Change in teacher education

The importance of quality teacher training cannot be emphasized enough. As a facilitator of the learning process in the classroom, the role of the teacher when defined to an ideal scale is nothing short of an omniscient and omnipotent individual who is willing to be a martyr to serve the country by shaping its future.

But the reality is far from the ideal and we all have experienced it in the form of a ‘bad teacher’ at some point in our lives. With the introduction of RTE (Right to Education) bill stating the need for PTR (Pupil-Teacher Ratio) to be 30:1, the known shortage of teachers has been clearly quantified. As per recent estimates, there is a shortage of nearly 14 lakh trained teachers in India and India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh needs 3 lakh teachers immediately to fill its classrooms.

These numbers speak of the number of new trained teachers needed to achieve the PTR target. But what about the existing teachers within the system, their development and training to be social transformation agents as envisioned in the NCF (National Curriculum Framework) documents? Any mention of the NCF only brings the refrain of how it is an idealistic dream which does not reflect the reality on ground. But the question is without an ideal can we work towards change?

I look at teacher training to be built by 4 components shown below:

teacher training.001

Investing school leadership in the importance of teaching and teachers:  The school leadership defines the culture, expectations and the environment in which a teacher performs. If the school leadership does not believe in the importance of teaching – meaning sees it merely as a reproduction of curriculum and oral transmission of defined knowledge instead of shaping minds of tomorrow, then it becomes very difficult for the teacher to deliver her best. Also, structurally schools can be difficult for a new teacher since it ‘keeps teachers separated from one another, reinforcing their isolation and sense of autonomy. Without easy access to one another, teachers may feel reluctant to share problems or ask for help, believing that good teachers figure things out on their own. Even if teachers do get together, they may not know how to engage in productive talk about teaching and learning’ (Sharon Feimen-Nemser, What new teachers need to learn. May 2003, Vol 6). An invested school leadership can help reverse this problem by creating a culture of mentorship, peer review and effective feedback.

Curriculum re-development basis current and future needs: The current teacher training curriculum while having a bit of everything does not really focus on how to truly deal with a classroom where learning levels are low, differentiated needs, disinvested families and changing social reality. The curriculum needs to be re-developed to include not just relevant content in different subject areas but also very specific skills in managing varied learning styles, using student assessment data to inform teaching decisions well defined content and clear steps to build notions of equity and diversity within students.

Teacher training: Our teachers come from the same school system that we are trying to change. Hence mere instruction on revised content does little to bring about the change in the classrooms or empower each teacher to work as a social transformation agent. The teacher training needs to be:

  • Reflective: focusing on questions leading to self awareness like “why do I want to be a   teacher?”, “what are my strengths and weaknesses?”, “what are the changes I would like to see around me?”, “why do I want to see change at all?”, “how can I bring about change?”
  • Participatory: Since the training is to develop skills, attitudes and values to influence others, participatory teaching methodology is important. Giving the teacher real case studies of students where the teacher identifies a problem,describes,analyses,interprets and appreciates the problem and then makes a decision to solve it will only help the learning process be inclusive and diversified at the same time making the future teachers stronger in capacity to act and solve problems.

This also means that along with building relevant content knowledge and grasp of language for delivery, the teacher education can no longer be restricted to 2 or 3 years of training but be a rigorous 4 or 5 year advanced degree programme.

Monitoring and Mentoring of teachers:  This is the area I believe to be the most crucial and game changing of all. I believe monitoring and mentoring of both beginning teachers and in-service teachers is crucial to provide that continued support in skill development as well as confidence building. The monitoring and mentoring can be done by creating structures for experienced teachers to help beginning teachers  as well as having qualified teacher educators review experienced teachers to help with new techniques for the best possible outcomes for the child. Most training programmes across sectors fall short in the area of following up after the knowledge transfer has occurred to ensure continuous improvement in effectiveness as well as going back to the drawing board to focus on key skills. Creating a parallel structure with qualified teacher educators, experienced teachers and involving students is a great way to help build the culture of mentoring and coaching.

In conclusion while I do understand the urgency of providing so many trained teachers I strongly feel the need to change teacher education on above mentioned parameters for sustainable long term change to be a reality.

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