The teacher is the key person in todays education

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It is recognised world wild that the teacher is the key person in today's education system. Over time teaching has changed significantly. Today's teachers face a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. The following paper will examine the teachers of today-who they are and what they need to do and know. The paper will also discuss what makes an effective teacher. It will provide specific examples exploring different elements of teaching based on a range of ideas which include; professionalism and ethics, classroom management and organisation, promoting a positive classroom environment and the importance of self reflection along the way.

Teaching has undergone dramatic changes over the past 40 years. According to Pytel (2006) between 1950 and 1970, it was common to find teachers in classrooms with little to no scholarly education, no behaviour management training, and lack of knowledge of how to manage students with learning disabilities. There were often no televisions in the classrooms. No one even dreamed of laptops, copiers, calculators, or mobiles in the classroom. A classroom consisted of desks, chalk board, chalk, books and a record player. Today's teaching, however, has evolved into a demanding academic field which requires discipline, commitment and a passion for learning (Print, 1988).

Teachers of the 21st Century:

spend an average of 50+ hours per week on teaching duties, including non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, club advising, fund raisers, phone calls at home, and after school activity supervision.

teach an average of 21 pupils at the elementary level and 28 at the high school level.

spend an average of $443 per year of their own money to meet the needs of their students.

make an average starting salary of $31,704 per year.

73% enter the teaching profession because of their desire to work with young people (Pytel, 2006).

Teachers of today need to be social workers and mediators, competent organisers and planners, be self disciplined and patient (Marsh, 2004). How good a teacher is depends on how effective their teaching methods are (Norton, 1995). It's no co-incidence that effective teachers help to produce quality learners. Let's now consider the fundamental notion of effective teaching. Laslett & Smith (1984) found that the classroom, school culture, community, educational system and students can all significantly influence the effectiveness of a teacher. A teacher who may be effective in one context may struggle in another. The foundation of what makes an effective teacher can be divided into four sections;

Discipline knowledge: The first "honeymoon" encounter between the teacher and the students is when they formulate their impressions of the teacher. Students within a week will begin to test the waters to see what they can "get away with". It is during this period that the effective teacher will establish the expected ground-rules for classroom behaviour (Laslett & Smith, 1984).

Personal knowledge: The teacher's personal qualities are recognized as being influential in the overall picture of an effective teacher. Barry & King (2001) contended that two components of personal qualities are: a moral code of behaviour such as honesty, and integrity, and the teacher's personal philosophy and self-belief, which is best described within a motivational framework. In combination these behaviours provide the foundation for a trusting relationship between the teacher and his or her students. Understanding the role personal qualities play and how they interact with other characteristics of effective teaching addresses and provides insight into the "who question" on teacher's of today.

Pedagogical knowledge: Effective teachers employ a wide range of skills and abilities that lead to creating a positive learning environment. Effective teaching practices needs to cater for the needs of each individual student. Teachers need to respond to the various levels of ability, readiness and motivation of each student (Marsh, 2004).

Knowledge of context: Effective teachers are knowledgeable, though not necessarily expert, about the material to be learnt (Huntly, 2008). Knowledge of context is the principal processes and structures that teachers use to instruct their students. As noted by Meece & Schunk (1992), teachers construct their context knowledge built upon previous knowledge.

Characteristics of an effective teacher

The following characteristics are ones that accompany effective teachers, and guide them and their students toward a successful educational experience;

Ability to manage: Effective teachers have appropriate classroom management skills. They are able to find a balance between being friends with the students, and running a totalitarian classroom (Glasser, 1986). Appropriate classroom management involves asserting authority, while at the same time being approachable and relatable.

Capacity to connect: In order to be an effective teacher, it is fundamental to make connections with the students (Fetherston, 2006). This is a twofold process. First, teachers must be willing to listen. If students feel that they can't ask questions of their teacher, or if students feel that they can't address the teacher regarding a matter in the classroom, or at home, then that teacher is not being effective. Second, teachers must be able to relate to their students. Groundwater-Smith, Ewing & Le Cornu (2006) points out that an effective teacher will be able to connect classroom subjects and demonstrate how to access it in a way that shows its utility or place in students' lives, e.g. using real-world examples that students can relate too.

Have high expectations: An effective teacher will believe in his/her students. Setting challenging and realistic goals and ensuring students experience success is essential to maximizing their potential (Fetherston, 2006). When children feel that someone believes they can succeed, they are willing to work that much harder.

Be disciplined: Considerable research has demonstrated that effective teachers have a framework of appropriate classroom behaviours including; rights and responsibilities, rules and routine and devote the beginning of the school year to ensuring that there is no ambiguity about their expectations. When it comes to discipline, an effective teacher will not waiver from their principles (Glasser, 1986).

Have contact with parents: Having regular interactions and conversations with parents is another characteristic of an effective teacher (Marsh, 2004). Parents should be included in the schooling and education process. It is crucial for teachers and parents to develop a common language with regards to students needs. (Brady, 1995). Consultation should not be seen as a necessary evil by both parties, rather embraced by teachers and parents alike.

Characteristics of effective teaching

Reflective teaching

Effective teachers and leaders are driven by a strong and coherent philosophy, and influenced by their self-efficacy beliefs and ability to reflect on past and present events (Fetherston, 2006). Not unexpectedly these teachers reveal a holistic philosophy that centres on educating students for life. These teachers also have positive self- efficacy beliefs and are comfortable with innovation and risk taking (Whitton, Sinclair, Barker, Nanlohy, & Nosworthy, 2004).

