What Makes a Good Teacher: a Personal Statement

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Table of Contents

  • Educational Psychology Becomes Education
  • A Teacher’s Roles
  • The Main Focuses of Teaching

Inspiration comes from many different sources, one could be inspired by family, friends, religion, dreams and of course influential persons such as Mandela. According to Frank (1947, p. 185) in 1921 Albert Einstein was responding to questions from Thomas Edison and in his response to not knowing off hand what the speed of sound was, Einstein said “The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” Einstein believed that to be involved in education, you are involved in something greater than what a textbook can provide (O’Toole, 2016). Einstein’s response is one of the continuous influential factors in my decision in choosing education as a career path. Lasky (2005, p. 901) defines a teacher’s professional identity as being a teacher’s definition of themselves to themselves and to others and although Hamman et al. (2013, p.309-311) theorises that it is the futuristic thinking of oneself which forms personal identity, I have to suggest that I believe that one’s past has a significant effect on a professional identity as well. My ambition to become involved within the Education spectrum was not a straightforward path.

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Throughout my high school career, it was a profession in Psychology that had me captivated. Usually, inspiration for Psychologists include personal reasons such as family members or friends with specific diagnoses (Hassan El-Ghoroury, 2010) however the core motivations behind Psychology is most always to help those in need which was the case with me. Nevertheless, I could not deny that I had a talent for working with children and if it was a career in Psychology I wanted to pursue I would have to find a way to combine the two, and this is when my aspirations to be an Educational Psychologist were shaped.

Educational Psychology Becomes Education

I was an eager and passionate first year Psychology student who was ambitious to be an Educational Psychologist though naïve and uncertain of the requirements thereof. The educational path to becoming a registered specialised psychologist was not one I was expecting as one would need to complete a Master’s degree in order to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (Health Professions Council of South Africa, 2019). By the time I was in third year I had a better understanding of what was required to be a psychologist and worked my hardest to be accepted into an Honours Programme. My Honours year did not pass without challenges, it was an emotionally and intellectually challenging year which was one I needed to experience in order to mature academically. Studying Psychology gave me a broad knowledge about child development, the development of language, mental and cognitive processes and the emotional development of a child. My knowledge from Psychology would prove to be advantageous and understanding background, important when considering a career in Education. Snowman, McCown and Biehler (2015) support this claim by explaining how Psychology students benefit in Teaching because of their knowledge of Psychological constructs and Theories that can be applied in an Educational setting. Such constructs include Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky’s Theories of Cognitive Development, Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development and more.

Overall, my undergraduate and postgraduate studies and experiences have helped me to develop relevant interpersonal skills such as constructing psychological questionnaires, managing my time effectively, writing academically, problem solving, decision making and being able to notice abnormal behaviour. I am confident that my overall academic experience has shaped and changed aspirations and personal goals I created for myself in the past, this includes professional and community child related experience I have gained so far. I have learned beneficial skills from my professional careers thus far including occupations such as kindergarten assistant, aftercare and homework assistant, tutor and Au Pair. I am able to guide and assist children to learn, internalize and master concepts being mindful of Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. This is whereby support is given to assist with any given task that children may individually find mentally or physically challenging (Papalia and Feldman, 2011, p. 34). From my occupations I have learned to be patient specifically with children who have special needs, in addition to practicing conscientiousness and hard work within my own job description, I have learned to teach children concepts like perseverance and determination. These are all important factors I believe an Educator might benefit from. Furthermore, my community child related experiences inspired me and taught me many relevant skills. I volunteered at institutions such as The Gateway School: Public School for Learners with Special Educational Needs, Bethany House Children’s Home and South African Riding for the Disabled Association (SARDA) where I was specifically fortunate enough to assist SARDA with their Equine Therapy Program and discover all the interesting benefits this therapy has to offer for children with special needs such as physical stimulation, and improvement with balance and co-ordination (Blair, 2019).

These experiences inspired me still more to pursue a career which would allow me the opportunities to give back to communities and children of all backgrounds. However, what I have gained from my academic studies and experiences thus far do not only include what I have learned from the curriculum, as Einstein said, but I believe that I have gained important personal qualities including honesty, responsibility, loyalty, trustworthiness and dependability. I am also confident I can demonstrate the drive and ambition to position myself as a model student to study a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and I feel that to pursue a career in Teaching would be a wise choice for me as I would strive to help any child as best I can. My own professional identity as a Foundation Phase teacher is one I am excited to explore. I feel it is not an identity I can create overnight but rather, one that keeps changing and evolving according to what I have learned.

