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" (GTC, 2004) 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" (TDA, 2010).
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 teacher requires both self-confidence and humility, the former to plan and implement projects whilst being undeterred by difficulties and the latter to prevent self-confidence from becoming arrogance. Similarly, Hoyle (1995) has suggested that professionalism can be defined through a person's knowledge, autonomy, and responsibility. In other words, 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 correspondingly follows the principle that every class is different, as is every child, and the teacher should be empowered to 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.
Nevertheless, a more in-depth analysis considers 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 whilst functioning as a dynamic team.
Although employing professionalism is vital, a teacher should also be one who at regular intervals, examine and monitor the work they have done. They should take into consideration the improvements that could be made by reflecting on the work that has been done and the problems encountered in the course of doing it.
According to Donald Schon (1996), the concept of reflective practice can be described as a critical process of enhancing one's field or discipline. Reflective practice is a way for beginners to recognise the link "between their own individual practice and those of successful practitioners" (Ferraro, 2000, p.1). This concept allows for thoughtful consideration into one's own experiences and the application of knowledge to practice whilst being guided by professionals.
Hopkins and Antes (1990) and Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) demonstrate a similar view that reflective practice can be classified in terms of action research and the concept of a teacher as a researcher respectively. It encourages teachers to put theories they have learnt into practice in their classroom. This has re-constructed my beliefs of what constitutes as a teacher of mathematics, as research is an imperative factor in education.
A parallel approach indicates that portfolio development has become a preferred tool used in pre-service teacher education (Antonek, et al, 1997; Hurst et al, 1998). Portfolios are significant in the development of inexperienced teachers, as it allows for resources and materials that worked well to be collated. This can then be modified during a teacher's career as their style of teaching adapts and their knowledge enhances.
The above theories are similar in that they focus on either pre-service or beginners in a discipline and outline the reflection which 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" (Bruner, 1987, p.54). I feel this is an accurate representation of a teacher's career as development of a professional reflective practitioner is an ongoing process.
In the broadest sense, a teacher can be defined as someone who not only imparts knowledge but also gives them skills that they can apply to everyday life. The skills that have been taught can then be enhanced throughout their time in schools and taken with them to university and finally used in their career. A good teacher possessing superior interpersonal skills has the potential to shape a pupil's life to ensure they can take with them the skills and knowledge to exceed the pupil's expectations.
An effective teacher of mathematics continues to investigate new mathematical knowledge and explore effective teaching strategies. An effective mathematics teacher wants to eradicate the fear and anxiety that mathematics may represent to many students. As stated in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for school mathematics, "an effective mathematics teacher will be able to motivate all students to learn mathematics" (NCTM, 1989).
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 surprisingly 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. Therefore, 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.
The dimensions of reflective practice (Zwozdiak-Myers, 2009) have shaped my thinking as to the concepts of reflection especially when assessing my course experiences. The dimensions of reflective practice relate to the ideas in which teacher's reflect, improve and try out new ideas. This allows for teacher's to be able to see the types of techniques which are 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, that the profession of teaching is not 'black and white'. There are problems which have no perfect solution; however it is up to the judgement of the teacher on how to respond, in the primary interest of the students.
Effective teaching has been constantly debated over the last two decades linking reflection to professional growth (Harris, 1998). Reflective practice is a significant and beneficial form of professional development, as it allows for errors to be noticed and improvements to be made. This can enhance teaching styles and methods, which leads to better performance and more self-awareness of one's strengths and weaknesses 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 challenging 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. This constitutes as an extended professional.