Essential Strategies for Teacher’s Professional Life Cycle

-Ashok Sapkota (as_sapkota@yahoo.com)

Development refers to ones growth or a change which serves as a long term goal (Head and Taylor, 1997) in order to facilitate ones skills and expertise. Teacher development is a whole process for teacher production which in general is a process of becoming a best teacher that every one wishes to be in their life. It draws on the teacher inner as well as the outer knowledge as a resource for the transition for the change. Teacher development builds in the past, because reorganizing the past experiences (Mohan, 2011) at the present moment adds a brick to move ahead as a form of reflective practice and professional growth. It is a self-reflective process (Richards & Farrell, 2011) because it is through questioning old habits that help to grow oneself as an alternative ways of being and doing. This process of knowing ones growth can be called as teacher development. It is ongoing and bottom-up process (Hargreaves,1994). It is essential to build ones knowledge on several aspects which can make us a professional teacher. Teachers begin their career as a novice teacher and pass through the different stages of learning, teaching, reflecting and coming up with several hunches.

Teachers Professional Life Cycle

A professional is someone whose work involves performing a certain function with some degree of expertise (Ur, 2010). The technician, cratsman or artistian performs certain acts with skill and becomes more skillful as time goes on, through practice so does the teacher. Studies of teachers’ professional and career development have identified different phases, sequences, or stages those teachers undergo through of their careers and professional growth. Based on the ideas of Tusi (2003), Diaz-Maggioli (2004) and Burns and Richards (2009) the following six phases of teachers’ professional life cycle as: survival, stabilization, experimentation and diversification, reassessment, serenity, disengagement phase and post teaching life can taken as the teachers’ professional life cycle.

i) Survival Phase

This is the first phase in teachers’ professional development. Typically, novice teachers or beginners go through this phase where they are preoccupied with their own survival in the classroom. Teachers feel difficult, inadequate and ill prepared in this phase as the all environment becomes new for them. Some of the well documented problem in this phase is of reconciling educational ideas and realities, maintaining classroom discipline, establishing an appropriate rapport or relationship with students, playing multiple role of a teacher maintaining the environmental demand and having an adequate mastery of knowledge as well as an instructional methods. This phase can also be called as a ‘discovery phase’ where the teachers are excited by the fact that they are now a teacher with their own students. This phase can also be called as induction phase.

ii) Stabilization Phase

This is a second phase where the teachers consolidate their experience from the first phase, gain confidence in teaching and mastering teaching skills. They are more flexible in their classroom management and better be able to handle unpredictable situation. In this phase, teachers’ focus changes from ‘ self to students’. The teachers become more committed to teaching however the self-doubt still remains on the teachers.

iii) Experimentation and diversification phase

As a third phase in the teachers’ professional development, the teachers are motivated by the wish to increase their impact in the classroom and seek the new challenges. They conduct personal experiments using different instructional methods, materials and classroom management skills. Teachers in this phase are highly motivated, enthusiastic, ready to confront issues that they had existed knowledge and to take or quest on new knowledge or challenges. Hence, the teachers desire to increase their impact in the classroom or desire to change.

iv) Reassessment Phase

In course of professional development some non-linguistic factors such as age, attitude, cultural shock, motivation, anxiety, fear and so other factors are prominent which could lead the teachers to themselves to the doubt, uncertainty and frustration or even reach in the position to change their job. In some cases the other teachers, try one selves to adjust in this phase and make oneself get established in this phase. This is the reason this phase is also known as ‘stabilization phase’ and   the teachers try to grow themselves with new paradigm of teaching, so also known as reassessment phase.

v) Serenity Phase

This is the stage where the teachers have more peace of mind. Teachers in this phase are less vulnerable to others’ perceptions of them. They develop a patience of listening which is one of the best skills of professional growth. Here teachers speak of ”being able to accept myself as I am and not as others would have me be’. It is marked not only by a decline in professional investment and enthusiasm but also greater confidence, more tolerance and spontaneity in the classroom. This is the stage where teacher-student relationship is found to be more distanced. This phase is followed by a conservation, which is characterized by resistance to and skepticism about innovation and change.

vi) Disengagement Phase

Near to the end of the teachers’ professional life cycle, teachers disengage themselves from commitments and allow more time for their personal engagements. Disengagement can take the form of withdrawing and investing their time and effort elsewhere, mostly in social welfare activities, engage oneself in political activities or a business. In some cases this stage can be a bitter or serene.

vii) Post-teaching Phase

After the retirement the teachers in his early days feel indifferent. They try to engage them in different sectors, such as social welfare works, community development works, working as a advisor, etc. This stage is taken as post-teaching phase.

