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What makes a teacher effective: an examination based on empirical study

The role of a teacher goes much further and beyond standing in front of the classroom teaching or lecturing students. Teachers have many roles and in the process of executing these roles one can create an image of how effective the teacher is. Personal characteristics of teachers may vary but there are some qualities that a teacher possesses or displays in the teaching process which point to his/her effectiveness. How knowledgeable and well-prepared the teacher is, how he/she communicates with the students, how he/she sets the mood, excitement and attentiveness of students also tell a lot of how effective the teacher and his methods are for learning in relation to the context and nature of the learners. This is attributed to the fact that classrooms or student levels require teachers to have different perceptions and apply different teaching methods (Wong & Wong 2001).

In this century, there are many contemporary issues arising and each one leads to frequent reviews and reforms. This makes what a teacher learns in college a decade or two down the line almost rendered obsolete because of the series of amendments in the curriculums and change of priorities, needs, and perceptions in the generation of students. Therefore an effective teacher should always keep up with global trends, deal with multicultural students effectively, dress appropriately for the job, keep a sense of humor, communicate clearly, be confidential, build trust with students, treat students fairly and equally, keep up with technology, cope with change, be structured yet spontaneous and flexible, be always prepared, be a leader, address students by name, maintain discipline and ensure that he/she has students’ attention.

Nature of learners and learning

As the world vicissitudes, the requirements and expectations placed upon education systems shift to match up these changes. It is more important for stakeholders in the education system to understand that this is not a problem, rather an indication of how education is a living practice and will always change with time. Likewise, because of education’s inexorable relationship with new generations and the novelty of the demands they carry with them and how life changing they can be (Doll, 2009). This calls for understanding curricula and curriculum development with a view to this inexorableness. It is the foundation to our current intergenerationalproject of understanding 21stcentury learners and learning systems. Therefore it is important that teachers understand these changes and requirements as they occur as it will help them connect with their students and understand their way of viewing things. With regard to this, teachers should always expect challenges and/or should always be ready to cope with these changes. 21st century students are different from students from the previous centuries in that they not only study to pass tests but learn for the purpose of adding value and knowledge to their lives, peers and community at large. Students want to be engaged intellectually and use in-depth learning methods. These students want an education system that will help them understand and work with each other from the classroom level to the community level, nationwide and the global level. The education system which accommodates all these needs can’t rely on class work only. It also requires multiple learning platforms where students interact and exchange ideas. This calls for new types of learning from various parts of society (Fink 2003). An effective teacher should keep up to date with global events and should be capable of teaching students from diverse cultures and also cope with changes both locally and globally.

Pedagogy and Practice

Effective teachers use a range of teaching approaches because there is no single universal approach that suits all contexts. Different approaches used in different combinations with different groups of students lead to improved learning outcomes. There are some strategies that are better suited to teaching specific fields and skills than others, or better suited to certain learners’ backgrounds, learning styles and capabilities.
An Effective pedagogy should incorporate an array of teaching approaches that sustain intellectual engagement, connects students to the extensive world, supports classroom environments, recognizes differences among students and should compatible across all crucial learning areas. It should promote the well-being of teachers, students and the school community. This implies that an effective pedagogical practice should improve learners’ and teachers’ confidence and create a sense of purpose for being at school. This builds community acceptance and confidence in the quality of education and the schooling system (Vieluf S. et al 2012). Therefore, teachers should not only aim at filling the minds of students with the subject content but also consider the students’ world of understanding things relative to the subject and learning experiences. This is the reason why curricula contain Aboriginal perspectives in them. With regard to this, an effective teacher should be able to understand the Aboriginal perspective in the curriculum and come up with innovative teaching practices using the prime curriculum. A teacher should use this Aboriginal perspective to show examples in a more holistic approach when teaching. An effective teacher should use their professional judgment to ensure that all learning outcomes are planned and implemented in a more effective manner. Therefore, an effective teacher should use this Aboriginal pedagogy in the curriculum to create a comfortable learning environment for students. This will help to create a sense of belonging for the Aboriginal students in the schooling system, hence improve learning outcomes. The teacher should also have an open mind towards different cultures and be sensitive to cultural diversity when handling students from different cultural backgrounds.

Classroom management

This is the process of ensuring that classroom sessions run smoothly regardless of disruptive behaviour by learners. It also involves the prevention of the disruptive behaviour. Effective classroom management also involves precise communication of academic and behavioral expectations in addition to an obliging learning environment. An effective teacher should be able to manage and organize their classroom. This does not only involve the behavioral part only but the classroom appearance too; the tables, chairs, charts on the walls and all apparatus in the classroom. Effective teachers use or possess the following techniques in class management:

Teach and emphasize very important routines repeatedly

Clear reinforced routines, and adhered to with excellence, are among the indistinct indicators of excellent teaching. They make the teachers work easier, save much of learning time, cut down on mischief, and help learners stay focused in class (Ladwig, T., Luke, A., & Lingard, B., 2001).

