English First, CLIL Second?

March 27, 2023


When teachers are trained to become teachers, they receive training. Everyone understands that is necessary. But what about bilingual teachers? Do they get a solid training or do they have to wing it? Asking the question is answering them I think. 

Estimated time to read this article: 6 minutes

Becoming a teacher

How long did it take you to become trained as a professional teacher? 

Some of you might have gone through 3 or 4 years of ‘regular’ teacher training. Others might have had other jobs before and became a teacher through a shorter training period. 

Personally, I went through 3 years of teacher training, but I think it took about the same amount of time before I no longer felt everything was new. 

I think it takes a couple of years of teaching before you have the experience to recognise certain situations.

To know what topics might be trickier for students. 

To realise how to respond when a student doesn’t know an answer.

I still remember the first time a student started crying in my lesson, let’s just say I was not 100% sure what to do.

Becoming a good teacher is something that takes practice over time.

Yet, when teachers are asked to teach in bilingual education, many teachers are expected to wing it.

Key Take Away

It takes a couple of years of teaching before one no longer feels 'everything is new'

Focus on English

Last week I had a conversation with a history teacher in training, who was also teaching in English. 

I asked him how it went. 

His reply was: “My English is quite okay, so I think it is going well”.

I asked him again, out of curiosity, why he chose to teach these English classes.

His reply was: “Because there was no one else to do it and it sounded like something I wanted to try”.

No mention of CLIL whatsoever. 

In other words: the focus of getting teachers to teach in bilingual classes seems to be English-first, CLIL-second.

Don’t get me wrong, I get why English is important. I do.

The last thing you want is a teacher who barely knows any English to explain things in a way students don’t understand.

Language becomes a barrier that way, which should not be the case.

And it will have an effect on the confidence of the teacher as well.

In fact, I sometimes heard complaints from parents about the level of English of teachers, that is something you definitely want to avoid.

Yet…just like CLIL is a dual-focused way of teaching, shouldn’t becoming a bilingual teacher require a dual-focused approach?

Key Take Away

Bilingual teacher training should also be dual-focused: Language & CLIL.

The risk for young teachers

Going back to the conversation with the teacher-in-training, I don’t blame him for winging it.

The opposite actually: I applaud his enthusiasm and his willingness to jump at the opportunity to teach in English and start teaching Pippi Longstocking style: “I have never done this, so I think I can do it”.

“I have never done this, so I think I can do it” 

Pippi Longstocking

I do think we have to be very careful with these new, young teachers who just start out.

Exactly because of that: their enthusiasm, their energy, their willingness to try out new things.

We all know teachers in our organisation who are asked to do everything, often because they do a good job, but find it hard to say “no”.

Some time ago I did a bit of research on how these ‘new’ teachers develop over time in The Netherlands.

Here are some numbers I just want to run by you:

  • Of the teachers aged 30 and younger, 31% quits within 5 years (OCW, 2014)
  • Of all 53 sectors you can work in, education scores highest on 'feeling empty' (39 on 31.1 average nationally) and scores second at 'mentally drained' (21.2 on 17.36 nationally) (CBS 2021)
  • Teachers have the highest rate of burnout: 21.3% (on 14.4% nationally) (CBS 2014)

In other words: we might just be over-asking teachers a little nowadays.

As we speak I have already seen the first job offers.

Apparently, we have reached that time of the year again when teachers start thinking about switching jobs.

This also means it is likely there will be new teachers starting next school year at new schools. 

Also in bilingual education.

And the last thing you want is someone joining the team, only to leave soon after because they feel like they cannot do the job.

I think it’d be a good idea to invest in them. 

Instead of over-asking them, help them become qualified CLIL teachers.

Instead of just ‘teach in English’, actually implement CLIL in their bilingual lessons.

Instead of planning interventions when things go wrong, give teachers a solid foundation to teach confidently.

Key Take Away

Teachers are prone to stop teaching too soon because of various reasons, one of which is stress.

What can be done about this?

I think the question should be turned around.

What do teachers need in order to succeed in CLIL?

The ideal situation would be that whenever a teacher starts teaching CLIL, they immediately get access to both English training and CLIL training. 

If needed of course.

In other words: a new teacher at a school who starts teaching bilingual education receives:

  1. 1
    keys to the school rooms
  2. 2
    a locker
  3. 3
    The date and time of the ‘introduction to CLIL’ training & the next English language training session.

And to avoid overwhelm, I’d say maybe that should be all the training they need when they just start out 😉

Here are a couple of options to do something about this:

Are you a coordinator looking for options to get these new CLIL teachers what they need?

Plan a call in my calendar so we can discuss this and see what might fit your situation best.

Are you a teacher looking for ways to improve your CLIL teaching?

Plan a free coaching call to receive two practical ideas to help you in your lesson, now.

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