The seven phases as explained above illustrates the feelings, engagements, activities that the teachers undertake in their life although the major component to shape their life depends upon the idea on ‘What knowledge does a good teacher need to have to become professional?’  To answer this questions the following sections deals with the

Teacher’s Knowledge

Teacher is a person who teachers different skills to learners. When we say that there is no single ‘best way’ of teaching English, that does not mean that each teacher has to start from scratch, as though there were no agreement on what counts as good teaching (Edge & Garton, 2009). It is very necessary to module oneself with the growing interest on multiple and diverse aspects of knowledge to make oneself professional. Head and Taylor (1997, p.22) opined that, ” …much of the knowledge that teachers have is acquired through experience of actually doing the job”.  As Richards (2010, p. ix as in Cheng, 2013, p.100)

            … teachers sometimes graduate from (teacher-education) programmes with limited            experience in materials design, evaluation, adaptation, and implementation … the status   of materials design is sometimes undervalued in graduate education, where it is          regarded as a relatively trivial and theory-free activity.

There are number of areas that can be enlisted in second language teacher development however in this article I will be enlisting seven basic skills that are essential to make oneself professional as an English language teacher.

a. Command over the subject matter

it is an essential that the teachers need to have knowledge as a disciplinary basis of TESOL-that is, English grammar, discourse analysis, phonology, testing, second language acquisition, basic research methodology and curriculum development that define the professional base of language learning. It is expected that a teacher need to have sound knowledge and full command over his subject matter on which he is going to teach.

b. Pedagogical expertise and integration

Mastering of new areas of teaching, adding a new pedagogical practices to one’s repertoire of teaching specializations, improving ability to teach different skills to diverse group of learners of different ages and background, etc are the wish of most of the teachers. In this regard, when a teacher can access to these areas by developing new materials, new skills and reinnovation in the field of teaching which helps to make oneself professional.

c. Self-awareness

We, teachers might have enough potentialities but fail to know ourselves. We fail to know ourselves, try, search, read and identify the multiple potentialities with us.  It is essential to have a self-awareness as knowledge of oneself as a teacher, of one’s principles and values, strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities within challenges. It is equally essential to develop a patience of listening to others thoughts, understanding others desires, intentions, difficulties and knowledge to make oneself professional, The teachers need to have the knowledge of learners and their background so that he could implement the appropriate strategies to change himself and also to suggest an appropriate path to his students.

d. Learners Diversity and Challenges matters

Deeping understanding of learners, learning styles, learners’ problems and difficulties, ways of making content more accessible to the diverse group of learners is one of the challenges of professional development in Nepal. When we, teachers are able to understand the  desires, interest on the subject matter or module the content of the desire of the students to create an enthusiasm towards it, then our teaching becomes successful. It is essential to have knowledge of learners and their background so that we can implement appropriate strategies to make them understand.

e. Being Critical, Creative and Contextual in Using Curriculum

Deepening one understands of curriculum and curriculum alternatives, use and development of instructional materials are one of the essential qualities that professional teachers need to have.  It helps them to provide a road map on the contents and instruction they use in their daily teaching-learning operation. If a teacher lacks a proper knowledge of curriculum and materials, it is quite difficult to module themselves on to a professional teacher. A clinical supervision (Bailey, 2006) is necessary to develop a rapport between supervisee and supervisee which can lead us to be more critical and creative.

f. Career Advancement

A best career with the necessary professional knowledge is a dream of most of the teachers. A teacher needs to act as a successful supervisor, monitor or facilitator in order to develop professional skill.

g. Adapting Culture and Integrating Technology

Cultural adaptability is one of the basic skills (Brown, 2007) in which a teacher need to adapt them to make themselves professional. A class is a miniature of a society which consists of a diverse situation, and multiple contexts. In the same way, technology is also a fascinating tool in the present context where a teacher need to have basic skills to handling technology such as multimedia, basic presentation skills, conversing with his students in blogs, wikis, twitter, etc. Good practice is an interraction among people (Edge & Garton, 2009) in a situation, guided by teachers who use their intelligence, expertise, knowledge, skills, sensitivity, creativity and awareness to help other people to learn.

