Monthly Archives: June 2017

Teacher Education and Teacher Quality

1.0 INTRODUCTION

One of the sectors which fosters national development is education by ensuring the development of a functional human resource. The institution of strong educational structures leads to a society populated by enlightened people, who can cause positive economic progress and social transformation. A Positive social transformation and its associated economic growth are achieved as the people apply the skills they learned while they were in school. The acquisition of these skills is facilitated by one individual we all ‘teacher’. For this reason, nations seeking economic and social developments need not ignore teachers and their role in national development.

Teachers are the major factor that drives students’ achievements in learning. The performance of teachers generally determines, not only, the quality of education, but the general performance of the students they train. The teachers themselves therefore ought to get the best of education, so they can in turn help train students in the best of ways. It is known, that the quality of teachers and quality teaching are some of the most important factors that shape the learning and social and academic growth of students. Quality training will ensure, to a large extent, teachers are of very high quality, so as to be able to properly manage classrooms and facilitate learning. That is why teacher quality is still a matter of concern, even, in countries where students consistently obtain high scores in international exams, such as Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). In such countries, teacher education of prime importance because of the potential it has to cause positive students’ achievements.

The structure of teacher education keeps changing in almost all countries in response to the quest of producing teachers who understand the current needs of students or just the demand for teachers. The changes are attempts to ensure that quality teachers are produced and sometimes just to ensure that classrooms are not free of teachers. In the U.S.A, how to promote high quality teachers has been an issue of contention and, for the past decade or so, has been motivated, basically, through the methods prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act (Accomplished California Teachers, 2015). Even in Japan and other Eastern countries where there are more teachers than needed, and structures have been instituted to ensure high quality teachers are produced and employed, issues relating to the teacher and teaching quality are still of concern (Ogawa, Fujii & Ikuo, 2013). Teacher education is therefore no joke anywhere. This article is in two parts. It first discusses Ghana’s teacher education system and in the second part looks at some determinants of quality teaching.

2.0 TEACHER EDUCATION

Ghana has been making deliberate attempts to produce quality teachers for her basic school classrooms. As Benneh (2006) indicated, Ghana’s aim of teacher education is to provide a complete teacher education program through the provision of initial teacher training and in-service training programs, that will produce competent teachers, who will help improve the effectiveness of the teaching and learning that goes on in schools. The Initial teacher education program for Ghana’s basic school teachers was offered in Colleges of Education (CoE) only, until quite recently when, University of Education, University of Cape Coast, Central University College and other tertiary institutions joined in. The most striking difference between the programs offered by the other tertiary institution is that while the Universities teach, examine and award certificates to their students, the Colleges of Education offer tuition while the University of Cape Coast, through the Institute of Education, examines and award certificates. The training programs offered by these institutions are attempts at providing many qualified teachers to teach in the schools. The National Accreditation Board accredits teacher training programs in order to ensure quality.

The National Accreditation Board accredits teacher education programs based on the structure and content of the courses proposed by the institution. Hence, the courses run by various institutions differ in content and structure. For example, the course content for the Institute of Education, University of Cape Coast is slightly different from the course structure and content of the Center for Continue Education, University of Cape Coast and none of these two programs matches that of the CoEs, though they all award Diploma in Basic Education (DBE) after three years of training. The DBE and the Four-year Untrained Teacher’s Diploma in Basic Education (UTDBE) programs run by the CoEs are only similar, but not the same. The same can be said of the Two-year Post-Diploma in Basic Education, Four-year Bachelor’s degree programs run by the University of Cape Coast, the University of Education, Winneba and the other Universities and University Colleges. In effect even though, same products attract same clients, the preparation of the products are done in different ways.

It is through these many programs that teachers are prepared for the basic schools – from nursery to senior high schools. Alternative pathways, or programs through which teachers are prepared are seen to be good in situations where there are shortages of teachers and more teachers ought to be trained within a very short time. A typical example is the UTDBE program, mentioned above, which design to equip non-professional teachers with professional skills. But this attempt to produce more teachers, because of shortage of teachers, has the tendency of comprising quality.

