What Does It Mean to Be a Teacher?

We have a lot of ideas of what a teacher should do, but rarely do we pause and reflect to think about what a teacher should be. What makes a teacher a professional and what constitutes their professionalism in their profession? Upon initial thought, I defined teacher professionalism as something that “refers to the ethical and work conduct expected of teachers in the classroom and in the school. As the frontliners of delivering education, teachers are expected to be a good role model for students and reflect and instill the good values of a productive citizen into their students. Lastly, they must adhere to the set of qualifications required from them in order to be a teacher (i.e. bachelor’s degree, teaching certificate, LET passer).” Sounds just about right? But interestingly, my definition embodies a very conservative and traditional meaning of teacher professionalism…one that places the teacher as the duty-bearer of reproducing the existing social relations and labor power in society and as a worker that has no or little agency to maneuver within the organizational structure and societal structure they are embedded within.

No doubt teachers and the teaching profession are deeply embedded in the social, political, and cultural circumstances of the time. With added knowledge on what constitutes professionalism, I agree on the following criteria most discussed in literature (David, 2000) and as expounded by Quong (2016):

  1. Schools and teachers provide important public service through the transfer of skills, knowledge, understanding and technology in order to hone productive citizens;
  2. Theoretically and grounded expertise through education and professional learning and license;
  3. Organization and regulation required for recruitment and discipline purposes; and
  4. Individual autonomy (judgment) for effective practice.

Individual autonomy is the most crucial — as this is constrained by a centralized curriculum, school mandates, and other means of organizational control over individual teaching practice and pedagogy. However, there is always a space for contestation and resistance — for teachers can tailor their own teaching and forward their own ideology inside the classroom. Sadly, when they step out of the classroom, there are many societal forces at play — and unless their pedagogy translates to good student performance, even the most well-meaning teacher with the students’ interests at heart will bow down to the interests of the school and the state.

For me, what does it mean to be a teacher as a worker of the state or private interest and as a worker whose responsibility is to maintain the status quo of labor and social relations and inequalities? For me, a teacher as a professional must be collaborative and collegial, activist, flexible and progressive, responsive to change, self-regulatory, and enquiry-oriented (Demirkasımoğlu, 2010). The even bigger question is how can we work to change the system within the system? What does it mean to be a teacher who works for the system but contributes to its reform and change?

 

REFERENCES:

David, C. (2000). Professionalism and Ethics in Teaching. London: Taylor&Francis Books Ltd.

Demirkasımoğlu, N. (2010). Defining “Teacher Professionalism” from different perspectives. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 9, 2047-2051.

Quong, T. D. (2016). The dynamics of teacher professionalism in an Asian context. Paper presented the Asia Leadership Roundtable 2016, Singapore.

 

 

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Then and Now

Then

Just the other day my mother and I had a conversation on behavior. How some aspect of it can be deeply and unconsciously embedded in us since our formative years — which most of us barely remember. Why is it that I had an unexplained fear of numbers up until college? Why was it that I always procrastinated and studied late from high school up until now? Why was it that I love eating out or eating new food after a particularly hard task at work and/or home?

When I was in elementary, I had a hard time doing math homework at home. For one, I think I hated homework back then. Second, the only one who could help me with my homework was my mother, who was a housewife back then — and a BS Statistics graduate. Perhaps her knowledge of statistics surpassed the absorptive capacity of my tiny brain or perhaps there was a language barrier in translating simple math concepts into Filipino that I had a hard time with since we used English at school. Either way, I would find myself bursting into tears after my mother exhausted herself in explaining the concepts repeatedly. This happened a few times. Then I have no collective memory of it by the time I reached Grade 5. By then and up until college, I would come to have an aversion to math. I feared numbers, not because I couldn’t understand them or have the capacity to understand them, but because of my mother’s disapproval for not being able to grasp them back then. This can be an example of unintentional classical conditioning, wherein a strong emotional response (fear) was conditioned to respond to a previously neutral stimuli (math homework/numbers) because of a repeated conditioned stimulus (unable to meet approval of mother). Not that it was her fault – I can imagine her perplexity, frustration, and confusion at a child bursting into tears in the middle of an explanation of how to compute the missing of an acute triangle.

