Philosophy of Education: Teachers
Now that we have discussed learners, let us turn our attention to teachers. Teachers have many different roles to play, the most obvious role of which is as a facilitator of learning. Of course some conditions are better for learning than others. It is the duty of the teacher as educational manager to ensure an optimal learning environment for all students. Students model what they see, and as students spend much of they day with teachers, it is undeniable that teachers must be positive role models. Finally teachers are professionals who act in a professional manner to continually improve their teaching.
Teachers as Facilitators of Learning
Perhaps the most important role of the teacher is that of a facilitator of learning. Since learners are active agents in learning, the teacher is not a dispenser of knowledge, rather she/he is a designer of learning experiences. Furthermore, as student's existing knowledge and abilities is the starting place for new knowledge (Vygotzky, 1978), it is absolutely essential that teachers know their learners and apply knowledge of student development as noted in TRB1 Standard 3 (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012). In order to achieve learner engagement, I believe it is useful to incorporate student interests and draw off student strengths. This said, I have no desire to limit my teaching to student interests. Indeed, how could people develop new interests if they are not exposed to new ideas? The possibility to spark student interests through well-designed, interactive, inquiry-based methods is part of what makes teaching so exciting to me. Of course, in order to design appropriate activities it is necessary that teachers have a deep understanding of the subject area being taught (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012). By considering the learners' existing knowledge, developmental level(s), learning styles, and social backgrounds, teachers can create appropriate, differentiated learning activities which provide the scaffolding students need to build their learning beyond where they could reach without such support.
Teachers as Educational Managers
In order to best facilitate learning, I believe teachers must be managers of the learning environment. The role of the teacher as an educational manager is probably best summarized by TRB Standard 5: “Educators implement effective practices in areas of classroom management, planning, instruction, assessment, evaluation, and reporting” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012).
Behaviour management is undeniably important since a student's behaviour has an immediate and profound impact on his/her ability, and the ability of her/his classmates, to learn. Classroom management is also a philosophically interesting topic because the choice of behaviour management strategies can either empower or oppress students. I believe that good behaviour management should be a collaborative process with students that uses proactive strategies together with appropriate natural and logical consequences with an emphasis on eliciting positive behaviours rather than simply suppressing negative ones (Levin, et al. 2009). Students must be given dignity in the process; it is imperative that management techniques do not make moral judgements about the student. The student is always a valued human being, the behaviour is what needs correction. Oppressive behaviour management techniques have no place in education.
Teachers, like anybody in a position of management, have the ability to use this power for to provide supportive structure or to oppress. Of course, the goal must always be the former since “[e]ducators value and care for students and act in their best interests” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012, p. 4). The best interests of the students must always be our guide in everything we do.
Teachers as Role Models
One of the most powerful ways a teacher can impact students is by being a positive role model. This of course follows from the fact that students learn by modelling others. Teachers have a responsibility to be model learners and citizens for their students.
Teachers should be a model of a life-long learner. At the very least, this means that teachers should exhibit (or at least feign) interest in, and excitement for, whatever topic they are teaching. Students seem to pick up on and mirror this energy – I know that I learn better from teachers who seem passionate about what they are teaching. I believe teachers should generally be curious about the world around them and should share this interests. Certainly teachers should also seek to have students to share their own interests and to incorporate them into teaching whenever possible. Students should be able to look to their teachers and see a life-long learner.
TRB Standard 2 asserts “Educators are role models who act ethically and honestly” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012). More generally, as citizens, educators should model appropriate societal expectations. This is tricky when the teacher's own cultural background differs from that of his or her own students. For instance, as a non-Aboriginal person when teaching Aboriginal students I would need to develop familiarity with the local “community, culturally appropriate content, and culturally appropriate teaching methods” (Taylor, 1995, p. 241). Perfection is not essential, but humility and a willingness to learn are. Furthermore, by openly and respectively learning about another culture, not only does the teacher seek to improve learning conditions for learners, the teacher models a healthy respect for cultural diversity. In a multi-cultural society is is difficult to agree on a common set of society values; however, if there is one universal Canadian cultural value, I believe respect for cultural diversity is it. The best way to teach this value is by openly practising it.
Teachers as Members of a Profession
Teachers are professionals and hence they need to show a commitment to professional growth (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012). Teaching is art: what works in some situations may not work in others. Thus, in order to improve, a teacher needs to reflect on his/her teaching. Reflection can be as simple as asking “What went well, what could have been better, and why?” I believe that it is important that teachers continue to grow over time, a teacher must never assume they know everything – fortunately, as a novice teacher, I am well aware that I have much to learn! I believe that even experienced teachers should be willing to experiment with their teaching; just because a teaching method 'works well' does not imply the non-existence of better methods. Of course, such experimentation needs to be carefully planned so that it is a learning experience for the teacher. The very possibility of career-long growth is a very exiting aspect of the teaching profession.
Just as we know that students learn better collaboratively than in isolation, teachers also learn better in collaboration. Collaborative professional development is an exciting way for teachers learn new ideas from each other and to contribute to the profession (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2012). As a beginning teacher I stand to learn a great deal from my more-experienced colleagues. Beginning teachers also bring a great deal to such collaboration both in new skills that they may possess (e.g. with technology) but also through the very fact that novice teachers are typically still experimenting a lot since they have not yet found a teaching groove2.
1British Columbia Ministry of Education Teacher Regulation Branch
2Teachers must ensure that their teaching groove does not become a teaching rut.