Adam: How do you like our English teacher Mr. X
–Leila: Ummm, he’s ok but he bores me sometimes
–Adam: Yeah, you’re right. I hope he improves for next year.
–Leila: Are you kidding me? Teachers are teachers, they never change.
–Adam: On a second thought, yeah, I think you’re right. I often think of teachers as mobile phones; once they’re made you get stuck with them the way they are until a new generation comes out!
–Leila: I haven’t gone that far with my imagination, but yeah, your description is correct, you nailed it boy!
This conversation between Leila and Adam shows that they are of those students who believe that « Teachers are the same » and « teachers will be teachers » or even that « teachers are creepy! ». Actually, these statements are three of the most common attitudes and assumptions that many people hold and even defend. While there might be some truth in this, the fallacy and over-generalization that these assumptions carry are much more important.
Hereafter is a discussion of why and how teachers differ, the role of motivation in improving the learning and teaching inside the classroom and in changing these clichés about teachers in addition to a discussion of professional development as a resort towards excellence.
The first claim I would like to make here is that teachers are not the same. This is not only because they hold different names and ID’s or because they come from different countries, regions, cultures and religions but for other deeper reasons. While all of the things stated above are correct, what really makes a difference is that teachers have different personalities, perspectives and are equipped with different methodologies, attitudes and convictions about the nature of teaching and learning. While one might be very rigid and stern, teaching mainly with the classic chalk and talk approach, another teacher might be easy and outgoing, focusing more on student involvement and fun. Hence, it becomes clearer that teachers are people, too! I reckon that it is sometimes hard to believe it, but it is true.
The second claim of my paper concerns motivation. I believe that the most successful teachers are those who employ effective and motivating techniques in their classrooms. Research has found that students are naturally motivated. Motivation is then biologically intrinsic. The real challenge that teachers are facing here is not really, as many teachers believe, in creating motivation but in sustaining it. Teachers who have been able to revive students’ motivation and make them see a point in waking up early in the morning to come to school argue that their success is a product of activities that enhance students’ motivation. For example, some teachers use music and dancing to attract the attention and focus of their students. Other teachers make use of sports as a source of motivation. The British Council is one of those education bodies that have been aware of the importance of sports to young learners. “They-students- listen to their favourite football stars more than they listen to their teachers” a British Council representative once explained during a workshop. Therefore, the British Council has thought of making a CD having a compilation of videos of non-native speaking football stars talking about how the English language is important, how they learnt it, and the extent to which the quality of their lives has improved thanks to their mastery of the language. Other examples of how sports can be exploited as a source of motivation to young learners include; the use of realia in the classroom, discussing the students’ favourite sports, teams and athletes, etc.
Another way of keeping the students’ eyes, ears and minds aimed towards learning rather than towards the window or the clock is manifested in the use of projects. Project Based Learning can be very fruitful; it helps building channels of communication as it includes group work, it focuses on the learner rather than the teacher, it gives students a feeling of autonomy as teacher’s intervention is very limited and it motivates students and pushes them to do their best because the products they come up with hold their names and are very often asked to present their products in front of an audience (classmates, Ss from other classes/schools, parents…). The “Can-do” attitude and ego involvement of PBL contributes to motivating students, and thus; to yielding better results.
These are only few examples of things teachers can resort to in order to make it fun to attend their classes, and to give teaching and learning new dimensions that can change a lot of those negative clichés about teaching and teachers.
More examples of fun and motivating activities include; games, realia, internet and computer based learning, drama, role playing, etc. However, knowing about these activities can never be enough. A teacher should always be creative, a critical thinker, a reflective practitioner and an active researcher because things develop, tendencies change and so do ways of teaching and learning.
Most of the things that have been noted so far cannot see the dawn if teachers do not invest time and effort on them. Teachers should be aware and convinced that these practices will lead to better results, increased student participation and higher motivation.
