Why are we obsessed with how teachers teach? Is our obsession justified? Should teachers be monitored to ensure that they behave in ways that reflect the norms of the school and its stakeholders? What is appropriate behaviour in the classroom? Are teachers only teaching content or are they also indoctrinating students with a hidden agenda? These are some of the questions teachers and the community face.
Teachers are autonomous in the classrooms. They can do whatever they like. Big brother does not watch what goes on in the classroom. Reports of misbehaviour may come later on, in many cases after the damage was done. Should classes be monitored to ensure that teachers do not misbehave?
The Daily Mail published a story about a teacher’s method of “teaching”. The title read, Sick teacher bites a hamster to death and swallows it in front of his pupils to teach them ‘the value of life’ after catching them taunting the animals in South Korea (see post). Naturally, the teacher was arrested, apologized, and all is well. Or is it?
Freedom to Teach
Do we allow teachers the freedom to teach? As a veteran English language teacher to speakers of other languages in both high school and higher education, I have had ample opportunities to learn with and from my students, colleagues, parents, administration, principal, board members, community, and other stakeholders on how to best serve their needs. I did my best to stay calm under every circumstance, good or bad, so that my personal values did not dictate my behaviour. Stakeholders of a school can be very abusive to teachers, but teachers need to swallow their pride, count to 10, and smile.
I cherish my freedom in the classroom because that’s the only way I can be creative. Apparently, the need for freedom comes at a price. According to Governor Mike Pence of the USA, teachers need the freedom to teach. Pence is pushing a bill to encourage teachers to try new teaching strategies in schools in Indiana, USA.
Teachers Empower and Disempower
Teachers are very influential. They can empower or disempower students for life. How a teacher behaves both in and out of the classroom is crucial to all the stakeholders involved. It takes ongoing self development, creativity, and higher order thinking skills to manage a class. Students bring more than their notebooks, books, and mobile devices to the classroom. They bring their homes situations with them.
On November 9, 2014, I wrote a paper called Hidden Curriculum (Download it here). Teachers teach and students learn implicit concepts and patterns. Some of these are written in the curriculum while others are not. Teachers may not be as aware that they are transmitting unwritten or hidden curriculum ideas. Students may sense it much faster because some of these ideas force them to behave in ways they do not always like. They learn quickly that they have to conform to the rules of the school if they want approval from the teacher, administration, or their parents.
Conforming to School Norms
What do teachers teach and what do students learn? Students acquire these hidden ideas while attending school. In many schools they still consist of social norms and values that schools instil such as being punctual, competitive, waiting one’s turn, learning to accept hierarchy of authority, patience and other social norms. The school’s socializing codes of behavior may adversely affect students and their learning. Teachers convey many messages to learners from the outset of their schooling. Teachers may control children’s behavior and perception of the world in a negative way. Youngsters have to conform to behaviour required by the teacher. The behaviour may be foreign so that they do not always feel at ease with being quiet and not being able to express their feelings. The hidden curriculum sometimes determines limitations to student behavior in the classroom and in the school which may be a hindrance to learning.
Schools Norms Hinder Learning
On the one hand, the hidden curriculum may limit teachers’ instruction because it forces them to teach students how to behave in ways that may not enhance learning instead of devoting time to content and other skills that could facilitate life long learning. This takes time away from the written curriculum’s plan for learning. In addition, teachers do not always feel comfortable instructing students on socialization. They feel that these are things parents should be doing at home.
On the other hand, teachers are accountable to students, parents, the administration, supervisors and principals who have needs, expectations, philosophies, motivation, and unique self-concepts. Teachers should consider these aspects and apply them to their instruction because they impact student learning. By having the whole student in mind, teachers can help build a learning environment for their students that facilitate learning.
How Should Teachers Behave?
Accounting for the needs, expectations, philosophies and self-concepts of all the stakeholders is a tough task. Teachers need to find the right style of instruction to satisfy students and parents. They can utilize a needs assessment questionnaire to help find a common denominator. This is a good way for teachers to show that they care and increase motivation. Students claim that consideration of their feelings and needs has brought them closer to their teacher and to learning.
Good Teacher Behaviour
Boston University listed some good teacher behaviour. Teachers should encourage the following:
- high expectations
- Cooperation among students
- Student-instructor contact
- Student involvement
I would add a caring non-judgmental attitude and ongoing support regardless of the situation to the list. Positive unconditional love that parents give equals good teacher behaviour. It may be difficult, but I suggest teachers treat students as they would like the students to treat them. As Confucius said, respect yourself and others will respect you.