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Tessa Padden (UK)

Tessa Padden (UK)

Tessa Padden, (MA) is a Deaf British television presenter and management training consultant. Padden formerly presented the Deaf News segment of a Deaf magazine programme for the BBC, See Hear.

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Padden is a former British Sign Language (BSL) Quality and Training Manager at SignPost BSL. During the European Conference in Brussels in February 2004, Padden was Head of Sign Language Services for Independent Media Signing (IMS). She was the founding chair of the BDA's BSL Institute and is a founding member of the BDA's Sign Academy. She was the first Deaf person to present a signed news item on a mainstream news programme, on Channel 4.

In 2012 Padden and Linda Day developed a website called Signworld, a British Sign Language (BSL) learning and teaching resources website, to support students and improve results.

1. What, in your opinion, are the strengths and weaknesses of the current system of BSL teacher training in the UK?

We currently have a small but strong group of advanced and highly professional BSL teacher trainers, who were taught at Durham University in what is a - so far - unique initiative. This course offered a full-time intensive course for around four months, with brilliant quality and depth of work. The course covered second language teaching methods, which shows itself in the quality of work from those who underwent this course. Contrast the total lack of teachers today who know what second language teaching methods are, and how and why BSL learners learn so well. 

It is a shame that this course is currently proving to be only a one-off. Of all the Durham-era BSL teacher trainers, only two are still working - it is not clear what this means for the future of our profession.

I want there to be more trained trainers, but the opportunities are not there. It is a shame that people with potential are not getting those opportunities. The danger is that, with their existing motivation, they may be tempted to go on a different path, or otherwise lose enthusiasm (and/or patience) for this profession altogether. 

During my own research for UCLAN, almost all respondents (teachers) have said that any and all training are of a basic level only, with no training for higher levels of teaching and with a lack of a pipeline for teachers to go through the training scheme. 

There are lots of linguistics training opportunities and a total dearth of teacher training opportunities. This is an imbalance which should be corrected. Linguistics is only a relatively small part of the overall repertoire a good BSL teacher should have.

2. Can you give us examples of ‘best practice’ in your country?

None. There are some efforts to achieve best practice in this country, but the quality and success rate are variable and I cannot refer to them as existing examples of best practice.  We have seen most of those who trained at BSLTA/DUBSLTTC come out excellent teachers and with learners signing naturally.  Those teachers have moved on i.e. retired, having passed away or having moved on to other things - a big loss.

3. Can you tell us about the accreditation of sign language teachers in the UK?

There is none that fits this specific description, as far as I’m aware.

When I was on the board of trustees at the British Deaf Association (BDA), the BDA tried to form an accreditation scheme, which seems to have been de-prioritised after a change of chair. The Association of  British Sign Language Teachers and Assessors (ASBLTA) has started some work in this area, but I am not aware of any specific updates with their work. 

There should not be an accreditation for teachers of BSL alone. There should instead be accreditation for teachers of different levels, as the knowledge, understanding and skill required for each level are very different. i.e. Second Language Teaching Methods which are vital to BSL teaching as well as Classroom Management so deaf teachers know how to manage the class dynamics, behave appropriately and communicate more efficiently. 

There is a real need for a system like this - I am reminded of a recent example of a local teacher who knows virtually nothing about BSL being brought in to teach at Level 1, and then again at Level 3. A robust accreditation system would discourage this, and encourage teachers to commit to learning, development and an awareness of their current capabilities and limitations. More effective teachers teaching in the right methods and at the right levels will only benefit BSL learners - which itself will benefit the Deaf/BSL-using community.

An absolutely vital last point is that any and all accreditation systems must be administered and overseen by the correct people who have all the necessary knowledge and experience.

4. Can you tell us something about curriculum development in the UK? Are curricula for training sign language teachers based on the CEFR?

Having been involved with the BDA’s curriculum development work, I am aware of a relationship with the CEFR. However, with the aforementioned lull in this work, there has been an increase of work in this area by the IBSL. Although they work with the right intentions, a point of concern by those in the BSL teacher training community is the IBSL’s lack of involvement (and even welcome) of relevant and recognised experts in their development work. That the former CEO, Peter Jackson, himself admitted that the IBSL’s Level One and Level Two qualifications are in need of review and rebuilding speaks volumes about that organisation’s approach in the past. I am not sure how closely linked their development work is with the CEFR. 

As far as I’m aware, no suitably qualified and experienced BSL training professionals have been involved with Signature’s development work, and I do not know how closely linked their development work is with the CEFR. 

It really must be noted and made known that, for all its qualities, CEFR is a framework dedicated to languages only. It therefore falls onto developers to make sure all curricula include cultural and community items. Many current BSL teachers’ knowledge of those areas fall painfully short, and their teaching work therefore suffers; thus, affecting learners performances/attainments. This is why I recently met two fully qualified and registered interpreters (at separate times and places) who had to admit that they have never heard of Paddy Ladd and Clark Denmark!!

Overall, I feel that the ‘unofficial closure’ of the BSL Academy was a loss to our profession, and work should be dedicated to ensuring that this advisory committee starts to benefit BSL teachers’ work again.

5.   What, in your opinion, is the way forward for sign language teaching and the training of sign language teachers in the UK and in Europe?

See all of the above!

We need to see a full-time BSL teacher training course again, and that this should also be open to others across Europe for sharing of good working practices as well as a form of standardisation in second teaching methods. This would bring a higher esteem to the profession practised by BSL teachers and their trainers.  At the moment teachers lack knowledge of BSL and how to teach/deliver it as a second language and lack knowledge and confidence in using appropriate Second Language Teaching Methods for all levels, etc.  

We need to be able to pass on skills to the next generation of BSL teacher trainers, and also to encourage budding BSL teachers to have role models and examples of excellent working practice for learning, inspiration and motivation.

Date of the interview: April 2017

Translation: Nicholas Padden-Duncan