How to Become a Teacher Trainer (by Julie Wallis, The London School)

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If you get a real kick out of teaching and learning and you are interested in encouraging and supporting others to do the same, you might consider becoming a teacher trainer.

A number of different paths may lead you to the same point, most of which will depend on your subject area. To be a trainer for teachers of English as a second language, apart from a degree, you usually need a Trinity TESOL Diploma, DELTA or an equivalent qualification. You would also be expected to have a certain amount of experience – a proven track record that shows your own professional development. To put it another way, ten years of continuous professional development is not the same as one year repeated ten times. After all, if you want to be part of a Learning Organisation, you need to show that you are willing to invest in your own learning and professional development.

You don’t have to cough up vast sums of money. Discerned reading (books, blogs and other published materials), online courses, MOOCS, webinars and seminars are all useful. If you are not a senior teacher, Director of Studies or Academic Manager, you can always take part in a Job Shadowing project entailing observing, questioning, reflecting, and feedback.

Well, that’s what you need on paper, but the question you have to ask yourself is, “What do I value in education?”. You really do need to be passionate about learning; curious, patient, supportive, reflective with a will to nurture and help people grow. I was recently asked to list my successes and I included amongst them ‘my children’. When asked why, I replied that it always comes down to caring, nurturing, trusting and guiding. Above all, being a teacher trainer means giving others the opportunities and support they need to develop.

I would also suggest you question your beliefs. Know yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses and your prejudices. What kind of messages will you be taking with you? Do you truly believe that all learners can be successful? Can you be proud of the successes of others? They may surpass your expectations and go on to do greater things. Remember that it is not a competition.

Of course, you need to be willing to put yourself on the line. Learning is a messy business, and training is a risky business. Everyone loves getting positive feedback and a slap on the back, yet your teaching style may not meet trainee needs a hundred per cent of the time. You need to be able to gather feedback and act on it. That sometimes means getting up after a kick in the teeth, taking a good hard look at what you are doing and why you are not meeting the needs of a trainee, and turning things around.

So what of the skills? A wide range of so-called ‘soft skills’ will be to your advantage. Naturally, you need good interpersonal skills such as patience, nurturing, empathy, warmth and self-control.  Good communication skills may seem obvious, but it is surprising how many of us are not good communicators. I cannot stress enough how important listening skills are. Understanding how to listen is key, whether it be prescriptive or informative in input sessions, or cathartic, catalytic and supportive in your mentoring or feedback sessions.

Flexibility is also high on the list. Being a lifelong learner yourself will also mean being open to new ideas and research and willing to try out new theories and approaches.

Lastly, being responsible and accountable to your trainees means being conscientious, reliable and working to deadlines. The bottom line is that you will need a sound work ethic, willing to work hard to help others achieve and be loyal to them.

Management skills will help when it comes to negotiating (content, order, timing, etc.) and learning to manage different personalities within your trainee groups (the dominant, reticent, non-participative or argumentative trainee). Some knowledge of conflict management will also stand you in good stead, as well as some rudimentary knowledge of coaching, mentoring and NLP.

So, if you feel you have the skills, qualifications, experience and enthusiasm to become a trainer, it is time to think about the course itself.

Planning your training course.

You will need to consider a number of things before you start. The more you know about your trainees (numbers, age, educational background, professional experience, interests, belief systems, etc.), the better you will be able to plan and set objectives. You will also require information about the learning environment and what aids are available (IWB, laptop, library, etc.) and if the space you have can be flexible to accommodate different activities such as pair and group work. Are there desks? Can you move people around?

Build a repertoire of lead-ins and trust-building activities. If you want to avoid using those aforementioned conflict management skills, prevention is better than cure. Spend time laying the foundation and building your team before you get down to the nitty-gritty mess of learning.

You’ve established a team and understood their needs. Now it is time to start planning your input sessions.  Start by looking at expected outcomes You cannot plan a training session if you are not clear what your aims are and exactly what it is that you want your trainees to learn.

Knowledge of your subject is not enough, you will need to understand how different training models work:

  • The Craft Model consists of the trainee observing the trainer and imitating the techniques used. Knowledge is acquired through observation, instruction and practice.
  • The Applied Science Model makes the assumption that teaching is a science and can be rationally and objectively examined. Therefore, teachers learn from research-based theories and these theories are only taught by proficient experts in their field.
  • The Reflective Model is based on the assumption that teachers develop professional competence through reflecting on their own practice. In other words, a teaching experience is recalled and considered to reach an evaluation and to provide input into future planning and action.

All three have their merits and demerits. It is up to the trainer to choose which model to implement, when and why.


When it comes to the choice of activities and materials, the way you present should be varied and capture and stimulate interest. The language you use must be clear and help guide the learners from stage to stage. Knowing how to scaffold your materials and move from one phase to the next fluidly is all important as it gives trainees a clear direction.

You will need to be able to source materials from books and online. You must remember to cite your sources and respect the copyright laws. Trainees expect you to know your background theory and to keep in step with the latest developments in your subject area. Keep an updated reading list or a link to online sites you regularly use as well as any materials you publish. You need to make good use of relevant and interesting examples, illustrations, videos and quotes. Don’t present too much or too little material and remember to take stock now and then.

Being tech-savvy is pretty important nowadays. A good knowledge of word, excel, google docs, etc. is indispensable. but having one or two tools up your sleeve to help you store your folders and resources, allocate tasks and correct assignments will help you keep track of everything and everyone. If you are not up to creating a Moodle, a simple tool such as Edmodo or an educational wiki may help you.

Once you’ve done your input sessions you will need to help trainees with their own lesson planning and preparation for teaching practice. Have faith and be kind. Leave space for mistakes. We all learn from them and it is important to create a culture where mistakes are acceptable. Understanding our mistakes is a source of learning.

So, have you got what it takes?

In short, a good trainer, in my opinion, will think in terms of a good dinner. First, he or she will choose a good restaurant that offers an appropriate menu for his or her guests (trainees) in a warm, safe environment. The antipasto will be the lead-in setting the scene and preparing the transition to the next course. This will be followed by the starter or ‘awareness raising’ session. Then the main course, more input: solid practical examples for trainees to get their teeth into. Finally, the dessert. This is the sweetest moment where the trainer will see the input session come to fruit as trainees put into practice what they have learnt. Throughout the meal is the continuous process of giving and responding to feedback effectively and usefully. Over coffee-reflection time for both trainer and trainees. Once the trainer has left the restaurant, or even before, he or she will have to consider how to evaluate whether or not learning has taken place and he or she will make time for further reflection and an action plan before the next trip to a restaurant.

Buon appetito!

Julie Wallis


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Wallace, M.J. 1991 Training Foreign Language Teachers: A Reflective Approach Cambridge: CUP