EAP Teacher education and development: some thoughts

Over the past few months my thoughts and energy have been directed at co-researching and writing (with Gemma Campion*) a chapter on education and development for EAP practitioners to be published in the Routeledge Handbook of EAP (eds. Ken Hylands and Philip Shaw). This endeavour proved far more challenging and thought-provoking than I had imagined when first embarking on this project. In this post I want to briefly discuss just some of the challenges and questions that emerged during this process of researching and writing on teacher education and development.
There is a dearth of publications and research exploring EAP practitioner education and development by researchers, teacher educators and practitioners themselves and few (but growing in the UK) opportunities to study for specialist post-graduate qualifications in TEAP. The practitioner (especially in terms of education and development) is almost absent from the pages of JEAP (Journal of English for Academic Purposes). It would appear that practitioners are of only very minor interest to the discipline. Despite infrequent calls over the years for more attention to be paid to practitioners this has not translated into a substantive body of work. Why practitioners have solicited so little interest from the discipline remains a mystery and seems to confirm Belcher’s (2012:544) recent observation that the ‘community that ESP professionals know the least about is their own’.
This lack of interest by the discipline is not entirely reflected by the profession, at least in the guise of BALEAP, where there have been significant developments over the past 8 or 9 years to articulate, guide and standardise the competencies required to teach EAP. Initially, BALEAP developed a competency framework for teachers of English for Academic Purposes (CFTEAP) which has formed the foundations of a new and ambitious accreditation scheme. This accreditation scheme offers three levels of recognition; associate fellow, fellow, and senior fellow. Whilst this scheme appears to have been welcomed within the UK EAP community it is not without problems. The aim of this post (but possibly a future one) is not to dissect this scheme in detail but simply indicate some of the problems with it.
Much of the scheme relies of the orthodoxy of the reflection as the motor of development and education. Yet there are multiple meanings attached to reflection, reflection serves diverse educational and ideological ends and there are some serious concerns pertaining to the quality, significance and aims of reflective practices. Along with a lack of empirical evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of reflective practices this would suggest greater caution in relying so heavily on reflection in this scheme.
There is a general preoccupation (obsession?) in the available literature on the inadequacies of the novice practitioner and how ill-prepared they are for teaching EAP. The novice is cast as ‘deficient’ and requiring induction and assimilation into existing practices and values. This stifles, partly through promoting and privileging ‘experience’ and learning from experienced colleagues, innovation and transformation whilst promoting reproduction of existing praxis. How EAP is to develop in this framework is unclear.
There is an emphasis on understanding and applying institutional values (and even then only in three restrictive areas; equality of opportunity, sustainability, and internationalisation) rather than encouraging practitioners to question and shape these values. In addition, the focus of these three values in unnecessarily restrictive and practitioners should participate in wider debates on the (effects of) commodification of education in a neoliberal world. Practitioners should, in my view, be questioning the range of ideologies and values that profoundly shape (rather than simply form the backdrop to) EAP as well as articulating their/our own values and responses to them. A much more sociologically-informed and reflexive emphasis is needed in education and development frameworks and courses if practitioners are to make a bigger impact on their worlds.
These are just three examples of issues that troubled me during the process of writing this chapter. More generally, during this process of researching and writing, I became (painfully) aware of just how parochial my perspective was/is: it is a very UK-centric perspective. Courses and development frameworks for practitioners all emanated from the UK and the UK perspective appears to dominate discourse on education and development. This raises serious questions about the relevance and pertinence of these courses and frameworks for those teaching EAP in other contexts (about which relatively little is published). A global perspective or multiple perspectives on education and development is simply unavailable at the present time and the UK perspective(s) risks shaping and dominating professional development and education at a time when much more recognition needs to be given to EAP enacted elsewhere in possibly very different and challenging contexts.
One way of reading the growth of interest in EAP practitioner development and education in the UK is as a response to both the expansion of EAP in the recent past as well as a desire to protect and promote the teaching of EAP (and practitioners): to promote greater professionalism within EAP in the UK in a period of expansion; and to seek greater recognition (and security) for EAP within the wider educational community. This comes at a time when the professional status and identity of practitioners is particularly fragile within the UK (EAP units have no settled ‘home’ within universities, out-sourcing of teaching to for-profit organisations is not increasingly common, pay and conditions vary greatly etc.).
I will return to this topic in the next couple of weeks but this just gives a flavour of some of the questions and issues I have been thinking about during this process of writing.