Maybe it is because of this experience — and my growing independence as a young adult — that I developed the habit of procrastinating and removing the stress/worry brought about by a looming deadline or task. My mother gradually left me to do my work on my own, so many was the time when I would immerse myself into my books and games and then work on my homework or project a few days before. Coincidentally, my grades were good and I never failed a subject until I graduated cum laude in university — call it pure luck but it opened the door for me to deal with  working under pressure because I would get rewarded anyway. We were given a lot of positive reinforcement growing up — mainly because it was the only way our parents could help us while they were working abroad — and mostly in the form of cash and gadgets and technology. So I also developed a taste of reward – literally.

Aside from reinforcements, we also had our share of punishment at home. When I was young, my mother took to spanking us when she got frustrated or tired from the daily toil of taking care of four kids alone during the day. She also locked my sister and I in the bathroom to cry our lungs out just so she could put the baby to sleep or get some rest. Nowadays, she says she realized that she was wrong to use corporal punishment back then — I always joke that its our turn to spank her wise old bottom. Kidding aside and fast forward to a few decades later, I realize that this form of discipline is not the way to go in raising a child because it brings out fear and mistrust.

Now

Now as a first time mother, I realize that I behave in ways that I reinforce and modify her behavior based on a combination of my learning, knowledge, and experience. Currently, she is at the age where she’s learning to be independent and testing her authority. Couple that with the fact that she is at a crucial stage of development – ah yes, the formative years – that will set the foundation for her learning and development later on.

We rely on various reinforcements to increase good behavior, such as praising her when she follows instructions, picks up her toys, babbles new words, and makes an effort to socialize or granting her something she wants (i.e. watching TV, swimming, going out of the house, playing) after she completes a given task like eating, taking a bath, or cooperating when being dressed. We downplay the use of punishment as much as possible as it could cause trauma or deliberate numbness, except for the use of a gentle and repeated “No” coupled with an explanation why on non-negotiable and potentially life-threatening objects or situations (i.e. electrical socket, going down the stairs alone, touching animals, eating non-food items).

With this knowledge and theories on behaviorism in teaching, we are also in the process of learning theories that can explain why we behave in a certain way and how this impacts the way we change our children’s behavior. While we’re figuring that out (which will take a lifetime, I suppose), I just hope Wyona would be able to develop a love and taste for numbers and be a better time manager than me.

From Reflection to Critically Reflective Practice

As a researcher who has spent much time on the field with teachers and school administrators, putting their experiences into writing is not that difficult. After all, we capture bits and pieces of their overall experience in the school – whether its planning, school-based management, teaching, etc. But we can never really capture them in practice and in all the moments in between – only small insights which provide a glimpse of what they do as a teacher or why they do it.

After reading various resources on reflective teaching practice (and this does not apply only to teachers but to other professionals), I was immediately torn between the prescriptive assumption of teachers’ having the venue and luxury engaging in critically reflective practice and what is happening on the ground. Many times I have had teachers sounding out their woes about non-teaching work that robs them of their time from their family. Coupled with the fact that they are the frontliners of a large bureaucracy, they become implementors of policy that are often created from the top and are interpreted in many ways on the field. So if Brookfields (1995) suggested that there is a need for critically reflective teachers, teachers who are able to reflect and to transform their classroom into a democratic one, then the system must also allow for teachers to have the time and space to critically reflect and grow as educators and individuals. Of course, if we were to go back to Brookfields (1995) discussion about hegemonic assumptions in reflective practice, then we can very well say that maybe the structure of capitalism calls for submissive and reactive teachers because it is likely to produce submissive and non-critical employees in the long-run.

Yet certainly with all the existing venues for professional development (mostly defined in terms of “training”) for teachers, there is always the inclusion of reflection. However, reflection is always there, but critical reflection is not. In the past, I would think that all individuals inherently reflect upon their experiences as they go through life, particularly through the most confusing and uncomfortable times and situations. However, not all would critically analyze and uncover the underlying assumptions of what we do, how we work, and how we think at a particular point in time…since there is always a fear of changing something we’re used to doing. Yet this is is only the beginning of being critically reflective. It also means breaking out of our comfort zone and validating assumptions through others: students, colleagues, and existing literature. Most importantly, reflective practice goes beyond internal reflection and translates into a change of action and words, which has an impact on other people. Thus, this is what will make a critically reflective teacher different than any other: by making changes internally and in their teaching, they can foster a democratic environment and help learners be critically reflective themselves.

