Stephen Louw

Continuing professional development (CPD) for English language teachers

There are plenty of ways to help you improve as a teacher

Many language teachers, and you may be one of them, begin their teaching career with a TEFL course, and then head into their exciting new life in the classroom. 

These pre-service courses can be intensive and tough, and often do a pretty good job of preparing teachers for the classroom. The mistake is for a teacher to think that the course, even a really intensive one, has covered everything they might need for classroom success. 

In reality, there is only so much that a training course can squeeze into the time available, and there is only so much a beginner can learn about teaching before actually starting to do it. But once a new teacher gets going in the job of teaching, aspects of classroom practice become relevant that were maybe not highlighted (sufficiently) during the course. 

Continuing your professional development

For example, during many TEFL courses, the concept of a 'fun' classroom is promoted, and it seems to make a lot of sense. It's only once we get our own class that the collision between 'fun' and 'classroom management' become (painfully) obvious. With this realization comes the need to find a balance between fun and the logistics of running a room full of energetic youngsters who have the potential to misunderstand the intentions behind the activities.

This is why teachers need to continue their learning once they are qualified. The term for this is Continuing Professional Development (or CPD). We can think of CPD as having two stages: the first is becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, or rather the successes and failures of what is happening in your classes, and the second is finding out how things can be done better (or even just differently).

For the first stage, the goal is to become (critically) aware of what is and isn't succeeding, and for this, reflection is the key (for more on reflective teaching, check out Roseli Serra's good introduction here. To support the process of reflection, teachers in this stage may find it helpful to 'observe' themselves. There are self-observation sheets available to help a teacher self-monitor. This process can be supported with a video of the lesson (or even part of it).

In the second stage, the teacher needs to explore the other ways there are of doing things. Comparing yourself to the guy in the classroom next door is one commonly used option, but there are better ways of finding out new ideas, techniques and approaches. 

Sharing with other professionals

To find out more about what other professional teachers are doing, we need opportunities to share with one another. How? Well, getting together with other, dedicated teachers is the goal. Did you know that the ThaiTESOL conference is held in January? The ThaiTESOL conference brings together teachers, trainers, material designers and other members of the language teaching community for two days of sharing, discussion, input and eating. This year it's being held in Bangkok and if you have time, you'll discover a profusion (yup, a veritable plenitude) of presentations, plenaries and discussions on a wide range of topics which are relevant to our jobs as English teachers in Thailand. In addition to the conference, ThaiTESOL arranges other activities too, like workshops and has a series of publications

If you read this too late, don't worry. Try the CamTESOL conference in Cambodia which is in February. Or how about GenTEFL in Bali in May, or AsiaTEFL (again in Bangkok) in June? You can get a pretty complete list of the conference circuit here The conference circuit gives you a good reason to get out of school, you meet a lot of other like-minded professionals who are focused on finding solutions to classroom problems, and you can get a lot of new ideas. If you are the schoomzy kind, it's an awesome way to network. If you aren't schmoozy, go with a friend. There's always food too! Did I mention the constant flow of snacks?

Reading and growing

Possibly a bit more convenient than conferences is the option of reading what others in the field are saying. By reading these Ajarn blogs, you are engaging in CPD, and hopefully learning things that can inform the development of your own teaching practice. If you find this a good option, and I guess you are since you've got this far in my blog, I'd like to introduce you to another excellent source of useful reading material: Humanising Language Teaching, which is a free online magazine for teachers of language. 

HLT is available every two months, and each issue is usefully divided into sections. For instance, there is a section for teachers of young learners, another for secondary school teachers, and one for adults and ESP. There are also lesson ideas, poems, letters and cartoons. There's something for everyone.

In the December 2018 issue, teachers of young learners can read the two articles on designing materials. Secondary level teachers might be interested in the article on reading comprehension strategies. There are articles on 21st Century skills, including a fully prepared lesson for a creative project (with material) on 'life as a journey'. Or why not start with this short but insightful article on the 5 principles of a successful classroom by Malaysian teacher Lisa Ng?

If you go back to the October edition, check out this article on working with large classes (60 students) of young learners (9 year olds). Want to try something with technology? Have a look at Nicole Turman's quick read on phone apps for the classroom. While you're there, find out what the Roger Federer club has to do with teaching English, what Gabrielle Luoni has to say on giving adults explicit feedback on spoken errors, and whether puppets can be used with adult learners.

