Two days after I first arrived in Japan, on my first day of a week-long training period, I was awarded the title sensei. You are probably familiar with the word, which is usually loosely translated as teacher in English. In Japanese, it can be used to refer to any professional or expert in a particular field. A doctor, an artist, a poet, all can be a sensei. So, what made me a sensei? My passport, my eye colour? In a private Japanese language school, basically, yes. Having said that, there were some fine teachers there – they were kind, friendly, smart… and with no official teaching qualifications whatsoever they were able to help their students learn.
When I returned to the UK, I was qualified to teach at a university thanks to my CELTA certificate. This time, I had colleagues who were not native-speakers of English. Of course, English Language instructors are not necessaily afforded the same wages and conditions as teachers in other university departments… people who have never studied teaching at all, not even for four weeks. A historian, for example, just has to demonstrate that they know a lot about their subject. They are not required to prove they can teach it. So a teacher has to have subject knowledge to be considered a true professional?
Now I am in the higher education system in Japan, and the entry level qualification is a masters degree. It used to be unimportant what that degree was in, but now more and more schools expect it to be in English, Applied Linguistics or a related field. Competition is such that a doctorate is increasingly useful, and it is expected that teachers publish and present fairly regularly. A DELTA, whilst handy, is not well recognised. In order to call oneself a teacher, then, research is a high priority.
I don’t know enough about the UK Further Education sector, but from what I can gather there are an incredible number of hoops to jump through in order to qualify. Every ESOL teacher I have ever met, as well as being very nice, has also been in the middle of some nationally standardised training course or another. Perhaps standardisation is the key. We need to be sure that our teachers can fit into a qualification structure?
So what gives someone the right to call themselves a teacher? Because the last one was so much fun, I’ve made a poll… but this time you can vote for as many as you like. The real game is in the comments box though, so get stuck in! I’d also like to know what you have to do to be called a teacher where you are.
(By the way, I never worked at the school advertising above! My company employed teachers of all races, as long as they were native English speakers, or proficient Japanese speakers of English. Click on the picture to read more about the dodgier side of the industry)