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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.
In my view, 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. The comprehension of professionalism is supported by Hoyle (1995), that professionalism can be understood by knowledge, autonomy, and responsibility. A profession should base its practice on specialist knowledge which is beyond the reach of lay people. This knowledge should be both theoretical in the form of examinations and practical in the form of experience. Autonomy follows the principle that every class is different as is every child and the teacher should use their better judgement to act in the best interests of their pupils. Responsibility is the reciprocal of autonomy. The freedom of autonomy must be expressed responsibly.
A more in-depth analysis has been researched considering the key attributes which are associated with professionalism by Hoyle. Hoyle (1980) distinguished between restricted professionals and extended professionals. Restricted professionals have their focus in the classroom with the priorities being 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.
Other than just employing professionalism in the carrying out of 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.
The concept of reflective practice can be described as a critical process in enhancing one's field or discipline according to Donald Schon (1996). Reflective practice is a way for beginners to recognise the link between "their own individual practice and those of successful practitioners". Using this concept it allows for thoughtful consideration into one's own experiences and applying knowledge to practice whilst being guided by professionals.
Hopkins and Antes (1990) demonstrate a similar view that 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. 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.
A parallel approach 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.
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. These approaches are summarised by educational theorist and psychologist Jerome Bruner (1987) when he stated that "self is a perpetually rewritten story".
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.
My course experiences have allowed me to relate to the concepts of reflection, in particular the dimensions of reflective practice (Zwozdiak-Myers, 2006?). The dimensions of reflective practice relate to the ideas in which teacher's reflect, improve and trial new ideas. This then allows for teacher's to be able to see the types of techniques which were successful and unsuccessful in the classroom. The nine dimensions each have a fundamental aspect in which to approach reflection and this proves to be a fundamental theory in constructing my philosophy about the role of a teacher.
John Dewey (1933) observed that reflective thinking is called for when people recognize that some problems cannot be solved with certainty. Drawing from this observation, King and Kitchener (1994) chose the term "reflective judgment" to describe the kind of epistemic cognition that includes the recognition that real uncertainty exists about some issues. These theories have re-constructed my philosophy in the fact that the profession of teaching is not 'black and white'. There are problems where there is no perfect solution; however it is up to the judgement of the teacher to respond in the interest of the students.
Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) explores the concept of a teacher as a researcher, which takes a different approach from the previous theories. It encourages teachers to put theories they have learnt into practice in their classroom. This has re-constructed my beliefs of what constitutes a teacher of mathematics as research is an imperative factor in education.
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 which constitutes an extended professional.