Monday, November 17, 2008

TEFL Assignment 1-What Does it Mean to be a Good Teacher?

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Anyway, I've posted the first two assignments and we'll see what the instructor says. Here's the first prompt and my 700 word answer.

Think about teachers whom you've had over your years as a student. Who was the best one? What were the qualities that set this individual apart from the others?

Who was your worst teacher? Why did this individual fail to set an example you would want to emulate as a teacher?

Can you think of some other terms to describe the good teacher and add to the list in section 1.2 (preparedness, promptness, passion, patience, etc...)

Interestingly enough, the best teacher I ever “had” was one in whose class I was never enrolled. Despite this fact, I learned more about the definition of meaningful learning and teaching from her than possibly any other teacher with whom I interacted.

The teacher I speak of taught remedial history classes at my high school. As a senior with all my credits taken care of, I chose to be an office aide for one period of the day, and spent much of my time touring the school, dropping off and picking up various correspondences from the central office. Over the semester, I found myself in this teacher’s classroom, sitting with my jaw on the floor at envisioning what she was able to do with the population of the school that most teachers dreaded interaction.

This teacher truly understood the idea of education as a means of empowerment. More importantly, she conveyed to her students the concept that a life of learning is not only empowering, but also beautiful and open-ended. For the first time, I was exposed to a teacher who spoke to her students as democratic equals, while maintaining and commanding their respect by respecting them. She showed that she was invested, not only in their academic success, but also in their social and emotional growth.

The teacher of whom I speak was responsive to the interests and goals of her students, and was masterful at weaving these interests into the required curriculum. Therefore, the curriculum felt specific to the classroom community, which it indeed was. Furthermore, she was explicit in discussing the importance of a critical focus on information one is exposed to, be it in school setting, through a media outlet, or otherwise. In doing so, she was instilling in her students an outlook that would no doubt change their lives thenceforth.

On the other hand, I have experienced my fair share of awful teachers. In particular, I had an art teacher for two years of art education in high school who was very influential, in that she represented what I never wanted to become as an educator.

Contrary to the first example, this teacher failed to recognize that her job was inevitably political and part of a power relationship. She often felt suspicious of her students, and would thus fluctuate between a seeming friendly existence and ruling with an iron fist, so to speak. It was clear that her pedagogical ideology was an inchoate one. In fact, she once told me that I shouldn’t become a teacher if I ever wanted to make change in the world. I found this demeaning and ridiculous considering what had become her career.

In addition, this teacher wasn’t patient, and was many times unprepared for daily class activities. She wasn’t very organized, which meant unknown deadlines and expectations, and therefore, late assignments and rushed work. She seemed to think that we, as seniors in high school, were mature enough to know the standard we would be held to, and yet criticized us when we didn’t achieve success by her unspecified standards.

Above all else, this teacher did her best to disempower the students in their own learning. One would assume that an upper level art class would provide students a forum in which to explore political, social, emotional, racial, and situational stresses and questions. Unfortunately, I found that this teacher was very wary of allowing exploration of controversial issues, even as we avoided blatantly offensive themes and imagery. She was effectively taking away our voices as artists, as students, and as citizens. This, in my opinion, is possibly the worst judgment that can be made upon a teacher, at any level, in any content area, in any location around the world.
I think the foundation upon which many of the facets of a good teacher as named is built is that of self-knowledge and reflection. It is necessary for a teacher to be able to challenge and deconstruct their assumptions about what meaningful teaching and meaningful learning looks like. If teachers avoid this metacognitive process, they are destined to emulate the classrooms in which they grew up, which in all likelihood, do not complement the modern second language acquisition classroom.
Hi Cameron,
I enjoyed reading your first assignments. Good to see you jumping right in and getting started!
A very thoughtful response! And very clever having your best teacher one who you never had! ;o} Drawing on both your positive and negative experiences, you have identified qualities and practices that make a good teacher. Furthermore, you have shown insight into the implications of these qualities for the learning process. Your reflection on and internalization of these experiences will contribute greatly to your own development of the multi-faceted role of the teacher.
Please continue to submit tight, and especially relevant, work such as this and you will sail through the rest of the course.
Good job!

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