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When I moved ‘up’ to Budapest, as we say, I never thought this move would send me in so many directions, and make it possible for me to live in several countries around the world. At the time, i was a successful teacher in a rural town and never imagined travelling would be possible: the socialist system didn’t let us travel to the West except on a very tight budget every third year. I had only been to Britain once, but the following year saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and opened up opportunities in professional development and elsewhere too.

I soon found myself on a course organized by the newly set-up department of the university, the Centre for English Teacher Training, or CETT and graduated as a certified teacher trainer. It was unique at the time, not only because I came off the first such course ever, but because all teacher training at the time took place at designated ‘training schools’ affiliated to the universities. That system is still in place for all subjects, so let me point out that the normal procedure for training takes place at those institutions within a semester during the last year of studies. it consists of twenty hours of visits and teaching by the university students, so in the Dutch sense of the word, it counts anything but ‘stage’. Discussions and reflexion sessions are done, but the depth and extent of it all is rather limited, and the teachers training the students there are designated to do so on account of their reputation as outstanding teachers, not because they are fully qualified in directing reflexion sessions. The system had a confidence that all getting through this stage and all the trainers do and will do a great job.

While I was doing the training course, I met a completely different system of thinking, and the most important message was that our job was not to show the trainees how to teach English, but to make them develop to their full potential as teachers without criticizing them. This is a unique feature in Hungarian education at large, which I kept myself to all through the years while I did this kind of work.

This mentor training course we are offering was developed by Caroline Bodoczky and Angi Malderez. The course material was published by Cambridge University Press titled Mentor Courses and it was the Winner of the 1999 Ben Warren Trust Award for ELT Methodology books.

(quote from the web-site of IATEFL-Hungary)

The outstanding feature of this system was that training was intensive and fully immersive. Trainees were asked to go to the school, which was not necessarily a training institution, several days a week and hold lessons for one class of students all throughout the year in pairs. These pairs were fully responsible for their teaching and evaluation and all aspects of their work, were allowed to make their own decisions, but were supervised by the trainer. Every teaching our was discussed, disseminated, evaluated in detail. Self-reflection was the order of the day. Trust was the basis for it all to work well, and it did. Even those trainees that didn’t really want to go into teaching afterwards, did their best.

Unfortunately, the system existed only for about a decade and only in Budapest (though this means a very sizable part of newly initiated students in the country), and then it was scraped by new laws. Training time was cut to half, most of staff at CETT was made redundant, and this for most meant a huge step back towards the usual, much less effective format. I did this for one more year and then left.

The old, semester-based format is the only teacher-training existing in Hungary now, except that with English, the format is filled by the same fully-responsible trainees coached by colleagues trained with me or a little later. I’m happy to see that IATEFL-Hungary is organizing a mentor training course next year, which may attract a few young teachers again to the trainer/mentor profession and will be able to train their trainee students at their local schools for at least a semester. Elsewhere, it’s twenty hours watching and doing it, counted together. With this, we are back to the old days of mostly academic training coupled in the last few months with a little look into how teaching is done. Let me quote one of the articles from The Guardian (to be found below among the articles), which clearly states the most important qualities of good teachers versus academic knowledge:

In recent years a very dangerous idea seems to have been accepted by the decision-makers around the education system that the best teachers are the best qualified teachers, leading to a sliding scale of funding that financially disadvantages those without high-class degrees from the classroom. The reality is very different. A good teacher has to be an exceptional communicator, with patience, common sense, focus, more than a little belligerence and vast reserves of tolerance and empathy. Many prospective teachers simply do not possess these qualities and yet are accepted on to teacher training and even passed despite every indication that they do not have what it takes. The most fantastic academic background cannot make up for a lack of these qualities, but a great communicator with a third-class degree has far more than the necessary knowledge to inspire a class of teenagers.

The only positive side of English teaching in Hungary is that this is the section in education whose members stick relatively strongly together, hold meetings, annual conferences, training courses among themselves, it’s all dynamic. The teaching philosophy seems to be relatively level, teachers trying to use modern, communicative methods, building on students’ interests and abilities. However, the aim is the same for all: put students through exams at the end. And that doesn’t make it easier at all.

by P.S.