Season 2

Season 2, Reading Task 2 – Teacher as a Person

 

Teacher as a Person

Are people born to be teachers? Can people develop into effective teachers? Are there people who should never be teachers? With some qualification, perhaps the answer to each question is yes. Teaching is a vocation for which some people have a natural talent while others may have the inclination but need to develop some of the necessary skills, and others simply may not be suited to the demands of the role. We do know that the most effective teachers are passionate about their chosen profession. When people are asked about their best teachers, they often recount how the teacher made them feel before mentioning how much they learned. It is a subtle yet important distinction. Individuals remember the relationships, and those relationships can be powerful motivators to learning.

We know that some teachers may be effective with a particular group of students and not with others. However, our premise is that truly effective teachers are good with all students in their particular subject or grade level, assuming the teachers have the necessary training for the given teaching assignment. There are six key indicators associated with this quality of Teacher as a Person. It can be argued that some of these characteristics cannot be taught, only modeled. We suggest that building awareness regarding the importance of each of these key quality indicators is a first step in the development process, to be followed by modeling and feedback. The indicators associated with The Teacher as a Person are:

Caring

Fairness and Respect

▲  Attitude Toward the Teaching Profession

▲  Social Interactions with Students

Promotion of Enthusiasm and Motivation for Learning

Reflective Practice

 

Role of Caring

The impact of teachers on student learning is increased when students are taught by well-prepared professionals who combine their knowledge of the content and instruction with a deep sense of caring about their students. Effective teachers are not only caring, but also culturally competent and attuned to their students’ interests and needs both in and out of school. This valuing of the student as an individual is important in establishing and sustaining relationships. Teachers who show that they care about students enhance the learning process and serve as role models to students. Caring is expressed in many ways, including the following:

  • listening,
  • expressing feelings,
  • knowing students on a personal level,
  • demonstrating patience, honesty, trust, humility, hope, and courage,
  • accommodating students’ needs,
  • using a considerate tone of voice and manner,
  • paying attention to each student,
  • showing receptive body language, and
  • valuing students’ input in problem solving

In a study of effective and ineffective teachers, researchers found that both groups of teachers were equally respectful of their students, but the effective teachers demonstrated better listening skills and the ability to express their feelings. Nearly 20 years later, another set of researchers found that adults reflecting on their most influen- tial teachers highlighted the interpersonal attribute of caring as key to the effectiveness of those teachers. Caring teachers create relationships where respect and learning are fostered so students feel safe taking risks that are associated with learning. Caring is an important attribute of effective teachers, and students must be able to hear, see, and feel that caring in their daily contact with teachers.

 

Role of Fairness and Respect

Fairness and respect are two attributes that require ongoing effort to maintain. Situations constantly arise with students, colleagues, and others that test a teacher’s commitment to these ideals. Obviously, everyone wants to be treated in a fair and respectful manner. Often, fairness and respect are embodied in class rules, thus demonstrating the importance of these concepts. Every action taken by a teacher in the classroom, especially involving discipline, can be perceived as fair or unfair. Perception is very powerful in determining fairness and respect, as each individual has his or her own internal definition of what constitutes such values. As a result, once student opinion has been set, it is difficult to change it. Particularly with elementary and middle school students, the idea of justice is very strong. Students want to see “right” triumph and be rewarded, while “wrongs” are punished.

Respect is a cornerstone of a classroom’s foundation. Effective teachers demonstrate respect in a variety of ways, from their treatment of students to how they work with students’ families. Equitable treatment of students, regardless of race, gender, and other differences, is vital. Respectful teachers know their students by name early in the school year, value individual talents and abilities, are aware of students’ moods, and respond to changes they observe. Effective teachers also recognize that families are partners in students’ education. Depending on the families’ desired level of involvement, the teacher responds in a variety of ways from simple communication to collaboration. In fact, effective teachers have been found to correspond more frequently with parents using a variety of means, including telephone calls, notes, letters, home visits, e-mails, and school events. By involving the students and their families, effective teachers are respecting the children’s first teachers, their families, and engaging them as partners in the students’ ongoing journey through school.

 

Attitude Toward the Teaching Profession

Teaching is a demanding profession, and yet effective teachers exude a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work. All teachers contribute to the profession through their words and actions. Those teachers and administrators who model high expectations for themselves tend to get the same from their students. Educators are constantly observed, not only in school, but also in the community, and what they say about the profession influences those who hear it. How teachers act affects people’s impressions of teachers even more.

Teachers’ attitudes about the profession most directly affect the school climate. Some teachers are collegial in their demeanor, while others are disengaged. A collegial approach enhances the school climate and the learning environment for students, but a purely social or disengaged one does little to enhance student achievement. Teachers who are collegial serve their school through participation on committees, acting as mentors, supervising student teachers, supporting other teachers, and assuming leadership roles. When teachers interact with one another, they build a sense of community through the interactions. Positive outlooks create a healthy community that affects personal commitment, motivation, efficacy, and performance in the classroom. A positive and productive school climate has the added benefits of infusing its members with increased satisfaction, enthusiasm, commitment, and empowerment as educators. Effective teachers are realistic about the demands of their teaching assignments, but are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of students.

