The Technology of a Professionalized ELT

Professions are a social label or category. There is great difficulty defining them in objective terms, and subsequently, useful definitions always depend on how they are defined by those involved in the social creation of the label: a profession is a job that people call a profession.

Professionals control a body of knowledge that they create. This does not distinguish a profession from a highly developed trade, such as plumbing, but it does allow for the distinction between allied professions. For example, physicians are responsible for the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of physical disease or injury in patients; nurses are responsible for the routine care of patients. In principal, it is possible to separate contact with patients based on this criterion and determine what kind of professional should deliver the care. In actual practice, it is not always so easy to distinguish between the concerns of allied professions, but the research and development of technologies to deal with the professional problems of physicians remains quite distinct from that of nursing. The growing number of nurse practitioners has increasingly edged into clinical practices that were once controlled exclusively by physicians, still there is no trouble making the distinction between doctors and nurses.

Are there allied professions involved in English teaching? And if so, what is the technology that distinguishes between them?

The answer to this first question would have to be yes. The wide array of certification systems available for English teachers are not always compatible. Many of these qualifications are aimed specifically at educators who will work in commercial language companies, rather than public education systems. Their content in not always transferable from the private sector into the public sector. As a result of this, leaders in one form of ELT do not necessarily have the skills to move into other venues of instruction. Leading figures in the delivery of commercial education, such as Jeff Mohamed, , Harry Swindells, or Bruce Veldhuisen do not appear qualified to teach in the public schools of their home countries.

Several facts are salient in the further discussion of this topic.
(a) The two forms of certification appear to distinguish between ESL and EFL. While this distinction is not always clear the vast majority of EFL certificates (ex: CELTA and DELTA) are offered in commercial training facilities situated in EFL settings and are aimed at native-speakers of English.
(2) The kind of certification aimed at ESL teachers (ex: MATESOL) is located, not surprisingly, in countries where English is spoken as the first language, and students in these programs are just as likely to be foreign teachers who will ultimately teach TEFL in their home country public schools as they are to be local teachers specializing in TESL.
(3) Many foreign teachers receiving the kind of training aimed at local ESL teachers (ex: MATESOL) are in fact working in institutionalized public teaching situations in their home countries. Increasingly, there are native-speakers teachers receiving this type of training who are not eligible to teach in the public education institutions of their home countries but who teach overseas in schools where there native-speaker status allows access to entry-level positions.

It appears that there are two groups of people involved in ELT. One group is legally qualified to teach in public education institutions, either in a native English speaking country or in their home country which is not a native English speaking country. The other group is not able to teach in the public education institutions of their home country, but is qualified to teach language largely on the basis of their proficiency in institutions where English is taught as a foreign language.

A more difficult question concerns the relationship between these respective occupational groups. Two possibilities could explain. The first is that their relationship is hierarchical. For example, the group that can teach in public institutions is better qualified than the second group because its members can teach every where that the second group can teach and also in public institutions. The problem is that this is not true. There are many commercial teaching positions whose minimum qualification is a DELTA. Candidates with an M.Ed would not qualify unless they also had other qualifications in TESOL/TEFL.

The second possibility is that these occupational groups are allied professions in the same way that medicine and nursing are allied professions. Speculating on the relationship between the two (and keep in mind that I am only speculating), public institutions teachers look after the training of academic English skills whereas those working in the other sector of the market look after more practical language skills.

All of this leaves unanswered the question of what distinguishing technology differentiate the functions of the two groups. While it is clear that public institution teachers are versed in the technologies that colleges of education perpetuate, it is not clear what practices our other group of educators are specialized in delivering. It may be that I am premature in referring to this group as a ‘profession’, and a more correct categorization may be that it is in the process of ‘professionalizing’ itself. Nevertheless, if this is a correct categorization, it may very well be our group does not yet have a properly defined core technology.

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