Why are teachers such reluctant learners?
In recent times teachers have been heckled for their outdated knowledge and their inability to use technology effectively as a tool for teaching. A phrase that gets thrown around extensively whenever talks of teachers and keeping abreast of new technology and practices are discussed is ‘professional development’. What is it? Is it effective? Is it ineffective? Are teachers to blame? Or the system of academia? While it is easy to point fingers, we seek to dig a little deeper so that we may understand why or what it is that makes teachers such reluctant learners?
The important role of a teacher in a students life
Picture your schooldays and odds are that you’ll remember your teachers before anything else. Why is this? Why do teachers hold such levels of influence on us, even years after our schooling?
Perhaps because their presence in our lives has shaped and moulded our thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Alternatively, it could also be a case of ‘social contagion’. I.e. put human beings in a big box for 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week, approximately 220 days a year and they’re bound to rub off on one another.
The teachers who do pop into our mind might be there for several reasons. Maybe because they were extremely helpful and kind. Perhaps they had inculcated in you a love for a subject. Perhaps they were incredibly knowledgeable and sassy and helped you with your scholastic endeavours. Or maybe they were rude, boorish, boring and unenthusiastic. And made you hate a particular subject. Whichever be the case for better or worse. Teachers are synonymous with learning and teaching. The importance of a teacher in a student’s life is unfathomable. However, for people working in the field of learning – why is it that teachers make the most reluctant learners ever?
Professional development for teachers.
The world is ever-changing and so are the children in it. Information is now accessed on demand and there are various means and methods to learn almost everything. Just like any other career and profession, teaching to needs to keep itself updated and relevant. To make sure that teachers are keept up to speed with the information wave, up-skilling is required and this is done through the wide variety of specialized training called “professional development”. Thus to maintain and improve their professional competence varieties of specialized training and education are to be conducted and are deemed necessary. Think of it as teacher training.
If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow. – John Dewey (education reformer and American philosopher)
The plight of professional development for teachers.
“A dingy conference room, the buzzing of florescent lights, the smell of stale insipid coffee and the distant click of the presenter’s laptop as slide after slide scroll by.”– Source.
Mention professional development to a teacher and this is exactly what would flash in their mind. Most teacher training workshops or potential development (PD) workshops end up the same way. While it shouldn’t be the case, it is.
This is because the intent behind the training or workshop is either unclear to the schools and departments or it is accepted as a bureaucratic necessity. In most cases, it is a combination of both. Schools and administrations schedule the required training and its timings on their own. These programs and workshops are neither planned nor discussed with the staff for whom it is meant. This is done so that without eating into too many school (teaching) hours, schools and administrations may meet the guidelines and regulations of the corresponding board of education. Guidelines that have been decided by administrators who haven’t taught in a classroom a single day in their life.
If any training or facilitation is looked at sideways from its very beginning, the effect of it would be lost even before it has run its course.
Additionally, students from any area and school are endemic to it. Teachers would thereby require different ways and methods to reach across to their students. By turning a blind eye to this, government regulations and educational boards are still adopting a “one size fits all” strategy so that they may standardize the guidelines for ‘workshops’ and ‘professional development for teachers’. Furthermore, most of these workshops are conducted with an air of unimportance and bureaucratic formality by teachers and staff. As most claimed that, “this wasn’t the training or program that we had asked for” and hence enter the program with a ‘get it over’ with attitude rather than seeing it as an up-skilling opportunity.
This attitude and outlook towards professional development for teachers are indoctrinated into them gradually as changing governments result in changing regulations. Thus the efforts of several years of teachers and staff to adopt, understand a regulation or system are washed away almost overnight. Hence demotivating enthusiastic teachers and providing an arsenal of ‘I told you so’ to the majority of critics and sceptics. We had witnessed an example of this in India, the scrapping of CCE (Continuous and comprehensive evaluation) by CBSE was one such decision. CCE was an effort at broadening the scope of assessment along the academic cycle. Formative tests were used as instruments to bridge the gap between what was taught and learnt. Assessments were aimed at discovering the learning styles and unique gifts of each learner. For the first time, an explicit recognition was accorded to the co-scholastic component of the holistic education. Then six years into its laboured implementation the system was scrapped and a paradigm shift had been made back to the original method of board exams. Hence ringing true the saying “history tends to repeat itself”.
