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Who are teachers of today? The Australian pocket Oxford dictionary (1984, p.725) defines teachers as "one who teaches in a school, imparts knowledge or skill; gives instruction or lessons". By delving deeper into who teachers are and what they do and know it will be illustrated throughout this paper that teaching is quite a complex field and teachers of today must be creative, interactive, influential, effective listeners and speakers, compassionate, sensitive, adaptable, enthusiastic, motivating and knowledgeable. This can be quite a tall order, but with the correct use of tools, strategies and techniques effective teachers can capture these qualities while enhancing their students' experiences and knowledge. In addition, this paper will focus on the complexity of the teaching role, how teachers manage their classrooms and their teaching and learning strategies.
The complexity of the teaching role
Teaching is quite a complex field and incorporates many factors in order to make it successful, however can we really regard teaching as a profession or teachers as professionals? To try and sum up professionalism into a sentence is no easy task and authors in this area have differing definitions of professionalism, although a few common key elements do surface. Marsh (2010) suggests that professionalism within teaching requires an exemplary level of commitment to learning and a thorough understanding of specialised knowledge while Whitton (2009) states that a teachers role includes a commitment to lifelong learning while maintaining and enhancing their professional skills and knowledge.
Being a professional requires a teacher to abide by a code of Ethics, according to Groundwater-Smith et al. (2006, p.332) "the code is based on respect, caring, integrity, diligence and open communication". Teachers play an important role, they are the first point of contact when dealing with students whom they respect, care for, listen to, engage, nurture and inspire, and parents/families where teachers provide honest and open communication, while together with their colleagues they have a set of morals and values to uphold while being diligent, supportive and respectful of each other. Teachers also have a social responsibility to the community where they must maintain a level of integrity and respect for themselves and others while upholding their legal and moral obligations towards their students. This is in direct connection with the requirements stated in policy documents written by the relevant government department which reflects such laws.
"Teaching is the critical profession. A teacher influences every person who goes on to further study, training or employment. Teachers have been prominent people in at least the formative years of the lives of all the state's citizens. The quality of their work matters in ways matched by few professions" (Ramsay, section 4, p2 as cited in Whitton et al., 2004a, p.45).
Renzulli (1994, p.19 as cited in Whitton et al., 2004a, p.46) "identifies the three facets of a teacher that closely relate to the professional standards of a teacher". These facets include the teacher, the curriculum and the learner. Teachers are the driving force behind model development while students must be the primary focus. It is essential for teachers to understand how students learn, and how to deliver meaningful information as part of the curriculum (Renzulli, 1994, as cited in Whitton et al., 2004a).
Teachers are clearly professionals. They have total control over decisions needed to organise classrooms and plan lessons according to the curriculum and syllabus. Teachers first priority are their students, by making use of available resources, and delivering suitable content in a timely fashion, teachers will be able to maximise on student learning, minimise on administrative tasks and create a positive learning environment therefore becoming a successful classroom manager (Killen, 2005).
Bennett and Smilanich (1994, p.187) indicate "What skill you select, when you select it, how you enact it and where you enact it are critical in distinguishing characteristics of effective and ineffective teachers related to classroom management". Classroom management consists of "actions teachers take to create an environment that supports and facilitates academic and social-emotional learning" (Evertson & Weinstein, 2006, p.4 as cited in Eggen et al., 2010, p.354). Teachers utilise skills and strategies needed in planning, organising and creating effective classroom management and ultimately delivering effective teaching today and beyond.
In order to effectively manage a classroom, teachers must know and understand their students. This includes how a student might react in certain situations, how to cater for the needs of each student or how to deal with issues that might arise. Teachers do not aim to solve every problem, but it will give them the opportunity to be in the best possible position when dealing with different issues. One way of getting to know students is to understand and value student diversity. Students have diverse needs, characteristics, interests, experiences and backgrounds (NSW Dept of Education and Training as cited in Marsh, 2010). Teachers need to provide personalised instruction to cater for all types of students, one mode of instruction that takes place in classrooms is differentiated instruction. Differentiation is a teachers' response to learners needs, they are required to recognise the varying background of students' knowledge and learning styles while providing instructions focused on student differences within the classroom. Differentiation is a philosophy of teaching and not just a set of strategies it allows teachers to provide access, equity and support for all students, they attempt to maintain a balance between whole class learning and differentiation, and they ask essential questions to guide instructions that align with the standards of the curriculum (Marsh, 2010). Rief & Heinburge (2006) identify certain conditions teachers use for differentiating
content: What a student understands and is able to fulfil as a result of the instruction (the input)
process: The process helps the student make sense of, or make meaning from, or 'own' the content
product/assessment: How the student demonstrates what he/she knows, understands and is able to do (the output)
Using this criterion teachers are able to cater for different aspects of children's diversity and development. Teachers target their learning to build upon students' developmental areas and the aim is to focus on cognitive, language, creative, physical, social and emotional domains to achieve a positive and productive learning environment.