What is intelligence?

My work requires a lot of mobility and flexibility, so wherever I go my toddler (and husband) goes as well. Just recently, we attended an out-of-town workshop along with participants from various regional and division offices in the Department of Education. For the whole week, she roamed the vicinity, explored the nooks and crannies of the function room, weaved through the tables and chairs, and made friends with the participants and hotel staff.

Perhaps it was lucky that the participants were also teachers and education program supervisors — they were amused at how sociable and well-behaved the youngest participant was. “Exposure,” I explained as I kept an eye on the ever-mobile toddler. “She’s always with us and she interacts with a lot of people”. One participant quipped that at the age of seven, Wyona would be college-ready because of her ability to socialize and to learn fast. I laughed, but deep in the inside I was terrified at the thought of my daughter being too intelligent for her age. But what constitutes intelligence, anyway? Can we have too much or how can we measure if its more or less?

This week’s module tackles the definition and the different theories of intelligence. What struck me the most is that most of the earlier literature on intelligence tends to focus on mental abilities that are traditionally the markers of achievement in the school setting. There was also much focus on quantifying or measuring intelligence through mental aptitude skills and tests. As other theorists contribute to the discourse, other definitions and perspectives of intelligence emerged: multiple intelligences (i.e. Gardner), social intelligence (i.e. Goleman, Thorndike), environmental adaptibility (i.e. Sternberg).

In making sense of how we define “intelligence”, we come to understand how we measure this in school and how we formulate interventions for students in the classroom (assuming that they have varying levels of intelligence). However, there is one important issue in the use of tests to measure mental ability and aptitude of students: the labeling of “intelligence” in these tests connote that those who obtain below average scores are not intelligent when we know very sure that intelligence goes beyond as what Thorndike said as the “abstract”. Hence, teachers should be able to integrate knowledge about the different theories in intelligence in pedagogy and content so that it caters to different learners. After all, the role is to teach learners how to adapt to a new or changing environment and to make a change in society, and that doesn’t come through high grades or scores alone — they need the guidance to harness and to hone the different aspects of their intelligences so that they can help themselves, help others, and be a productive citizen.

Perhaps Wyona can give a better answer when she turns seven. Until then, I can only watch and wonder.

Me as a Learner

Online learning is not new to me. During elementary and high school,  some of my technology classes utilized online platforms to facilitate discussion through forums and assignments. Fast forward to a decade later and I found myself using the same platform, but this time it is no longer blended with face-to-face instruction and interaction.

As a researcher and a full-time mother, this works best for me as the traditional classroom setup demands physical presence and effort. However, learning becomes a bigger responsibility because of the independence required of us; reading, writing, doing activities in a course are readily available and it is up to us, as learners, to manage and to allot time for learning. It also requires engaging with other learners, but the asynchronicity is beneficial because it gives time to process and to write. Hence, we are also given the responsibility to help each other learn through sharing our reflections, insights, and learnings. While the delivery or mode may be vastly different than what we’re used to, the content and the opportunities to engage with others are there.

Self-Assessment

As I begin my journey, I realize that most often we do not assess ourselves as learners when starting a new class. For this reason, I took three self-assessment tests (Study Skill Inventory, Self-Regulation Questionnaire, and Time Management Skills Test) to measure my present capacity and areas of improvement as a learner. These were the results:

1. Study Skill Inventory:

Section Your Score Benchmark
Textbooks 31 30
Notetaking 17 20
Memory 36 30
Test Prep 44 40
Concentration 34 35
Time Management 18 20

2. Self-Regulation Questionnaire
Total Score: 232
Result: Intermediate (moderate) self-regulation capacity (scores ranging from 214-238)

3. Time Management Skills
Total Score: 44
Result: Good time manager

According to the results of the test, I am a good time manager with moderate self-regulation capacity. My strengths include utilizing textbooks, memory, and test preparation, while I can improve on note-taking, concentration, and time management.

Two of the results contradict each other: while I am a good time manager in the Time Management Skills Test, I need to improve this aspect according to the Study Skills Inventory test. These are two entirely different tests, as the SSI test is more within the context of face-to-face college instruction, while the TMS test is broader. I find that I agree more with the TMS results since I am no longer a college student; I am learning online; and I am a work-at-home mother which entails managing time as a student, mother, and wife. This also reflects in the results of the SSI in terms of concentration – imagine juggling work, studies, breastfeeding, and raising a child! But I am not complaining – the challenge makes it all the worthwhile! I think I would need to address time management and concentration during the course of my studies. This would also be possible with well-planned and scheduled activities and time for studies, work, and family life.

My goal for EDS 111 is to study the principles of teaching and to observe and to apply it, first as a mother and later on as a teacher. Reading and learning the modules, participating actively in the discussion, and regularly reflecting will help me achieve these goals with the help of my fellow learners and family

Pledge of Commitment

With this reflection, I pledge commit myself to finishing this course and to impart what I have learned to fellow learners and netizens.

Touching the Future

Every day is a new learning experience when you’re a parent, particularly if you have a toddler who is raring to explore the world around her. However, this constant learning on how to parent and to be a good parent instantly becomes different when theories on learning are introduced. It is like a chain of seemingly abstract ideas connect and materialize right before your eyes and the living evidence is none other than you and the people around you.

Just this week, I was able to connect the theory of unlearned and learned behavior with my toddler’s behavior, as she exhibits both. While she is in the process of biological maturation, she is refining her coordination (walking) and motor skills (grasping) or unlearned behavior. At the same time, she has learned behavior from us and her environment: she uses non-verbal (pointing, facial expressions) and verbal communication (babbling, words) to let people know what she wants or needs. Not to mention that her keen eye for detail and curiosity help facilitate imitation. Just by observing, she is able to open containers with caps, peel off stickers, flip through pages, turn on the television, tap/swipe a phone, among many things. Just by watching how people interact, she shows the same reactions and emotions towards different stimuli and people. This makes it all the more challenging as me, the parent/learner, and my partner must also be good parent/teachers for her!

Yet moving past the observable behavioral changes caused by learning, what I consider the most important is that learning is a constant change in state, whether through the acquisition of a skill or through a new understanding of the world (Roberts, 2013). I could relate very well to the concept of surface learning and deep learning, as most of my college days were spent through selective learning and rote/memorization! However, what I learned in the classroom made an impact on my decisions and/or my behavior if it could be related to my prior experiences/knowledge; if it piqued my interests as a student; and if it was applicable or useful to me in the future. Yet what struck me the most was how much I learned outside of the four walls of the classroom: the “hidden curriculum” behind societal expectations and decorum. When I came to study in the Philippines, I had to make a big adjustment from what I was used to in Saudi Arabia (I was born and had lived there for fourteen years), from the language to behavior to social mores.

Looking back at my experience as a student and as a parent, I would like to become a teacher (both formal and informal) who is able to effectively guide her learners in achieving their maximum potential. After all, we are not blank slates or tabularasa who sit passively to absorb information, skills or knowledge. Rather, I would like to be the facilitator of learning so that my learners can make informed decisions and act with their own agency. The concepts of informal and non-formal learning appeal greatly to me (owing to my own experience in learning) and I hope to improve skills in facilitation and teaching since I have no formal experience in the classroom yet.

So for the meantime, I will continue to learn through being a parent. After all, the teachers are said to be the second parents of the children. They are given the task of making an impact on the learners and subsequently, the future of society. So as Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future. I teach.”

The Beginning

Welcome to this little cozy nook of mine in cyberspace!

Back in my graduate days (which was not so long ago), a dear professor by the name of Dr. Arnisson Ortega required us to submit one-page reflection papers each week to help us process our learning. He called them, “Think Pieces”. Inspired by how much this simple writing exercise has helped me learn, I created this blog to share my “think pieces” as a parent, learner, and a distance education student.

This eJourney of mine begins with my “think pieces” from two introductory courses in the Professional Teaching Certification program: EDS 103 (Theories of Learning) and EDS 111 (Principles of Teaching).

Insights are always welcome. Happy reading and learning, fellow learner/netizen!