This prompt was suggested to me by a fellow blogger (thanks Devang), but as an educator, it is something close to my heart, so was happy to oblige. I may be a college lecturer rather than a school teacher, so I can only look at what I think are the qualities, skills and knowledge required in the education profession. However, I believe there may be some variation on the qualities depending if you work in a school, college or university, but I think there are also some universals. The following is based on my own experiences and my teaching environment.
For me, the first thing that is required is to be professional. A good teacher will be knowledgeable about the subject(s) they teach and will come into classes prepared. Its also important that you keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date. When I was studying in France there was an English lecturer (native speaker) who hadn’t returned to the UK in over 20 years. He was pulling up French students for saying things in a way we do now – was so out of touch that he wasn’t aware of current language usage.
Another important aspect of being professional is that you behave ethically. Everyone should be treated fairly, and there should be no bias in how you behave. Teachers need to be role models for their students. We are preparing young people for the workplace so we should be modelling behaviours that are acceptable in the world of work.
Developing students who think for themselves
I believe its important to work with the students and involve them in decisions that affect their learning. At the start of the year I like to sit down with the students to find out how they like to learn. We try different approaches and review, so that we can adapt and use the methods that suit that group best. I teach some subjects year in and year out. Variety is good so I don’t get bored teaching, but every class is different, so what worked last year might not work the same way. I believe it’s actually unlikely to get bored with the same subject as the class experiences will not be the same. Each group has its own dynamic and its important to recognise that and be prepared to adapt to teaching methods that suit each individual group.
To be a good teacher, you need to be flexible and adaptable. Linked to that, you probably also need to be able to think on your feet, to have the confidence to stop what you’re doing when its not working. Its not the first time I’ve realised an approach won’t work and the class gets an impromptu break, so I have time to refocus the lesson.
With post-compulsory/adult education, its important to involve the students in their learning. we can start with how they like to learn, but I will also give them choices about how the content can and should be be delivered on a particular day. That could be something as simple as deciding on the size of groups and who they want to work with, to me saying by the end of the class I want to achieve X, talk through my expectations and criteria they have to meet but then letting them, as a class, decide how they’re going to achieve that, knowing they can ask for help/guidance.
I believe this works as my classes generally feel comfortable asking why we’re doing something and let me know if something isn’t working. A specific example was one of my ESOL classes asking if they could work on a project. They told me their idea, to showcase their own countries to their classmates. I agreed and encouraged their enthusiasm and guided them so, as a class, they set their own objectives for the project, and set ground rules so everyone had to do their own work and couldn’t rely on others in the group. You can read about this project in another post. Their project also contributed to them achieving an extra unit from their studies.
Its important for the teacher to be confident in the classroom, particularly if you want to encourage students to form thar own opinions and to challenge thinking if they disagree. I once remember saying something during a lecture that I knew, and my students should have known was wrong, to see what they did. They just kept writing, so I stopped and asked them if they agreed – we then had a discussion about not taking things at face valve and to ask questions and challenge.
I am very conscious of not presenting my own opinion on something. I’ll present all the facts and the differing opinions, then usually organise some form of activity that gets the students thinking about the different viewpoints so they can form that own opinions. When I was at university studing HRM, we had a lecturer who had very strong political opinions and used the lectern as a soapbox. I was determined when I went into teaching, that I would never force my opinions on others like that. I guess the type of teacher we become is also shaped by examples of the good and the bad; what we want to emulate, and to avoid.
The relationship with the students
Years ago I had a colleague who tried to be a friend of the students but that backfired on her in so many ways, making it very difficult for her to manage the class, particularly when there were issues of discipline or lack of progress/achievement by students.
I would always prefer to get on well with my students, but at the end of the day, I am their lecturer, not their friend and I have a job to do. I’ve always taken the approach that they don’t have to like me (or I, them) but it makes it easier if we can have a good working relationship.
This relationship, like all relationships, is built on mutual expectations which need to be met for a healthy, trusting relationship to develop. Respect and trust need to be earned – both by the students and by me. Yes, I am the teacher, so to some extent there should be respect for the role, but I would prefer to gain their trust and respect because of our interactions.
Students, I believe, want to see that their teachers treat everyone fairly. They don’t have favourites or pick on anyone. That they are supportive and available if they need help. Additionally, they should be able to explain theories, concepts and any instructions clearly so they’re easy to understand. Also, whenever possible, make learning fun. I remember 2 different situations – both comments on the level of noise from my classroom – our Head of Dept at the time commented that he knew the students were having fun learning. The other was a colleague who complained about the noise levels. Having fun is generally not a quiet activity.
Teachers shouldn’t assume students are at fault if and when some don’t get ‘it’ – try to find an alternative way to explain – or get someone else in the class who understands to explain. I’ve seen and heard of situations where a whole class is lost, but the teacher can’t see that this could be an issue with their teaching. Students learn in different ways, so it’s understandable that they may struggle with a particular delivery method.
I’ve not read other posts so as not to be influenced as I share my own thoughts but I would be interested to hear other opinions.
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