Amol Padwad is currently Head, Department of English, J.M. Patel College, Bhandara (India) and has 27 years of teaching experience at different levels. Until recently the National President of English Language Teachers’ Association of India (ELTAI), he is also a teacher trainer and ELT consultant and has successfully managed some innovative ELT projects. His areas of interest are teacher development, translation, Marathi Grammar and bird watching. He has travelled to several countries including the UK, Sri Lanka, Russia, Uzbekistan, Germany, USA and Japan for ELT-related work.
NNEST of the Month Blog July interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas
Thank you for accepting our invitation. I’d like to start by asking you how and why you became an educator.
I joined the teaching profession by choice. While getting trained to be a lawyer, I worked part-time as a teacher and discovered that I loved teaching. So, as soon as I finished my law course I saved myself from becoming a lawyer and became a full-time teacher. Being an educator is, I think, a natural extension of my passion for teaching. Teaching is a challenging profession, but I love it because it constantly gives me opportunities to learn and grow, to be surrounded by young, wonderful minds and to make useful contributions to others’ lives. Which is what keeps me going.
2) You are an enthusiast of professional learning networks (PLN’s). Could you explain the role your PLN has played in your continuing professional development?
I am a member of numerous PLNs, both formal and informal, large and small. I am a member of a wide range of PLNs – a very small ‘English Teachers’ Club’ of my town, the English teachers’ association of my university, the state level and national associations and the IATEFL. I am convinced that PLNs play an extremely crucial role in one’s continuous professional development (CPD). Each PLN contributes in a different way, and together they enrich our lives. These PLNs offer me a place to share and interact, to learn from others, to get exposure to latest developments in the field, to meet hundreds of practitioners and researchers, to enhance my understanding and skills. I have benefitted immensely and in so many different ways from the membership of PLNs. For example, it was only as the President of ELTAI that I could gain insights about managing professional associations or about leadership, in addition to making global friends. It was in the ETCs that I could learn about grassroots level problems in teaching and actually do experiments in my classroom. In the university English teachers’ association, I got a chance to work on curriculum-related issues at the tertiary level and also to learn a lot about university level politics! All of these added different dimensions to my development.
I strongly feel that being a part of PLNs is important for CPD, and the more and more varied PLNs, the better.
3) In your upcoming publication, Padwad (2012), you comment on the differences between the teaching profession and other professions in terms of recruitment, preparation, induction and, primarily, in terms of CPD for its members. You go on to suggest a combination of bottom-up teacher initiative and top-down systemic support as an ideal CPD scenario. I’d like to ask you two questions related to your article:
a) You mention that one needs to find their personal meaning of CPD. What is your personal meaning? What drives you to seek CPD?
My personal meaning of CPD is becoming a good professional and a good person. This may look like a ‘moralizing’ statement or a vague abstract idea, but it is not. I believe that professional and personal growth happen together and are inseparable; So, if I wish to continuously and professionally develop, I have to keep developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes required for my profession, while, at the same time, improving my behaviour, values and actions as a person. I think the drive for my CPD comes from two sources – one, the constant awareness of what impact I (can) make as a teacher on the lives of hundreds of my students, and two, the constant pleasure of learning new things, experimenting with ideas and seeing changes work in practice.
I wish to strongly underline that CPD is a long, slow and complex process. In-service training (INSET) programmes or teacher training workshops form a tiny part of it. As a teacher I have to take responsibility for my own development. I should actively seek opportunities and ways of CPD, rather than limit myself to and depend on what education authorities/ institutions offer.
b) What would you say of CPD for non-native teachers, specifically?
I suppose your reference to non-native teachers relates to teachers of English. For teachers in general, CPD would involve increasing subject knowledge and pedagogic knowledge/ skills. For non-native teachers of English, there is an additional – or often, the primary – concern about improving their own English. I often find that a huge premium is placed on teachers’ own English competence (by themselves and others) in their CPD. Paradoxically, at least in India, most INSET programmes neglect this component and focus only on teaching skills. In many contexts non-native teachers have to cope with not just pedagogic and academic issues, but also with socio-cultural issues (like society’s expectations from English teachers, prestige status of English, native –vs– non-native hierarchy, etc). CPD (any development, for that matter) is a stressful process, but for non-native teachers there are these additional challenges in their CPD.
