“Clear labeling, simple instruction lines, and a concise step-by-step approach tell teachers at a glance what they need to do and how much time it will take.”
David Bohlke knows his way around a well-written English language textbook. After all, he has spent
years as a textbook writer and editor for some of the top names in educational publishing, working on a
variety of highly regarded English language series. For him, the key to a successful textbook is simple:
transparency. “A teacher should be able to look at a textbook and have a distinct idea of what to do
without needing to explore the teacher’s manual in depth,” he said. “Clear labeling, simple instruction
lines, and a concise step-by-step approach tell teachers at a glance what they need to do and how much
time it will take.” Each textbook, in his view, has been a collaboration between him and the imagined
teachers who would adopt it for their courses.
Bohlke applied those same qualities of transparency and collaboration to his English Language Specialist
assignments, starting with his first teacher training project in Saudi Arabia and extending to his numerous
workshops throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. While each provided him with new insights and
ideas that he could apply to his career as both a textbook developer and teacher trainer, two Specialist
stints in Togo – in 2009 and 2010 – particularly resonated with him for those very qualities that he values
so much as a writer and trainer.
Each Togo assignment consisted of two one-week projects during which Bohlke instructed recently hired
public high school teachers, many of whom had not participated in any formal teacher training since
starting their careers. Because he only had one week with each group of 50 teachers, clarity was of the
utmost importance. “Simply put, there’s only so much you can do in a week,” he noted. Yes – Bohlke
introduced the techniques of communicative language teaching and cooperative learning, both radical
approaches compared to Togo’s more teacher-centered methodology. And true to his background as a
textbook writer, he provided the teachers with numerous written materials. But that wasn’t all. Bohlke
had another goal in mind for these workshops: bolstering teacher confidence. Often these teachers were
their school’s only English language instructor and had little opportunity to join forces or exchange ideas
with others in their field, let alone speak English. As a result, the teacher training had the added benefits
of expanding their network of colleagues and giving them an opportunity to use their knowledge of
To further the sense of community, Bohlke ended each night of the training with an after-dinner movie,
selected for its theme and English accessibility. One night he showed Dead Poets Society, the drama
about an unconventional and inspirational teacher in a conservative boarding school; its scenes of
teaching outside the box within an inflexible system and breaking through to reluctant students made a
strong impression on his Togolese audience. On a lighter note, My Cousin Vinny, a comedy about two
New Yorkers arrested in rural Alabama, tackled issues of justice and cultural differences in the United
States. Despite the late hour of the movie viewings, the teachers, who started their training days at 7
a.m., were eager to watch and discuss the films. “The movies not only got them thinking about American
culture but had the added benefit of modeling how to lead a discussion,” said Bohlke.
“Working with these co-trainers certainly opened my eyes. We have so much to learn from each other.”
Most important for Bohlke was the cooperative nature of the trainings, each a collaboration between
the U.S. Embassy in Lomé, Togo’s capital, and the national Ministry of Education. Several teacher trainers
from the ministry’s Teacher Training Office – former English teachers themselves – participated in the
week-long programs, giving and attending workshops, and interacting with participants on a daily basis.
This was the only training Bohlke had done that included a team of co-presenters from the host country.
“Their participation gave me a different insight into what the teachers face – their needs and challenges,
the realities of their classrooms,” he said. In addition, their presence served as a kind of legitimizing
factor for participants. “They were allies all of us could draw and learn from. Plus, they could answer the
tough questions – lack of materials in the schools, pay issues, etc. – that I couldn’t.”
Indeed, for Bohlke, their presence was a game changer, influencing his subsequent trainings in a variety
of ways. He understood better what questions to ask beforehand and could plan in a more targeted way.
He hopes this will be a model for future trainings. “The involvement of the educators on the ground
proved critical,” he concluded. “Working with these co-trainers certainly opened my eyes. We have so
much to learn from each other.”
David Bohlke has been involved in English language teaching since 1987, when he started his career as a TEFL Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. He has since worked as a teacher, teacher trainer, program director, editor, and materials writer in the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines. David is the former Editorial Manager for Global ELT for Cengage Learning (now National Geographic Learning) and the former Publishing Manager for Adult Courses for Cambridge University Press. He now divides his time between training teachers and authoring ELT materials. David has conducted teacher training workshops as an English Language Specialist in more than two dozen countries in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East, and South Asia.