Growing as professionals: A Need for Today in Teacher Development
Let me begin the initial stage of struggling phase of teacher development drawing from my own reflection. One evening when we all were sitting out at the porch surrounded by our relatives and listening and replying their queries about us, someone pointed a man approaching our house as the principal of one and only boarding school of our hilly village. After exchanging the initial introduction, he inquired about our educational background. And once he learnt that I’ve recently taken my CBSE examination and for the time being sitting idly at home, he was quick to offer me a job as a teacher in his institution. I was speechless. I could not imagine how someone can offer me a job so quick when I am hardly a school pass out. A school girl teaching school kids! Can’t even picture myself as a teacher at such a young age. And when my father stated the same reasons, he simply replied that my qualification doesn’t matter. What counts is my Indian schooling and if he will have a teacher with Indian schooling background in his institution, it will definitely bring more children to his school. Hence to progress, he is ready to recruit an inexperienced teacher with minimum qualifications. This made me ponder, “Is it really the way a school progress?”
This question was still left unanswered after two years of this incident. I had just completed my high school and was looking for a job. And soon I got a job as a primary English teacher at an urban private school with no prior teaching experience and expertise in the teaching field. To my surprise, I was asked to teach grade four and five whereas other experienced teachers over there had to teach even lower levels than mine. It could be so because of my certificates and the name of the institution that I represented. The school management seemed to ignore the teaching skills, abilities and experience of a senior teacher and thus replaced her with a novice teacher with no experience, expertise or any teacher trainings. It was like the institution where you graduated from vs. your teaching skills and ability?
Relating these two incidents of my life to teacher development, I realized that the teachers’ real teaching skill and ability is always ignored in front of the institution where we graduated from and the kind of degree you have acquired. The experienced teacher whom I replaced was a good one whereas I had to struggle a lot in the first few years of my teaching career. My students complained of my class being boring and predictable. I once caught two of my students bunking my class and the reason for bunking was my boring and ineffective class. This was a wakeup call for me to have self-reflection. And that moment made me realize that teaching skill and ability is more necessary and I felt the dire need to grow myself as a teacher.
Teachers Professional Development: Drawing Progress as Self- monitoring
With the time I transformed into being more experienced in the teaching field and my hard earned lesson took its firm roots into me when I learnt the concept of teacher development as a strategy for school improvement. It’s not the institution whose name the teachers bear but the skills and abilities of these teachers who have with time sharpened their teaching skills and attitudes through rigorous teacher development process that really makes a school successful. In this regard, Way (2001) writes teachers are the agents of change for students and for schools. She further writes that “one key to improving schools is fostering teacher development- professional growth opportunities in which teachers develop their craft, shape schools practices, and build learning communities” (p.1). Hence teachers’ teaching abilities and skills are the real reason behind a school’s growth. And teacher professional development is a way for teachers to develop themselves in terms of teaching techniques and knowledge about what they should know like national curriculum, course objectives, child psychology etc.
Today when I recap at my thirteen years of teaching career, as some described in the narrative thoughts earlier, I realize that I have changed a lot regarding my teaching strategies, students’ handling, classroom preparation etc. What caused the difference then? It was the lessons that I learnt through the various training programs, workshops during my job period and the experience that I gained with my students during our regular classroom teachings. Each day in each class with every passing moment I grew professional as a teacher which today helped me to be a better teacher than those of initial days.
Importance of Teacher Development
I was an inexperienced teacher with no trainings when I first embarked on my teaching career. I was confident that my schooling background was a firm base for my teaching career as I was good in my subject matter. But I realized I was wrong within the first few months of my first teaching job. My schooling and good grades though helped me to get a better job, they did not help me with my teaching. I tried to emulate my school teachers’ actions and words in my class, but each time I failed. And I failed to realize that time, situation, and place had all changed. What was right then for us might not be right and appropriate for my students at present time. This led me to feel the need of teacher professional development.
I was a teacher without insight at the beginning phrase of my career. For me best teaching was the lecture method and lots of written work for the students. But teacher professional development allowed me to see my teaching job from a different perspective. Soon my classes changed into child centered classroom. My classroom teaching is now more curriculum and objective oriented. There’s more technology in my class nowadays. And it’s now easier for me to understand the psychology of my students and hence work accordingly. Thus teacher professional development, I believe, provides a teacher ample opportunities to grow which “as a result brings self satisfaction which finally leads to positive impact on their beliefs and practices, students’ learning and on the implementation of educational reforms” (Reimers, 2003, p.19).
Hence teacher professional development has helped me know what my students need from me and the best way of delivering that in class which as a result has made an impact on my belief, behavior and practices in the classroom. It allows us as teachers to design our lesson plan effectively and accordingly prepare for our class which will at the end turn into an effective class and as a result it will strengthen our knowledge, skills and hence help build on positive belief, behavior and practices. Teacher professional development also plays an effective part in implementing educational reforms and policies for quality education. With the goals to increase students’ learning and to improve both the students and the teachers’ performance, the teacher professional development is considered a major factor.
Trends of Teacher Education in Nepal
Despite my hard work in the first year of my teaching career, my students in large number failed in their first terminal exam. I was depressed and the school authority too was shocked as they had picked the best candidate with good schooling. So where did we all go wrong? So I turned to an experienced teacher for help. That phase of my teaching career was the moment to teach me a lesson that teaching is more than your schooling background, it’s about your teaching skills and experiences as well.
