Tuesday, 7 October 2014

MOOC: What Future for Education? Activity 3.1

This post is the for the required activity 3.1 in Coursera's massive online open course (MOOC) 'What Future for Education?' from London University's Institute of Education. To follow the thread on this blog, use the label FutEd.

Do you remember having a good teacher? Or a particularly bad one? Reflect on your memory, what was about it about this teacher that makes them stand out for you?
How does this image of a teacher relate to other images you have of a "good" teacher?

I remember clearly my English teacher for A-Level, Mr Mulholland, who has sadly since passed away. When I try to pin down what made him stand out for me, I think it was because he made the effort to connect with me on a personal level. He had a good sense of humour and never used humiliation as a disciplinary tool for failing to complete homework (as so many other teachers did). He made allowances when I fell behind but always expressed an unerring belief that I'd get there in the end, and this motivated me to meet his expectations, even when I wasn't keen on the text at hand. He was at a distinct advantage in terms of me choosing a great teacher, in that I generally loved the subject he was teaching, but he was also a bit 'quirky' and I think being an extreme minority in my school (and indeed country) meant that I subconsciously sought out role models who were a bit different. This is all getting a little bit too introspective, but ultimately I think it was his character, rather than anything he'd learned in teacher training college that made me enjoy learning with him so much.
On the other hand, my language teacher who was much-respected as a person who delivered good exam results, could not figure me out at all. The pressure she put on me to meet her high expectations meant I pretty much failed to meet any of them, and she expressed her frustration at not being able to control me in unkind ways, including regular 'dressing downs' in front of the class. The workload from her was immense and I'm not sure the concept of differentiation had ever been considered, so it was one-size-fits-all which didn't fit me at all.
From these experiences (among others), I have come to the conclusion there is no single definition or description of a 'good' teacher. I think the key lies in relationships, and this will be affected by individual personalities of teachers and students, as well as an awareness of how language acts can impact on different personalities. I think teachers need to be sensitive to the needs and concerns of their students, but I also recognise this is extremely challenging, when faced with multiple classes of 20+ students that you see for a limited time each week, with a course to get through.
Ultimately, I believe the best teachers will be those who are open to learning themselves; learning about their students and learning ways they can reach these students. It is a learning journey that never ends.

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