I was surprised at how quickly and joyfully the people we asked to write on this topic did so. Language teaching is not really a field like computer programming or medicine that needs constant retraining, and yet a large number of us seek professional development whenever we can. We go to workshops, participate in conferences, and even disrupt our lives to go back to school. I wonder why? Is it simply a bias towards learning because we are in the learning business? In Adult Education, my doctoral field, it is generally assumed that adults seek training: 1) to change jobs, 2) to become better qualified for an existing job, or 3) for personal enrichment such as keeping one’s mind sharp or meeting others. I think all of these reasons apply to us, and in fact, at various stages in my life, each has applied to my own engagement in study as well. But I think there is one more consideration that is relevant: Teaching English, especially in an L2 environment, is hard, really hard. As a result, our devotion to and caring for our learners drives us to be the best we can; we seek the means to get to that point through professional development.
That is the topic for this issue, professional development. After all, if our mission with this magazine is to help teachers understand how brain sciences and language teaching intersect, then giving them advice on ways to study these fields is essential. After all, other than YouTube lectures, complex journal articles, this magazine, and an occasional conference, there isn’t much out there to help us learn about the brain. That is why we are introducing two easily accessible courses in this issue, in the introductory videos, and offering stories from teachers who have pursued their own professional development, hoping that the wonderful things they experienced will inspire you to follow in their footsteps.
I’d like to close with one more idea from Adult Education, mainly put forward by Malcolm Knowles, one of the early leaders in the field. (See more in the Aging Think Tank). Adults as learners are not like children, and that is something that must be accounted for in professional development. In particular, adults tend to be non-dependent and self-motivated. As a result, the traditional teacher-centered paradigm does not always work well for them. Already being out in the world, adults have their own reasons to study, which are almost always related to solving real world problems. Adults are more life-centered than children and have a stronger need to know what they will be taught and why it is important to them.
The two courses we highlight take these differences into account and I think our contributors this month have done so as well. All of them have related their experiences in a way that we hope will help you reflect on yours.
Curtis Kelly (EDD), the first coordinator of the JALT Mind, Brain, and Education SIG, is a Professor of English at Kansai University in Japan. He is the producer of the Think Tanks, has written over 30 books and 100 articles, and has given over 400 presentations. His life mission, and what drew him to brain studies, is “to relieve the suffering of the classroom.”