Strategies Used for Teachers Professional Development

Apart from the above teachers knowledge skills, a wide variety of methods, strategies or skills are necessary for ones professional development. There is no such magnificent road to the teacher’s professional development however the several skills can be taken into consideration for ones professional growth. Teachers personally themselves are an important aspect to bring change in them. When teacher as a learner encounter new items they need to know  what they mean and how they are used in the communication (Davies & Pearse,2000). The initial quest to grow oneself need to come from the teacher than only the others strategies. Richards and Farrell (2005) lists out eleven strategies, viz. workshops, self-monitoring, teacher-support groups, keeping a teaching journal, peer observation, teaching portfolios, analytical critical incidents, case analysis, peer coaching, team teaching  and action research.  Sapkota (2012) found that most of the strategies listed by Richards and Farrell (2010), are used  by the university teachers in a partial manner however when the teacher first develops self-monitoring practices in themselves, they begin towards learning other strategies. Likewise, Wenger (1998 as in Sapkota, 2012) focuses on the teachers’ identity with the role of community shaping ones professional growth, Richards and Farrell (2010) adopt practice teaching for novice teachers as a reflective approach to grow oneself to explore one’s teaching. A wide variety of methods and procedures are available for in-service teacher development.

Similarly, Roberts (1998, p.224 as in Sapkota, 2012) suggests that teacher can develop themselves adopting various strategies like teaching professional collaboration, innovation and research, helping others learn courses/formal situation, self-study and language learning. Apart from these strategies, the following are the major five strategies used by the teachers are the basics for their professional development, leading oneself to the professional growth as in the professional cycle described in the first section of this article.

i) Self-monitoring

Self-monitoring and self-obsevation are  the recent concepts employed in the the currrent ELT  practices and are used interchangably. They are the tool for the teachers’ professional development. “Self-monitoring or self-obsevation refers to activities in which information about one’s teaching is documented or recorded in order to review or evaluate teaching” (Richards and Farrell 2010, p.34). Similarly,Armstrong and Firth 1984: Kozil and Burns 1985 states “Self-monitoring or self-obsevation evaluation and management of one’s behaviour in order to achieve a better understanding and control over the behaviour” (as cited in Richards and Farrell, 2010, p.34). Self-monitoring is often a good starting point in planning personal professional development because it can be used to identify the the weaknesses of a person to perform a particular role. Snyder, (1974) state “Self-monitoring is about self-observation and self control to notice situational cues for socially appropriate behaviour inorder to modify ones behaviour accordingly. In other words, self-monitoring refers to the extent to which an individual looks internally for cues to appropriate behaviour in a given situation” (as cited in Bahtisen Kavak et al., 2009, p.120 as in Richards and Farell, 2010). Self-monitoring refers to the personal supervision of the onces own practice “Self-monitoring is based on the view that in order to better understand one’s own strength and weaknesses as a teacher. It is necessary to collect information about teaching behaviour and practices objectively and systematically and to use this information as a basis for making decision about whether there is anything that should be changed” (Richards and Farrell 2010, p.34).

ii) Collaborative teacher development

Collaborative teacher development (CTD) is an important tool to facilitate ones’ professional development used in the wide range of language context. Teaching is not  an occupation pursued largely in isolation from one’s colleagues as egg-box profession (Johston,2009) but also a support from the peers, students and the academic environment as a whole. Collaborative learning involves different activities whether in large scale collaborative activities like teacher networks, trainings, school clusters, workshops, seminars, conferences or small scale collaborative learning activities like peer observation, peer teaching, team teaching, mentoring, informal interaction, study group, action research, etc.

Fullan (1993) as cited in Head and Taylors (1997, p. 17) expresses his view about small scale and large scale collaborative learning in this way:

Small scale collaboration involves the attitudes and the capacity to form productive mentoring and peer relationship, team building and the like; on a large scale it consists of the ability to work in organization that form cross intuitional partnership such as school district, university and school community and business alliance as well as global relationship with individual and organization from other culture.

To conclude, it does not matter whether the collaboration is small scale or large scale. The sort of collaborative engagement by teachers with learners, colleagues, researchers, curriculum developers (Nunan, 1993), administrators, parents, materials developers and so on (Johnston, 2009) represents a valuable form of professional development.

iii) Trainings, workshops, seminar and conferences

Teacher development can be succinctly described as teachers acquiring or adapting new knowledge, skills and beliefs in order to change their educational practice. The most common teacher development methods used in Nepal are transmission type models where teachers attend short term seminars or workshops (training). Sometime the seminars could also be decontextualized from their everyday practice. The assumption is that teachers will adopt or implement all ideas presented in those one of sessions. This linear and mechanistic teacher development model is generally ineffective in promoting teacher professional development. This is true if we still conduct these workshops and seminars in a traditional way, as Wallace (2001), these workshops and seminars are only the way of getting/receiving readymade knowledge and skills from the experts.

