I’ve just completed my last round of recruitment for Pre-sessional English (PSE) teachers, who will start teaching the final PSE Online programme 2020 from this week. We’ve taken them through a week of induction, which has allowed me to assess whether I made the right decisions in appointing them. The first week of teaching coming up will also be a good test of their ability to deliver the programme as it is designed, rather than as they imagine it should be designed. This final programme is so short (5 weeks of teaching and three days of assessment) that I really need teachers to quickly get to grips with the underlying principles and be able to deliver them.
On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed the regular round of recruitment for summer PSE teachers. I like meeting teachers with a wide range of experience in many different contexts and listening to them talk. However, interviewing takes up a lot of time, at least 20-30 minutes per online interview. There are usually around 80 applications for teaching each year and I try to interview many of these, not all of whom actually have the qualifications and experience specified in the advertisement. This year student numbers have increased and class sizes are smaller for PSE Online so I’ve appointed 38 new teaching staff alongside the 22 returning staff. This means I conducted around 45 interviews. That’s a lot of interviews, especially as I find they require a lot of emotional energy.
The PSE Online programme is delivered via a coursebook, Access EAP: Frameworks, which uses graduate attributes as its top level organising principle for the themes of the units. So when I’m interviewing I’m looking for evidence that the interviewee understands some of the graduate attributes listed on page 285:
- Critical Reflection
- Awareness of how knowledge is advanced
- A spirit of enquiry
- A global and ethical understanding
- Effective communication
I ask candidates to choose one from the list and say how they have developed it in their teaching. Strong candidates with EAP experience and an interest in research and scholarship will pick one from the first five, whereas weaker candidates will choose 5 or 6 because these are more recognisably close to their previous ELT experience. They may still give a good answer but they haven’t left their comfort zone.
I then ask candidates to look at an extract from the coursebook that I’ve sent them in advance, Unit 8 Section 4 Arguing from sources, which develops understanding of writer’s voice. Two student texts are presented in answer to an essay instruction: Critically evaluate definitions of health as a concept for health professionals. Text A presents a nuanced discussion of health, interpreting evidence from sources (extracts provided) to support their stance. Text B is a ‘string of pearls’ simply listing paraphrases from the sources with no persuasive structure. It is quite telling how many interviewees select Text B because it has the phrase ‘in my opinion’ in its conclusion.
Both of these tasks allow me to listen to the candidates talk about their beliefs about teaching EAP and their understanding of what is involved. The weaker candidates demonstrate that they believe EAP involves teaching language and skills (note-taking, listening to lectures, skimming, scanning and reading for gist). The stronger candidates demonstrate that they believe EAP involves supporting students’ academic performance in a research-intensive environment. I find it interesting that even candidates who have completed a PhD, are occasionally unable to understand the concept of writer’s voice and choose Text B. But I also find it really encouraging that candidates who may have little direct experience of ELT or EAP teaching can, nevertheless, reference their backgrounds in the disciplines PSE students plan to study and their own experience of university study. These are the candidates who are more open to the approach in Access EAP: Frameworks and the ones I enjoy working with.