Teachers in further education are moving toward an enhanced professionalism, a ‘parity of esteem’ with schoolteachers (DfES, 2004) and, what sometimes appears to be, a more stringently directed curriculum. Institutes of further education, like all other businesses, have a responsibility to meet objectives to ensure survival; within this achievement and goal orientated learning environment the educator must be willing to provide a service to customers (the students) and teachers, in return, require a reciprocation and an acceptance of the service provided. Tutors are expected to be quintessential knowledge facilitators- conduits of learning. What must be taken into consideration is the way we, as human beings, learn: every individual has the capacity and the capability to absorb information and retain it; however, the defining factor is the willingness and motivation to do so. This write-up will focus upon the growing complexity in delivering effective education; it will also shed light on the responsibilities held as a teacher, and finally, discuss the role of the tutor in motivating students.
The paramount importance of subject specific knowledge, coupled with the necessity to structure and thoroughly prepare for lessons, became increasingly clear to me as I peered over (the surprisingly dense) specifications; an hour and a half in the grand scheme of things does not seem like a lot of time, however, for the unprepared lecturer it can feel like a lifetime. During my first observation, I noted the manner in which the tutor managed the class: maintaining authority and discipline throughout, while not being overtly strict- I wondered if I could do this as effectively. On my first day there was a scheduled fire drill and what I saw was not the most organised of exodus’s (not sure the students or staff were all that clear on the alternative exits) however, all students were safely evacuated and although the response could have been better, the filtering of students back into the college was done very well. In class, student safety is tantamount in importance, especially in practical science; the lessons I observed were all attentive and vigilant in ensuring this.
I have, in observation and preparation for the immanent moment where I will be conducting a lesson of my own, witnessed multiple variations in teaching style. The paradigms of teaching practice have always been with us; constantly being adapted in multifarious forms to create constructive and functional teaching. It is impossible to decipher which methodology is best- it is a subjective preference. There have been occasions, recalling from my days as a student, where the experience has felt dialectic, almost Socratic: where discussion and the search for answers was a joint effort; on the other hand, there have been other times where the feeling has been the binary opposite, almost dictatorial. I never really looked upon these things in great detail, which may have been because I was always a more independent learner, but now, with a more pragmatic perspective, the validity and need for an inclusive and interactive learning environment is self-evident.
Martin Doelat 2008, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, mentions that colleges are ‘community leaders’ they are ‘firmly rooted in their communities as educators, employers, sources of innovation, essential partners for school development and much more’. Doelat 2008 firmly believes that the ‘commitment to community extends well beyond the curriculum’, where each college has a ‘proud tradition of serving in many different ways, and in leading their communities of learning.’ It is therefore plainly apparent that the responsibilities of the educator and learning centres reach beyond the confines of the classroom- it is invariably rooted in the surrounding community and its betterment.
One of the Ten Principles to support more effective Further Education is to make sure that the tutor provides ‘activities that support learners as they move forward, not just intellectually but also socially and emotionally.’ (TLRP, 2006) From what I have seen there appears to be paradox emerging, and the teacher is locked within it: the paradox exists in the notion that a tutor needs to provide constant close support while at the same time promoting student autonomy. J.W. Gardener is quoted in Petty 2004 as saying: ‘The Ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his own education.’ So if this is the case why are so many teachers doing quite the opposite- haranguing students into learning? Is it because they have no choice but to do so? The role of the teacher is to support an environment of active learning, of inclusive practice, creating safe surroundings for participatory learning, but beyond this point it must be the duty of every individual learner to make use of what is given to them. I believe the system is one that does no favours to the student in the long run- especially when entering higher education and beyond. A teacher must inspire students to want to learn but should not have to force the issue. I feel the best tool in tackling such problems (keeping in mind the policy of Every Child Matters) is to provide excellent teaching which engages learners- a focused mind and an interested student will take it upon themselves to further their knowledge.
School inspectors have noted that increased truancy rates can be linked to boring lessons and that statistics confirm that there is a definitive link between poor quality teaching and truancy rates. (Garner, 2007) According to Garner’s 2007 article (based on Ofsted studies) many students skip lessons because they found the teaching of that particular lesson ‘dull and unstimulating’; they had difficulty ‘getting on with particular teachers or catching up with work if they had been away’ and many students did not believe that ‘what they were being taught was relevant to their needs in the outside world.’ Theoretically speaking, it could be argued that the higher the quality of lesson and the more inclusive the curriculum (one that meets the needs or requirements of the student), the greater the impact on attendance. At my placement college the process of chasing up absentees, whether this is by penalty (monitoring and warnings) or calls to truants’ home's, can be incredibly bureaucratic: multiple forms and regulations must be adhered to in the struggle to eradicate the problem; however, regardless of the somewhat “hit and miss” nature of these procedures, they are, nonetheless, a valid and necessary element in deterring truancy. The fact that the college takes on students who have previously failed or are from difficult backgrounds may pose stumbling blocks: the Ofsted study established that there is a distinct link between truancy and poverty. (Garner, 2007) Perhaps the persistent methods, including the plethora of paperwork to discipline students, have proven to be the most effective means for tackling truancy at the college, after all, if they were not effective, staff would probably not use them with such vehemence.
Motivation plays a distinct role in effective study. Petty 2004 puts forth numerous reasons for students wanting to learn- those that I have encountered are mostly to do with the practical application of what is being studied. I am a trainee English teacher and I would definitely highlight the significance of English in future vocation and higher education. Petty 2004 likens positive reinforcement in the classroom to the ‘addictive nature’ of computer games; there is a relationship between the addictive nature and the ‘success and reinforcement’ the computer games provide. Perhaps a continuous, formative, method of assessment would be best for students, which may also make the summative end of year examinations a lot less taxing and stressful. The student must have belief in their own ability; the Carrot and Stick principle has been referred to as being amongst the ‘most powerful’ motivators. (Petty, 2004) Human nature dictates that better results will be attained if the person enjoys what they do. The responsibility of the teacher is to make sure that what is taught is enjoyable to all students and that all students are catered for with care, with understanding and knowledge of their respective skill levels. With all would be teachers now requiring a QTLS certification, a heightened awareness of codes of practice and various acts of parliament, covering issues such as race; gender; sex discrimination; religious belief; sexual orientation; disability, and age. I feel the onus has shifted increasingly to the quality of the teaching provided and the intrinsic influence the educator has upon the student; this may well be the most daunting of responsibilities held in teaching.
The current inflation in A grade passes at A-level has meant that competition for places at the top higher education institutes is fiercer than ever. The government, and the institutions themselves, are attempting to make modifications to the qualifications and the admittance prerequisites. Lipsett 2008 mentions the A* grade (for those who average 90% and over in their exams) and the possibility of undertaking extended projects. Many universities are opting to employ aptitude tests, alongside interviews and subject specific examinations, prior to accepting a student on one of their courses. Is this promoting equality? Are students from less privileged backgrounds receiving a raw deal? Surely those who have the finance available to prepare for such rigorous entrance examinations are going to outshine those who do not. In the future the government must find alternative methods of creating an equal and level playing field. Institutions could focus more on interviews and subject specific testing. It is a contentious issue and one that is sure to be debated at length.
In terms of the economy, the roles and responsibilities of educator (not only to the individual but also to society) are incredibly important. We are all human capital: we all have a certain worth. