The TEACHER, the Decisive Element in the Classroom
The STUDENT, Whose Life is Touched Forever
"I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom...
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized."
YES, this is THE TEACHER! S/he really is the child’s third parent, this child who is "like wet cement; whatever falls on him makes an impression."
If teachers have so much power, such a critical role, then hadn’t we better examine what they really need in order to do a good job, and give it to them, instead of ONLY requiring things?
Let’s not forget that we are preparing our students for the 21st century where "Standing Still is Falling Behind," where there are unprecedented social changes and technological innovations.
In this article, even though I will start with whatever is required of teachers, my main objective is to show the importance of Reducing Class Size and of Giving Teachers the Professional Time and Opportunities they need to do their jobs, "to be the most informed, the most capable, and the most inspiring classroom leaders possible."(U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley)
*Teachers must be talented, dedicated, committed, caring, conscientious, knowledgeable, well prepared, and well trained;
What is Required of Teachers ?
*Teachers should know how to teach to high standards, endeavor to help students reach their full potential, and make learning come alive for them;
*Teachers should have leadership qualities, should work everyday to motivate and educate their students;
*Teachers should have the ability to communicate effectively, to understand individual differences, and to adapt to diverse needs;
*Teachers should provide an attractive, positive, and safe learningenvironment where students feel empowered, challenged and nurtured;
*Teachers should strive to form responsible, morally aware and academically capable people to be outstanding contributors to the future (Let’s not forget that if too much freedom is permitted, a sense of responsibility does not develop and the child is apt to become inward, egotistic, self-centered and manipulative );
*Teachers should have a family spirit manifesting itself with openness, empathy, acceptance, self-sacrifice, kindness, interest in others, understanding, reconciliation and self-discipline;
*Teachers should try to establish different approaches and strategies to problem-solving enabling the student to reason logically, think critically, evaluate data , make judgments, and form oral and written opinions . (Inquiry-Based learning, Hands-on experimenting, solving real problems and encouraging critical thinking are becoming important in succeeding in the work world);
*Teachers should emphasize on interactive and cooperative learning in which we create an atmosphere of democracy where all opinions are heard, all perspectives are valued; where students treat each other with respect, trust , kindness and courtesy;
*Teachers should try to make students understand their own worth and value, and promote methods that increase their self-esteem, encouraging them to accept their strengths and weaknesses;
*Teachers should have high expectations for all students;
*Teachers should align the curriculum, instructional materials, their preparations and student assessment with high standards . ………
What Do Teachers Require ?
Compared to what is required of them, what teachers require will seem quite insignificant, but if they get it, it will change almost everything; it will change students’ as well as teachers’ lives!
First: Reducing Class Size
The social setting in which instruction occurs is a major factor affecting that instruction.
"…Reduced class size will make sure that every student receives personal attention and gets a solid foundation for further learning……"
Small classes make a difference. Studies confirm what parents & teachers know from experience -- small classes promote effective teaching & learning ……… Teachers prefer small classes in order to better identify student needs, provide more individual attention, & cover more material effectively. " ( President Bill Clinton, Jan.26th, 1998)
If we are committed to promoting exemplary practices ensuring that all learners reach their fullest potential, we need to nurture each student’s capacities, i.e. encourage them to keep trying, by making them aware of their individual progress and abilities. Each student must be given the opportunity to work at his/her own pace. (cf. Fred M. Fariss’s "A Child’s Bill of Rights.")
They must be given the TIME they need to internalize whatever we are explaining; as we know, students don’t learn the same way; they must be treated as individual persons who have differing needs, styles, and preferences.
Can teachers do that in large classes, especially if they have several large classes to teach?
Can they equip all students, especially those most underserved, with the skills and capabilities to lead satisfying, productive lives?
What exactly does good small-class teaching look like?
A teacher teaching a large class may see little recourse other than using tightly structured, directive approaches ("Get in your seats now"; "Do pages 187 and 188") to maintain control over student behavior.
Rows and columns of desks are likely, since that's all the space allows. Students may require teacher permission to use the pencil sharpener or go to the bathroom.
Boardwork assignments, workbook pages and weekly reading may recur with little variation. The routine may be dominated by large-group instruction, with the same work, pace and tests for all children.
As class size shrinks, other possibilities grow:
The teacher can really get to know each child.
He or she can individualize the lessons.
The basics can be covered more thoroughly, with time for varied and creative enrichment activities.
Extra classroom space can be used for a reading corner or learning center that gives students options, encourages peer interactions and helps develop decision-making skills and a sense of responsibility.
Students gain time to discuss what they read. They can get instant feedback on a problem from a teacher who moves around the room as they work.
This one-to-one interaction between teacher and student is the heart of the matter. Smaller classes give the teacher the leeway to connect with each child, including that quiet boy in the corner. He/she can talk with him and -- especially -- listen, to see where his real strengths and difficulties lie.
Finally, we can say that lowering the number of students in the classroom will almost certainly create new opportunities for students to thrive -- academically, socially and emotionally.