Is the mechanics of Professional Development the only problem?
So does that answer what makes teachers such reluctant learners? Yes, and no. The answer is not a straightforward one but more of a layer cake that goes as deep as the psyche.
“I teach……I don’t learn”
Most professional development courses and classes are conducted by grouping all teachers into a single batch. Put an ‘n’ number of experts in one room and there are bound to be sparks flying and ego’s clashing. A room full of experts would never feel the need to be taught. Especially if it means to be taught about their field of profession. This is the case for professional development for teachers as well. The teachers greet the hosts and counsellors of the programs and courses with hostility and indifference. Albeit a hostility akin to domesticated cats posturing during ritualized aggression over territory, but hostility nevertheless.
Instead of focusing on the message, an obsession over the messenger takes hold.
Teachers forget that they need to hang up their academicians and ‘expert’ hats before entering any professional development course. As in that room, they are present in the capacity of a student and not a facilitator.
Given their profession, they are accustomed to being the ones talking, answering questions and being in charge of the class. Once this becomes habitual, however, teachers tend to forget the most important part of dealing with people and problems. The ‘art of listening’.
Teachers reading this post I ask you; what makes a good student? How do you know if a student is being attentive in class? By checking if, he was listening of course. Now ask yourself during the last workshop, were you?
You would claim that you were listening or that you tried but the method the counsellors or hosts were using made it disinteresting and so they lost you. Agreed perhaps if the sessions were more active and involved teachers’ participation, more rather than flicking through a couple of PowerPoint slides it could be more effective. However, that is the facilitator within you speaking. Remember you’re attending the session as a student and as a student, you must ‘listen’ to what is being taught not simply ‘hear’ it. Instead of focusing on how it is being taught focus on what is being taught. Maybe the way they are teaching isn’t very effective but what about the content? We need to stop obsessing over the messenger and instead stop ourselves to ‘listen’ to the message instead.
How their hands are tied.
A layer cake as mentioned before. We cannot blame teachers and staff for all of it. Their hands are tied too. Slaves to the curriculum and administration. It’s a miracle how teachers manage to actually teach students enough to ace exams alongside imbibing in them a fair understanding of subjects and the world’s workings as well.
While in some countries teachers are still revered, and teaching is still considered a very noble profession. That is not the case in a few other countries. Especially in India where teaching is now looked at as a backup profession of sorts by many. Some teachers who are apologetic about their own profession portray this tunnel vision. When asked what do they do for a living? They reply by saying that they’re just a teacher. Why just? Is someone just the prime minister? Or just the CEO? No, you are a teacher.
This fall from reverence could be due to the laughable remuneration that is offered to teachers coupled with an increased bureaucratization of the teaching sector.
Additionally, when it comes to the decisions made by various education boards and administrations, teachers get a true essence of how toothless their bite is in these countries.
This whole layer cake of reason makes for a textbook case of inferiority complex that over the years creates Mr Grumpy Professor. Insensitive, crass, indifferent with no interest in his own subject. Mr Grumpy cares only about filling the right documents and signing the right sheets. Years of administrative pressure and bureaucratic circling has reduced his prowess in his field of expertise. The joy of learning is now a distant memory to Mr Grumpy – one he fondly recollects in his privy.
Don’t turn into the Mr Grumpy in your workplace. How late before it’s too late? Switching careers might seem daunting but we here at Navigus can help and make the transition easier while giving you a paved path into your new found career.
Navigus. Don’t just survive, reign.