Teachers high in efficacy are also more resilient to difficult situations. They appear more committed to teaching and are more likely to stay in teaching (Marsh, 2004). Fetherston (2006) believes that developing positive self-efficacy beliefs is a slow process built up over time through experience, exposure and a deeper understanding of self. Teacher's efficacy is, therefore, strongly related to being an effective teacher.

Professionalism and ethics

Professionalism as it applies to teachers is a life- long commitment to learning. Although there are guidelines and policies that need to be followed each individual person brings with them their own experiences and interpretation of what it is to be a professional (Whitton et al., 2004). According to Dilworth (1991) some factors to being a professional include:

•Conducting yourself in a manner which is appropriate to your role.

• Being able to react and adapt to ever changing situations.

• To be able to reflect on past events and be open to change if needed.

• To consider the wellbeing of others and to do what is right and just.

It could be said that a professional teacher is a person who instructs, that follows rules and standards, possess professional knowledge and engages in professional conduct (Barry & King, 2001). A professional is also guided by ethical beliefs. The key factor when defining ethics is to be clear on what your own personal beliefs are and what your boundaries are (Groundwater- Smith et al., 2006). It is easier to conduct yourself in a professional manner if you know you can follow clear guidelines set by your employer and yourself and, therefore, be confident in your abilities. Having a solid understanding of what is appropriate such as respecting the confidentiality of students, carers and staff members is vital to promoting a positive educational environment (Fetherston, 2006).

Creating a positive classroom environment

The psychological sense that one belongs in a classroom and school community is considered a necessary precursor to the successful learning experience (Cooper, 1986). In an era when traditional sources of belonging have diminished due to changing family and community demographics, the school plays an increasingly important role in meeting this need (Barry & King, 2001). Schools can increase the sense of belonging for all students by emphasizing the importance of the teacher-student relationship and by actively involving all students in the life of the classroom and the school community (Porter, 2006).

The bond between the teacher and student creates the foundation upon which a sense of belonging can develop. Bronfenbrenner (1979) explains that the teacher-student dyad was the primary crucible for learning and human development. He continues by saying before we can expect children to feel a sense of connectedness with the larger school community they must first develop an attachment with the teacher.

Because teachers often spend more face-to-face time with children than any other person, by default they have become the most significant others in their students' lives and an important source of security and stability. This is especially true for students already burdened by a sense of rejection (Porter, 2006).

Classroom management skills

Effective teaching involves more than just social skills. It is vital that teachers of today employ a wide range of teaching techniques that promotes learning. Effective teachers are nearly always good planners (Norton, 1995). They do not enter a room late, after noise and disruption have had a chance to build. They are waiting at the door when the students arrive. The rules regarding appropriate student behaviour are established starting from the very first day of school. They do this actively and directly. (Glasser, 1986). According to Marsh (2004) effective teachers are also good communicators and motivators both verbally and nonverbally.

Good classroom management is important for student success. For this to happen, the teacher has to be very organized, and consistent in everything (Laslett & Smith, 1984). The teacher must maintain control so that instruction and learning can occur. Much of the control that a teacher has over a class is affected by what the teacher does on the first day of school. Maintaining control during the first week can be an accurate indicator for how well the students will do for the rest of the year (Glasser, 1986).

Marsh (2004) found that effective classroom management means taking the knowledge you have acquired over the years and incorporating it into the classroom. Teaching is consistent and continuous. It means having the patience and the know how to continue working with students when they feel like giving up (Barry & King, 2001). A teacher must help students to look inside and find their strengths, weaknesses, passions, dislikes, and their uniqueness (Meece & Schunk, 1992). An effective teacher instructs while allowing students to develop personal opinions, and to think creatively. It is also very important that a teacher is able to make learning interesting to the students, and to make education useful (Brady, 1985).

Good teaching means being open with yourself and the students, so they can in turn be open with themselves. According to Lemlech (1988, p.32) classroom management is the linchpin that makes teaching and learning achievable. The author further defines the classroom management using the key components that affect success in the classroom, that is, "Classroom management is the orchestration of classroom life: planning curriculum, organizing procedures and resources, arranging the environment to maximize efficiency, monitoring student progress and anticipating potential problems".

Norton (1995) proposes that good managers carefully arrange their classrooms to minimize disturbances and make sure that instruction can proceed efficiently; they set up their rooms according to the following principles:

• Teachers should be able to see all students at all times.

•Teaching materials and supplies are readily available.

• High - traffic areas should be free of congestion.

• Students should be able to see instructional presentations.

• Procedures and routines should be actively taught in the same way that academic content is taught.

According to Cooper (1986) to a certain degree teachers control their instructional effectiveness in the classroom through their class routine. A classroom routine is a well-rehearsed response to a teacher's directive. It is one of a teacher's primary labour saving devices. Classroom routines are not just simply announced; they must be taught and practised (Sherwood, 2008). The passive teacher simply relies on the same old teaching techniques day after day. However, the active teacher who varies his/her day planning different teaching strategic and techniques tends to achieve more success in teaching. Not only does this practice of different teaching techniques provide change for the teacher, it also serves as motivation for students (Print, 1988).

In conclusion, teachers play a vital role in today's society. Teachers of today draw on and acknowledge skills, language, knowledge, concepts and understandings from both effective teaching methods and personal achievement. They are also disciplined and have high expectations of their students. All of which can only be achieved if the teacher has a good knowledge base and confidence in their own abilities. Being an effective teacher will leave a lasting impression on the lives of students.

How well a student learns is a good indication on how effective the teacher is. It is about allowing the students the freedom to be who they are, yet at the same time empowering them with essential knowledge, skills and concepts, to enable them to make key decisions in their own lives. A teacher's role is always changing and duties expanding. Managing these changes is truly a reflection of today's teachers.