* the views expressed here are my own.



16 Comments on “EAP Teacher education and development: some thoughts”

  1. David Keeble says:

    Among the culture-bound ‘ideologies’ that shape EAP practice and orthodoxy in the UK is a politically-and-culturally influenced conception of ‘language’. This can be traced back to the early 70’s (with the politicization of education) and has it influenced the discipline of linguistics as practiced in UKHE linguistic departments (such that they still exist). Think of how ‘language’ is conceived, for example, in the USA, where biology, psychology and cognitive science has shaped the discipline far more.


    • Alex says:

      Interesting point David. A critical historical tracing of how we have come to view language would be very interesting (I’m showing my ignorance and if you know of any good references for this, I’d be very interested). I think that a history of EAPC would be most welcome too. There seems to be quite a few self-inflicted wounds that persist in how EAP is conceived and enacted… We seem a little stuck in practices which do not function especially well…


  2. Soros Oria says:

    I often wonder if we are not demanding too much of people teaching in an area that is undervalued, underpaid, and subject to whim. If we take the teaching of ESL as a predecessor to EAP, we find that we not only need a certificate to teach,but there are certificates and then there are certifiactes. This, but not that one, is bonfide. EAP is often taught by English majors who hold MAs or even PhDs. They do know how to do research, write essays, theses, and dissertations, yet this is not enough? They now have to be “accredited” just to get jobs which often are “sessional,” “adjunct,” temporary?
    You may think that accreditation will raise salary levels, but if you look at ESL instructors, they are not making any more money now than they were 40 years ago, I know. I was one of them. And I have been teaching EAP, business English, and technical writing. Do we need to license everything?


    • Alex says:

      Hi and thanks for your contribution!
      I agree with you in so far that the professional situation of EAP practitioners is far from ideal and are often the poor relations of ‘academic’ colleagues… At least this is the case in many parts of the UK. In the parts of the R est of Europe it might well be quite different.
      Whilst practitioners may know how to do research it does necessarily mean they know how to teach research writing in other disciplines nor what they should be teaching.
      Having recognition through schemes such as BALEAP’s doesn’t strike me as a bad thing per se, I would question whether their framework is as robust as it could be though. And I do wonder whether HE colleagues would even recognise this sort of accreditation. I don’t quite see why I would do it. Let’s see though, I might well be very wrong.
      What does need to change is that practitioners need to start influencing academia more. Education and development is one part in creating a professional body that can do just that.


  3. Tyson Seburn says:

    I’m not entirely sure a framework like that BALEAP developed is required (or welcomed) in contexts outside the UK (or in?). Since the expansion of EAP, at least in its current explosion, is still in its infancy through many Canadian universities, everyone is currently still sussing out what qualifications/type of practitioners are most appropriate. In my program of about 25 instructors, we have former ESL teachers, PhD candidates, and the gamut in between–collectively we bring different strengths to the program based on our differing understandings of EAP students needs. Even foundation programs, which one might assume would follow a pretty similar structure, wildly vary in their programming, trying to gain their share of the market. Perhaps through this trial and error culture will we also derive at a set of standards, but maybe not.


  4. Alex says:

    Hi Tyson,
    And thanks for your thoughts on this. I think the CFTEAP is not bad as a sort of starting point to begin to think about what is desirable or necessary in your context. The problem with trial and error is that the errors tend to persist. The legacy of the ESP quick-fix mentality is still causing problems in EAP here – presessionals attempt and promise the near impossible. So, some sort of critical awareness of what happens elsewhere might be useful.
    I’d be interested to see how things evolve over time in Canada. Let me know of any initiatives.


    • Tyson Seburn says:

      Howdy again – yes, awareness of the EAP goings-on in other contexts is of obvious use, and I highly recommend so (after all, #eapchat and #tleap are platforms for this type of cross-contextual sharing). I meant though that not everything is applicable, no matter how useful it is elsewhere. We’re all still figuring this out. That’s all.


