After five years of teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) I finally had my first taste of a British Council inspection. My employer, the English department of a UK-based finance and business training centre, was due an audit, which I had heard would take a full working day plus an extra half-day for interviews and auditing. In order for a private institute to obtain its license to run adult-learning classes, the British Council conducts an audit every fours years to ensure that the learning centre abides by its code of practices and runs courses in line with their approved methodologies.
What surprised me the most was not the inspected classes themselves – a mere 20 minutes of your teaching time is observed by one inspector – but rather the seemingly never-ending paperwork behind preparing a calculated, elucidated, time- and energy-devouring plan of each and every one of the lessons you are due to teach in the observed 2-day period, most of which, begrudgingly, will never even be looked at. In fact, the one lesson in which you are partially observed will not result in any feedback specific to you as a teacher, but rather a general summary of all observed teaching at your workplace will be given. Thus, with respect to your professional development, you are offered none.
The format of a planned lesson is divided into three main components: Engage, Study and Activate (formerly known as Presentation, Practice and Production) In brief, this student-centred lesson entails: activating interest in a topic and students’ prior knowledge; facilitating guided discovery of a grammar point, vocabulary set or communicative function and controlled practices; and setting a task for students to use the target language in a more spontaneous, freer way. The sheer thinking power it took for me to decipher the correct categorisation of my lesson’s activities was enough to light a small room.
Prior to planning any lesson, you must decide the end goal for the students. What are the objectives of this lesson? What skill are they going to learn that will help them in the real world? How will this particular grammar point or this listening exercise help them achieve that? Instructors must take into account the diverse backgrounds of the students in the classroom, their English-learning goals, and their learning styles, which tends to be overlooked. Hence, instructors are told to write a class profile, detailing each students’ linguistic background and aptitude, strengths and weaknesses, preferred style of learning and levels of dominance/submission. The subsequent assignment of pairs and groups throughout the lesson must factor in these differences yet simultaneously maximise the input of each student in the classroom.
Teaching a textbook based 60-minute lesson can take anything from 20 minutes to the equivalent one hour to plan. A British Council inspected lesson, however, may take 3 hours of preparation. An enormous portion of this time is spent reasoning each planned activity, underlining their pedagogical significance, declaring how long each activity should take (which, in my experience, involves acting out your whole lesson to unwilling family members and timing the completion of each activity) what your whiteboard will look like and how you plan to divide it, and noting the interaction and learning patterns of each task.
Before starting your lesson, you are to make a copy of your lesson plan, a class profile and materials for the inspector on their designated table. You are never notified about when they would like to come in and watch you teach, but as soon as they enter you are not expected to greet them or make it obvious to students that an inspection is about to happen, a point I had forgotten to advise my students about when during a mingle, one student stopped his conversation with another mid-sentence and gave an enthusiastic, albeit heavily-accented “Good afternoon, madam!” to the approaching inspector.
What happened in my 20 minutes under the watchful eye of the inspector was nothing beyond a routine lesson. The inspector’s departure went unnoticed as students continued through the stages of the lesson. Later feedback suggested that as a whole, the teaching at the institute was of good-to-excellent standard, fully engaging and seamless from one activity to the next, which, after years of trial-an-error teaching, are methods that many post-CELTA teachers eventually fall in line with. Needless to say, we passed the inspection and gained our accreditation for the next four years. Our experience in the weeks leading up to the British Council visit was as much professional development as we needed.
Mahtab Chadry is a CELTA-qualified English language instructor at Finance and Business Training in Birmingham, U.K. She is also completing her master’s degree in Philosophy of Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham. Her dissertation project on tacit knowledge explores the possibility of the explication of experienced learning and its pedagogical implications.