But now, the things have been changed. Regarding this, Richards and Farrell (2005) state, “In both seminars and workshops all participants are expected to contribute actively” (p.24). Similarly, Wallace (1991, p. 39) mentions, “A useful skill for tutors to master when organizing workshop and practical session is the art of making issues problematic turning teaching points sounds that they become problem or puzzle to be solved by trainees using their own ingenuity, background knowledge and work experience” (p. 39). Another genuine forum for teacher learning through collaboration is different international, national, regional and local ELT conferences where teachers get opportunities to discuss about different ups and downs found in the teaching and learning context.

iv) Professional networking

As in the Sanskrit slokas ‘Sanghe shaktih kalau yuge‘ (Gnawali, 2013) , the organizations hold the power in modern times.  This slokas has a connection with the metaphor as:

Tell me and I will… Forget

Show me and I will. …Remember

Involve me and I will…Understand

Network me and I will. …Grow (and help others to grow)  Solly (2004 as in Gnawali, 2013)

From these two slokas and metaphor it can be inferred that network refers to formal and informal groups of teachers set up for mutual benefits. The forms of clubs, forums or associations are general examples of networks. The networks exist in local, regional, national and international context with varying structure. They have ordinary/annual members, life members, and institutional members Such as: IATEFL UK and TESOL USA. The unique feature of teacher organizations is that they relay in voluntarism(Gnawali, ibid). The South Asian networks are ELTAI, FORTELL, SPELT, BELTA, SLELTA, ALTAA, AsiaTEFL. Teacher networks have culture of shared purpose and values; norms of continuous learning; a commitment to and sense of responsibility for the learning of all members; collaborative and collegial relationships; and opportunities for reflection, collective inquiry, and sharing personal practice (Diaz-Maggioli, 2004). The major point is indeed that teachers associations, whether micro or macro, are necessarily centrally concerned with the professional development of its members. This is the ultimate justification for their existence (Allwright, (1991 as in Gnawali, 2013).” A lonely rooster cannot bring on a new dawn: the role of a FL teachers’ association in the professional development of its associates :  teachers looked their teachers’ associations primarily “to enhance their linguistic and communicative competence, to seek methodological innovations for their classes, in addition to motivation and self-esteem” (Alcantara , 2010). … authorities and teacher associations should actively seek and agree on the most effective ways to establish regular methods of communication, consultation, and coordination with one another in all aspects of education planning and policy. Particularly in regard to English language education, authorities should draw upon the expertise of … (teacher) associations, such as TESOL affiliates, in developing and implementing sound language education planning and policy (TESOL, 2007, p.1 as in Gnawali, 2013).

v) Writing for Publication

Research and ones’ experiences get disseminated through the publication and sharing. Publishing in journals and the books is inevitable if a practitioner wants to sustain in the field of academia. For this, s/he has to go through the rigorous process of research and writing along with patience. Wellington (2003 as in Burrows ,2011) believes that writing and publishing are important for improving your professional identity in academic world. It is helpful in influencing people and inform the leaders who create policy and make decisions. It will also make people more generally aware of the subject of your research.  It is also a form of personal rewards where learning occurs to achieve and gain new skills, being a respected part of a community and feeling a sense of achievement (Burrows, 2011). On the other hand, it is a form of financial rewards which is helpful in increasing job opportunities and receive extra remuneration.  The role of academic journals is to provide up-to-date thinking and current research in particular discipline and challenge fixed assumptions, encourage divergent thinking and develop a critical approach, exchange information, provide work which can be used for teaching and learning, showcase high quality work, offer an outlet for publication and dissemination, and act as a forum for campaigning on important issues.

Hence, writing up is more of process than an end point. Thus the file on the research should never be closed because it’s our capital, reflection, revising the analysis, a comparison for later research, a part of composite article which lead us to the professional growth  and make us a professional in the respective field.

(The author is a faculty at  central department in English Education, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur,  and Kathmandu Shiksha Campus, Kathmandu, Nepal and a former teacher trainer at British Council, executive member of NELTA central committee; member;South Asia Teachers Association, ELTECs/U.K)


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