Why are some language teachers apprehensive about change?

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The word ‘change’ brings about different reactions, ranging from excitement to fear and rejection. Teachers are no strangers to them when facing substantial changes in their working conditions, but many times it’s a negative attitude which invades them. Why does this happen?

Adaptation involves time

In many teaching contexts, change does not occur naturally or gradually. Instead, it is imposed by institutions or official bodies. An example of the former could be the adoption of a new book series, while the latter may refer to new regulations or standards such as competency-based assessment or the use of letter grades. Sometimes, changes occur so rapidly that there is not enough time to grasp the rationale behind them, their impact on everyday teaching and the expectations embedded in them. Teachers are often expected to ‘get used to things’ in the long run. However, this familiarization involves time to be spent in training sessions, self-discovery, material adaptation, among others. If teachers’ timetables are full, when are they supposed to become familiar with the changes? Should they be expected to react positively when changes are announced, knowing that they will have little time to adapt?

Changes may question previously valid practices or views

When changes occur in teaching contexts, they are implemented in the belief that they are beneficial and come to replace what is seen as traditional, old-fashioned or inappropriate. While it is true that many new measures are, indeed, evidence-based and more in line with the present times, there seems to be excessive emphasis on how the previous beliefs or practices were detrimental, inappropriate and should be discarded. This may be shocking for teachers with many years of experience, who are probably used to them and may argue that they are still effective –after all, if they have remained active in the market, this must mean something. Again, if changes were introduced more gradually, perhaps these teachers may see the value in adapting to new paradigms which would definitely be enriched by their own expertise.

Leaders need to ‘sell’ change

Educational leaders are responsible for ensuring that, when an educational entity introduces a change, the entire teaching staff are prepared to face it and incorporate it into their daily practice. However, this does not happen only through workshops, training sessions and the like; instead, depending on the nature of the changes, there needs to be a process in which teachers who feel somewhat reluctant to adapt are given a friendlier introduction, time to internalise the changes and learn how they will benefit their teaching. Trainers or pedagogical advisors could monitor this process and provide individual feedback and ideas for further thinking. This is why leaders need to remember that, just like teachers, they are working with people who may need time and encouragement. If leaders are convinced that the changes are for the better, they need to spread this belief. Otherwise, teachers may feel that they are facing the changes on their own.

A question of vocation?

Professions in technology and science inherently require an openness to change and adaptation, as breakthroughs occur very often and are implemented quickly. In contrast, education has not seen too many radical changes for a long time –although now there is increased use of technological resources and new approaches, the core is still the same: teachers enter classrooms and teach students. This could explain why many teachers, after a few years, feel that they are in a comfort zone and begin to show some reluctance to new ideas, approaches or resources. Although it is natural not to agree 100% with everything that is introduced, teachers need to demonstrate their vocation by displaying what is known as ‘learnability’, that is, the desire to continue learning. This is of utmost importance for them if they want to stay in an increasingly competitive labour market.

As we can see, the factors that determine why some teachers are averse to change involve decision makers, institutional educational leaders and teachers themselves. However, it is teachers who are ultimately responsible for their decisions, and if they choose to stay behind, they will be left behind.

Now, it’s YOUR turn

Why do you believe it is challenging to adapt to changes in the educational context?

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