4) In Padwad and Dixit (2010), you question the top-down approach by the National Council for Teacher Education in India in implementing reflective teaching by way of its Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, stating that it seems to be “another instance of ‘imported’ and imposed ideas” (p. 11) and that “it is at risk of being reduced to a well-meaning but impracticable proposal.” Could you elaborate on this and discuss how you feel about imported ideas that do not consider the local context?
The National Curricular Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE, 2009) seeks to introduce reflective practice and social constructivism in teacher education. There are several problems with the way this is being done. For example, the very way of prescribing the new approach uniformly ‘from above’ goes against the grains of social constructivism. Secondly, reflective practice and social constructivism, as one finds them discussed in NCFTE, ignore the Indian context and cultures. It seems to me that these notions have been borrowed from other contexts together with assumptions which simply do not hold true in India. I understand and accept the value of social constructivism and reflective practice in education. But the kind of social constructivism or reflective practice embraced by NCFTE assumes certain class size, teaching-learning facilities, teacher qualifications and competence, overall work culture and supportive atmosphere, none of which are present in reality. So, the grand design is hardly likely to materialize in practice.
I have personally attended teacher training programmes aimed at orienting us on these new approaches, where the ‘experts’ gave us 90-minute lectures on social constructivism and we got the impression that reflection amounted to filling out some prescribed forms every week! And I am not talking of an isolated event. To put it bluntly, when experiential learning or reflection is not a part of our primary/ secondary/ tertiary or teacher education, can we really hope to convert teachers – the products of this education culture – into reflective practitioners through a series of training programmes in a couple of years? Can we hope to make our classrooms sites of experiential learning in a short time, when for decades they have been highly teacher-centric places? More importantly, can we bring in such a radical paradigm shift just by making policy changes at the top, while the ground reality remains unchanged, and hardly any attempts are made to change it?
I think from my tone and words you must have realized that I feel very strongly about this issue and am quite critical of the way NCFTE seeks to bring in the change. I don’t see any chance of such a change coming into effect without first providing various kinds of support to teachers, who are acknowledged as the change agents and on whom the success of the new initiative largely depends. Teachers in my context are NNESTs. They need support in terms of time and resources. They need incentives and encouragement. Many need support to improve their own English. Until the overall system and culture changes and becomes conducive to social constructivism and reflective practice, they need support in coping with the current system.
5) Please tell us about your experience with the English Teachers’ Clubs in India (Padwad and Dixit, 2008) and discuss how these clubs particularly benefit non-native teachers?
English Teachers’ Clubs (ETCs) are small and voluntary ‘self-help groups’. It all started with a small group of young teachers in my town evolving into the first ETC and then the idea replicating itself in some other places over the years. Typically ETCs have about 10-25 members, mostly young teachers, who meet frequently, share their problems and concerns with each other and together try to find ways of addressing them. Initially most members were deeply concerned about becoming fluent in English, which they could achieve to a large extent in a couple of years, but then they went on to engage in larger things like organizing workshops for themselves, holding collective study sessions, attending conferences and seminars, and eventually (some of them) presenting and publishing. And mind you, these are young school teachers from small rural places. Some ETCs are still going on and there is a remarkable growth trajectory for each of their members so far.
The particular advantage of ETCs is the chance to share and interact, to address different individual concerns, to work in close companionship and to realize the value of one’s individuality and independence. ETCs encourage members to take responsibility of their CPD and work with others to find ways of developing. But what is even more important – especially for non-native teachers – is the huge affective-emotional support ETCs offer. They provide [a] psychologically safe environment for members to open up, commit mistakes, take risks, try and experiment, and not feel stressed about their short-comings or failures. I believe the biggest gain for the members from ETCs was the manifold increase in their confidence. Today ETCs members may not yet speak wonderful English [this is a bit tricky, no?], but they are ever ready to experiment, open to change and willing to try new things.
6) In Mackenzie and Padwad (2012), you analyze the characteristics of low context (e.g. British) and high context (e.g. India) cultures and discuss the need to negotiate the two perspectives when members of the two cultures need to engage in collaboration, as is the case of British Council consultants and members of ELTAI (English Language Teaching Association of India). Could you elaborate on these tensions, especially from the NNEST’s perspective?
