INTRODUCTION: TEACHING ENGLISH LANGUAGE RESEARCH PAPER
Teaching language is different from teaching other materials and subjects. Not only does the educator have to deal with numerous options, standards and criteria, but he/she should also be aware of the implications that these have on the thinking, capacities and skills of the learner. More importantly, language educators must be aware of the social, political and other implications that will be assimilated by or imposed on the learners as a result of the pedagogical practice.
WORRYING & USEFUL INSIGHTS
As an ESL educator in Lebanon, I have been through many experiences facing various types of problems, limitations and opportunities regarding the practice of teaching ESL.
The Abusive Practices of TESOL Coordinators
Some of the most challenging areas in teaching ESL in Lebanon include the abusive policies of TESOL coordinators, the lack of clear curricular objectives and standards, the failure to match the curriculum with social, political and technological developments, and above all, the failure to adapt a clear TESOL policy in the curriculum.
According to the regulations in most schools in Lebanon, ESL educators are left to the indiscriminate policies of coordinators. In most cases, these coordinators are graduates of English Literature with some background experience in teaching language. Very rarely are TESOL graduates assigned as coordinators as there is a shortage in ESL instructors. Unaware of the problems and realities of TESOL, coordinators often act in an authoritarian manner that does not give the instructor the opportunity to participate in decision making with respect to setting the school curriculum or even managing testing, marking, and grading standards. The issue is not about recognizing and acknowledging the efforts of instructors. Rather, it is about involving them in the decision making. One major reason TESOL is suffering in Lebanon is that the curricula are not adequate or appropriate, and the main cause for this situation is that TESOL graduates and experts are not given the opportunity to be part of the curriculum construction.
Lack of Clear Curricular Objectives & Standards
The second worrying issue at hand is the lack of clear curricular objectives and standards. This definitely arises from excluding TESOL professionals from the decision makers, but it also arises from a number of other issues. First of all, the Lebanese Ministry of Education sets a certain minimal standards that have to be met in every curriculum, but private schools which constitute the majority of education providing institutions in Lebanon are free to adopt the curricula they want so long as they meet those minimal standards. Needless to mention, those minimal standards are minimal by all means, and thus, most of the burden falls on the TESOL coordinator. Most schools are not willing to fund proper TESOL offices in their schools, and as a result, we do not only suffer from having ineffective people in a power position, but we also suffer from the fact that TESOL coordinators change frequently, and with such changes, the standards and objectives of curricula in schools change too. In the long run, TESOL instructors and their students who spend years in the same school become confused due to the continuous changes taking place in the system.
Irrelevance to Communal Developments
The third problem at hand is the failure to match the curriculum with social, political and technological developments taking place in the community. In many schools, ESL is taught using books and materials are used in England or in the United States. While this might be appropriate to a certain extent, it does not actually relate to the Lebanese community with its pluralistic nature, its developments or needs. In many cases, students are taught things and issues that are not really relevant to their environment. On the other hand, there are new developments that necessitate changes in ESL, but rarely are these taken into consideration. For example, the use of the Internet has increased multifold in the past two years, and yet, students who go on discussion forums, chatting rooms, and other electronic communication media are forced to learn on their own, and sometimes with outside help, rather than getting updated in school.
Lack of Clear TESOL Policies in Lebanese Schools
Yet, worst of all is the fact that there are no clear TESOL policies in most curricula in Lebanese schools. Neither the administrators nor the coordinators are actually certain of what they are doing. There is no agreement, for example, on whether TESOL is taught to make students adequately proficient and competent in language and communication, or whether ESL is taught for the purpose of enabling the student to achieve a certain level of academic performance that is required at higher education levels.
LACK OF RELEVENCE TO COMMUNITY: AN EVALUATION
The result of the various problems and worrying issues that I have so far raised, is that the TESOL instructor is left to his/her own devices to navigate, and even then, this policy will only work for one year for in the next year, the instructor may not be assigned to follow up what he/she had started with the same class in the previous year. This is not to mention that while many TESOL instructor establish what they see as appropriate for their classes, they have to deal with the fact that at the end of the year, all students in a certain grade should sit for the same exam, meet the same standards, and be graded accordingly.
In its project, The New London Group argues that “Any successful theory of pedagogy must be based on views about how the human mind works in society and classrooms, as well as about the nature of teaching and learning” (p.82). Unfortunately, such necessities barely exist in the Lebanese TESOL curriculum, and regardless the political or administrative causes that have led to such a situation, what is needed today is a solution as every year the loss is all the students’.
One reason for my worries results from my observations at Lebanese universities, specifically private universities. While many of the Lebanese students get accepted on the basis of merit and accomplishment in subjects such as mathematics and sciences, they suffer heavily in subjects such as English language. Actually, it is not uncommon to hear students complaining about the many English language courses that they have to take, as if these courses are irrelevant to their education. These students, however, may not be aware of the fact that to achieve effective positions in business, government or whatever entities they are going to join in the future for work, they will have to depend heavily on many tasks that involve not only communication, but also effective communication in the form of conversation, persuasion, reporting and others. Lack of awareness definitely aggravate the situation, but so does the fact that TESOL is not treated as a subject of extreme importance at the elementary and secondary school levels. In the long run, the results will be reflected on the entire community, especially that this community depends today on communicating in English more than any time ever.