Similarly the importance of teacher development is being more specially realized in the pre-service teacher professional trainings. Before starting teaching as a career, would-be teachers are now attending courses or institutes where they could get the pre-service teacher training and get sufficient exposure to classroom teaching where they could apply their learnt theories in practice. Thus the trend of attending pre-service teacher training is growing as well as the trend of demanding and recruiting qualified teachers trained in pre-service teacher training centers. Now such teachers are more preferred at better institutes for the jobs.
Future teachers preparing for primary level teaching career are now generally trained in all general subjects like English, Mathematics, Science, Social etc because more schools are adapting to Montessori school system which demands a teacher who is perfect in all these general subjects. However, future teachers seeking jobs in higher levels are made the expert in one particular subject of their choice. Their course is designed to make them perfect in the content knowledge of one specific subject along with the classroom techniques and adolescent development.
Now more importance is given to the practice teaching in the pre-service teacher trainings. For the first few years, they are made familiar with the theories, teaching strategies, instructional materials, child evaluation and psychology etc and during their last months they are sent to different schools to apply whatever they have studied in those years into their classrooms and gain practical experience. They are guided by the teachers who help them to plan the lesson plans according to the demand of the content and the students.
Nowadays the relationship between the schools and the pre-service teacher training institutes is increasing and this increasing relationship is also one of the reasons behind the growing demand and need of pre-service teacher trainings. Such institutes have collaborated with different schools and at the end of successful completion of their trainings, they place their trainees to those schools for jobs which is now an added attraction for the future teachers or to train their untrained or inexperienced teachers for quality education.
Challenges and Limitations of Pre-Service Teacher Training of Nepal
Pre-service teacher training courses and institutes of Nepal, since their inception, are facing challenges and have limitations of their own despite their success. Some of them are: the trainees and their background both social and academic is a challenge for the pre-service teacher training institutes because they even enroll trainees with minimum qualifications or even those who have poor academic performance in their chosen subject field. Another challenge was to make such trainees perfect in the content knowledge and classroom pedagogies along with the use of instructional material. Making trainees more flexible in their teaching methods and with the students inside and outside the classrooms representing different socio-politico-cultural background also proves a challenge for such pre-service teacher training courses. I remember the days when we were doing our micro teaching practice at college. We were twenty from different schooling and cultural background. We all conducted our initial classes in our own ways. Some were very rigid with their lesson plans; some were completely teacher centered; some were more than necessarily open and jolly in their class with the students. With these differences in our teaching styles, the trainer had a tough time making us see his point in being child-centered.
For our practice teaching, we were given only one period a day for a month. I was too given a class for a month, but not regular classes. I was given classes before the regular school hours where the attendance of the students was not compulsory. Hence each day I had varying numbers of the students in my class, which didn’t give me much chance to learn from my practicum as I never got a chance to test my students on regular basis to know whether my classroom strategies are working or not for them. And during my training period, I did not get the second opportunity for practicum. Rest of our training period went in attending theory classes. Therefore giving too much emphasis on the theory and little on practicum by the pre-service teacher training institutes is another challenge faced by the pre-service teacher education. Though the course design demands more emphasis on practicum, few institutes fail to do so because of funding, lack of proper infrastructure or the managements’ belief. Such factors play a vital role in the implementation of practicum during the training period. Practicum is a platform for student teachers to bring their theoretical knowledge into practice.
Factors like lack of sufficient funding, proper infrastructure and availability of enough and latest instructional materials is also one of the major challenges faced by the teacher education training institutes. This problem is mainly observed in the government owned institutions as they have more numbers of student teachers enrolled in their programs because of low fee structure, but they lack proper building or classrooms to accommodate such a large number of student teachers. Their low fee structure whereas attract more student teachers towards them, it at the same time causes them financial barriers as low fee results into little or almost no funding for the program.
Poor curriculum of some of the pre-service teacher training courses also results into a challenge. Today’s classroom demand is technology-based teaching learning activities. My students of present day classroom have outrun the flannel board and flash cards method. They demand power point presentation, movies or audios for classroom activities. And these are what I was not made familiar during my training hours. I was taught about the use of chart papers, flannel board etc. Hence the course designers have failed to bring connection between their course content and real classroom demand. This results into the failure of their trainees in the real world. The student teachers during their actual classroom teachings find that what they have learnt in their training period is actually not applicable. It happens because of the poor curriculum of the training course where there is no involvement of teachers. Regarding this Reimers (2003) says “more efforts need to be made to involve teachers in the planning and design stages and to promote their roles as both subjects and objects of reforms” (p.54). Thus according to her it’s the teachers who are the subject of the teacher education programs and again it will be them who would be facing the real classroom world after their trainings which makes them an important factor for the success of any teacher education program.
In the nutshell, teacher development is the continuous life long process which begins with the pre-service teacher education program and keeps going on until the retirement of a teacher. Teachers with pre-service professional development trainings have positive belief and practices which leads to better and long-lasting students’ learning and academic achievement. This creates a positive impression on the community or the society, and finally resulting into the long term success of the school. Thus in order to succeed in the long run, the school management needs to focus more on their teachers’ professional development.
Reimers, E. V. (2003). Teacher professional development. Paris: International Institute for
Way, C. (2001). Teacher Development: A strategy for school improvement. Lab Education
Notes. 3(2), 1-13
(*Kiran Thapa is pursuing Mphil in English Language Education (ELE) at Kathmandu University (KU). )