As noted by Xiaoxia, Heeju, Nicci and Stone (2010) the factors that contribute to the problems of teacher education and teacher retention are varied and complex, but one factor that teacher educators are concerned about is the alternative pathways through which teacher education occur. The prime aim of many of the pathways is to fast track teachers into the teaching profession. This short-changed the necessary teacher preparation that prospective teachers need before becoming classroom teachers. Those who favor alternative routes, like Teach for America (TFA), according to Xiaoxia, Heeju, Nicci and Stone (2010) have defended their alternative pathways by saying that even though the students are engaged in a short-period of pre-service training, the students are academically brilliant and so have the capacity to learn a lot in a short period. Others argue that in subjects like English, Science and mathematics where there are usually shortages of teachers, there must be a deliberate opening up of alternative pathways to good candidates who had done English, Mathematics and Science courses at the undergraduate level. None of these arguments in support of alternative pathways, hold for the alternative teacher education programs in Ghana, where the academically brilliant students shun teaching due to reasons I shall come to.

When the target is just to fill vacant classrooms, issues of quality teacher preparation is relegated to the background, somehow. Right at the selection stage, the alternative pathways ease the requirement for gaining entry into teacher education programs. When, for example, the second batch of UTDBE students were admitted, I can say with confidence that entry requirements into the CoEs were not adhered to. What was emphasized was that, the applicant must be a non-professional basic school teacher who has been engaged by the Ghana Education Service, and that the applicant holds a certificate above Basic Education Certificate Examination. The grades obtained did not matter. If this pathway had not been created, the CoEs would not have trained students who initially did not qualify to enroll in the regular DBE program. However, it leaves in its trail the debilitating effect compromised quality.

Even with regular DBE programs, I have realized, just recently I must say, that CoEs in, particular, are not attracting the candidates with very high grades. This as I have learnt now has a huge influence on both teacher quality and teacher effectiveness. The fact is, teacher education programs in Ghana are not regarded as prestigious programs and so applicants with high grades do not opt for education programs. And so the majority of applicants who apply for teacher education programs have, relatively, lower grades. When the entry requirement for CoEs’ DBE program for 2016/2017 academic year was published, I noticed the minimum entry grades had been dropped from C6 to D8 for West African Senior Secondary School Examination candidates. This drop in standard could only be attributed to CoEs’ attempt to attract more applicants. The universities too, lower their cut off point for education programs so as attract more candidates. The universities as alleged by Levine (2006) see their teacher education programs, so to say, as cash cows. Their desire to make money, force them to lower admission standards, like the CoEs have done, in order to increase their enrollments. The fact that, admission standards are internationally lowered in order to achieve a goal of increasing numbers. This weak recruitment practice or lowering of standards introduce a serious challenge to teacher education.

Highly Effective Educator?

Anyone can teach. We teach each other every day. For example, we give instructions to each other for such things as cooking, putting together furniture, and completing household other tasks. However, teaching someone is different than the process of educating someone. Consider the difference between informal learning and formal learning. An example of informal learning would be following a recipe to learn how to cook. In contrast, formal learning occurs within a classroom and usually is accompanied by evaluation and assessment. It may seem that teaching and educating are the same thing; however, the difference has to do with the place or context for learning.

This is the same distinction can be made for teaching informally (giving instructions) and teaching students in a formal classroom environment. A person enters the field of education as a profession – either full time in traditional academic institutions or as an adjunct (or part time) instructor. The reasons vary for why someone would choose to be in the classroom. A traditional full time professor may likely be responsible for conducting research, teaching, and publishing scholarly work. An adjunct instructor may teach in a community college, traditional college, or an online school. When someone teaches students in higher education he or she may be called a facilitator, instructor, or professor. This is important as there isn’t a job with the word educator in the title.

The questions I would like to answer include: What then does it mean to be an educator? Does it signify something different than the assigned job title? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. Everyone who is teaching adult students is not functioning as an engaging and highly effective educator. However, it is possible to learn how to educate rather than teach and that requires making a commitment to the profession.

What Does It Mean to Teach?

