will end up teaching after graduation, their professors emphasize general principles that graduates will need to apply and adapt in the future once they begin teaching in a particular setting. Unfortunately, some pre-service students have little idea what the "real world" of teaching is like and have difficulty relating the concepts they are studying "now" to the actual practice they will be involved in "someday." Therefore, teacher educators in these programs often provide or arrange opportunities for participants to gain teaching practice through in- class demonstrations, micro-teaching, etc., or through a more extended practicurn experience.

In-service teacher education programs are distinctly different in that participants are usually employed, experienced teachers who know their particular teaching situations well. In fact, they are typically pressured with many immediate classroom concerns, and if coursework is not practical or relevant to their specific situations, these people (who are probably taking the course after or during work hours and must face the "real world- tomorrow) will be dissatisfied and lose interest. Of course, instruction may also deal with more general concepts and principles as long as the participants' immediate concerns are also dealt with in the process.

Post-experience teacher education programs are virtually non-existent, but post-experience students are not rare. After gaining English teaching experience (in the Peace Corps, a school in Taiwan, etc.), many people enroll in TESOL programs in order to learn how to "do it right" or to understand the principles behind the practices they used. Because of their previous experience, program or course requirements may need to be custom-tailored for these students. When they are integrated into classes enrolling mostly pre-service teachers, however, their experiences can be a valuable resource to be shared with their classmates.



Yet another way of classifying ESOL teacher education programs is by the intensity of the instruction they offer. Many programs require fulltime study; others, in contrast, work with them only periodically.

Full-time students typically enroll in various courses simultaneously and are suddenly immersed in a sea of new concepts and terms. Even when they learn to navigate it, they are often left to themselves to make connections among the barrage of ideas they experience in their different courses. Designers of this type of program must concern themselves with questions of sequence and correlation among courses so as to help students make the necessary conceptual connections.

Participants in teacher education courses that meet only weekly or monthly encounter new ideas and experiences in a less intensive and more sequential manner. This gives them time to absorb new material. However, in a world of ideas where "everything is prerequisite to everything else" this linear approach can also be a special challenge. It is difficult for participants to make connections between concepts that occur at widely separated points in the course. Also, since participants have more time to forget concepts between sessions, more provision must be made for review.

Target Teaching Level

Target teaching level is another crucial dimension in this taxonomy. Whether participants intend to teach in an elementary school, secondary school, university, or adult education program is a major factor in determining relevant educational experiences for them. While many principles of teaching, learning or language use are widely generalizable, many others are level-specific. For example a teaching strategy that is successful with adults may not work at all with young children, and vice versa. The teacher education program's curriculum varies accordingly.

In most in-service programs, participants often work in the same level or type of ESOL program. They need instruction targeted at that level. In contrast, pre-service courses often enroll people with a variety of target teaching levels. In such situations, a common (and successful) approach is to emphasize general principles and procedures first. Then, as participants carry out particular assignments (e.g., a demonstration lesson, a file of teaching materials, etc.) they are encouraged to adjust the execution of these assignments to match their target teaching level.


Linguistic/Cultural Setting

The final dimension along which ESOL teacher education programs can be classified is based on their linguistic and cultural setting. This dimension parallels the classic ESL/EFL continuum. In most programs in countries where English is the dominant language, the majority of teachers-in-preparation are native-speakers of English or non-natives who possess high level English language skills and are thoroughly familiar with the target culture since they live in it. Such programs then are free to emphasize subjects such as teaching methodology, linguistics, learning theory, etc. A TESL M.A. degree program in the United States typifies this type.

In contrast, the participants in many other English teacher preparation programs around the world are typically nonnative speakers of English who have limited experience with the living English language and its accompanying cultures. An English teacher preparation program at a university in China would perhaps be typical of this type. Such programs must devote much time to the study of English language and culture. Only after prospective teachers have spent one, two, or more years building up their English skills do they study teaching methods or learning theory. Even then, the major program focus remains on polishing their English speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills.

Putting It All Together

Table 1 summarizes the preceding discussion of the multiple dimensions of teacher education in TESOL and the various categories within them. Mathematically, there are 768 different possible combinations of the nineteen different variables distributed along the six different dimensions of this taxonomy. While that many distinct types of ESOL teacher education programs probably don't exist, a great deal of diversity undeniably does.

Conclusion--Uses and Benefits

Understanding the different types of teacher education programs in TESOL and the dimensions along which they vary is more than just an enlightening, academic exercise. As we work to design or improve teacher education programs or research teacher education processes, this taxonomy can be useful in several ways.

First, realizing that many different variables shape teacher education programs in the world of TESOL naturally leads to an. acceptance of the great diversity among them. In fact, in light of the many different factors that shape teacher education programs, we would be foolish to expect them all to be alike. For example, university-based, M.A.-level, full-time, pre-service program in the United States for native-English-speaker teachers planning to work with adults will (and should) be dramatically different from an add-on teacher certification course that meets weekly and is offered in a Southeast Asian country by its ministry of education for practicing elementary education teachers who are minimally proficient in English.

Recognizing that the differences among teacher education programs exist as responses to the particular concerns and challenges associated with their setting, objectives, and audience, we may also be more cautious in our prescriptions regarding what teacher education programs "ought to look like."

In addition, understanding the variables in this taxonomy can help us realize the unique nature of our own individual programs. For instance, mapping where a teacher education program fits on each dimension makes it easier to realize the ways it is similar to or different from others. This realization, in turn, can increase our under standing of why something that works well in one teacher education program may not work in another, leading to a more careful sharing and adoption of ideas. It may also keep us from trying to make our programs be "all things to all people."

Finally, while illustrating the many differences that distinguish our programs from one another, this taxonomy also points out the many areas in which our professional interests overlap. Despite our diversity, we do have many similarities and common concerns. Building on our similarities while respecting our differences, we can work together more successfully and help each other move forward in a truly professional way.