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May 28, 1998

Quebec will need about 370 English teachers a year

TESL colloquium brings latest research to English teachers

by Michael Dobie

Concordia's TESL Centre held a colloquium on May 9 to thank those teachers who have served as cooperating teachers for TESL students or who have opened their doors to TESL Centre researchers.

The event was organized by Barbara Barclay, coordinator of undergraduate programs, and TESL Professor Lori Morris.

"It's the first time we've done this for ages and ages," Barclay said. It was an opportunity not only to thank the teaching community, but to remind them of the work of interest to them being done at the TESL Centre.

The TESL Centre has been training teachers and conducting research on linguistics since 1973. It has sent thousands of ESL teachers into the world equipped with a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics or a Certificate in TESL. It is unique in Canada in that it is the only large academic unit devoted entirely to TESL.

Barclay has been associated with Concordia since 1955, first as a student at Sir George Williams University, then as a staff member and part-time faculty member.

"We're all Barbara's children," quipped Michel Thériault, referring to the thousands who have graduated under Barclay's guidance. He is starting his MA in Applied Linguistics ("grown-up TESL") next fall. He already has a PhD in Comparative Literature and the TESL Certificate, and teaches at Ahuntsic CEGEP. He is typical of most of the Centre's students, who are upgrading their skills or starting a second career.

The TESL Certificate is a one-year program offered to those with a certain amount of second-language teaching experience or to certified teachers who wish to broaden their expertise to include TESL. About 36 students, on average, graduate with their TESL Certificate each year.

The TESL Centre has just been mandated by the Quebec ministry of education to lengthen the BEd from 90 credits to 120, meaning that it will now take four years to complete instead of three. The approximately 60 students who graduate each year are recommended for permanent provincial teachers' certification, providing they have achieved fluency in French.

While most graduates teach at the primary or secondary levels in Quebec, many teach at CEGEP, even though a Master's degree is officially required. Some go into adult education, start their own tutoring services or write ESL textbooks.

Many venture far afield, elsewhere in Canada, or to more exotic locales. With the spread of English as a global language, qualified English-language teachers are in high demand almost everywhere. Barclay said that one graduate sailed with her husband from Japan to the Mediterranean Sea, stopping every so often to teach English. TESL Centre graduates have gone to teach in more than 50 countries, including Nepal, Lesotho, China, Japan and Korea.

The job prospects for ESL teachers are quite good right now, Barclay said, and she expects demand to remain high for the foreseeable future. Last year's high rate of retirement by Quebec teachers will likely be repeated until 2000, doubling the hiring of ESL teachers here to about 370 a year. Thereafter, the ministry of education foresees an annual need for about 200 new teachers.

'Obedience' in class pays off for women, ESL researcher finds

One of Concordia's newest faculty members, Lori Morris, has done research into gender bias in the evaluation of English as a second language (ESL), and delivered her findings to an audience of teachers and education students at Concordia on May 9 as part of a colloquium on teaching English as a second language (TESL).

She noticed in her ESL classes at a Quebec CEGEP that women were outperforming men in her classes even though they were almost invisible in the classroom -- not interacting much with teachers, saying little in class, and attracting little attention to themselves.

"Since some research suggests that active learner involvement is essential in second-language learning, I began to wonder why it was that the women did so well with so little apparent active involvement," Morris said.

She analyzed students' essays and tested them for readability, but found no significant difference between the sexes. Why were the women getting much better grades?

"I checked the criteria used to evaluate ESL papers in the CEGEP, and discovered that six out of seven criteria used measured pure instruction-following rather than ability in English." Women stayed on topic, for example, and made sure their essays contained the required number of verb conjugations and vocabulary items.

Morris said that teachers are often so relieved to get papers that are easier to mark that they give these women good scores but vacuous critiques, like "Well done!" The males' papers, however, usually take longer to mark, and as a result, may receive low marks and scathing criticism that actually has little to do with the quality of the English. The result is that "males couldn't care less," Morris said. "They become vaccinated against negative criticism."

To counter gender bias, Morris suggested that teachers devote more time to the better papers and less to the poor ones, and when possible, conduct blind marking, hiding the names on the papers until after they're marked.

"There is a good deal of evidence that suggests that the problem exists at all levels of education and in all subjects," she added.

- MD

Teaching English as children's third or fourth language can be stressful

The multicultural mix of many Montreal schools raises particular problems for ESL teachers, according to Mela Sarkar, a PhD student and part-time faculty member of the TESL Centre.

For example, of the 18 children in a francophone kindergarten class in Park Extension, none speaks French at home; one speaks English, and the rest speak various languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese. Their situation is not unusual to Montreal, she said.

"The children cry from September to November," Sarkar said, "because they don't understand a thing."

Teaching English as a second language to francophones de souche is different from teaching it to children from Vietnam or Pakistan who are trying to come to terms with French as a second language and for whom English may represent a third or fourth language, Sarkar said.

Furthermore, cultures differ in their attitudes towards education, and allophone parents may express their concerns differently from native-born Quebecers. These attitudinal differences can lead to parent-teacher misunderstandings and can further complicate an already difficult educational situation.

"One thing that has the potential to change the system quickly is to prepare the teachers for new arrivals," Sarkar said. She advocated fostering intercultural awareness among these primary school teachers, teaching them about second-language learning, and assuring them of the importance of first-language maintenance in the process. - MD

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