Emerging challenges in Teacher training

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Dr Vasanthi Thiagarajan
Correspondent and Founder Principal, Sishya School, Hosur, Tamil Nadu

The rapid rate at which technology has galloped has left the world gasping at times. The field of education is no exception. The teacher has the imminent need to update not just pedagogical needs of the students but the challenges thrown by technology.

Highly skilled teachers are one of the most important influences on student success.’— (Kane, Rockoff & Straiger, 2007). It is an established fact that class size and other salient features do not impact students’ learning trajectories as much as the quality of their teachers.

The significant and critical role that a teacher plays in facilitating various processes in the classrooms enables students to cultivate habits of mind and knowledge which are pre-requisites for success, meaningful contribution and prosperity in the ever changing world of challenges.

Hence the quality of teacher training and its effectiveness assumes paramount importance in cultivating empowered citizenry in any country. Countries that record exceptional educational achievements attribute this largely to their prioritisation of extensive and intensive teacher training.

The constellation of skills that teachers should possess was also captured by a triadic framework for understanding teaching and learning (Darling-Hammond & Bransford 2005). This triad involves:

  • Knowledge of learners.
  • Their developmental and social contexts.
  • Knowledge of teaching (like subject matter, diverse learners, assessment techniques, classroom management).
  • Knowledge of their subject matter in a global context.
  • And clarity in curricular goals-framing-planning-attainment and reflection

As is evident, this intrinsic and overlapping triadic framework poses huge challenges to the teacher to not just know how to cope but proceed beyond mediocrity to quality.

Where does this leave the teacher? How validated is the BEd degree—the sine quo non for entering the portals of ‘recognised’ schools?

It is a common observation that once ‘in’ continuous upgradation is ‘out’.

There could be many reasons for this state of affairs and some of them are as follows:

a. Job security ensured with a BEd degree with scales of pay.

b. A pay package—year on year—that incrementally moves upwards irrespective of performance.

c. Not identifying specific teacher training needs as part of an ongoing process of professional development.

d. Teacher observation not linked to appraisal of needs, but a formality that indicated teacher supervision and a few suggestive remarks that are not backed up with required corrective actions or inputs.

It is to be noted here that there are more reasons than indicated above and also that these aspects are not the scenarios in every school in India. In fact, it must be mentioned that many schools are today looking up to upgradation of the quality of their teachers and teaching inputs to cope with the increasing and breathtaking mushrooming of schools and the inbuilt ‘competition’ that is being ushered in.

The other significant challenge to teacher training is the advent of and the ever-demanding updating of skills of technology that leave the teacher feeling inadequate as well as incompetent. Technology has come to stay no doubt, but has definitely not replaced the teacher. The teacher has to realise this fact and open out to upgrading skills that will definitely enhance the quality of inputs provided to students and more importantly, will truly usher in varied components of 21st Century skills that are mandatory to equip our students with, if they are to survive in their world of work.

We as teachers need to understand that we do not teach for today or for an examination grade but teach for tomorrow where our students can occupy their rightful position as competent employees with ease.

Another significant factor that poses a challenge is that of the competence of the teacher to connect Teacher Training Theory and Practice where the theory balances unevenly against practice. Five categories of pedagogical practice emerge as challenges:

1. Matching instructional materials in a manner that meet the developmental needs of children.

2. Time management of a classroom session.

3. Effectively managing behaviour.

4. Continually monitoring student needs.

5. Responding instantaneously to situations.

Experts suggest that reflection after a session, authenticpractice and scaffolding by experienced peer teachers could go a long way to ease these bumpy times.

Let us now shift our focus to the teacher persona specifically. Questions that pop up are:

a) What is the level of self-motivation and start up in our teachers?

b) What actually motivates this self-motivation?

c) How does one understand the complacency or apparent complacency and factors that cause it?

The critical aspect of teacher ‘burn out’ – its causes, prevention and correction are also aspects that affect the motivation to ‘enroll to be trained’. School Managements and Principals need to search for these answers. When speaking to some of my colleague principals we also shared some concerns about some issues that have impacted managements to go slow on Teacher Professional Development. The primary and critical aspect spoken of was teacher attrition–that is crippling the very existence of teaching continuity in schools. Managements are therefore reluctant to train teachers just to allow attrition to happen for a ‘few dollars more’.

There are too many reasons attributed to teacher attrition and possibly Management of Schools Association must work in coordination to put down any such attempts and also work on finding solutions to their teachers issues of ‘push and pull’ factors—namely, from attrition to retention.

The role of the principal as a Lead Trainer and Chief Learning Officer catapults her/him to a position of a role model who inspires by example and motivates the required continual urge in teachers to move ahead and move with clarity through the quality inputs into their training provided by their Chief Mentor—their Principal.

So, do we have solutions to all the challenges mentioned? There are no quick fix solutions or remedies. However, some stock taking on the part of both the School Managements as well as their Teachers will go a long way.

  • Continuous appraisal that is non-threatening and teacher friendly would help.
  • A professional development plan that is teacher specific and ‘without any strings’ may pave the way for trust in the relationship between the School Managements as well as the important stakeholder–the Teachers.
  • An intrinsic as well as extrinsic reward system for teachers that is based on professional appraisal could go a long way in ironing out differences and shadows.

“The world we leave to our children depends in large measure on the children we leave to our world,” says the UNESCO Report on Teacher Training. The coming years will need to see our young students experiencing a more socially just, more tolerant and definitely a more peaceful world, and this and more can be attained only through the quality of our teachers, in terms of their competence being measured through their knowledge, skills and above everything else their own values and attitudes.

Dr Vasanthi Thiagarajan

Having more than 35 years of teaching-learning and administrative experience and a Doctorate in Education, Dr Vasanthi Thiagarajan is passionate about teaching as well as training. She has worked with Dr Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences in Harvard University in 2008. She is also an accredited trainer in differentiated instruction for Harvard University’s Online Program and has trained over 70 principals on DI across the globe. She has been the master trainer for the Intel Teach to Future Training Programme in Hosur in 2003 and has trained over 100 educators in basics of Microsoft programmes for teachers. She is the CBSE Master Trainer for CCE; ASL and SGAI and Classroom Management. Dr Vasanthi Thiagarajan is the winner of CBSE Teacher Award (2004), CBSE Mentor Award (2011) and National Award to Teachers by the Government of India (2012). At the International level, she has received the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching (2011). She has also been honoured by the Ministry of Education, Government of Singapore in 2014 as Outstanding Educator in Residence.