Professional issues in the teaching of subjects

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According to the GTC statement, "teachers inspire and lead young people, helping them achieve their potential as fulfilled individuals and productive members of society. Their role is vital, unique and far-reaching. Teachers use high levels of individual judgment and skill to meet the challenges of their profession. It recognizes that teachers work within a framework of legislation with many lines of accountability". The GTC statement highlights the importance of teachers in today's society and emphasizing that teaching is a demanding profession.

The professional Standards for Teachers reverberates the point made in the GTC statement. The Professional Standards for Teachers outline "attributes, knowledge, understanding and skills required of teachers at each career stage. The document outlines the 33 standards for achieving QTS and aims to inform practitioners about pathways to career progression".

Both professionalism and reflective practice are required to enhance a teachers' development. Different theories and philosophies have been used to explain the progression of a teachers' understanding of becoming a 'good teacher' and I aim to understand how these theories have re-constructed my own professional development whilst critically analysing different philosophies.

PROFESSIONALISM

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A professional teacher requires confidence without possessing arrogance. Suitable preparation is an essential requirement for professionalism. A teacher should have all the required resources and lesson plans ready prior to the beginning of the lesson. Interaction with the pupils must uphold the professional standards of behaviour such as bring polite, firm and fair. In orchestrating the class the teacher must give everyone a chance to contribute and able to adapt to changes in their lesson plans accordingly. A teacher is not expected to have all the answers however, should offer to find out more for the student and carry out this promise. (ELS employment website)

Hoyle (1980) distinguished between restricted professionals and extended professionals. Restricted professional orientation has its focus in the classroom. These teachers are mainly concerned with teaching methods, their own didactic behaviours, and subject matter. The extended professionals however are concerned with professional collaboration and locate their classroom teaching in a broader educational context. They also aim at functioning as members of a school team. In my opinion, this is a very narrow approach as whilst being an extended professional requires teaching in a broader educational context, it also requires being a mentor or someone of guidance outside of the educational context.

REFLECTIVE PRACTITIONER

Another aspect other than professionalism is the role of a teacher as a reflective practitioner. Reflection, which involves teachers who, at regular intervals, look back at the work they do, and the work process, and consider how they can improve. They 'reflect' on the work they have done. They are not happy to carry on at the current standard, they want to improve.

Reflective practice can be classified in terms of action research. Action research, in turn, is defined as a tool of curriculum development consisting of continuous feedback that targets specific problems in a particular school setting (Hopkins & Antes, 1990). As such, it has become a standard concept in teacher education programs. The teacher educator as researcher and role model encourages students to put theories they have learnt into practice in their classrooms.

In 1987, Donald Schon introduced the concept of reflective practice as a critical process in refining one's artistry or craft in a specific discipline. Schon recommended reflective practice as a way for beginners in a discipline to recognize consonance between their own individual practices and those of successful practitioners. As defined by Schon, reflective practice involves thoughtfully considering one's own experiences in applying knowledge to practice while being coached by professionals in the discipline (Schon, 1996).

A review of current research indicates that portfolio development has become a favourite tool used in pre-service teacher education (Antonek, et al, 1997; Hurst et al, 1998). Portfolios encourage beginning teachers to gather in one place significant artifacts representing their professional development. They assemble materials that document their competencies. Portfolios include a reflective component, for when the teacher decides which materials to include, as they reflect on which teaching practices worked well and why (Hurst et a, 1998). The portfolios can be modified at points throughout a teacher's career, as the teacher continues to apply learning to practice which I believe is the most effective aspect of a reflective practitioner.

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As teacher educators, we recognise the link between reflection and professional development and actively search for means to encourage pre-service teachers to be reflective about their student teaching experiences. All the above theories have a significant similarity in that they all focus on either pre-service or beginners in a discipline. Personally, all the theories have a very systematic approach as they all outline that reflection is used to gain knowledge and to help improve on your weaknesses. This is supported by educational theorist and psychologist Jerome Bruner (1987) as he stated that "self is a perpetually rewritten story" (p.15).

PRE-BLOCK EXPERIENCE

In the broadest sense, a teacher can be defined as someone who not only teaches or imparts knowledge, but also most importantly, someone responsible for shaping and molding the minds and hearts of all those whom they teach.  A teacher has the power to yield a strong influence on their pupils. When coupled with certain definite skills, a good teacher has the potential of having a lifelong impact on the students.

An effective teacher continues to investigate new mathematical knowledge and effective teaching strategies. An effective mathematics teacher wants to eradicate the fear and anxiety that mathematics represents to many students. As stated in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for school mathematics (NCTM, 1989), an effective mathematics teacher of mathematics will be able to motivate all students to learn mathematics.

My philosophy about what constitutes an effective mathematics teacher has been challenged through my school based work whilst observing a newly qualified mathematics teacher. The mathematics teacher was portraying fractions in a very enjoyable fashion with various assessment techniques used to ensure the pupils understand. However, one pupil failed to grasp the understanding and struggled to answers the questions. As the teacher's attention was occupied by the rest of the class, this one pupil was unable to proceed with the questions. At the end of the lesson as the teacher had not watched over the class and observed the pupils that struggled, the pupil left the class uninterested.

The teacher was unable to help the child as he was not shown any attention and this questions the philosophy that every child matters. All students should be motivated and learn mathematics however; in this particular scenario the teacher lacked the experienced to observe the students that struggled.

Traditional student teacher reflection strategies, such as note-taking while observing in-service teachers and journaling, entail certain disadvantages. An observation is often considered not to be a true sample of a normal day because of different teacher and student behaviours in the presence of an observer (Walsh, Glaser & Wilcox, 2006). I completely agree with the concept of reflection as it allows for self evaluation. This involves assessing in your opinion your strengths and weaknesses and working on improving the weaknesses. This concept has confirmed my previous perspectives however; there is another concept which has re-constructed my approach to reflective practice.

Herman (1992) explains that an effective approach to reflective practice is by story-telling. This story involved a significant event, dilemma or situation from the student's teaching experience. They would structure the story and tell the story to other student teachers. The other student teachers would offer their opinion on this story enabling the story-teller to learn from their mistakes with constructive criticism. This has re-constructed my philosophy as peer assessment is an effective and positive approach to improvement.

CONCLUSION

Research on effective teaching over the past two decades has shown that effective practice is linked to inquiry, reflection, and continuous professional growth (Harris 1998). Reflective practice can be a beneficial form of professional development at both the pre-service and in-service levels of teaching. By gaining a better understanding of their own individual teaching styles through reflective practice, teachers can improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

The pattern of the teacher's role is now changing to the extent that it raises new questions about the teacher's autonomy, control and professionalism (Hoyle, 1974, Pollard et.al.1994). These changes are due to educational changes such as in curriculum, pedagogy and the organization of teaching and learning, as well as changes caused by broad socio-political trends in the society (Hoyle, 1974). As a result, the teacher's role is no longer limited to the classroom. Instead, the teacher's responsibilities are wider ranging and extending beyond the classroom. The teacher now needs to acquire a wide range of knowledge and skills to cope with the new demands of their increasing responsibilities which is known as

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`extended professionalism' (Hoyle, 1974). Therefore, they need to develop themselves professionally so that their enhanced knowledge and skills will benefit their students.