There had been numerous instances of communication gap and differences of perception, values, attitudes and beliefs in course of ELTAI – British Council collaboration in the past years. When I took over as ELTAI National President, Alan Mackenzie and I tried to go a little deeper and formally study some aspects of this cross-cultural relationship. We felt that many tensions between the two sides were related to the basic cultural differences. For example, the Indian view of a teachers’ association (TA) as a charitable trust and a social gathering conflicted with BC consultants’ view of a TA as a professional organization and a community of professionals. While BC consultants would expect frequent and personalised communication of TA with its members, ELTAI didn’t see the need for it. Marketing, financial viability, professional management, ever-expanding range of ‘services and products’ etc were seen by BC consultants as top priorities for a TA, while for ELTAI these were very low priorities. There were also serious differences about leadership development and succession. I believe a study of this kind helps both parties understand each other better, and build stronger bridges of collaboration on the basis of the awareness of such differences.
A word of caution about the terms ‘high’ or ‘low’ contexts. There is nothing inherently good or bad, superior or inferior, about cultures indicated as ‘high context’ or ‘low context’. The terms only denote differently characterized cultures.
7) Do native speakers of English have more prestige in India than non-native ones?
India is not as obsessed with native speakers as some other countries appear to be, largely because it has a long history of using English and its own eminent galaxy of English speakers. However, native speakers tend to have more acceptability and ‘glamour value’, often irrespective of their credentials, when pitted against non-native ones.
But English language does enjoy huge prestige in India. By speaking in English, however incompetently, you can still influence people and open more doors than normally possible. There is this funny assumption that a speaker of English must automatically be a well-educated, well-cultured and ‘important’ person. This assumption may not come out clearly in large metro cities where English is so wide-spread, but come down to small places like my town and it will be unmistakably there. One finds indicators of this prestige value everywhere. If you scatter some English words in your Hindi or Marathi speech, you are smart and polished. But if you mix your English with a few words from Hindi or Marathi, you are corrupting it and betraying your poor education! You don’t bother too much about the mistakes you frequently make while speaking Hindi or Marathi, but you are scared out of your guts at the thought of making a single slip in English! Nothing less than perfect is acceptable in English, because it is the prestige language. As speakers-cum-teachers of English we have to cope with this subtle but immense pressure.
8) One of the most interesting findings In Graddol’s report for the British Council, English Next India 2010, is that although English is growing as a lingua franca in India, this is not happening at the expense of Hindi, as both languages are rising in importance and are, in fact, being mixed. Could you comment on how this mixing has influenced the teaching of English in India?
Though I agree with Graddol’s observation that English is growing as a lingua franca, I would hesitate to accept that it’s not happening at the expense of Hindi (or, for that matter, so many Indian languages). Code mixing and switching (mixing and alternating between different languages) is quite common in any region where several languages operate together. Mixing of Hindi and English is very common in Hindi-speaking areas. But does that make Hindi rise in importance? As Graddol reports, the number of people claiming to speak Hindi has been steadily rising over the years, but are the numbers rising just because [the] population is increasing, or is there really a larger percentage of speakers? How do the rising numbers relate to the quality of Hindi being spoken?
I would like to pick out two trends in this regard, which I find dangerous. One, encroachment of English into Hindi, as I said earlier, is glamorous and acceptable, but it’s not so the other way round. Two, the traditional seriousness and discipline of Indians in using languages is being replaced by increasing liberalism and compromise with quality. We are much less concerned with speaking our mother tongues properly. I personally feel that this is a direct impact of what we are doing with teaching and learning English – we believe that it’s important to speak English anyhow! ‘Don’t worry about your grammar, just start speaking!’ teachers (including me) often tell their students. By extension these attitudes spread to other language classes too. If such trends do not lead to the death of a language, at least they surely cripple it!
Please do not mistake me as a ‘purist’! I understand how languages are dynamic and how they keep influencing each other. My complaint is against aiming low. I feel disturbed to notice that even teachers of English do not aim at learning English well, do not know their own languages well enough and promote half-baked mixtures as natural!
Graddol, David (2010). English Next India- The future of English in India. British Council.
Mackenzie, A. S. and Padwad,, A. (2012, March). Working across Cultures – Issues in Managing a Teacher’s Association [web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/tchassoc1_alan_amol.htm.
Padwad, A. (Forthcoming). Reflecting on professional development. Proceedings of the Second International Conference of ELTAI New Delhi Chapter.
Padwad, A. and Dixit, K.K. (2008). Impact of professional learning community participation on teachers’ thinking about classroom problems. TESL-EJ, Volume 12, Number 3.
Padwad, A. and Dixit, K. K. (2010). ELE Policy and pedagogy in India: a study of the curriculum framework for teacher education. In Farrell, Lesley, Udaya Narayan Singh and Ram Ashish Giri (eds). English Language Education in South Asia: From Policy to Pedagogy, CUP India.