• 07-Mar-2018

What kind of teacher do I want to be?

This is the question that every teacher has to ask him/herself at some point in their career. We all have notions of what we think good teachers should be like, whether as a result of positive experiences, for instance in our childhoods or from negative experiences, where we know what we definitely don’t want to be like.

The Honeymoon Period

When you walk into your classroom it’s only natural to want your students to like you and look forward to your lessons. This is why inexperienced teaching staff in particular may, from their very first lesson, try to create a friendly and less formal relationship with their students. These first few lessons, frequently referred to as the ‘honeymoon’ period, are usually characterized by what appear to be very interested and attentive students.

Experienced teachers know, however, that if you are too nice, particularly when you take a class for the first time, after just a few lessons your students will have tested your limits and will very likely just walk all over you. In a short time you will have lost control of your class. It’s well known that children from even a young age master the art of manipulation and your students will therefore have no difficulty whatsoever in distracting you from the lesson at hand with non-related questions and other such tactics. Children of course usually have no choice in the matter of attending classes and may look for any opportunity to disrupt your lessons.

The Easier Adults

Conversely, adults are generally more eager to learn, having made the choice themselves to attend. Therefore, when managing adolescents and younger classes, it’s often advised to be strict during your very first lessons so that your students are aware of and importantly, stay within the boundaries. Many teachers agree a set of rules and communicate their expectations to the class from the very first lesson. This establishes a positive learning environment early on. In later lessons you can ease off, once your expectations are met and then you can become more ‘likeable.’

Various teaching styles have been elaborated on in the literature. Arguably, three main classroom management styles have been described, with teachers generally following one style but sometimes switching between them, both between lessons and within a single lesson:

Authoritarian

On one end of the spectrum is the authoritarian teacher, who is a dominating figure in the classroom and demands respect from his/her students. There is a clear cut line between the teacher and student in the classroom, where students are often anxious and fearful of the teacher, leading to minimal student-teacher interaction. An advantage is that there is good adherence to class rules due to the strict punishment system and students are disciplined. Competition between students is encouraged, which is good for more able students but often detrimental to less able students whose confidence lowers as a result.

Authoritative

In the middle of the spectrum is the authoritative teacher who provides firm, realistic boundaries in a compassionate and understanding way. They have a more balanced approach in that the lessons are teacher-led and strict behavioral expectations are in place, but students freely express their thoughts and opinions within lessons. It is the more idealistic approach to teaching because it promotes positive teacher-student interactions in a positive learning environment.

Permissive

On the other end of the spectrum is the permissive teacher whose approach is a more student-led classroom. The teacher strives to be friendly and helpful, with fewer behavioral expectations being enforced in the classroom. Bad classroom management often leads to a noisy, undisciplined class. An advantage is that there is a relaxed atmosphere where students feel free to communicate their thoughts and opinions openly. However, teacher empathy towards misbehavior or low standards of work frequently leads to a more negative learning environment and students not achieving their full potentials.

The Most Effective Style

When developing your own teaching style it is worthwhile reflecting on the strategies which promote optimal learning and by examining your own character. The most effective style has been found to be the authoritative style, because it combines both strong teacher authority in the classroom with a clear set of rules, while at the same time maintaining a positive, optimal learning environment.

Although both enforce the rules, it is how the authoritative and authoritarian styles enforce classroom rules that has been found to be important. The first stage involves making the rules and the second stage enforcing them. It is therefore important to familiarise yourself with the overall discipline policy within the institution that you work in and produce for yourself  a clear set of rules for your own classroom based on this and your own expectations.

It may be helpful to formulate a list of rewards and punishments if possible before you step foot in the classroom for the first time and amend it as necessary when you reflect on several lessons afterwards. Then, it is essential that you implement those rules consistently and enforce them with an effective system of punishments and rewards.

Finally, the key factor lies in your mastering the ability to balance the implementation of rules and nurture, while being responsive to every individual’s needs and emotions, with clear learning objectives in mind.

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