We all have our own beliefs about teaching and learning English. Sometimes these beliefs are explicit, and we can articulate them. Other times, these beliefs are more implicit. We may not be aware of them and we may not be able to articulate them, but they are still there.
Professionally, we have beliefs about many things, including our students, the effectiveness of various pedagogical practices, the nature of knowledge itself, and even our capabilities as teachers (i.e. self-efficacy). All of these various beliefs co-exist and affect us. Our beliefs impact what we do in the classroom, and vice versa, our practices in the classroom also impact what we believe about teaching and learning. Thus, it is not simply a matter of ‘the goings on in our heads’; our beliefs impact the classroom and our students.
Because of this, in general education, teachers’ beliefs have been a subject of investigation for many decades, and in the 1990s, this became a focus in (English) language teacher education as well. On many teacher preparation programs, there is an emphasis on reflection and challenging our pre-conceived notions about teaching and learning. Sometimes this is done through teachers’ philosophy statements, keeping a teaching journal throughout a practicum, and/or a host of other ways. Much of this is to simply acknowledge that we have our own experiences and prior beliefs and these act as a filter for any new knowledge we may experience/receive. When a teacher begins teacher education they are not “empty vessels waiting to be filled with theoretical and pedagogical skills” (Freeman & Johnson, 1998, p. 401).
While there is an emphasis on challenging/acknowledging teachers’ beliefs during teacher preparation, this can often be lost as teachers progress throughout their careers. The more we teach, the more it seems our beliefs become entrenched and unchangeable, and the less we seem to focus on our beliefs. However, it is important to constantly acknowledge our pedagogical beliefs. We may use different terms when talk about them (e.g. perceptions, attitudes, philosophies etc.), but we need to be aware of what we believe in terms of teaching and learning. This is not always easy because of the implicit nature of some of our beliefs. Simply asking ourselves ‘what do I believe about ____?’, while still useful, can only go so far. This makes our colleagues, our students, their parents, the resources we use, and the professional development we engage in that much more important. They can help us to challenge our deeper implicit beliefs when we are not able to realize them.
Going forward, teachers’ beliefs will remain an important element for teachers and teacher educators. While beliefs are complex, difficult to measure, and at times ambiguous, their importance cannot be overstated!
In the comments section below, we would love to hear from you! What types of activities have you engaged in that addressed your beliefs about teaching and learning English? What self-reflective activities have you used?
Freeman, D. and Johnson, K. E. 1998. ‘Reconceptualizing the knowledge-base of language teacher education’. TESOL Quarterly, 32/3: 397–417.