Do we really have good teachers?

The ever-changing role of teacher has currently placed the teacher as a facilitator, rather than an information dispenser.

 |  5-minute read |   05-09-2017
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In describing what a "good teacher" in a medical school is, the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) in its Guide number 20 has envisaged roles that are encompassed in six domains. "The 12 Roles of the Teacher", published as a research article in the year 2000 by RM Harden and Joy Crosby, has been a benchmark in teaching philosophy. These roles have been broadly identified as 1) information provider 2) role modelling 3) facilitator 4) assessor 5) planner and 6) resource developer.

teacher_090517073153.jpgCrosby RH AMEE Guide no 20: The good teacher is more than a lecturer-the twelve roles of the teacher. Medical teacher. 2000 Jan 1;22(4):334-47

On this Teachers' Day, let me ask these questions: Do medical educators in India, or for that matter any other higher education teacher, play all these roles? Are they equipped to play these roles? What are the impediments? What is being done and can be done to produce that quintessential "good teacher"?

Teaching, as the educationist Brookefield said in 1990, "is the educational equivalent of white water rafting". Of the six areas under which Harden and Crosby have delineated roles of a good teacher, the most identifiable one is that of an information provider. Information provider as a lecturer or a practical teacher. Lecturing is a powerful tool and as an instructional method is there to stay. The cognitive aspect of education demands the teacher to be a fountainhead of knowledge. In all fairness it would mean the willingness to learn new things and disseminate it effectively.

Scholarship of teachers usually ceases when they are few years into the job. Resistance to use technology or newer tools of content delivery is high. In medical education where a post graduate degree is prerequisite to land a teaching job, one cannot expect the candidate to do something different than what she has been subject to in years of her being a student. Teacher training has caught up in the past few years, yet they are few and often unscientific.

Role modelling is one of the most powerful ways to impart values, affect behavioural change, influence attitudes and career choice in students. Research has shown that students do not value seniority, research experience or title in a teacher they look up to as a role model. Rather they have valued attributes like enthusiasm to teach, reasoning skills, actively involving students and good communication. We can think about a teacher we know and check the boxes for these features and the answer will flash right in front of us. Both personal and professional development needs to occur for a teacher to be able to be a role model.

teacher-2_090517073432.jpgPhoto: Screengrab/Taare Zameen Par

The ever-changing role of teacher has currently placed the teacher as a facilitator, rather than an information dispenser. Based on "constructivism" approach to learning where it is suggested that construction of knowledge occurs in the student, the role of a teacher is seen to be just to facilitate this process. This is difficult to fathom for most teachers who have a traditional teacher-centric view and with huge egos find the apparently diminished role threatening.

In the facilitation aspect, the mentor role of a teacher has assumed a front seat of late. Mentors are assigned to students when they join an institution and it is a desirable trend. While the mentor is supposed to be a caring and trusted counsellor and a guide, there is seldom any training in psychology 101 given to teachers which would help them carry out this role effectively. Mentoring schemes have huge potential to address many shortcomings in strained teacher-student relationship we see across campuses.

The roles of a teacher mentioned until now have a common denominator. They all involve direct, often face-to-face interaction with students. This adds another dimension where interpersonal relation between a teacher and student is paramount. The high pedestal on which an average teacher sits, the one-way channel he uses for communication, the asymmetry in power that he often exercises all work against effective playing the above roles.

The other roles of teacher as assessor of student and curriculum, of planner of curriculum and course and of resource developer developing learning resource and study guides involve academic rigor. In India, where there is over regulation of higher education, the teacher is in a straightjacket and rarely can manoeuvre much to play these roles effectively.

While student assessment is done by every teacher, the way in which it is done leaves much to ask for. Assessment basics are seldom taught and examinations are fraught with issues of validity, fairness and openness. Since curriculums are dictated from "above" usually, there is very less a teacher can do to modify or plan them. With gross lack of a culture promoting academic rigor, poor facilities, low manoeuvrability of curriculum, teacher as a resource developer is perhaps reduced to one who makes hands out notes to students largely to make up for lacuna in teaching.

What can we possibly do about all these issues? There is interestingly a stock and flow problem here. Stock, the pool of existing teachers need training – scientific, non burdensome, behaviour change targeted. For the flow, recruitment parameters needs altering, performance based pay has to be introduced, role clarification should be given prominence. Needless to say, greater and smarter government spending in education will help plug many of these gaps.

The 12 roles that make good teacher are not mutually exclusive. They are all interconnected and related to each other. While an individual is not expected to be highly competent in all the 12 roles, a mix of all these roles in different proportions is essential for holistic development of a teacher. There are umpteen issues that higher education in India grapples with. Quality of teachers and quality of teaching are among the prominent ones. The 12 roles can be a good starting point.

Also read: Centre’s hypocrisy on Rohingyas lays bare its anti-Muslim refugee policy


Sambit Dash Sambit Dash @sambit_dash

The writer is a teacher at Manipal University.

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