Teachers Work in Very Complex Settings

Leadership, Teacher, Teaching

As principal, I have been spending a lot of time inside classrooms as I learn more about the teaching and learning within my new school. With a heavily instructional focus, our teachers and actively engaged in facilitating learning for each individual child. So much so that in a single day our primary classroom teachers may participate in more than 1 000 interpersonal exchanges with students. Not only do teachers have numerous interactions with students, they must also interpret complex classroom behaviour on the spot. It is not surprising that most teachers are tired at the end of the day.

Because teachers constantly respond to the immediate needs of the students while they teach, they have little time during teaching to consider future planning for their class. This classroom preparation is completed outside school time often unseen by the general parent population and reflects the complex events that occur within the classroom.

It is not always easy to understand the day to day life of a competent teacher, until “you walk in their shoes”. When teachers make decisions about the activity within their classrooms the following aspects of classroom settings must be taken into consideration.

  1. Many different tasks and events exist in the classroom. Records and schedules must be kept and work must be monitored, collected and evaluated. A single event can have multiple consequences.
  2. Many things happen at the same time in classrooms. During a discussion, a teacher not only listens and helps to improve students’ answers but also monitors students who do not respond for signs of comprehension and tries to keep the lesson moving at a good pace.
  3. The pace of classroom events is rapid. Research suggests that teachers evaluated pupil conduct in public on the average of 15.89 times per hour or 87 times per day or an estimated 16 000 times a year (read Sieber, R. T. (1979) ‘Classmates as workmates: Informal peer activity in the elementary school’ for more detail). Time is all too important and needs to be utilised carefully.
  4. While a teacher is thoroughly prepared for each day often many events that occur are unanticipated. These include interruptions, student behaviour, achievement levels and expectations. Furthermore, much of what happens to a student is seen by many other students as well and they make their own judgments. Student esteem is important and therefore decisions need to be consistent.
  5. Actions, programmes and expectations all play a part in developing background for decision making. Research suggests that history often influences that way classrooms run (We have all heard of the great class and of the difficult class). No single strategy, approach, or technique works with all students and teachers need to call upon their repertoire of teaching skills, knowledge and at times, intuition to help decide the best path forward for a child’s learning.

Schooling has become more complex in recent years with teachers dealing with many issues and circumstances that take them away from their main instructional tasks. To increase the positive aspects of schooling it is imperative that support for our teachers is publicly acclaimed. Remember, self esteem of teachers is an important part of the education process. Be proud of them!!

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