Consider teaching as part of the system of traditional, primary education. Those classes are teacher-led and children as students are taught what and how to learn. The teacher is considered to be the expert and directs the learning process. A teacher is someone who is highly trained and works to engage the minds of his or her students. This style of teacher-led instructional continues into higher education, specifically traditional college classrooms. The teacher still stands at the front and center of the class delivering information, and students are used to this format because of their experience in primary education. The instructor disseminates knowledge through a lecture and students study to pass the required examinations or complete other required learning activities.

Within higher education, teachers may be called instructors and they are hired as subject matter experts with advanced content knowledge. The job requirements usually include holding a specific number of degree hours in the subject being taught. Teachers may also be called professors in traditional college classes, and those positions require a terminal degree with additional research requirements. For all of these roles, teaching is meant to signify someone who is guiding the learning process by directing, telling, and instructing students. The instructor or professor is in charge, and the students must comply and follow as directed. Here is something to consider: If that is the essence of teaching, is there a difference between that and educating students? Is the role of a teacher the same as that of an educator?

What Does It Mean to be an Educator?

Consider some basic definitions to begin with as a means of understanding the role of an educator. The word “education” refers to giving instruction; “educator” refers to the person who provides instruction and is someone who is skilled in teaching; and teaching is aligned with providing explanations. I have expanded upon these definitions so that the word “educator” includes someone who is skilled with instruction, possesses highly developed academic skills, and holds both subject matter knowledge and knowledge of adult education principles.

Skilled with Instruction: An educator is someone who should be skilled in the art of classroom instruction, knowing what instructional strategies are effective and the areas of facilitation that need further development. An experienced educator develops methods that will bring course materials to life by adding relevant context and prompting students to learn through class discussions and other learning activities. Instruction also includes all of the interactions held with students, including all forms of communication, as every interaction provides an opportunity for teaching.

A Brief History of Special Education

Perhaps the largest and most pervasive issue in special education, as well as my own journey in education, is special education’s relationship to general education. History has shown that this has never been an easy clear cut relationship between the two. There has been a lot of giving and taking or maybe I should say pulling and pushing when it comes to educational policy, and the educational practices and services of education and special education by the human educators who deliver those services on both sides of the isle, like me.

Over the last 20+ years I have been on both sides of education. I have seen and felt what it was like to be a regular main stream educator dealing with special education policy, special education students and their specialized teachers. I have also been on the special education side trying to get regular education teachers to work more effectively with my special education students through modifying their instruction and materials and having a little more patience and empathy.

Furthermore, I have been a mainstream regular education teacher who taught regular education inclusion classes trying to figure out how to best work with some new special education teacher in my class and his or her special education students as well. And, in contrast, I have been a special education inclusion teacher intruding on the territory of some regular education teachers with my special education students and the modifications I thought these teachers should implement. I can tell you first-hand that none of this give and take between special education and regular education has been easy. Nor do I see this pushing and pulling becoming easy anytime soon.

So, what is special education? And what makes it so special and yet so complex and controversial sometimes? Well, special education, as its name suggests, is a specialized branch of education. It claims its lineage to such people as Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838), the physician who “tamed” the “wild boy of Aveyron,” and Anne Sullivan Macy (1866-1936), the teacher who “worked miracles” with Helen Keller.

Special educators teach students who have physical, cognitive, language, learning, sensory, and/or emotional abilities that deviate from those of the general population. Special educators provide instruction specifically tailored to meet individualized needs. These teachers basically make education more available and accessible to students who otherwise would have limited access to education due to whatever disability they are struggling with.

It’s not just the teachers though who play a role in the history of special education in this country. Physicians and clergy, including Itard- mentioned above, Edouard O. Seguin (1812-1880), Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876), and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851), wanted to ameliorate the neglectful, often abusive treatment of individuals with disabilities. Sadly, education in this country was, more often than not, very neglectful and abusive when dealing with students that are different somehow.

There is even a rich literature in our nation that describes the treatment provided to individuals with disabilities in the 1800s and early 1900s. Sadly, in these stories, as well as in the real world, the segment of our population with disabilities were often confined in jails and almshouses without decent food, clothing, personal hygiene, and exercise.

For an example of this different treatment in our literature one needs to look no further than Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). In addition, many times people with disabilities were often portrayed as villains, such as in the book Captain Hook in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in 1911.