Keeping developing

Teaching can be a lonely profession, but there really is a lot going on for us to get involved in to help us continue our growth and development. No teacher can afford to believe that they are 'qualified' once they have a qualification – our learning as teachers never really ends. If you want more on this, you can read what the British Council have to say about CPD here, or you can check out TEFLnet's Big List (oh yes, and it really is a big list) of CPD for ELT. Otherwise, just keep reading the helpful and insightful Ajarn blogs, like Richard McCully's excellent one on lesson planning

Steve has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 30 years, and is currently a lecturer on the Master’s in TESOL program at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok.


Being a licenced and certified teacher in ESL from the west, I find it very difficult to find any seminars,here in Thailand, that do anything else than try to promote booksales. I need ongoing professional development to keep my Thai teaching licence, and mostly over the last 16 years here I have become quite disillusioned with the quality of seminars available.

By Dacula, Chonburi (15th July 2019)

I wanted to add some proof to the pudding, regarding this discussion. However, I do recognize and acknowledge that this scenario is not to be used as the final word, but, it is very common.

I was scanning some potential opportunities on the web, for some actual professional development. It has been many years since I obtain my TEFL and I feel it is possibly worth my time and money, to expand my knowledge and skills. So, I investigated the London Teachers Training College site and they have quite a few short courses, for professional development (along with the Cambridge one). I was thinking of obtaining an IELTS teaching certification, or possibly a specialty course in Grammar. I thought those two would look on the resume, adding some value.

Before I would commit, I asked my boss about what she would think about this and if she would see any value. I cannot say I was surprised when she told me none of that mattered...though, I was surprisingly a bit disheartened. I was disheartened that a boss would shoot down an employee's inquiry about professional development and how it could possibly be utilized at the school. According to her, all that mattered was the degree and the nationality.

Granted, I am ware that any competent boss in this field would see value in his/her employee's motivation to achieve and learn more, bettering him/herself which could benefit the business (and the pocketbook). I certainly would...but, it seems this is not the case, here.

Clarification: I never said it was "impossible" to move up the ladder in this field. My post was based on its narrative, in which this post clearly shows.

By Josh, Korea (23rd January 2019)

I agree with Josh. I would say that if you love teaching then the best thing would be to train as a qualified teacher in your home country. You could still teach abroad and the qualifications would offer some kind of a future. Year after year, the salary and benefits in EFL decline. Why? because there are so many teachers stuck in the industry, and technology is slowly but surely reducing the need for EFL teachers.

By John, Bangkok (17th January 2019)

Professional development would seem to be a good idea for people who are teaching as a career or thinking about switching to non-ESL style work internationally, although it may not be so important for those just wanting a fairly easy teaching job.

I am not sure Josh's view that it is impossible to move up in the ESL or other professional fields is accurate, as most of us have seen (or experienced ourselves) individuals moving from the bottom rungs of the ESL industry to having decent professional careers with decent salaries.

Professional development can be used to advance in the ESL industry or could be to used to switch to other types of professional work.

Professional development would appear to have been a part of my own personal career path and I have found the investment worth the time and effort, but other individuals might have other goals in life might not find it worth the time and effort.

By Jack, Land of smiles (17th January 2019)

Moving into well paid TEFL jobs does not just require knowledge of methodology and the obvious ability to teach but, as was hinted at in the article, the ability to schmooze. For those with that disposition the opportunities to move up the ladder do occasionally arise. Bare in mind that elevation to senior teacher or dos etc often just means a 9-5 in front of spreadsheets.

The quest for professional development outside of the regular industry standards can lead an adventurous teacher into all manner of classrooms and locations.

Keeping abreast of the changing TEFL agenda and attending seminars etc is admirable to some extent. A true TEFL teacher should however be able to think for themselves and act according to the needs of their learners.

To be institutionalised by the words of the big names in TEFL is in my view the antithesis of the gig for most people. A lot of the theory may work in one culture and not in another.

But it's a fair enough article. There's gold in them there training courses.

By SD, UK (17th January 2019)

This is a good piece, no doubt. Thus, I'm not attacking the narrative and it is intentions.

However, I do question the motive....why should folks, especially in Thailand, focus on development when it is likely that their employer could care less? Why go through the motions when the effort will not produce...a higher salary, respect from peers, respect from the school staff, etc? I have observed that often times, the more passion and determination to be the best he/she can be in this "profession", Thai/Korean/Chinese (etc) staff will simply put them down, or make an honest effort to do so.

Why go through the motions for a crummy 30-35K salary?

In a profession that is not based simply around money and watered down to maxims of customer service, sure....if there are actual rewards and recognition for the effort(s), that is grand. But, in countries like Thailand, Korea, China....????

Again, I'm not attacking the genuine passion of the article. I just don't see how it is used as a blanket narrative, as if it actually applies.

By Josh, Korea (16th January 2019)

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