What does it take to be a good teacher?

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What does it take to be successful as a teacher? What characteristics and competencies make an educator effective in the classroom? Whether it is a kindergarten, primary, high school, or university, the ideal teacher possesses three overarching characteristics, namely – curiosity, critical reflection, and introversion. Positioned at the passive end of the spectrum, the teacher’s reflective nature facilitates the management of acquiring, processing, and delivering information whereas one’s heightened sense of curiosity and inquiry drives his or her actions. Moreover, an introverted teacher tends to implement a student-centered learning environment with opportunities for students to construct their own knowledge. Why and how does this combination of personality traits result in the ideal profile of a teacher? Below, I will break down every one of these characteristics and elaborate on how they facilitate the process of assisting students in acquiring knowledge.

Analogous to many other disciplines, teaching is a goal-oriented activity with critical reflection as the core tool for evaluation. As teachers, we all know that the process starts by determining the prior knowledge of the students and establishing the learning outcomes. Once we have defined the learning path, we move on to selecting the steps for crossing over it. Constant assessment of and reflection on students’ performance and whether it matches the learning goals allows the journey to progress smoothly by guiding further and altering ineffective courses of action. The highly introspective and reflective teacher intuitively attends to details, observes and recognizes patterns or discrepancies for the purpose of using them in adapting the strategies towards achieving the learning objectives.

Teachers cannot afford themselves the luxury of daydreaming or mind wandering. The teacher needs to be fully present in the moment, alert to the surroundings and the experiences and observant of the dynamics of the class in order to collect, filter, and interpret information regarding the effectiveness of the lesson. That is why mindfulness turns out to significantly enhance the quality of teaching by allowing the teacher to detect relevant bits of information and take immediate actions. I have found mindfulness as the cornerstone of effective teaching and therefore open my lessons with brief mindfulness exercises for myself and for the students. Unlike adults, kids don’t find themselves dwelling on the past nor wandering in the future but rather living in the present. Since kids are greatly engaged with what is happening in their life, when something catches their attention and triggers their curiosity or challenges their thinking, they start questioning. Asking questions is the natural way we learn and inquiry is the immediate result of the act of curiosity. If teachers are to nurture and sustain children’s natural tendency towards curiosity and inquiry, they need to adopt and model this behavior themselves. In the course of my teaching, I literally perform constant mental interrogation of students’ actions, behavior, and communication out of my pure curiosity about human nature. This process of questioning and critically examining fuels my actions and responses to the learning process.

As a side note, if you are planning on relocating and teaching in Asia, I would personally advise you to study the subtleties of the local culture by reading relevant literature and immersing yourself in the community through a voluntary program, for example. It is essential to understand the specific cultural nuances of the target society as they determine the attitude and behavior of the children and how they learn. Western teachers may need to adapt their teaching practices to better suit the learning styles of East Asian students and the cultural context. As mentioned in another blog post, traditional Indonesian culture emphasizes conflict avoidance and respect for hierarchy and authority. Where education is more authoritarian, debate may be discouraged. Teachers of East Asian pupils should be extremely cautious when using authority to transfer knowledge as this may further undermine students’ lack of self-trust and increase their propensity towards taking things at face value. In the presence of an authority, children belonging to a collectivist culture, such as that of Indonesia and a few other Asian cultures, have a harder time opening up and expressing their true thoughts and honest feelings and instead tend to agree with the teacher’s point of view as a show of obedience. The very same cultural aspect makes it really important for teachers to step back so as to allow students to step forward. And this brings me to the last characteristics of the ideal teacher, namely introversion.

Introverted teachers (or extroverted teachers who are quite cautious about appearing dominant) are more likely to exert a positive influence on Asian pupils by quickly delivering the provocation or the lesson and then withdrawing herself to allow students to discover the information themselves and construct their own knowledge, thus gaining confidence in their own abilities. They allow students to get involved first-hand which leads to hands-on learning. Quiet and reserved teachers tend to be great (reflective) listeners. Patient listening is particularly important for teachers of English as a foreign language as some ESL students struggle to make themselves understood in English and require more time and space to formulate their response. By taking the time to carefully listen to students, introverted teachers create space for better communication, better understanding and overall better learning environment.

Lastly, the behavior a teacher models is powerful and therefore it must be carefully thought through.

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