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Anis Haffar Writes | The Key Roles of an Effective Teacher

Wed, 07 Jan, 2009

  • Proper preparation prevents poor performance

The main title of this article was adapted from Barack Obama's impressive campaign. Dubbed the best managed ever in the political history of the United States, the campaign was a remarkable feat full of great lessons for quality education in Ghana. It’s all in the proper preparation. And yes, we can!

The concept of "Proper Preparation" is hardly new: What is remarkable remains the diligence to raise standards for a great crop of teachers for Ghana. Mediocrity or lack of proper preparation breeds diseases worse than mediocrity itself. One mishap short-circuits an entire system.

Education in Ghana is in crises judging from the dismal results, functional illiteracy, and graduate joblessness. Coupled with the fact that some estimated 350,000 young people are squeezed into the streets annually with no perceived future, the elements for quality education continue to clamour for the nation’s attention. The demands are many, and bold incentives must propel young people into the profession. This piece, however, concentrates on quality teacher preparation from Primary to Tertiary.

A. The Teacher as a Lifelong Expert in the Subject 

  1. A teacher must possess some expertise or, preferably, be an expert in the subject to be taught; and, must be comfortable teaching it. He / She must exhibit love, and passion for the subject like a true disciple: be it in the Languages, Literature, Mathematics, Agriculture, Geography, History; and the various mixes as Social Studies, Integrated Sciences, etc.
  2. At the Tertiary levels (Universities, Training Colleges, and Polytechnics) specializations count especially where practitioners merge theory and practice in the various branches of Education, Medicine, Engineering, Social Sciences, Business, ICT, etc. For a developing country, guiding students to practice in the field what they learn behind desks is key to preventing functional illiteracy, and graduate joblessness.
  3. Expertise, or reasonable fluency, in "the content area" simply means that the teacher knows what to teach, and is keen on staying abreast of new findings in the subject continually. No subject is static: these days old knowledge is discarded often, and new knowledge and innovative ideas pour in incessantly. If you think innovations are expensive, try complacency.
  4. Expertise is not a job; it is an obsession. The young Bill Gates hardly considered his passion for developing computer software as a job; it was his very life; he committed himself as a lifelong learner. He went to sleep with the challenges of the day inside his head; and woke up with bits and pieces of solutions through his unconscious mind. It’s never too early to dream big; but stay on course.

B. The Teacher as an Instructional Expert in Methodology

  1. Uninitiated observers of the teaching process tend to believe that teaching is lecturing to a horde of passive listeners. They assume that anyone who has some knowledge and can talk can teach. These fallacies are based on the belief that the teacher must be glued perpetually to the front of the class, caricatured these days as “the sage on the stage”. Similarly, many suppose that teaching is merely “preaching” to a submissive audience, where an automatic “amen” is expected and a harvest conjured after a sermon.
  2. Lecturing is only a small part of what an effective teacher does. Generally, good teachers monitor hands-on activities that help learners to develop superior hands-on abilities.
  3. Knowing what to teach is one thing; knowing how to prepare ahead of time, and engage every learner productively throughout the term is a different matter. It is not what the hearers hear; it is what each learner becomes through the acquisition of specific abilities or actionable skills. 
  4. Methodology includes the ability to design the means, and assemble the relevant teaching materials that fuse the curriculum and the learner. And a relevant curriculum focuses on abilities that can be applied as soon as possible.
  5. Covering the various topics effectively means combining the teacher’s own abilities and needs of learners through a “pedagogy”, that is, the “how” or the best ways to pass on useful knowledge and skills. For example: What mode will be most effective for particular lessons? Work as individuals or in teams? How do we get learners to exhibit their own skills through presentations to the class, etc? 
  6. Finding out, Demonstrating, Discussing, Speaking, Active listening, Applying what we learn, and Teaching updated knowledge to others are the organic tasks or components of any useful methodology. All that, by the way, is summarized in the GES syllabus as the Profile Dimensions for Critical Thinking.
  7. All planning requires reflecting on the objectives and anticipating what the learner must know and become. The consequences of failing to plan are usually more painful than the labour of planning. For teachers and instructors, the consequences of an unplanned or poorly planned lesson may include embarrassment, preoccupation with discipline, and loss of control. For the students, the consequences may include limited or no learning, loss of interest and confidence, disruptive behaviour, and so on. 
  8. Considering the number of distractions that the youth face today, education invariably has to compete for attention. The youth find it easier to go where the satisfactions are fulfilled quickly with the least effort. For example, gratifications are instant by passively watching TV, listening to songs, playing games, or talking with friends. The amount of time that both the youth and adults engage (or spend) in these activities is enormous.
  9. Cognitive pursuits are disciplined tasks, and they take committed practice and “stick-to-itiveness”; that is why many people shun them. But once you get used to them, superior cognitive tasks can be the most satisfying exercises and rewarding experiences. Where will Barack Obama and Bill Gates be today without the time and effort they invested in their passions and vocations? 
  10. The professions – or any hard work, for that matter - are built on the premise of investing today, and reaping benefits tomorrow. Active thinking and doing, invariably, are exercises that demand consistency, and must be the first to be considered among a variety of attractions. Unfortunately, what the youth need to do are easily postponed and replaced by what they want to do. What they want to do, naturally, are the things that come easiest. But things of value take effort and time.
  11. How to motivate learners to skip distractions and focus on developing “the grey matter” is the challenge facing every teacher. But then, parents and adults must be the first to be motivated, like practicing what we preach. It takes a village, as they say. Disciplined actions by adults speak the loudest than any religious and moral education ever conceived.
  12. One way to motivate a class is through meaningful student involvement and shared responsibilities; another is through empowering the youth where they are groomed to take charge of their own learning in meaningful ways. When teachers shift the focus from what students merely learn into what students actually become, life itself takes on a value added meaning.
  13. Excessive talking or doing things for learners who can do for themselves create lifelong dependency and functional illiteracy; every serious teacher must guard against those tendencies. Never assume that the youth cannot accomplish important tasks. Lead them diligently through “Guided Practices”, show them how, and step back confidently while they take charge, experiment, explore, and learn progressively from their own mistakes. The quality assurances that enhance students’ successes become permanent sources of enrichment for nations.

Conclusion: Proper prior preparation prevents poor performance. Let’s do our best; and God will do the rest. The world needs a shine in every corner. Make a difference, and stay blessed.

[Anis Haffar is the founder of Gate Institute for teacher education in English Language skills, and Leadership-Centred Teaching Methodologies for primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Email: gateinstitute@yahoo.com]

Picture caption: Anis Haffar conducting a Teacher In-Service workshop in Accra. 

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