In-service vs. pre-service

Topic Focus

To introduce some key considerations when working with pre- and in-service teachers.

90 minutes

One of the biggest distinctions when it comes to working with teachers is whether they are pre-service or in-service teachers. Both situations bring their own set of challenges and rewards, which we will explore in this topic.

Task 1: Your experience

Think about your responses to the following questions:

Have you ever worked with pre-service teachers? If so, what has been your experience?
How about in-service? What has been your experience of working with practising teachers?
If you have worked in both contexts, what have you noticed to be the main differences?
If you worked in one context first and then made the transition to the other, how did you find this?
What challenges and rewards do you think are associated with each context? If you don’t have experience of both, use your imagination or, if possible, speak to other trainers and ask them to share their experiences.

For more information about different course types and contexts, see the ELTC teacher training website, where you can find a variety of different teacher training and education courses.

Task 2: Trainer voices

You are going to listen to an experienced teacher trainer, Josie, talking about her experience of working with pre- and in-service teachers. 

Drawing on your own experience and/or what you learnt from your coursemates in the previous task, first try to predict some of the things she might mention.

Now listen to the recording and make some notes. Were your predictions correct? Did she mention anything else you hadn’t thought about?

Hi, I’m Josie and I’m one of the teacher trainers here at the ELTC.
I worked with both pre-service teachers and in-service teachers. As with many people, my journey into teacher training started when I was working, as a director of studies abroad, and part of that involved mentoring, doing a little bit of teacher development training, et cetera. It was something I really enjoyed, and so it’s something I decided to carry on when I returned to the UK. I’ve worked on different types of pre-service course, some certificate courses, Trinity, Cambridge, that type of thing. I’ve also worked with undergraduates, with MA students and DELTA in-service trainees.
Okay. So, I’ve been asked to talk a little bit about the differences between pre-service and in-service teacher training. The first difference that came to mind was that of motivation. Pre-service teachers are often very motivated. They’re making a change in their lives or they’re looking forward to an exciting adventure. And they tend to be very motivated and have a real, really clear goal as to where they’re going. In-service teachers, that can be a little bit different. So they may be taking a course for developmental reasons and therefore have that motivation for themselves. It can be a career move, that they see they need to do that in order to progress. It can also be that they’ve been told to do it, that they have to do it. And in some cases, they have to do it to keep their job, which obviously drains all motivation right out of them. So motivation is definitely one that, that I feel is quite different when I’m training.
The second one that came to mind was the experience of being a learner. Very often pre-service courses, the trainees are closer to the end of their own education journey. Maybe they’ve graduated more recently, or they’ve thought very carefully about the change that they’re about to make and the role that they will take on as a trainee. For in-service teachers, they very often are far more used to being at the front of the classroom than being sitting as a trainee and having a trainer in front of them. So it can be a strange dynamic for them to change their own role within the classroom.
Subject knowledge was the next one that I thought of. At certificate level, sometimes people have very, very basic knowledge of the language itself and of teaching and different methodologies, etc. so they come sort of fresh for that if you like. They’ve got very little. The Masters students we have, have got fantastic theoretical knowledge. Fantastic! But they’ve never actually stood in front of a class. They’ve never managed a classroom. They’ve never made choices about materials, etc. So in that way, their subject knowledge is different. With the undergraduate students that I taught. I very much felt that I was trying to sell my profession. They didn’t really know what was involved in the elective that they’d signed up to. I think most of them had ticked the box because they thought it might be quite an easy one. So I felt a little bit like I was trying to sell it and subject knowledge there was quite, quite low. The wonderful thing about teaching in-service teachers is that they have got subject knowledge and they have opinions, and they have their own views on teaching and learning. And the teacher’s role. And the methodologies that work or are less successful and that can be really exciting. And as a teacher trainer, I find that the different experiences that they bring along really makes the job very interesting and diverse. It can have a negative side in that maybe sometimes ideas are quite entrenched, but generally it’s a very positive thing.
The next area is thinking about my role. I think that differs based on what I’ve just said about experience, that differs with pre and in-service. In-service, I very much feel that we are colleagues; that we’re all in this profession together; that we all have different amounts of experience and different expertise to bring to a training session. Sometimes that can make me feel a bit like an imposter. That these people have a wealth of experience of teaching that I’ve not had. Maybe in countries I’ve not been to. Class types I’ve not taught, etc. It’s far more a facilitator role. Whereas with pre-service, generally, there’s the feeling that the trainer is the knower. Generally. I would say.
And finally: paperwork. Paperwork. Pre-service, there tends to be a lot less to cover. In-service teachers, there tend to be a lot of criteria. You’re looking at different elements Courses tend to be a lot longer. So just in terms of paperwork, in-service and pre-service are different.
So I think the two different trainee types, there are challenges. With pre-service, we are, as I said, helping them to maybe succeeded to achieve a goal, to reach their goal. And it’s something that they’re very excited about and want to do. But not everybody is a natural, not everybody gets it. And for some Chinese it can be hard work, it can be very stressful. They spent a lot of money on the course, and maybe it’s not for them. So that, that can be quite difficult. For in-service trainees, I think the biggest challenge for me is sometimes to break down those barriers of resistance to doing things differently or trying things differently, or experimentation. That those ingrained patterns can be quite difficult to break down. But generally, I would say teacher training is a complete joy. The relationship between the trainer and the trainees is often a really, a really special one and very supportive and a lovely relationship to be involved in. I learn a huge amount, no matter whether teachers are in-service or pre-service. I never watch a lesson without learning something, which is lovely. It also keeps me up to date. Forcing me, if you like, to think about new methodologies and new approaches, and just look at the way people do things. And that was, that’s true with both online and face-to-face training. The energy in the training room is lovely. Always. You see progress, you see changes in people over the course of a training course, which is a lovely thing to be part of. And often, years later, you still receive emails, pictures, messages, which is a very rewarding part of the job.

Task 3: Tips for working with pre-service teachers

Imagine a newly qualified trainer asks you for advice on training pre-service teachers. What tips would you give? Make some notes.

e.g. Don’t expect too much – remember they have little or no experience of ELT.

Remember that undertaking a course leading to an initial teaching qualification can be challenging for novice teachers. Here are our suggestions of ten things to remember when working in this context. 

Decide which tip is being described on the flashcard. Click Turn when you are ready to check. 

Were our suggestions similar to the ideas you came up with in task 1? Why/Why not?
Do you think these are all applicable in your context? Why/Why not?

Task 4: components of in-service sessions

In a talk delivered at the IATEFL Teacher Education and Development Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event (TTEd SIG PCE) on 18 June 2021, Penny Ur delivered a talk on in-service teacher training sessions. She claimed that in-service sessions should include the following components:

  • Input (from different sources)
  • Reflection (on any of the input sources)
  • Collaborative discussion
  • Personal conclusion: What have I learnt?

The ideas are summarised in the following slide:

To what extent do you agree or disagree? Draw on your experience of attending and, if applicable, delivering such sessions.
Is this different to what you would include in pre-service sessions? Why/Why not?

Optional follow-up

A recording of the full talk is available here if you would like to watch it.

Task 5: Tips for working with in-service teachers