As an educator I would first and foremost remind myself to be open-minded. I would strive to be an educator whose classroom made each individual feel inclusive. This is a quality I learned from Psychology as many Psychological constructs, theories and practices require Psychologists to be open-minded. One such approach, famous for its unconditional positive regard for clients is Carl Rogers’ Person Centred Approach which is characterised by empathetic caring for someone which cannot be skewed or biased by any judgement made (Corey, 2013, p.169). I would have to say that a large driving force for my own professional identity as a teacher would be providing support for learners with special needs. Curriculum can be adapted, adjusted, alternated and carried out differently for students who struggle to learn within the mainstream scope (Nieman and Monyai, 2006, pp. 62-63). I would like to be an educator who does not settle but is always up for a challenge, one who wouldn’t answer that teaching is my job but rather that teaching is my passion.

A Teacher’s Roles

Adendorff et al. (2010, pp. 24-25) mention that teaching is more than just a job, this means that an extraordinary teacher would be one that is intrinsically motivated to do their job. Loomans (2007) agrees that motivation is one of the key characteristics to being an extraordinary teacher, she lists motivation, optimism, compassion, respect and eight others in her questionnaire on vital qualities possessed by an extraordinary teacher. Similarly, Clarke and Moore, (2013, p. 498) indicate that it is beneficial for educators to aim to be exceptional teachers and not mediocre ones. This is true of any occupation on the Education spectrum, working with children is a privilege but it does not come without challenges. Children are a representation of their community and with this they bring their communities into the classroom. To be prepared, I would suggest that teachers should possess positive and inspiring qualities and I would agree that to be an inspiring mentor to a learner is one of the many great roles a teacher can carry out (Jansen, Koza and Toyana, 2011, p.4).

According to the Revised Policy on the Minimum Requirements for Teacher Education Qualifications (MRTEQ), there are certain roles that educators should be carrying out successfully within their occupation. I find most of these roles to be essential within the education spectrum and feel that educators should be able to collectively and effectively carry out most roles set out by the MRTEQ. Some of these roles include mediating learning efficiently, making sure to be open-minded to diversity, reflective study and self-challenging behaviour in order to pursue being a lifelong learner, use appropriate assessment in order to improve educational curriculum, manage classroom and administrative duties and many others. These roles provide a benchmark for teachers and provide basic guidelines which explain how to carry out essential educational tasks efficiently within a diverse South African context (Government Gazette, 2015, pp. 60-64). The roles teachers are expected to play are especially true for Foundation Phase educators in South Africa. The South African Education system has been influenced by diversity on a large scale, the diverse range of ethnic, racial, religious, language, and social backgrounds of children within South Africa play an enormous role in the behaviour of teachers (Adendorff et al., 2010, p. 18).

Research on preparing educators for teaching in culturally diverse backgrounds show that effective teaching develops from educators who learn from the cultural characteristics, perspectives and experiences from their learners in order to teach curriculum in a relatable way, this is known as culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2002). This research supports one of the MRTEQ’s roles for a teacher to be a lifelong learner which strikes me as an important one (Government Gazette, 2015, pp. 60-64). As an aspiring teacher in South Africa, I think it is important to realise that teaching should be a constant process of learning. Educators need to be flexible in that certain generations relate differently to others, Killen (2015, p. 25) agrees and states “no single teaching strategy is effective all the time for all learners”, rather that teaching is a multifaceted process with many influences, many roles, and many different focuses.

The Main Focuses of Teaching

Like teaching is comprised of many multifaceted roles, I believe this to be the same with its occupational focus. I would have to rather suggest that teaching has more than one main focus and encompasses many important areas. One of the core main focuses of an educator is to teach relevant curriculum to students, however a teachers’ ambition should always be more than this, there is a bigger picture involved that proceeds the teaching of curriculum. As an educator, one plays additional vital roles within the lives of learners and this should form part of some important main focuses when considering teaching as an occupation. The Guyana Ministry of Education (2017) state that teachers are role models, mentors and protectors within the schooling community, learners spend a considerable amount of time at school and within the foundation phase this would mean children spend a considerable amount of time with one teacher. Foundation phase teachers should therefore be aware of their actions. It was also researched and found that the relationship between educators and learners was a positive predictor for school and class related interest, social goal pursuits and academic goal pursuits (Wentzel, 1998, p. 202).

In addition to this, Excell and Linington, (2015, p. 82) similarly mentions that teachers should provide support for children, a concept critical when teaching Grade R. As a protector, teachers would look for signs of behavioural changes or even sudden academic changes that could signal any sign of trouble or changes at home (Guyana Ministry of Education, 2017). Therefore, apart from academics, there are other crucial main focuses such as providing support, playing mentor and protector and providing positive examples as a role model.

In conclusion, I believe that my personal professional identity as a Foundation phase educator rests on my past academic, professional, and community related experiences paired with my future ongoing learning experiences as a teacher. Overall, I would like to be a passionate, self-challenging and reflective teacher who puts the needs of my learners above all else. I hope to achieve carrying out many roles as a teacher and hope that I never loose sight of the important main focuses.

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