Wednesday, September 4, 2013

20130904 Teachers of Today.

“Teachers of Today – who they are and what they need to do and know”.

Teachers of Today need to know that they are expected to fulfill a special role in the community that is challenging, relentless and, at times, blatantly unfair.  Teachers should find it flattering that the good people of their community assume that a common garden-variety primary teacher is capable of being a competent professional in areas of expertise so wide and divergent that it is not unusual to find a teacher who can teach science in the morning, art in the afternoon, coach a cricket team after school, play the cello in a concert in the evening, compassionately consult with concerned couples afterwards and still have the patience of a saint while consoling a lost and distraught eleven year-old with bipolar disorder with an obvious fear of abandonment.  Regardless of all this, there are people who genuinely want to be teachers (Teacher supply and demand and student placements in Western Australia – Strategic Issues 2006).  The purpose of this essay is to offer some educated opinions in answering the question of who these people are, what they need to know, what they need to do, and if they can get help from a reputable 12-step program.

A teacher is regarded as a professional.  Questions have been raised about whether teaching is a legitimate profession.  Teaching is undoubtedly a profession (Langford, 1978).  In every rule there is always an exception; if the letter Y can be vowel ‘sometimes’; if an egg-laying amphibious furry creature with venomous hind legs can be called a mammal then surely that courtesy can be extended to teachers.
The teaching profession asks its members to commit to life-long dedication to serve others regardless of personal gain.  Teachers have a full-time life-commitment to the role, they are always at work and everything a teacher does influences their lesson planning including: listening to students, remembering, visualizing, writing things down, flicking through magazines, rehearsing, or drinking tea while staring into space (Woodword, 2001).  Marsh (2008) on the subject of lesson planning, mentions receiving “sudden flashes of intuition while taking a shower or working out at the local gymnasium”.  The community expects a teacher to set an example to his or her students in all aspects of life, which is not expected of other professions.  While many people in the community may expect a teacher to convey certain and specific values as a subtext in every lesson, the same community may react with feelings ranging from mild concern through to conniptions if the same values were taught by a professional hydraulic engineer from the local sewage treatment plant.  A teacher is trusted with confidential information about sensitive social problems within their community.  This trust is based on an expectation that a teacher will act, and always act, even out of school hours and out of school grounds, in an ethical manner that exemplifies the profession (Whitton et al. 2009).  This expectation of trust has become so embedded in the community’s expectation of the teaching profession that it was deemed in a court of law that there exists a legal teacher-student relationship that extends the ethical boundaries of duty-of-care into a legal obligation to exercise greater responsibility to protect students from foreseeable harm (Crouch 1996).

As a profession, as a trade, as a craft or even as an art, teachers are the front edge of the curriculum so the teacher’s primary role is to deliver the learning objectives described in the curriculum to the letter.  Marsh (2009) explains that lesson planning is so diverse, variable and personal that there is no definitive set of instructions on how to make a ‘standard lesson plan’ (Marsh 2009).  This being the case, a teacher must know the elements of a good lesson plan and practice the art of lesson planning.  Like the definition of genius, lesson planning is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.  Good lesson planning comes by inspiration, then a concept that must be moulded into shape by applying the rules and using the tools of the profession.
A lesson plan must satisfy these conditions:
The plan must be derived from the stated learning outcomes, which in turn, are derived from the approved program via the learning objectives in the state or national curriculum.
The learning objectives must be achieved.
The lesson must differentiate to accommodate the preferred learning style of the students.
The learning experience must be delivered in a safe, welcoming and positive classroom environment.
The learning process must be continually reviewed and refined, and changed according to the future needs of the student.
The learning outcomes must be assessed.
The lesson plan must be economical, achievable, legal and ethical.