"Teachers face a complex and demanding task as they strive to promote positive behaviour and manage the learning needs of all students" (Arthur-Kelly et al., 2006, p.33). As teachers learn about and understand their students, they must simultaneously manage student behaviour. Teachers need to find a balance between power (control) in the classroom, and the care (consideration) they show to their students. One important approach that contributes to how a teacher manages and relates to their students can be influenced by a teacher's personality and their philosophical and ethical stand. This approach can be either authoritarian (high power-low care), authoritative (high power-high care) or permissive (low power-high care) (Whitton et al., 2004b). Clearly an authoritative approach strikes the balance that teachers endeavour to achieve to obtain optimal behaviour within the classroom. Teachers also focus on additional elements concerning student behaviour and classroom management, these consist of physical, psychological, social and pedagogical (Arthur-Kelly et al., 2006). Some examples of these elements can include
Physical: an appropriate classroom layout,
Psychological: a caring, respectful and trusting atmosphere,
Social: the ability to create a sense of belonging in a safe and secure environment, Pedagogical: engaging and encouraging students using efficient and productive lesson plans.
Certain tools such as 'Low key responses' can be valuable in classroom management when delivered in an effective manner. These responses are short, succinct and usually involve a tap, touch, look, pause, gesture, signals or simply saying a student's name. Low key responses usually involve little to nil verbal communication, they do not interrupt a lesson and they do not invite further interaction (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994). By utilising low key responses teachers begin to realise that when used correctly this tool provides them with an increased ability in managing their class positively, productively and effectively. For example, if a student talks out of turn a simple look can convey the message that this behaviour needs to stop immediately.
In addition to knowing and understanding students, increasing positive student behaviour and managing students, teachers use effective strategies or techniques that motivate their students to achieve the desired learning outcomes. "Motivation is an internal state that arouses, directs and maintains behaviour" (Woolfolk, 2006, p.336 as cited in Marsh, 2008, p.34). There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. "Intrinsic motivation involves being involved in an activity for its own sake" (Schunk et al., 2008 cited in Eggen & Kauchak, 2010, p.285), for example involving yourself in study because you want to understand, and believe learning is valuable. "Extrinsic motivation is motivation to engage in an activity as a means to an end" (Eggen & Kauchak, 2010, p.285), for example studying for an exam to receive a good grade, putting in the extra effort to get the promotion at work, or another way to obtain endorsement for a behaviour in an unrelated task (Marsh, 2008). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1954) should be considered when discussing motivation. Woolfolk (2006, as cited in Marsh, 2008) notes that the hierarchy can assist teachers understand that each student must be considered as a whole person. It also identifies how their physical, emotional and intellectual needs are interrelated and how they can be met. Marsh (2008, p.36) stated the following
"Maslow maintains that the four lower level needs (survival, safety, belonging and self esteem) are needs that individuals will strive to satisfy. Striving for the three higher needs (intellectual achievement, aesthetic needs and self-actualisation) will only occur if a reasonable level of satisfaction has been attained with the four lower levels".
Managing a classroom and preventing inappropriate student misbehaviour have been identified as the most difficult tasks teachers face daily (Marsh, 2008). The skills and strategies previously considered can assist teachers to deliver effective teaching today and beyond. Teachers aim to "ensure that students are actively involved in learning and that they feel successful in their endeavours" (Marsh, 2008, p.177). Wanting to achieve success as a teacher and contribute to the success of students are the goals most teachers strive for. Various teaching and learning strategies can be implemented daily within a classroom environment that can assist in attaining these goals.
Teaching and Learning strategies
Teachers use a variety of teaching and learning strategies to guide their students learning experiences while scaffolding their understanding of the lesson objectives. By using appropriate and good quality instructional skills such as questioning or providing clear instructions, these skills and strategies when successfully delivered can create a productive learning environment. Examples of teaching and learning strategies used are collaborative, constructivist and cooperative learning.
"Constructivism, or problem-based learning, focuses on maximising student understanding" (Marsh, 2010, p.211). Woolfolk (2008 as cited in Marsh, 2010, p.211) refers to it as "a mode of instruction that emphasises the active role of the learner in building understanding and making sense of information". Constructivism also focuses on collaborative learning where the students and teacher are actively engaged in questioning, addressing and resolving issues and problems (Holt-Reynolds, 2000 as cited in Marsh, 2010). "Cooperative learning is a technique whereby a group is given a task to do that requires efforts from all students. Students need to interact with and support each other in completing the overall task and the sub-tasks" (Marsh, 2010, p.141).
