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Teacher education the current and future context

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January 10, 2016

Teacher education the current and future context

‘Teacher Training’ the term is limited by its very definition. It is a one-time preparation for taking charge in a classroom, to deliver knowledge and skills to children or young adults between the ages of 1 to 19 years. Teacher Education, on the other hand, implies continuous, dynamic study, reflection and assimilation of both knowledge and practice. To this, add attitudes and behaviours and the definition is pretty comprehensive, if not complete.

Living in a world of greater complexity than ever before, how much more magnified is a teacher’s role, which has expanded appreciably, in part due to these factors

– The expansion and easy dissemination/access of knowledge in all spheres of human activity and discovery.
– The changed role of parents, necessitating assumption of many responsibilities assumed/ expected of teachers.
– The aid and access which technology provides to all stakeholders in the delivery and evolution of the educative process.
– Teacher training today does not stop at earning a B.Ed. degree or similar certification, but is an ongoing development of professional teachers who are expected to deliver. There is a huge extension from the school goal of ‘Preparation for college’ to ‘Preparation for Life’. The teacher must facilitate this.

It is my belief that no width or depth of planned reform and change in our education system can be even marginally successful without a commitment, plan and belief in the provision to un-train, retrain and re-value our teachers, from the remotest village to our teeming metros. Change must come radically on three points: objectives, instruction techniques, assessment and evaluation.

Teacher education must focus on these reforms and changes forthwith. The RTE, a timely and admirable initiative, cannot make any real impact unless teachers are guided, convinced and mentored, on a sustainable basis, about inclusivity and equity in education.

Facilities and opportunities to keep learning and grow professionally must be provided by schools. Refresher courses must be popularised so that teachers can stay learners and through shared participation in workshops and lecturedemos, apply newer practices in their bulky classrooms, full of under-stimulated, often undermotivated rote-learners. Training involves constantly thinking, learning and relating to what is real and living.

Perhaps the most obvious change required is moving focus of the teacher from mere content to the process of learning, to become continuously invigorating, purposeful and participative. Recent theories of learning which every teacher must be conversant with are: The MI theory from Howard Gardener, Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy, Learning Styles from David Kolb and Growth Mindset from Carol Dweck . These are suggested, based on the belief that the every teacher is acquainted with older ‘greats’ like Dewey, Piaget, Ericson, Vygotsky and Bruner. From theory to application is a given and there must be evidence of this in teaching planning and practice.

Today students in the classroom are not only there by privilege and duty, but also by right. A learned teacher is still a valued teacher, but essentially his job is to see that children or learners get from step to step up the school ladder, after which they are pushed out into the precarious business of living. The Internet is an accessible tool for many, though not for most in India. Reading journals and books, or newspaper articles has never stopped enriching the knowledge bank of a teacher and the dismissive plea, ‘I have no time to read’ must become a thing of the past. Revising, refreshing and updating content must be a prescribed or selfassumed responsibility.

There are newer areas of knowledge which must be included in the curriculum and are the building blocks for a young person’s world view. These are cultural literacy, digital literacy, media literacy and religious literacy. They are absolute essentials in the context of diverse, pluralistic, and tech driven societies like the one we live in. I added the fourth, because in tomorrow’s world, people need to know, understand and appreciate differences in belief and faith.

The teacher’s profile too has changed. She has more to cope with, to be responsible for, and to struggle with. This is not to deny that teaching can and must still be a vocation that is a noble process of giving children what she knows and what they need, in terms of learning and living. She must stay focused on the outcomes of her teaching, demonstrating and handling situations that are complex and drain her emotional energy. A textbook today is more of a prompt than a prop. Lessons, prepared well in advance, with planned inquiry by students, should be an integral part of a teacher’s approach.

Teacher education must become far more experiential and certainly less theoretical. Studying and discussing classroom scenarios through role-play or movie clips, are the best teachers for teachers! Classroom management must be looked at differently when teachers usher in a spirit of inquiry into the classroom. Intelligent dissent, so essential to nurturing a scientific temperament, must never be sacrificed, merely to maintain the behavioural discipline of a traditional class. Discipline of mind and behaviour must be affected by reason and negotiation. Inclusiveness is key to the Growth Mindset, where teachers must believe that Intelligence is a not fixed quality, but learning outcomes can be stretched successfully through individual effort, encouraged by the teacher, for everyone. The Marxian dictum, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ may very well apply to a teacher/learner input in the classroom.

Teacher disposition must take a front position in this line of qualities, for which teachers must be conditioned and trained. In an inclusive classroom, the teacher’s attention, encouragement and approval are the right of each learner, especially the reticent ones who are slow to participate or achieve. We now strive to create a responsive classroom where teacher and student are learners together. The teacher, no longer ‘a sage on the stage’ has to use democratic principles in a classroom. There is a set of social skills children need in order to be successful academically and socially: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and selfcontrol. Knowing the children we teach individually, culturally, and developmentally is as important as knowing the content we teach. All teachers know that there are ‘difficult’ students in each class. They carry emotional baggage which manifests itself in antisocial, challenging and uncooperative behaviour towards classmates, teachers and establishment in general. A power struggle can ensue in the classroom from middle school through High School. Sadly too few teachers see this as their problem and their responsibility and so bring in higher authority to arbitrate. This abdication spells the loss of personal power a teacher has acquired, as no one wins a power struggle. Teachers must learn to walk with defiant, disruptive and disrespectful students in a way that recognises and honours their need to feel recognised, if not importance to the class. This slowly but surely builds rapprochement, respect and even acceptance. Reflection, a way of life for every teacher, will make this possible. I have secretly believed that it is not the hand that rocks the cradle, but one that wields the chalk rules the world! Educating a whole child, intellectually, culturally, personally and professionally is an ideal KRA for every teacher today. This can only be achieved by teachers who have a holistic orientation to education themselves.

Pritam BenjaminPritam Benjamin An educator for over 40 years, Pritam L Benjamin has a deep and abiding faith in practical idealism that should guide the awesome responsibility of educating children and young adults. A gold medalist In English Literature from the University of Allahabad, for both graduate and post-graduate degrees, with a B Ed from Calcutta University, she has lectured at Women’s College Ranchi and Loreto College, Kolkata.

She committed herself totally to school teaching at Sishya in Chennai, La Martiniere for Girls in Kolkata, Bangalore International School, National Academy for Learning, Bangalore, Indus International School and Inventure Academy, in Bangalore as Vice-Principal and Principal. She has initiated and supported innovation and change within curriculum, teaching practice and rethinking and redefining the vision and extent of the responsibility of schools and teachers to ‘educate for life’. Pritam Benjamin morphed into a teacher trainer, in the last 6 years. This has afforded her the privilege of learning and assimilating the changes that Pedagogy and teaching practice have undergone.

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