Teaching how to teach?

Posted on May 27, 2012 by


Things are changing for the education system here in Georgia, specifically in regards to English, and they’re changing quickly. As we all know, native English speakers have been brought in, the required language for students to learn has switched, new textbooks have been dispersed, and now? Teachers are partaking in integrated English and computer exams.

This year, 1,600 teachers took the exam, with 54% of them successfully passing it, which is a major increase compared with the mere 23% that managed to pass it last year. The benefits of passing the exam include a 200 GEL pay increase, and 1,000 GEL for those that score within the top 25%.

The exam aims to test teachers’ ability to conduct research for their professional development and teaching methods. While I have not seen the exam itself, I will speak a little to my personal knowledge of its effects on my co-teachers, both of whom have taken and passed it, as well as my opinion of it:

First of all, I think that increasing teachers’ certifications in this country is a must. Standardized tests are useful in the assessment of theoretical knowledge, and therefore I can appreciate them. However, the fact that only 54% of certified English teachers are passing these exams leads me to questions a couple things– 1) What are “certifications” based on? How can one be certified as an English teacher and not pass an English exam? 2) What are the practical applications for this test?

I mentioned my co-teachers: both have master’s degrees in Education, and both have passed this English exam. They know their stuff– when it comes to knowledge of the English language, that is. They can tell you all about passive voice, past participle, subject-verb agreement, articles, etc, etc. However, their pedagogy and methodology is incredibly limited. They both prefer to focus solely on memorization of texts, many of which are about obscure topics that will never be of any use to these students, and are much too difficult for them. For example, my students do a “warm-up” question every day. Often times, they cannot answer a simple questions such as “What was the best thing you did this weekend?” without a translation. But then they go on to memorize texts about Incas, space rockets, or dicing carrots.

While I am of course happy to see the increase in English ability, as illustrated by the growth of teachers passing the English exams, I think it’s a very, very tiny part of the bigger picture. I would like to see changes in school infrastructure; I want all of my students to have both a textbook and a workbook (that being said, I would actually like new books in general–the current ones are not nearly as effective as they could be); I want there to be some sort of set curriculum, even in the simplest of senses–i.e., this year, kids should be able to do A, B, and C–and have there be actual assessments to see if this has been achieved; I want teachers to be aware of different teaching styles and activities, as well as different ways of learning. Kids aren’t cookie-cutters, and until teacher certifications and exams focus on this, I think significant progress will be slow-going.

I’ll conclude by saying this: standardized tests of this sort are good, but only when they’re not arbitrary and have real implications for whatever purpose they’re trying to serve. Why does it matter if a teacher has the ability to look up different teaching methods if he/she never actually does it? Why does it matter if a teacher can focus on personal development if there is no way to measure that development? Why does it matter if a teacher can speak English if he/she can’t teach English?