A teacher has a responsibility to keep control of the events occurring in the classroom and ensure students regard it as an inviting, comfortable, nurturing, relaxing and challenging workplace where they discover that work, interest, challenge and reward can peacefully coexist.  It is a place of work for the teacher and a place of work for the students and in this context, a teacher is in the business of teaching and the student is in the business of learning (Cangelosi 1992).  Studies have shown that proper classroom management can raise student performance by as much as 20 percentile points (Marzano, Marzano & Pickering 2003).
A school classroom is instantly recognisable as such and this is true throughout the known universe.  There is a certain look, feel and smell about a primary school classroom, desks and chairs set out in rows, the new smart board, the smell of paint, paper and old lunches.  Minds are moulded in this place.  It has been described by experts as “a feel” to the classroom in regards to how the physical arrangement of desks, chairs and other furniture are arranged.  There is only one thing that ruins a good classroom: the classroom misbehaviour.  Marsh (2008) cites a study by Infantino and Little where research has indicated that, in at least one Australian secondary school, up to 76% of the teacher’s time was used for the purpose of correcting negative student behaviour.  This inefficiency should not be tolerated. The teacher must know how to use appropriate and effective classroom management skills as a normal and expected part of being a competent professional.  School administrators often make judgements about the efficacy of a teacher based on his or her ability to manage the classroom, also, there is a community expectation and a professional obligation that the teacher can and will work towards maintaining a positive learning environment (Marsh 2009).  The arrangement of classroom furniture affects the student’s ability to learn due to distractions caused by proximity to other students and the level of comfort offered by climatic controls (Gunter et al. 1995).
A teacher needs a working knowledge of child psychology to the extent where he or she is able to recognise a student’s character and be able to correctly apply appropriate and efficient teaching strategies matching the student’s learning strategies.  The importance of this ability and expectation is emphasised by the fact that psychologists can, and often do, refer to a teacher’s observations to make a diagnosis for conditions such as ADD and ADHD.  In an article in the Early Childhood Education Journal, Kimberli Andrews said “Often it is a child's teachers who may notice many of the behaviours associated with ADHD" and; "Therefore, all teachers, including early childhood professionals, should be aware of the behaviours associated with ADHD"(Andrews 1989).

A teacher must know about different teaching and learning strategies.
One such strategy is called Constructivism and according to the Western Australian Curriculum Council it is regarded as the most popular learning philosophy used by Australian teachers (Hurst 2009).  It is a teaching philosophy that has a basic belief that knowledge is built upon previous knowledge, and just to make it more interesting, the new knowledge affects the perception of the previous knowledge.  There is a Chinese question that may help to illustrate how constructivism works.  The question is: “When is the best time to plant a fruit tree?”  Students often answer with “Spring”, ‘Summer’, or ‘When the moon is full”; or offer practical answers such as “After the summer rains when the ground is moist.”  The answer given by the teacher is simply “20 years ago”.  Then, after a pause for reflection, the teacher asks the student the same question.  Many students will confidently give the answer that the teacher has just taught them.  They may feel that the lesson is about well-known agricultural practices so the students allocate the knowledge a place in their mind merely as an addition to the list of things that require simple recall using only the first two stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy, namely, knowledge and comprehension.  The teacher then gives the answer to the same question, but this time the answer changes to “now”.  The second answer changes the previous knowledge and carries the student to the next level of learning towards the Application and Synthesis stages. The lesson is no longer a piece of minutia merely to be recalled, it is now a lesson on planning for the future. It becomes a lesson on life.  Constructivism uses a logical progression of new and challenging concepts to build on previous knowledge and is one of many teaching strategies that a teacher must know how to use in teaching these approaches to problem solving.
Project based learning is a teaching approach where the students are given time and resources and instructed in the method of delivery and presentation.  It uses a theme to create a series of situations with a given problem.  The theme can cover a wide area of the curriculum, that is, the problem can include more than one learning area, and it is reported to be well received by students because the varied learning styles can be accommodated due to the open nature of the questions (Whitton et al 2009).  This gives students an opportunity to express their personal opinions when they present values-based answers.  The goal of problem-based learning is not so much to find an answer, but more to teach students how to find an answer.  Smith (1995) in Whitton (2009) refers to a study where problem based learning is attributed to the improvement in thinking skills and the acquisition of life-long study skills needed for independent learning (Whitton et. al. 2009).

