What is required to teach EAP?Posted: May 30, 2015
This guest post is by Gemma Campion – currently a colleague at Nottingham. We co-wrote a chapter on teacher education and development for the Routledge Handbook of EAP which is due to be published later this year. Gemma won the BALEAP MA dissertation award in 2012 ‘‘The learning never ends’ Investigating teachers’ experiences of moving from English for General Purposes to English for Academic Purposes in the UK context; What are the main challenges associated with beginning to teach EAP, and how can these challenges be overcome?’”
Since my days as an ESOL teacher, deciding to study an MA with some vague sense that it would help me get into EAP, I have always been interested in how it is that one becomes an EAP practitioner, perhaps particularly because of the apparent mystery that seems to surround it. As an outsider to the profession I had a sense that EAP was quite different to other types of ELT I had experience of, but I was never sure quite how; I’d read bits of information; EAP Essentials for example, with its comparative table of ‘General English’ and ‘EAP’ attempts to provide a comprehensive account of the differences, but the problem was often that I didn’t even recognise the ‘General English’ that was described in the EAP literature (given the plethora of contexts and forms this can take). So determined was I to try and find some answers, I even devoted my Masters dissertation to investigating the process of learning to teach EAP, but due a dearth of relevant research and literature, my understanding was limited to the small number of insights I gained from my own research with six EAP teachers. I wasn’t surprised therefore to see the recent request from the English teacher in Greece on the BALEAP mailing list (see thread ‘EAP experience question’ which began 04/12/14), asking for advice about how she could go about getting into EAP in the UK. I was more surprised however to see how a rather innocent enquiry provoked such a long and animated (at times even verging on heated) debate. What has struck me about the ensuing exchange is the apparent strength of feeling that people seem to have on this topic.
For those who may have missed, or not have access to the conversation, a whole range of views were expressed; from proponents of ‘ELT experience’, along with CELTAs and DELTAs, through to those arguing that a background in academia is more important. At its centre, the debate seems to draw on a basic dichotomy/distinction between skills and knowledge; is it more important to have a firm set of (CELTA/DELTA inspired) teaching skills in one’s repertoire, to be able to go into the classroom and deliver well-staged, neatly executed lessons, or does EAP require MA holders and ‘academics’ (those in possession of ‘paper qualifications’) who, even if lacking in teaching skills and experience, may nonetheless have a much better understanding of academic literacies and the university context, and perhaps also a more questioning, critical disposition, such as we hope to foster in our students? Although these crude distinctions are, in some cases, a reduction of the views expressed, they nonetheless get at the types of binaries which seem to underpin what are essentially quite deep philosophical differences in beliefs about teaching EAP. For me, particularly with the increasing commodification of higher education, it seems that such questions are doubly significant because they are also inescapably political in nature. If we take the former view of EAP teaching; what for me is something of a reduction of TEAP to a set of skills, which can be learned on a teacher-training course, what implications does this have for our status within the institutions for which we work? On the other hand, if ELT qualifications and background aren’t important, what does this do to our identity as specialists, who have had to undergo formal training in order to be able to do what we do?
Views expressed in the conversation also draw on distinctions between experience and disposition; with some comments pointing to the importance of EAP experience, while for others it is a teacher’s disposition, their flexibility to adapt for example, which marks them out as the ideal TEAP candidate. For me the question of experience has always been slightly perplexing; so often it is called upon in the professional TEAP literature as a sort of benchmark of quality, yet nowhere does anybody really explain why experience is of such fundamental importance, or justify why experience is necessarily equated with expertise and competency. Alongside references to the value of experience seems to be a corresponding preoccupation with the short-comings of the novice, albeit usually in the (slightly patronising) context of how the ‘novice’ can be brought up to standard. We see this for example in the British Council’s ‘Pathways in EAP’ (1) , which makes very broad assumptions about teachers based on their level of experience in EAP; those at entry level are told, for example to ‘beware’ of ‘overconfidence’. BALEAP’s TEAP Accreditation Scheme is similarly underpinned by the belief that development should be based on level of experience. What is it about experience that is so key for an EAP role?
