Education, Development, and Change
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Search of Good Teaching

By Shahid Siddiqui
Monday, 26 Oct, 2009
THE teacher’s role in the process of learning is central. Teachers interact with students and teaching materials and in the process play a vital role in the improvement of education. Recognising this, teacher education programmes are available at the national level for the ‘training’ of teachers.

It is interesting to note that though there are some quantitative attributes of good teaching, beyond a certain level teaching becomes qualitative and difficult to measure. That is why teaching is considered simultaneously a science and an art. The latter attribute is difficult to quantify and thus even good teachers are unable to give a recipe for good teaching.

As a teacher educator I have observed that teachers are generally fed on ‘given knowledge’ and are prepared in the narrow and confined alleys of ‘training’. In this paradigm teachers are considered consumers of knowledge and are given a set of strategies in the name of training to be used in the classroom. There is no role for the teacher’s own reflections or personality in this paradigm. Teachers consider themselves helpless and do not dare take initiatives based on creativity and innovation.

This view of the teacher is perpetuated in most of our teacher education programmes. The ultimate outcome is that mechanical gadgets and acts have taken over our classrooms and have turned them into dull places devoid of life.

I have worked with teachers in different contexts in Pakistan. My impression is that there is tremendous potential in our teachers but they lack confidence in themselves. One major reason for this lack of confidence is that teachers are trained to rely on the crutches of techniques and fashionable jargon. I have been asked one question a number of times by teachers: ‘what is the best teaching style?’ This question usually emerges after discussions on theories of education or teaching styles. One purpose of such discussions

in a teacher education programme is to expose the participants to the various possibilities in terms of historical developments and philosophical outlooks.

Another important point to consider is that for teaching purposes issues are put into different slots for the sake of explanation through comparison and contrast. In real life, however, we do not find such watertight compartments as perspectives may overlap. The question ‘which is the best teaching style?’ is in fact a desire to have access to the ‘ultimate recipe’ for good teaching. However, there is no single, fixed, recipe for good teaching.

The individual style is the best style. This response focuses on the personal role in teaching, which means how the teacher’s own self is used to make sense of texts and their context. The role of the self makes the process of teaching and learning more meaningful and helps teachers make modifications according to the needs of the learners.

This blend of the teacher as a professional and a person is vital for effective teaching. Each teacher has different experiences and different strengths. Thus instead of longing for the best teaching style a teacher may come up with a style based on his/her own experiences.

This, however, does not mean that knowledge and research should become irrelevant. On the other hand a teacher must have awareness of the latest happenings in the field. But knowledge should not be taken at face value. It is the teacher’s own personal practical knowledge that makes the learning process meaningful.

How can a teacher realise the significance of his/her own practical knowledge? Most of these programmes have stereotypical curricula, which is executed through highly conservative teaching methods, where participants are bombarded with ‘knowledge’ and their own reflective faculties are either denied or underplayed.

The result is that in Pakistan although we find thousands of ‘trained teachers’ who have got certificates in teaching, the majority have just passed their exams by cramming the contents.

There is little change in their concepts, teaching methods and attitudes. Such ‘trained teachers’ are unlikely to bring about any positive change in the lives of students.

One can identify a number of factors that play a part in the sustainability of educational change in a school. Some of them include school policy, the cooperation of colleagues, role of the head teacher and the expectations of the management.

All these factors are valid but a very important one in sustainability is the teacher’s own personality and role. If the teacher, at the individual level, is enthusiastic and motivated there are greater chances that he/she can play an effective role in educational change and in its sustainability.

It is this individual factor that is missing in our teacher education. There is an urgent need to make teachers realise how important their ‘selves’ are. Teacher education programmes need to prepare teachers to recognise, enrich, enhance and apply their personal experiences in classrooms.

Teacher education in Pakistan can only become effective if it crosses the narrow alleys of training and enters the open field of education. The change requires a shift at the conceptual and pedagogical levels, as well as a change in attitudes. This is only possible when teacher education programmes stop producing mere technicians and start developing reflective practitioners.

The writer is a professor and director of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore School of Economics.

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