Why teacher training is a waste of time

It is commonly assumed that teacher training leads to better teaching.

It doesn’t.

At least it doesn’t with government teachers in Nepal.

This is because; the quality of training is often very low, a one day (or even one week) training session is not nearly enough to change the habits of a teacher’s lifetime and even if it was, some teachers have little interest in becoming better.

And yet there are dozens of NGOs in Nepal stubbornly running training courses for government teachers and convincing themselves that they are having an impact. In reality what happens is, teachers go on training courses, they enjoy a break from school, eat a good lunch, are often paid a stipend for their attendance, and then return to school and continue teaching as if nothing had happened.

This is one of the reasons we have developed the model of adopting and managing schools in their entirety, because the only way to improve teaching quality is through a long term process of support, coaching and feedback. It requires, as a former colleague once said to me; gentle pressure relentlessly applied.

So what have we been trying to do?

First, we do do teacher training, but we focus on just three teaching techniques, and repeat them relentlessly. They are, to put it simply:
– assess regularly
– plan for different abilities
– make students active

But that’s not enough. So the second thing we do is help individual teachers apply these techniques to specific lessons. Just giving teachers general techniques is of no value unless they understand how to use them to teach specific lessons.

So how is it working? Not brilliantly.

Partly because we don’t have enough time and people to sit down with individual teachers and help them plan out their lessons like this.

There are 77 lessons taught in our school every single day. That’s a lot of lessons to plan and monitor. So inevitably our progress is patchy. Where we have been able to offer support, the lessons are good, otherwise they remain largely traditional.

The main problem, and this is the real reason teacher training doesn’t work, is that teachers struggle to translate a new general teaching technique to a specific lesson. They may understand the concept of differentiation, but they find it difficult to apply it to a lesson on the solar system (or whatever).

So what are we going to do?

Our new plan is not to start with the teaching techniques, but with the lessons. Take a lesson, or series of lessons, and plan them in detail, and then teach them alongside the teachers. Through this process, we hope teachers will begin to pick up on the qualities that make a good lesson. They will begin to realise that you need an aim, and how to write one. They will see how you can make students’ learning active and feel the benefit of that. And even if they do not pick up on any of this, they will at the very least be teaching better lessons.

I have always been very sceptical of Bridge Academies which have a highly structured, arguably rote form of teaching, where their teachers follow a prescribed script. But government teachers in Nepal already follow a script – it’s called the textbook. They follow the same textbook, read out the same passage, while students chant the same response, in the same way.

So if they are going to teach in this structured, predictable way, let’s at least let them do it using much higher quality lesson plans, techniques and materials.


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