One way that practitioners can take to reveal some of the secrets and mysteries of the classroom, and take their teaching as well as their students’ learning to the next level, is through “Reflective Teaching”.
I take it for granted that any potential reader to this humble paper must have already seen his/her own image reflected on a mirror. Hence, I will make use of this vivid image to tackle the issue of reflective teaching.
Whenever, I wake up in the morning and take a look at my face on the mirror, I see something that does not please me; a wrinkled face with half opened eyes crossed by red minute veins, a shabby hair, and swollen lips! “What a beast I am!” I yell at myself. I think that no one would like to be seen in that scary form, this is why we all try to take care of our looks before anybody’s -except the poor people’s with whom we live- eyes can spot us in the morning. Then, when one gets out and hears compliments about the way they look, they unconsciously know the importance of looking into the mirror before going out, they might even raise some questions like: “Would I have received this compliment had I not looked into the mirror this morning?” Consequently, most of us cannot get out unless they make sure they look good or at least acceptable.
Concerning how this relates to teaching, I think that the image is self explanatory because “Reflective Teaching” is not really that different from looking at the glass to see one’s face reflection in the morning. Reflective teaching is the scrutinizing eye that lets us see the “ugliness and beauty” of our teaching, the things that have been well done and that have been carried out successfully and vice versa. It is the mirror through which we see our weaknesses, things that need change and rectification, as well as what should be kept and fostered. As a result, a reflective teacher will be able to spot the sources of problems and identify the positive points in his/her teaching. This will lead to more flexibility and ability to change from the part of the teacher, better understanding of students’ behavior and learning styles, and will undoubtedly increase students’ motivation contributing to altering the way students regard teachers. Yes, teachers have a chance to no longer be “the creepy talkative creatures that nobody likes”.
Another way of improving in this hectic but rewarding field is through “Action Research”. Action Research has been defined as a process in which teachers investigate teaching and learning so as to improve their own teaching and their students’ learning. Action Research is carried out with the hope of figuring out a particular “how to” of teaching to demonstrate that teaching is useful. Therefore, if a teacher is courageous enough to dare looking farther than the tip of his/her nose, they are going to discover many things that they did not know about their classes and about themselves, too. Where the students are, where the teacher is, where the curriculum is taking them all, and what is supposed to be done are all inquiries that need to be answered through deep and structured reflection. Accordingly, action research proves very useful; it can answer all of these questions and more. Therefore, teachers should not discard the possibility of making research and investigating in the field, especially that research is one of those things that make good teachers great. It opens the doors to greater opportunities and makes it possible for teachers to develop professionally.
This latter point is very vital for every teacher. Becoming a teacher is an achievement but standing still and stagnating makes the achievement lose significance. A teacher must always look for opportunities that can live up to the expectations he/she had made after graduation. I stress this period of time (after graduation) because it seems to be the period in which teachers are motivated to carry on and seek more knowledge, however, many teachers allow their motivation to fade away once they settle down and start working.
Professionally developing teachers do not allow this to happen, they look for prospects and sacrifice in order to achieve more.
Generally, there are many ways in which teachers can develop professionally, the most important ones are those related to attending conferences, seminars and workshops. Making connections with other active teachers is also important and creating or being a member of regional, national and international associations can be a big step ahead. Moreover, pursuing a higher degree is a strongly advised step to take. Nothing can serve a teacher better than deepening his/her knowledge in their field of study and work. Additionally, successful teachers always look after their health and take care of their hobbies. Whenever possible, one has to do something for leisure. It is true that being professionally successful denotes a lot of hard work and dedication. Nevertheless, one should not focus only on his/her profession at the expense of other activities or at the expense of his/her family. Striking a balance between these priorities and being organized shall help in facilitating the task.
All things considered, I can confidently say that motivation, reflective teaching, action research and professional development should be compulsory components in every teacher’s teaching. No teaching of worth can be carried out without the incorporation of these components. This is how the “creepy creatures” can regain human status, students’ respect and recognition, and develop professionally.