These strategies aim to improve learning, develop social skills, while enhancing listening and communication skills. Several ways teachers use to build upon these strategies are by using games or activities that compliment the objectives required of the curriculum, syllabus or lesson plan. Some examples are using puzzles, painting, listening to and playing music, play dough or blocks, the internet or role-playing and simulation games. "Role-playing and the use of simulation games (simulation merged with game rules) can be very powerful ways of exploring values and interpersonal issues (White, 2006 as cited in Marsh, 2010, p.215). These teaching and learning strategies can only be successful if the teacher delivers effective instruction.
Effective instruction is the backbone of the teaching profession, it encompasses multiple strands that need to be factored in everyday when delivering information to students and will ultimately impact on the outcomes you will experience as a teacher. To provide effective instruction, teachers must consider how students learn while implementing methods to maximise learning by understanding their genetic makeup. For example, teachers use problem solving, inquiry and discovery learning. "Problem solving, inquiry and discovery modes of instruction enable students to learn by doing" (Marsh, 2010, p.213). These modes of instruction suit students of all ages across a variety of subjects and it enables the teacher to facilitate learning, enables students to analyse and use data to resolve problems, motivates students and examines knowledge that is relevant (Marsh, 2010).
Another instructional skill involves questioning. Questioning is an integral part of a lesson and is a technique that is frequently used amongst teachers. "Teachers ask questions to stimulate cognitive processes: for this to occur the question firstly has to be pitched at the right level, neither too easy nor too hard" (Fetherston, 2006, p.272). Questions can be classified into "two main categories: psycho-social, which reflects relationships between students and the teacher or between students; and pedagogical questions, which focus on the teaching and learning of specific knowledge, skills and values" (Marsh, 2008, p.149). Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive processes guides and supports teachers in planning their objectives, construction of assessments and tests, and preparing and asking appropriate questions (Marsh, 2010).
By introducing the revised edition of Bloom's taxonomy; which relates more appropriately to students in the 21st century, teachers are better able to understand students' thinking, decision making and problem solving processes (Eggen et al., 2010). As clearly illustrated by Overbaugh & Schultz (2009), the new version of Blooms Taxonomy consists of "six levels of intellectual behaviour important in learning:
Remembering: can the student recall or remember the information?
Understanding: can the student explain ideas or concepts?
Applying: can the student use the information in a new way
Analysing: can the student distinguish between the different parts?
Evaluating: can the student justify a stand or decision?
Creating: can the student create a new product or point of view?"
One program utilising these skills and strategies and currently being rolled out to schools is the Language Features of Text Type program. LFTT focuses on the understanding that children within a school environment come from different backgrounds and therefore have different experiences. For this reason teachers use their questioning skills. LFTT is built upon three main components of literacy; Listening, Speaking and Writing.
First component: Students are asked to listen to a story, and are then asked a series of low order and high order questions.
Second Component: Students are given a series of pictures on paper that relate to this story and are asked to verbally retell this story
Third component: Students are asked to write the story they have just recalled using the same pictures given to them.
As students build competency in one component the next component is slowly introduced after careful assessment. By working through programs such as LFTT and using appropriate questioning Blooms taxonomy becomes a valuable tool. "...the levels have been an invaluable source for teachers and curriculum planners in planning a comprehensive range of questions that extend student thinking" (Marsh, 2008, p.150).
Reflecting on the definition of teachers from the Australian pocket Oxford dictionary and analysing the qualities of teachers today and the complexity of their role, this paper has demonstrated that this definition does not provide an adequate description of what encompasses the teaching profession. Professional teachers are empowered by a vast array of tools, strategies, resources, theories and models that are available to apply in everyday teaching and students are fortunate to be taught using different methods specifically focused on identifying their needs and delivering results. This paper has illustrated what effective teachers need to do and know by discussing the complexity of the teaching role, how teachers manage their classrooms and their teaching and learning strategies. Teachers of today face many challenges and although these challenges are continually shifting teachers must continue to evolve to keep up with demands and developments. Teachers try to challenge their students to 'have a go', to 'take a risk' and to work through tasks that are difficult. In the classroom, students need to develop levels of persistence, courage, tenacity, resilience and a sense of pride in themselves as learners. When the next generation of students begin their new chapter in the education system, teachers who build upon these skills, utilise these strategies and enhance pedagogical quality will not only be teachers of today but effective teachers for the future.