Joanna McPake and Fiona O’Hanlon

 

Learning to work as a Gaelic-medium teacher: the role of universities in developing skills in bilingual pedagogy and professional Gaelic

 

Teacher education courses for those wishing to work in Gaelic-medium education (GME) primary and secondary classrooms have been on offer in Scottish Schools of Education for some 25 years. The original model assumed that prospective teachers would already be fluent Gaelic speakers, and that their needs would differ little from those of others wishing to work in the English-medium sector: the curriculum is the same in both sectors, as are the regulations governing initial teacher education and teachers’ career long professional development. However, the Gaelic-speaking population has changed significantly since GME was first introduced. Ongoing language shift means that fewer people consider themselves to be ‘fully fluent’ and ‘fully literate’ in Gaelic. Instead many – including some graduates of GME schools – describe themselves as ‘learners’ or ‘new speakers’ (McLeod et al, 2014) of Gaelic.

 

It is recognised that to become GME teachers, teachers require a professional register, both spoken and written, and specialist pedagogical skills. These include the ability to support the Gaelic language development of both fluent and learner pupils, to develop literacy skills in Gaelic and English, and to enable children to reap the linguistic, cultural and cognitive benefits of growing up bilingual. In addition, given the important strategic role now allocated to GME in national plans for Gaelic revitalisation, GME teachers are also encouraged to be advocates for Gaelic, responsible not only for building capacity and providing opportunities for children to develop their Gaelic, but also for creating the desire to use it within and outwith the classroom (Lo Bianco & Peyton, 2013).

 

This presentation outlines how these skills in bilingual pedagogy and professional Gaelic have been incorporated into the new Gaelic Immersion for Teachers (GIfT) course, developed jointly by the Universities of Strathclyde and Edinburgh, and into the MA Gaelic and Primary Education at the University of Edinburgh. Both courses are running for the first time in 2014-15. It focuses in particular on the role that the university, the profession and the wider community of Gaelic speakers (learners and fluent) play in creating the next generation of GME teachers.

 

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