 

Social Interactions with Students

Social interactions between teachers and students play a significant role in cultivating a positive learning environment, both within the classroom and in the school as a whole. These interactions are a natural outgrowth of caring by the teacher and are based on a genuine interest in students and a concern for their welfare. Positive social interactions are fostered through meaningful dialogue, common areas of interest, and shared experiences that can take place during class, at lunch, or during extracurricular activities. “Teachers need to allow students to see them as complete people with emotions, opinions, and lives outside of school”. When teachers interact with students in a warm, personal manner, students feel affirmed as people and learners, thereby enhancing achievement. Strong teacher-student relationships also reduce discipline problems.

Effective teachers establish a dynamic relationship with students that evolves as students’ needs change and as each party becomes better acquainted with the other. These teachers are friendly, understanding, and confident. The personal connection that they make with students assists in creating a trusting and respectful relationship that becomes a building block for pushing students to new heights. Effective teachers convey a sense that students are valued and that they enjoy working with students. In turn, students work harder for teachers who they perceive as being honest with them and who believe in their abilities. The relationship becomes a source of influence that is fueled by the interpersonal dynamic between teacher and student. In the converse, when students do not perceive trust, they do not learn as well.

 

Promotion of Enthusiasm and Motivation for Learning

Teachers fulfill multiple roles in their classrooms. They provide support to students in a variety of ways that result in increased student achievement and confidence. To use a sports analogy, teachers are coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers, and cheerleaders all rolled into one. In each of these roles, teachers convey enthusiasm and a motivation to excel for their players. As a coach, the teacher has a game plan for learning and explains it in precise detail to ensure that students are capable of successfully executing it. As the athletic trainer, the teacher assumes the role of patching up players so that they are not hampered by previous injuries. As the equip- ment manager, the teacher ensures that students have the resources they need to get the job done. Finally, as the cheerleader, the teacher eventually moves to the sidelines as the players are ready to execute a game plan on their own with the support they need. In sports, the coach is often hailed if the team is doing well and pummeled if performance is poor. Effective teachers are most like coaches in that it is their responsibility to see that students are successful in learning.

Effective educators use their own enthusiasm for the subject as a tool to reach and motivate students. They are enthusiastic about the content they are teaching and they convey this feeling to their students through the activities they select, the energy they project, and their competence in the subject area. Effective teachers recognize that motivation is critical to fostering and enhancing learning in students. Their goal is not simply to present the material, but to see students succeed in acquiring new knowledge. In order to do this, effective teachers use a variety of strategies such as student goal setting, choice in assignments, cooperative learning, self-paced instruction, and self-assessment. Think back to movies such as Stand and Deliver, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Dangerous Minds. All of these movies portrayed teachers who believed in their students and offered them guidance and affirmation when they were unsure of themselves. Effective teachers actively engage students in learning and foster a genuine motivation to learn. They tap into students’ natural curiosity and draw extraordinary results from them.

 

Role of Reflective Practice

“Reflection is the ‘supervisor’ that encourages teachers to continue what worked and correct what isn’t working”.

It is an internal monitoring system that teachers use to process the multitude of external stimuli they experience on a daily basis. Reflection is about learning from experience.

Many educators are introduced to reflection during their preservice teaching program, but reflection is not limited to novices in the profession. For effective teachers, it is a lifelong professional practice. Teachers must know themselves and their goals to reflect upon their progress toward meeting them. Reflection can also be used to create an alignment between what teachers believe and how they behave. Reflection is not an easy undertaking, as teachers must be open to confronting the fact that there is much that they do not know and cannot anticipate. Fortunately, teachers do not have to enter into reflection in isolation; they can get feedback and assistance from a variety of sources.

Reflection may be driven by questions, research, new experiences, observations made on lesson plans, journals, and discussion with colleagues. One approach suggests thinking of a critical incident and then describing the problem, players, possible solutions, chosen plan of action, rationale for the action, and outcomes. Preservice teachers are taught how to analyze and reflect on their practice and what they observe others doing. In a study that followed 10 preservice teachers through student teaching and into their first two years of classroom teaching, researchers found that students “heard” the voices of their education professors as part of their reflection when dealing with a dilemma and, in fact, were able to apply some of what they learned in their preparation programs during the second year that eluded them during the first “survival” year. No matter how teachers choose to do it, reflection is a very personal and introspective analysis of their professional lives, and is an essential practice for good teachers.

adapted from "Handbook for Qualities of Effective Teacher" by James Stronge, Pamela Tucker, Jennifer Hindman.

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