I do believe that one of the effective ways to resolve this problem lies in redefining the curriculum and the relations that underlie this redefinition. The first step should be in defining the role of language in communication. This leads us to James Gee’s definitions of communication and literacy, both which he sees as part and parcel of the language learning and application processes. Communication should no longer be focusing on recognizing what is said, heard or read. It should be focused more on interaction with special focusing on the fact that communication is “saying the ‘right’ thing at the ‘right’ time and in the ‘right’ place” (Gee, p. 139). Standards should be increased and even redefined in our curricula such that their main objective becomes the mastery of language and fluency in its usage.
It might be impossible to detach issues such as mastery and fluency from politics, especially in a world where media impact has never been stronger. Nonetheless, when formulating and managing our TESOL curricula we should be take into consideration the fact that language proficiency and communication mastery are no longer restricted to issues such as status, but rather, that they extend over to various vital areas of daily life such as work, social exchange, and others.
At present, much of the emphasis in our TESOL curricula is on achieving academic performance in English language. The importance of academic performance is definitely to be recognized, for it is the starting point from which learners are able to access other areas and forms of knowledge (Macken-Horakik, p. 236). Nonetheless, simply restricting our curricular vision and mission to academic performance only contributes to detaching language from its purpose, namely communication and growth.
The question, however at this point, is whether an authority that is not aware of the implications of language is capable of managing the very attributes that affect these implications. In other words, how can TESOL instructors who are aware of these realities respond to them when they are not given any opportunity to affect the decision making in the formation and setting of TESOL curricula.
The issue does not end there. In fact, even TESOL instructors may fail to see or realize the various changes that are taking place on the levels of technology, social change and politics. With such limitation, they themselves may commit the same mistake that incompetent TESOL coordinators are making.
The solution, therefore, as I see it, has to be twofold. First of all TESOL instructors must be involved in decision making in setting and formulating TESOL curricula. While such a step is necessary as part of democratizing and modernizing education and pedagogy, it has more to do with setting a more realistic approach to set more effective standards and applications in TESOL. Above all, TESOL coordinators should be experienced TESOL instructors who hold credentials in relevant fields. This will also help improve the status of TESOL instructors, and at the same time, allow those who are more aware of the problems and needs of TESOL to be in decision-making positions. Needless to mention, when the TESOL coordinator is a TESOL expert, his awareness of the needs and limitations of TESOL curricula will contribute to more effective and efficient improvement of TESOL curricula in Lebanese schools.
The second step that I propose relates to the maintenance of the effectiveness of the TESOL educator. Such maintenance can be achieved if this educator remains updated about the changes taking place at the educational, social, technological and political levels, where communication and the command of language are crucial prerequisites for achievement. The New London Group emphasize this point as they state that “when technologies are changing so rapidly, there cannot be one set of standards or skills that constitute the ends of literary learning, however taught” (p. 64). In other words, TESOL educators and coordinators have to continuously update themselves on the role and impact of language and communication on all levels in order to make sure that TESOL curricula will in turn remain updated and effective. This, however, is not an easy task. It will not only require continuous research to be conducted, but also continuous involvement of TESOL educators and coordinators in self-education and standard development.
Obstacles to Solution
My proposals, however, may be problematic, specifically due to two major reasons. First of all, they imply heavy investment to be made in human resources as well as in educational resources. At present, education is one field where costs are being slashed for economic and financial reasons. Most schools and even the government are not happy with any proposal that involves additional costs and financing, regardless the positive outcome that might be obtained. To overcome this problem, the only solution is by imposing as much pressure as possible on school administrations and governments. Not much might be hoped for, but this is the only viable solution in a world where rapid changes cannot and should not be ignored.
The second obstacle is related to bureaucracy. Both at the private and public levels, delegating authority is not very popular. My proposal involves delegating more authority and power to TESOL educators and coordinators. Not only might this result in the generation of higher costs for public and private schools, but it will ultimately create conflicts related to politics and power. Unfortunately, this is inevitable as the case is in any process that involves change.
Aims & Objectives of the Project
In the light of the discussions and the evaluation, the project in my mind evolves around involving TESOL, coordinators and if possible, students to design a new curriculum for ESL classes in a Lebanese school. The objective of this project is to test the limits of having TESOL instructors involved as well to find out whether it is possible to democratize the TESOL education in Lebanese schools without suffering serious flaws in the system.
The idea, therefore, is to locate a school that is willing to cooperate, that will provide human and other resources necessary for testing the idea, and that might be willing to apply the outcomes of the project, if successful, in coming years.
In other words, to define this project: ESL curricula at the intermediate level in Lebanese schools are disastrous. In a certain selected school where there are possibilities for cooperation and coordination, I will gather a group of ESL instructors and initiate a project with them with the support of the coordinator whereby the objective is to evaluate the existing system and come with a new design for the ESL curriculum.
The project is obvious very demanding and difficult, but the idea is not exactly unique. Several schools have applied something similar in the past by inviting ESL instructors and coordinators with long experience and diversified backgrounds. The only difference in this case, however, is that the existing coordinators are going to be involved in the project instead of outsourcing strangers, that is, applying an in-house approach instead.
Gee, James (1990). Chapter 6 ‘Discourses and literacies: two theorems’. In Social linguistics and literacies: ideology in discourses. London: The Falmer Press, pages 137-163.
Macken-Horakik, M. (1996). Literacy and learning across the curriculum: Towards a model of register for secondary school teachers. Literacy in society. Edited by R. Hasan & G. Williams. London, Longman.
The London Group (1996, spring). ‘A pedagogy of multiliteracies: designing social futures’. Harvard educational review, volume 66, number 1, pp. 60-92.