Friday, November 16, 2012

Imagining the ideal teacher

What would the characteristics of an "ideal" teacher be? As it is the nature of "ideals", they don't exist, but they can serve as inspirations and guidelines.

I imagine the ideal teacher to be involved in three different domains (see diagram above):
-Educator: Naturally, the first domain of a teacher is education.The ideal teacher has the knowledge and skills to create an inspiring and safe environment that facilitates learning. The ideal teacher knows and cares about the backgrounds of learners. Classroom and organizational management skills allow the ideal teacher to create a well structured learning environment in which student behaviour leads to positive and negative consequences. The ideal teacher has a clear understanding of educational goals and the curriculum.
-Practitioner: A master in an apprenticeship situation is a practitioner of his/her field. For example a master carpenter, master musician, or master athlete is an active member in a community of practitioners and can demonstrate desirable skills in practice. Teachers on the other hand often do not practice their own fields. The ideal teacher would practice his/her field, for example a history teacher would conduct historical research and publish on it, a language teacher would publish novels or poems, a science teacher would be involved in current scientific research projects, etc. The ideal teacher would use his/her mastery knowledge and skills to guide students towards increasing expertise and demonstrate the practical use of knowledge in a profession. Students can respect a person who is able to put theory into practice and demonstrate mastery in his/her field.
-Researcher: Currently, there is only a limited exchange between educational research and educational practice. Teachers have unique insights and understanding of current learning environments. The ideal teacher would act as an action researcher conducting research on how to improve the learning environment for his/her students and participate in larger educational research projects. The ideal teacher would be actively involved in the educational research community be publishing in journals and  presenting at conferences.

Even an ideal teacher would not be able to be an educator, practitioner, and researcher without institutional support  Teachers need adequate time, salaries, and financial support. The medical professions can serve as model for such teacher-practitioner-researchers. Medical doctors are expected and required to stay up-to-date with current research in their fields. Many doctors conduct research and are active members in research communities. Similarly, teachers should be given the opportunity to be researchers and practitioners, and such outstanding efforts should be adequately recognized. The ideal teacher is an artisan and a professional who skillfully designs learning environments. Overly restrictive top-down settings (such as standardized tests and standarized curricula) are a hindrance to the professional freedom of teachers.

To get ideal teachers, the whole system requires reform: Only highly qualified students would be selected into a teacher-training program. The teacher training program is comprehensive and prepares pre-service teachers to act as researchers and educators. Job conditions for in-service teachers are comparable to medical doctors. Junior in-service teacher receive systematic mentoring by more senior teachers and are part of supportive teacher communities (both offline and online). Schools recognize teachers' achievements as educators, researchers, and practitioners. Schools give teachers the time and support needed to succeed in all three areas.

"Ideal" teacher as described above already exist, but they are much too few in numbers. The goal is to change conditions to get more teachers to approximate the ideal teacher.

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