Ensure high commitment to classroom management plan

Inconsistency in following the classroom management plan is detrimental because every time a rule is broken and the teacher takes no concern about it, students lose trust in the teacher and send a message that the teacher doesn’t really mean what he/she says (Vinson, 2002).

Be a leader to your students

A teacher should have a positive relationship with their students. When students like and trust their teacher, they’ll want to please him/her, which in turn gives the teacher power to influence their behavior (John Hattie, 2003).

Spend less time micromanaging and more time observing

Most teachers talk a lot and over-feed students; leaving them with no challenge. This is a form of micromanagement, which breeds demanding, needy, and dependent students who expect everything from the teacher even what they can readily do it on their own. Therefore, teachers should focus on delivering efficient, clear-cut, high-impact lessons, comprehensive checking of understanding while observing closely from a distance (Manitoba Education and Youth, 2003).

Take responsibility for both students’ learning and behavior

This involves keeping an eye on students’ activities including academics and relationships outside the classroom. This ensures routines are adhered to and good behavior is practiced.

Other classroom management qualities and characteristics an effective teacher may possess include:

  • Positioning chairs in groups or around tables to encourage interaction among students
    • Maintaining a physical environment where instructional materials and equipment are in good condition
    • Covering classroom walls with student work, memos, signs and calendars of student events
    • Laying emphasis on pupils to address one another in a good and respectful way
    • Maximizing the physical aspect of the environment
    • Managing emergency situations promptly
    • Maintaining conventional personal work space
    • Providing positive reinforcement and responses
    • Displaying clear guidelines on safety procedures

Therefore, an effective teacher should combine these classroom management skills and techniques maintain discipline, remain on topic and shouldn’t get easily distracted; as shown on the picture where the teachers display a stance with both feet firmly on the ground (New South Wales Institute of Teachers 2004).

Issues of equity and access

Demographics are rapidly changing in the 21st century as a result of movements of people from one place to the other due to socio-economic and political reasons. As a result of these demographic changes, cultural diversity also increase since people from different ethnic groups, cultures, races and continents might end up in the same classroom. This becomes a challenge for teachers since diversity calls for refined methods of teaching. This calls for teachers to identify these diverseness in the classrooms and ensure equity in the learning process of these diverse group of learners (George 1996 in Krockover; Diversity and Equity: Diversity and Equity in the classroom p151-159)

The concepts of equity and access are entrenched in universal human rights. However, learners’ statements fail to replicate these connections. Profound connections to wider community contexts and world views are recommended for teachers in order to relate the nations’ educational equality to universal human rights apprehensions. On the other hand, the manner in which teachers deal with equity and access depends on how they define equity from their own point of perception. A contradiction occurs when teachers are culturally biased and this affects how the teacher becomes equitable in the classroom. Equity does not necessarily focus on matters from the cultural or racial perspective (Oppong & Reed, 2005). It encompasses issues on socioeconomic status and status quo in society, and historical prejudice and injustices. Therefore, an effective teacher should consider all these issues when addressing students. When dealing with a group of students with these diversities, teachers should be considerate and sensitive in the following ways:

  • They should be colorblind when dealing with people of colored skin i.e. avoid addressing or referring students’ by their races.
  • They should give more opportunities to those students who are less fortunate in society. This could be in the form of leadership roles and student focused learning. They should also provide them with more special learning resources.
  • Teachers should model behaviors that don’t legitimize separation between the poor and the rich or perpetuate any form of such segregation.

The impact of educational reforms

Education, as mentioned earlier, is a living practice that is bound to changes as generations come and go. These generations come with their needs which call for reforms in the education system. The impacts of these reforms to teachers include:

  • Education reforms bring higher standards for teacher certification and recertification; and authorities often provide on-the-job training programs for professional staff. These training programs require time which is very critical especially for teachers to plan and learn simultaneously.
  • Teachers are frequently challenged in adapting new teaching strategies for diverse student needs while maintaining high learning standards for all students.
  • New reforms may require a new curriculum, structural adjustments and roles. This disrupts the teaching plan for the year.

Conversely, reforms can be good and make teachers’ work easier by use of modern technology such as online platforms and eResources. Therefore, an effective teacher should embrace and adapt to changes. He/she should remain flexible and encourage the use of technology in his/her teaching approaches.

In conclusion, there are challenges in the process of becoming an effective teacher. Some qualities of an effective teacher take time to build while others are natural traits that a person possesses. A teacher cannot be rated as effective by possessing one or a few qualities only. It depends on how well they combine these qualities to improve learning experiences and create desired learning outcomes.


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