  5. Maxine Gillway says:

    I started my EAP career at Bilkent University in Turkey in the 1990s and then spent 6 years in the UAE. The EAP teacher development was outstanding in both places. As well as learning from the experts from around the globe that were brought to us, we learnt a lot from working alongside practitioners from a range of educational backgrounds (North America, North Africa, Australasia). I was shocked at the parochialism in EAP when I got back to the UK in 2006 and the belief that the UK was leading the field. We are not. There are lots of good things happening elsewhere that we can learn from. My other worry is that EAP as a discipline is at risk of becoming too isolated in a world moving toward interdisciplinarity.
    I am also intrigued that someone who writes such a good blog questions the value of reflection…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Alex says:

    Hi Maxime,
    and thank you for taking the time to comment. Your thoughts are interesting and I wonder whether one of the problems – certainly one I have faced – is getting access to research and analysis of EAP practices not just in the UK but especially elsewhere. There is very little that surfaces in journals, blogs, chapters etc. So perhaps the parochialism, whilst not justified, is certainly reinforced by a lack of expose, publicly, of EAP praxis in other contexts.
    What is needed is a forum/journal/space of some kind that enables greater exposure, communication and sharing of ideas, research and praxis. JEAP isnt doing this – although the reasons for this are perhaps much more complicated than laying the blame with this journal.
    I am thinking, now and have been for while, of setting up such a journal, and hope to announce something very shortly!
    This makes me think again of how important scholarly activity is – or should be – a part of the practitioner identity.


    • Maxine Gillway says:

      There is, of course, InForm, which seems to work quite well for the community of practitioners in International Foundation Programmes. I look forward to your announcement!


  7. To add to earlier comments on EAP in the Canadian context I’d share my opinion that Canadian EAP, especially that happening on university campuses, is heavily influenced by traditions and developments from both the US and the UK. Also, EAP as a field and as a practice takes on very different forms in different parts of the country (contrast large, multicultural urban centres with small-town universities in far-flung locations); a certain degree of regional variation exists because education is a provincial jurisdiction in Canada, not a national one. There is a relative weakness at this point in time of the potentially unifying national body for TESL and non-existence of a national body for EAP. All these make for a challenging climate for EAP teacher professionalism and development that’s quite unique compared with other regions. Some of what’s happening elsewhere could be adapted to the Canadian context, though some of it wouldn’t transfer well.


    • Alex says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      Thank you for your reply. How does the U.S. influence the teaching of EAP in Canada? I’m interested in what’s happening in Canada partly because it seems that EAP exists there without any kind of professional body guiding or overseeing and I’m interested in how that impacts professionalism and development. From the outside it seems as if EAP if not thriving in Canada is, nonetheless, quite active and flourishing. I do wonder though what the long term impact might be without some body to support education and development.


      • The US influences the teaching of EAP in Canada in several ways. On the most general level, in terms of international professional affiliation, many teachers gravitate toward TESOL vs. IATEFL. But more importantly, on many Canadian campuses general academic writing instruction (NES and NNES students alike) is often of the American-school college composition or Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines style courses, and so EAP, be it pre- or in-sessional and credit-bearing or not, has to exist in, around, in relation to and on the margins of this “mainstream” approach to academic writing. True, the influence on what happens in any particular teacher’s EAP class on a given day may be quite indirect, but on the level of policy and programming it’s hard to ignore. I would agree with your judgement that EAP in Canada is active and flourishing, but also that there is a need for some sort of more formal national body of affiliation for EAP. Actually, speaking generally in terms of English teacher professionalism, at this moment in time the role and influence of TESL Canada is quite weak, and so in certain provinces, the provincial associations have been picking up the slack, but if your province doesn’t happen to have critical mass for a strong association, you’re out of luck. It’s quite a unique situation, because all this has happened as overall the numbers of teachers of EAP have ballooned across the country in the last ten years or so. I don’t have stats on this, but my feeling is that most of the growth in ELT in the last decade, especially outside major urban centres, has been in EAP.


  8. […] observation that the ‘community that ESP professionals know the least about is their own’ (https://teachingeap.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/eap-teacher-education-and-development-some-thoughts/) and it would be interesting to speculate as to why this is the case. However, the purpose of this […]


  9. […] across institutions often share similar educational backgrounds, aspirations, experience and transitions into EAP (although not as uniform as some commentators would have us believe). In other words, there is […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s