Professional development: teacher development and confidence
Posted by Mariam
Gaining confidence in their teaching skills and developing their teaching ability in general are not just the concern of teachers who are new to the profession, but also of experienced teachers when they meet new challenges which seem to threaten their long-standing values and beliefs about learning and teaching, especially if these may imply changes to their teaching practices. Just think of how many times you have asked yourself the following questions when you have had to face a new task: “Can I do that?” “Will I be able to do it well?” After a while you may find yourself asking: “How can I do better?”
In my opinion, gaining self-confidence and developing your teaching ability are closely related, and working on either concern leads to improvement on the other. The more you develop your teaching ability, the more confident you will become in your teaching. In the same way, the more confident you become in your teaching skills, the better prepared you are to move on to “the next level”, i.e. deepen your understanding of learning and teaching, find out about the latest learning and teaching theories, and try out new teaching practices, thus developing your teaching ability. In other words, answering one of the questions may help us to answer the other question as well.
But where do the answers to Mariam’s questions lie? It seems to me that finding ways to gain confidence in what you do and improve your teaching skills are different aspects of the same concern, i.e. how can we develop as a professional teacher? Underhill (1986:1) describes teacher development as the process of becoming “the best kind of teacher that I personally can be.” Rossner (1992:4) argues that “teacher development is not just to do with language or even teaching: it’s also about language development, counseling skills, assertiveness training, confidence-building (my italics), computing, meditation, cultural broadening – almost anything, in fact.” Both descriptions of teacher development seem to take account of Mariam’s concerns. Therefore, in order to answer Mariam’s questions we can perhaps look into the theory of “teacher development”.
Freeman (1989:37) regards teacher development and teacher training as the two main teacher education strategies. In order to distinguish between them he proposes a model of teaching which characterizes it as “a decision-making process based on the categories of knowledge, skills, attitude, and awareness” (ibid:27). Whereas teacher training addresses the more “trainable” aspects of teaching based on knowledge and skills, teacher development is concerned with generating change with regard to the more complex constituents of teaching, i.e. awareness and attitude.
I believe Freeman’s model of teaching can help us to impose some order on the wide range of options which are available for teachers aiming to gain confidence in their teaching and develop their teaching ability in general. In the sections that follow I make reference to each of the aforementioned constituents of teaching in turn and discuss what teachers can do in each of these respects in order to develop professionally. These are not exhaustive lists and readers will very likely have their own ideas to add to them.
As far as knowledge is concerned there seem to be different ways in which teachers can develop confidence and improve their general teaching ability:
- The subject matter – Above all, teachers should aim to develop their knowledge of the subject matter they teach. If this is English, teachers can study the language to further their understanding of how it works, they can enroll in language development courses, and they can seek opportunities to practise and develop their ability to listen to, read, speak and write in English, for example, by not missing the opportunities they have to interact orally with native speakers, subscribing to EFL/ESL magazines, and participating in synchronic or asynchronic discussions on the Web. (Ed - such as the onestopenglish forum)
- Theories about learning and teaching – Teachers should also aim at deepening their understanding of the theories underpinning learning and teaching practices. This can be achieved by reading about teaching and learning, attending seminars and workshops regularly, and enrolling on methodology courses which will enable them to reconstruct their knowledge of the background to language learning and teaching.
- The students – The more teachers know their students, the more effective their teaching will be. Teachers can get to know students better by giving them opportunities to talk about themselves, really listening to what they have to say, encouraging them to give teachers feedback on anything and everything that happens in the classroom, showing a real interest in them and above all, by teachers just “being themselves,” i.e. not pretending to be somebody they are not.
- The workplace – Finally, it is important that teachers know the context in which they work very well. This involves academic aspects such as syllabuses, assessment procedures, and knowledge of the supplementary materials they can count on, as well as more practical concerns like the use of audio, video or computer equipment.
In addition to knowing about the subject matter, theories of learning and teaching, the students, and the workplace, teachers should aim at improving their ability to put all this knowledge into practice and becoming more skilful at teaching. This can be achieved by having a daring and exploratory attitude towards teaching which involves trying out different methods, techniques and activities again and again, reflecting on their effectiveness, and capitalizing on these experiences in order to make the necessary changes to their teaching habits.
Trying out new ideas in the classroom has the additional benefit of making the activity of teaching much more interesting. Having an exploratory attitude towards teaching helps to prevent the feeling of being stuck in a rut, i.e. working on the same teaching points in the same way year after year.
Becoming more skilful at a certain activity has a lot to do with being aware of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, which is the aspect that is discussed in the next section.
Teachers can develop further by increasing their self-awareness. What kind of teachers are they? How are they perceived by their students and colleagues? What are the strengths they should capitalize on and the weaknesses they should be working on? Self-awareness can be raised in a number of ways:
- Teachers can make audio or video recordings of their lessons and watch, analyze and reflect on the recordings afterwards.
- They can invite a colleague to sit in while they teach and ask them for feedback after the lesson.
- Observing other teachers teach can be very enlightening. It helps teachers to compare different teaching styles, practices, etc. and become more aware of what kind of teachers they are, or they are not.
- The students themselves can provide teachers with very valuable feedback on their performance. Implementing instances for the collection of this kind of feedback regularly can be very valuable.
- Teachers can benefit from whatever evaluation system is implemented at their workplace if they regard it as an awareness-raising opportunity leading to professional development.
Finally, teacher development has much to do with developing and sustaining a positive attitude towards the activity of teaching and oneself as a teacher. Teachers must plan their lessons regularly, aim at being better informed about their profession, obtain a teaching certificate, diploma or degree, and respect themselves, their colleagues and their students.
In addition, teachers should try not to allow personal problems to affect their teaching or feel discouraged when facing new challenges which at first may seem insurmountable. They should enjoy themselves when teaching, treat themselves to something nice when they achieve their aims, and take a well-deserved rest when they have the opportunity to do so.
Mariam’s questions are not easy to answer and some of the solutions that have been suggested may not be simple to implement. Neither is the aforementioned list of options and exhaustive account of what teachers can do to develop professionally. However, I hope the present article has shed some light on some of the possible ways in which teachers can face the problems of developing self-confidence and their teaching ability.
Underhill, A (1986): Editorial in Teacher Development Newsletter 9: 4
Rossner, R (1992): “Where there’s a will – facilitating teacher development” in Teacher Development Newsletter 18: 4 - 5