Teacher development belongs to teachers


September 6, 2013 by Willy Cardoso

Let’s start this by saying I don’t agree with the distinction people make sometimes between teacher training, teacher development, and teacher education.

I know I’m wrong when:

The distinction is about how programmes are structured.

At least in my main area of work, ELT. This is usually understood like this:

  • Teacher education is what happens in higher education / universities (e.g. BAs and PGCEs); it is ‘academic’;
  • Teacher training is usually much shorter, from 4-weeks to 1 year (e.g. CELTA, DELTA “or equivalent”)it is ‘practical’, sometimes ‘quasi-academic’;
  • Teacher development is whatever else the teacher does (or is done for) to become a better teacher (e.g. conferences, in-house workshops, reading or blogging about trends in education, etc)


Teacher development has the least prestige of all three; mainly because it is the most informal of all three – not coincidentally also the most autonomous.

So I can’t disagree much with the structure – well, I can, but that is not the point. The structures are well defined and ingrained in the social mentality of the profession.

What I do not agree with is the total distinction from the point of view of the teacher who wants to become a better teacher.


I want to become a better teacher – should I train, develop, or educate myself?


I personally don’t see that distinction. It is narrowing and disregards the complexity I think teaching is.

I might have a specific need – like to learn how to teach grammar more creatively, or to learn how to teach from a task-based approach – so I could go to teacher training. But I would undoubtedly like to have a good discussion about the why’s besides being told the how’s — and the what’s and where’s and everything else. Perhaps I would be told ‘this is not the place for this’, or ‘we don’t have time for this now’ – which I have been told a couple of times and understand why – even agree with, partially.


The point is – there isn’t a distinction in my intention.


Especially between training and development. I see no point in training if I’m not developing. And if I’m developing there are some properties I would expect the activity to have, to name a few:

  • relevance: to my context, or
  • connection: to my way of being.
  • dissonance: to put me out of my comfort zone and help me to see things from different perspectives.
  • openness: to participants’ lives and experiences to shape the content and form of the programme.
  • choice: so that whenever I feel I’m not being productive or contributing to anything I can do something else that will help me achieve my goals.
  • complexity: so that no one has the ultimate answer, and ‘holds’ the truth.


The last one is important, because while a training course ends, development carries on. Final answers, closure, and consensus may block development. Why would I want that?

So even if the label happens to be ‘training’ – I would expect developmental opportunities.


This way of thinking has come to being mainly because I can’t really fully separate my teacher identity from my other identities. The following reference articulates this idea better than I can, maybe.

In the essay Education, Teacher Development and the Struggle for Democracy, Anthony Hartnett and Wilfred Carr tell us that a democratic education agenda involves seeing teachers at three interrelated levels:

Teachers as citizens

Teachers, like all citizens in a democratic society, have to reflect on, and decide about, the sort of society and the kind of life that they want. … If teacher development is disconnected from politics and from its historical and ideological roots, it, like schooling, will replace conscious social reproduction with unconscious social reproduction of the status quo. (p. 48)

Teachers as workers (with a career)

Under a developed democratic system, teacher development for classroom teachers would be a career process. It would require time for reflection on a day to day basis and it would need regular time away from classrooms. (p. 49)

Teachers as people

Teachers have a right to have some say about the form and content of their private and professional lives. … In practice this means that all teachers should be able to choose, uncoerced and for themselves, what kind of teacher development they want. (p. 49)

When I develop as a teacher, I develop as a person – and vice versa.

Lately, I have also come to realise that my development as a teacher is also linked to my development as

  • a cultural agent – which means by teaching I am reproducing cultural norms, inherited or subverted.
  • a political agent – this is an area I’m paying more attention to and cannot yet fully express how I see it, but the bottom line is that teachers are in a privileged position to become agents of social change, in spite of the current status of the profession which disempowers them to.


