Are You An EFL Expert?

teflexpertsCan your relative “green-ness” as an English language teacher ever be an advantage? According to a recent article in the New York Times – yes.

This article discusses the theory that as people become more “expert” in their fields, it is harder for them to imagine not knowing what they do know. They may use jargon and more importantly, have trouble relating and explaining to those who don’t have their expert knowledge. They get things done the way they “should” be done, meaning the way they have been done in the past, and innovation is “stifled”.

To some extent, I think that people tend to do things in a certain way because it is effective, and I believe it is a skill to know when to break from tradition and when to trust it – especially as a new teacher. But I do think there is something to this argument that there are times when it can be a disadvantage to have extensive experience.

I remember how unpleasant I found my symbolic logic class taught by a full professor in college, and how much I preferred the TA-taught class.

With the TA, we covered what we needed and did the work, instead of dwelling on how exciting it was to have three different ways of reaching a solution to the same problem. I liked philosophy, and did well in both classes, but symbolic logic wasn’t my passion by any means. It occurs to me that English students abroad are often in the same boat as I was in that logic class. They may like English well enough…but unlike people who opt to study languages in English-speaking countries (where some study is required but most of it is on personal initiative), they have to take it for many years whether they like it or not. In this way, a teacher who is also not swooning over phrasal verbs may be a better match than one who is, and one who really can’t fathom why students wouldn’t be thrilled with particles too.

As a native speaker, you are an “expert” in speaking the language, but many EFL teachers do not have a love for grammar. I think that is okay in many cases – and this article explains why.

Obviously you do need to know something about what you’re teaching, and I wouldn’t want to imply otherwise. I do think training and reflection and building one’s experience are all important. It’s not an excuse to shirk on training, but lack of grammar expertise doesn’t have to be a disadvantage.

[Uh oh. I guess this article could also explain why non-native speakers of English might be better teachers too…]