Second: Getting Enough Time
"Building good teaching practices, like building anything of great worth, requires a substantial investment of time."
Why do Teachers Need More Time?
-to share lessons and ideas with other teachers;
-to attend workshops and observe other teachers in action;
-to figure out how to make the change toward high-performance teaching and learning in their own classrooms.
-to have a life, a passion of their own.
A-Let’s start with the professional side:
Teachers must have time to master their subjects, design learning experiences for students that will lead to the achievement of rigorous academic standards, use improved assessment systems, better prepare for teaching their students, and work with and learn from colleagues and others with particular kinds of expertise.
To lock teachers into the existing system, which defines a teacher's professional activity , almost solely , as the time spent in front of students in classrooms, is to guarantee failure.
The list of things teachers need to know and be able to do in order to be effective in teaching today's student is longer and more complex than at any time in our history. For example, we are asking them to restructure the entire teaching and learning process to insure that all students learn to high levels. We are asking them to acquire much more in-depth understanding of subject matter and pedagogy. We are asking them to be actively involved in organizational change through participatory management. In short, we are asking them to do many things they may not know how to do and have little time and opportunity to learn.
Teachers need opportunities to learn how to do the work expected of them.
However, we know that teachers frequently complain that the limited in-service training time they are given is rarely enough to help them improve their teaching practices in any meaningful way (Kilpatrick, 1992, p. 48).
We know that teachers spend the bulk of their day in their classrooms practicing what they already know.
We know that the time teachers can invest in instructional improvement is minimal.
We also know that low priority is placed on professional development by our schools in direct contrast to Asian and some European philosophies about teacher training.
In Germany, teachers are in class with students for 21 to 24 hours per week, while they work approximately 38 hours per week. The remainder of their time is used for other aspects of their professional work including planning and working with colleagues to improve learning for students. "
In "our country" today, as researcher Linda Darling-Hammond points out:
"Time is rarely available for planning, for working with other colleagues on changes in the school organization, for meeting individually with students or parents, and for working on the development of curriculum or assessment measures -- activities that are not considered part of the teacher's main job. In contrast, teachers in most countries work with large groups of students only 15 to 20 hours per week and spend the other 20 to 30 hours per week working individually with students and parents, planning and consulting with other teachers, and developing curriculum and assessments." (From "Reframing the School Reform Agenda: Developing Capacity for School Transformation," Phi Delta Kappan, June 1993)
We must be aware of the fact that quality learning experiences for all teachers are essential if we are to move all children toward high academic standards.
B-What about the teacher’s Private Life?
He/she should definitely be given the time to have one!
Teachers need a life, they need a passion outside of the classroom!
Teachers should not feel guilty when they aren't with students all the time or aren't home grading papers.
Teachers need to know it's okay to do something for themselves.
Healthy energized teachers produce motivated students.
When teachers have exciting lives, that enrich humanity and themselves, they bring that energy, that passion into the classroom.
It is very easy for them to transmit the energy and passion to their students in a way that those young people would believe that growing up could be exciting and wonderful if only they would continue to learn.
Finally, we can say that since we are at the turn of the century, it is imperative for us to make a lot of changes.
We all know this would be very difficult and costly, but if we don’t do it, if we stand still, we will not be able to keep up with today’s world, so it will be even costlier.
Then, appropriate procedures should be taken to ensure success for our students in the 21st century, and, sooner or later, we will have to face it:
Class size should be reduced and teachers should be given more time to work together and acquire the skills needed to help all students reach challenging academic standards.
However, there is something I feel I’m obliged to say before I end this article:
"Just as low performing teachers are burnt out and removed, good and dedicated teachers should be rewarded!"
Nada Salem Abisamra
- "Four Initiatives Announced by President & Secretary", U.S. Department of Education publications. (January 26th,1998 )
- "Excellence and Accountability in Teaching: Improving Schools - The Critical Role of Good Teachers and Good Teaching", U.S. Department of Education publications. (April 1997 )
- "Smaller Classes Aim to Launch Early Literacy" by Joan McRobbie -Fall 1996
- WestEd Policy Support Program - California
- "Thrust for Educational Leadership - Class Size Reduction: Is it working?" by Bill Cirone - WestEd Organization - California.
- "A Child’s Bill of Rights" by Fred M. Fariss - 1997
- "Teachers and Goals 2000 - Leading the Journey Toward High Standards for All Students" - U.S. Department of Education.
- "Teachers and Goals 2000 - National Education Goals and Objectives"- U.S. Department of Education.
- "Leadership Forum Response"- U.S. Department of Education.
- "Dynamics of Effective Teaching" by R. Kindsvatter - W. Wilen, Longman
- "Professional Development for Teachers: The Critical Classroom Difference" - by Melinda Kitchell - 1995 - U.S. Department of Education
- "Teachers and Goals 2000 - Leading the Journey Toward High Standards for All Students" - "Time for Teachers" - U.S. Department of Education.
- "Prisoners of Time": Research-Sept. 1994 - U.S. Department of Education.
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