Back to my wishful indivisibility between teacher training and teacher development, coupled with recent accounts from colleagues who are training or in training, the current and predominant qualifications market in TEFL, widely accepted norms of what is valid teacher training and development, and my general aversion to status quo and tendency to promote teacher autonomy I will leave you with one of a few attitudes I’ve taken on the issue:

Don’t let those far removed from the day-to-day of classroom life tell you what you need to learn to become a better teacher. Give the finger to a jobs culture that demands specific diplomas with narrowly defined conceptions of what it means to be a teacher. Don’t buy into neoliberal credentialism in education. Develop not only as a teacher but as a person and a citizen. Learn the dominant discourse and critique it from within, create alternative discourses, and be part of the change you want to see.

One of a few attitudes, I said. No closure.


5 thoughts on “Teacher development belongs to teachers

  1. Reblogged this on Stop Complaining – Enjoy Teaching! and commented:
    Difficult to do when teaching in the public school system, but take control of your own professional development and make it work for you.

  2. Kathy says:

    “teachers are in a privileged position to become agents of social change, in spite of the current status of the profession which disempowers them to.”

    A point to hang on to, thanks!

  3. Matthew says:

    Great post Willy C.! Really great. Much of what is expressed above echoes and reflects much of what I read during my MA TESOL (I got really hooked on the teacher dev/learning/edu/etc. etc. WHATEVER literature during my second year). I’m thinking of stuff by folks like Underhill, Karen Johnson, T Farrell, Julian Edge, etc. Your perspective reminds me specifically, right now, of something from an article in System (38 2010*) by Anne Feryok:

    “…it may be that teachers need to become aware of the process [of the emergence of new practices/T growth] itself, which may occur through dissonance (Golombek and Johnson, 2004; Kubanyiova, 2009), enabling a teacher to identify and potentially gain control over practices. This is because as agents, teachers can draw on intentions to make purposeful changes (even if this is not sufficient for success), unlike species in an ecosystem or even children learning their first language (or ‘how to teach’ in their years of schooling [Lortie (1975)]). Teachers are adults, after all, who may require explicit learning even for ongoing second language learning (Ellis, 2006), not to mention more obviously socially-organized knowledge domains.”

    What I take that to mean is that what could/should flow through all of a teacher’s training/learning/education experience(s) is a more explicit and focused reflective study of our own learning process – and the more this was seen as an essential element of any of the three awkwardly separate domains of training/dev/edu, the more naturally those divisions would fade. Maybe teachers working on their own knowledge/skills/whatever need to be focused on how they will always “draw on intentions to make purposeful changes” rather than simply “use what is learned”. Also, perhaps (much!) more emphasis and acknowledgement of Lortie’s sense of being, on some level, profoundly formed by schooling? So, I guess, we’d be looking both ‘backwards’ and ‘forwards’ in particular ways?

    I think this is a tough egg because..well, hey, we’re the Teachers (!) not the learners. We’re supposed to ‘develop’ – learning is what we facilitate for others, even ‘acquisition’ is for others. Larsen-Freeman would prefer ‘SL-Development’ to ‘SLA’, right? What if we swapped the D in TD with the A in SLA? Acquire what? A “language” of teaching, maybe? Anyway, it’s almost like we (pretend to) magically ‘graduate out of’ the domain of the simpler (?) learning processes, or maybe we so habitually objectify those in application to ‘the other’ (our students) in our jobs that it creates a kind of callus around where perhaps softer spots would help. In any event, I’m intrigued by parallels between SLA and TD (somehow what we learn as teachers is ‘2nd language-like’).

    These are impressionistic, free-associative thoughts and reactions and may well come out a bit gibberish-y here, but nonetheless, your post has me thinking and hopefully moving towards more clarity. Thanks again for the post that sparks a lot of wondering and questioning.

    *the Feryok article is called “Language teacher cognitions: Complex dynamic systems?”

  4. […] How do we say “teacher training”, “teacher development”, etc, in Portuguese? Is there really a difference between them? What if I say them in English? What’s behind it? Do names really matter? Do the ways we name them really matter? […]

  5. […] I had even read some articles and blog posts on it in order to find inspiration for my post (“Teacher Development belongs to Teachers” by Willy C. Cardoso, “Attending Conferences” by James Taylor, “7 things about reflecting […]

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