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The words of the General Teaching Council (GTC) statement that "teachers inspire and lead young people, helping them achieve their potential as fulfilled individuals and productive members of society" highlight the importance of teachers in today's society and emphasize that teaching is a demanding profession. This mission statement is reinforced by the Professional Standards for Teachers which outline "attributes, knowledge, understanding and skills required of teachers at each career stage".
Both understanding of theory and practical experience are required to enhance a teachers' development. Different theories and philosophies have been used to explain the progression to becoming a 'good teacher' and I aim to analyse the manner in which these theories have contributed towards my own professional development whilst critically analysing different philosophies.
A professional teacher requires both self-confidence and humility. A teacher needs self-confidence to plan and implement projects whilst being undeterred by difficulties and humility to avoid self-confidence becoming arrogance.
Suitable preparation is an essential requirement for a professional teacher. All the required resources and lesson plans must be thoroughly prepared prior to the beginning of the lesson. Interaction with pupils must uphold the professional standards of behaviour in being polite, firm and fair. In conducting the class the teacher must give everyone a chance to contribute and be able to adapt to changes in the lesson plan accordingly. A teacher is not expected to have all the answers but, when necessary, should offer to find out more for the pupil and fulfil this promise punctually. (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, whilst being an extended professional requires teaching in a broader educational context, it also requires being a mentor or counsellor outside the context of formal education as a whole.
Other than employing professionalism in the carrying out of his duties, a teacher should be one who at regular intervals, looks back at the work they have done, and the work process, and considers how it can be improved by reflecting on the work that has been done and the problems encountered in the course of doing it.
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 inexperienced teachers to gather significant materials culled in the course of their professional development to document their competencies. Portfolios include a reflective component, for when the teacher decides which materials to include, they have ascertained which teaching practices worked well and why (Hurst et a, 1998). The portfolios can and should be modified at points throughout a teacher's career, as the teacher continues to apply learning to practical teaching, a procedure which is the hallmark of a reflective practitioner.
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. The above theories are similar in that they focus on either pre-service or beginners in a discipline and outline that reflection is used to gain knowledge and to overcome weaknesses. This method of approach is summarised by educational theorist and psychologist Jerome Bruner (1987) when he stated that "self is a perpetually rewritten story" (p.15).
In the broadest sense, a teacher can be defined as someone who not only teaches or imparts knowledge, but is also and perhaps most importantly, someone responsible for shaping the minds and attitudes of all those whom they teach. Â A teacher has the power to wield a strong influence over theirÂ pupils. When coupled with certain definite skills, a good teacher has the potential to have a lifelong impact on the students.
An effective teacher of mathematics 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 will be able to motivate all students to learn mathematics.
My philosophy about what constitutes an effective mathematics teacher may best be illustrated by an example which came to my attention observing a newly qualified mathematics teacher. The mathematics teacher was portraying fractions in a fashion easily comprehensible by the majority of the class with various assessment techniques used to ensure the pupils understood. However, one pupil failed to grasp the topic and not unnaturally struggled to answer 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 for any pupils that struggled, the pupil left the class still uncomprehending and uninterested in the topic. The teacher was unable to help the child as he had omitted to watch for pupils in difficulty and this runs counter to the philosophy that every child is important. In this particular instance the teacher lacked the experience to observe the difficulties that the pupil was facing.
Traditional student teacher reflection strategies, such as note-taking while observing in-service teachers and keeping a journal, 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 am a firm believer in the concept of reflection strategies as they encourage a continual process of self evaluation.
Self evaluation involves assessing ones strengths and weaknesses and working on improving the weaknesses. This approach is one that I follow in conjunction with another method of evaluation which is outlined in the following paragraph.
Herman (1992) explains that an effective approach to reflective practice is by story-telling. The story involves a significant event, dilemma or situation from the student's teaching experience. The novice teacher structures the story and expounds it to other student teachers. The other student teachers offer their opinions on this story enabling the story-teller to benefit from constructive criticism arising out of their points of view and their comments on his mistakes.
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 teacher's role has now changed from the traditional picture of a didactic lecturer dictating an indigestible quantity of facts to a classroom of pupils who solemnly inscribe the words and subsequently learn them by heart to regurgitate them in the form of an essay in response to a question on a termly or yearly examination paper. These changes are due to a new view being taken on curricula, pedagogy and the organization of teaching and learning, as well as changes caused by broad socio-political trends in the society (Hoyle, 1974).
The teacher's autonomy, control and professionalism (Hoyle, 1974, Pollard et.al.1994) are no longer beyond dispute both in the classroom and in society as a whole. As a result, the teacher's responsibilities are no longer limited to the classroom but range more widely than hitherto. A modern teacher must now acquire a wide range of knowledge and skills to cope with the new demands of their increasing responsibilities. A teacher must therefore develop professionally so that enhanced knowledge and skills from the process of development can be put into practice both in the classroom and outside to benefit their pupils.