Authentic learning is a learning strategy which teaches students what they can expect in a real situation.  This is also referred to as practice or training.  A real life situation is replicated or modelled and the functions and procedures needed for successful completion of the learning area objectives are carried out in a controlled and supervised environment.  An example of this could be when a teacher of economics gives students a task to follow the share market for a set time and allocates each student an experimental sum of money which is really no more than a simple integer on a spreadsheet.  The students practice buying and selling shares according to the real-world market reports.  During the project, which may last all semester, the teacher uses any or all of the six teaching strategies that are often associated with authentic learning.  The strategies are:
Modelling.  This is when a teacher demonstrates the learning outcome.
Coaching. This is when a teacher guides the student during the learning experience and offers advice and applies corrections as needed.
Scaffolding.  This has a few meanings in the context of learning strategies: one meaning given by Fetherston (2009) describes scaffolding as any help given by a teacher, while Marsh (2009) describes it as assistance by a teacher in a specific stage of development called the “zone of proximal development” which is a particular area of uncertainty created in the mind of a student when previous knowledge has been challenged by new information.  There is an interesting process where the student must de-construct their old belief and re-order his or her thinking to accommodate the new concept.  This is where scaffolding is used as a teaching strategy and the teacher offers guidance until the new information can be assimilated.  Where Marsh and Fetherston do agree is that the guidance from the teacher is withdrawn as the student demonstrates an understanding and acceptance of the new concept (Marsh 2009) & (Fetherston 2009).

Articulation is a teaching strategy where the teacher asks students to explain their reasoning and the process they used to derive an answer.  It is an important part of math assessment as it asks the student to show all working as part of the process of obtaining the results, and the opposite of this is used in English where planning is not submitted as part of the finished work.  Taylor Mali says it this way “I make them show all their work in math and hide it on their final drafts in English.”  (Mali, T. 2009).  Exploration as a teaching strategy takes the student to higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy to where he or she starts to find more questions.  Using our example of share trading, as the student actually works as a share trader he or she will find many questions pertaining to the task.

Reflection is the process of comparing results with their peers.  In the example of simulating share trading, reflection shows the student what can be achieved and creates an expected standard of work.  
Concept Learning uses emotions as the carrier signal to give the learning experience a strong association with a known concept.  This can be effective in teaching a particular concept such as a moral value rather than a mathematical algorithm, or when a definition or a principle is applied in new circumstances.  Concepts are groups of ideas that have a common association and so students can apply a known concept about a particular object or idea and apply that concept to other objects using Bloom’s Taxonomy’s stages of assessment and synthesis.

For example: this method could be used in a lesson about computer hardware where the concept that the functions of a computer’s central processor can be compared to the functions of a human brain.  The student takes the concepts that he or she associates with the functions and abilities of a human brain and associates those concepts to the computer processor.  The learning strategy of associating similar concepts is called Zygotsky’s second phase; named after the psychologist who, after painstaking research, discovered that a person has three phases of understanding.  The second stage occurs when a student associates concepts that are similar.  The third stage occurs when the student can compare dissimilar objects and concepts (Whitton et al. 2009).

Teaching compared to some other professions: A pilot must fly an aircraft according to a flight-plan and air-traffic regulations, but is free to make decisions according to local weather and aircraft conditions which can result in additional cost and time delays; or ensure the safety of the passengers and crew.  A pilot is expected to make the right decisions.  A soldier must follow the mission objectives, but is free to choose a course of action according to local intelligence and the tactical situation which can result in unplanned changes in political boundaries, loss of life; or the successful completion of the mission and the reclamation of sovereign ground.  In a like manner, a teacher must follow the curriculum to produce a lesson plan but is free to create a lesson plan according to the needs of the students.  Teachers must apply all their training, experience and professional judgement to produce a lesson plan that is of the most benefit their students, that it will land them safely at their destination without flying through a storm and that it will enable them to capture and secure areas of ignorance and to establish a nation of understanding.

Cangelosi, J.S. Systematic Teaching Strategies. Longman Melbourne. 1992.
Crouch, School Sport and the Law. The Practicing Administrator. 1996.
Hagstrom, E. (1962). The Teacher's Day. The University of Chicago Press.
Langford, G. (1978) Teaching as a Profession.  Manchester University Press.
Mali, T. What does a teacher make? retrieved from (2009)
Marsh, C. (2008). Becoming a teacher (4th Ed.) French’s Forest: Pearson. P. 291.
Marzano, Marzano & Pickering. Classroom Management that Works. ASCD
Alexandria, Virginia USA. 2003.
Woodword, T. (2001) Planning Lessons and Courses. Cambridge University Press.
Teacher supply and demand and student placements in Western Australia – Strategic Issues December 2006 Western Australian Department of Educational Services.  2006.

There is no legislation cited in this work.  This line is intentionally blank.

There is no 12-step program to help them.

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