What also interests me is, given that the question of what is required to be an effective EAP practitioner continues to provoke strong reactions, and varied responses, is why the profession has, collectively, always seemed so reticent about it. Aside from a couple of PIMS in the past couple of decades (2) and a handful of studies (a significant number of them unpublished MA dissertations; inter alia Alexander, 2007; Elsted, 2012; Campion, 2012; Post, 2010) historically, very little attention has been given to this issue. For me, this fact is as worthy of consideration as the question itself. I wonder if it is because of the way in which the question of what is required to become an EAP practitioner is intimately bound up with larger questions about practitioner identity, together with the sorts of political implications mentioned above. In order to know what is required, we need to know what we are, and perhaps this is the issue which seems to hold the greatest contention.
Despite some recent developments indicating perhaps a move towards a greater clarification and professionalization of the TEAP role; the inception of the BALEAP Competencies Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes (CFTEAP) in 2008, the emergence of MA programmes in TEAP in recent years, alongside other short TEAP courses; and most notably perhaps, BALEAP’s recent launch of the TEAP Accreditation Scheme in 2014, there are also equally some (more depressing) signs of a greater deprofessionalisation of the role; some TEAP courses and MA programmes have closed, many EAP jobs are now offered on a short-term and / or zero hours basis, and we are increasingly seeing out-sourcing of EAP provision to external providers. The professional literature and most adverts for TEAP jobs continue to favour generic ELT qualifications over specialist TEAP ones (3), suggesting that there isn’t anything particularly specialist needed to teach EAP.
The issue of EAP practitioner identity is again one that has received very little attention, but perhaps this is where we need to start. Ambiguities surrounding our collective identity were summed up in an earlier thought-provoking, blog post on here by Julie King (see ‘Credentials, Credibility and the EAP Practitioner’ June 2012). This post raised the question of where we see ourselves in relation to others; part of the broader world of ELT; inherently language problem-fixers, serving the needs of the academy, or closer to the academic community, with aspirations to the same sorts of entitlements to carry out research and scholarly activities that characterise work within the disciplines (4). Perhaps tackling questions such as this will help us to get a little closer to understanding not only what we are, but importantly, what we want or aspire to be. Then we might finally be in a better position to give a more coherent answer to the question of what is required to become an EAP practitioner.
(2) BALEAP PIM on Teacher Training in 2001, and BALEAP PIM on Teacher Education in 2014.
(3) The CFTEAP for example includes ‘Cambridge ESOL of Trinity Diploma in English Language Teaching (or equivalent)’ in its list of ‘appropriate qualifications for the UK context’ as well as an ‘undergraduate degree’, ‘postgraduate degree’, with the most specific qualification being an ‘ELT/TESOL/Applied Linguistics focus’ in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree (pp.11-12).
(4) Another post on here ‘EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner’ Alex Ding, December 2014, provides a summary of a meeting which was held to discuss the topic of scholarly activity for EAP practitioners, and issues of personal and professional development.
Alexander, O. (2007) ‘Groping in the dark or turning on the light: routes into teaching English for Academic Purposes’. In Lynch, T. (ed.) Teaching Languages for Academic Purposes. Edinburgh: IALS, Edinburgh University.
BALEAP (2014) TEAP CPD Scheme, available at http://www.baleap.org.uk/projects/teap-scheme
BALEAP (2008) Competency Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes, available at http://www.baleap.org.uk/media/uploads/pdfs/teap-competency-framework.pdf
British Council (n.d.) Pathways in EAP, available at http://englishagenda.britishcouncil.org/continuing-professional-development/pathways-eap
Campion, G. (2012) The Learning never ends: investigating teachers’ experiences of moving from English for General Purposes to English for Academic Purposes in the UK context; What are the main challenges associated with beginning to teach EAP, and how can these challenges be overcome? Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Nottingham.
Ding, A. (2014) EAP in the East Midlands: Scholarly Activity and the EAP Practitioner, available at https://teachingeap.wordpress.com/2014/12/
Elsted, F. (2012). TEAP teacher training & professional development in EAP: A Masters dissertation study. Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Essex.
King, J. (2012) Credentials, credibility and the EAP Practitioner, available at https://teachingeap.wordpress.com/2012/06/
Post, D. (2010) The transition from teaching General English to English for Academic Purposes: an investigation into the challenges encountered by teachers. Unpublished Masters Dissertation. University of Bath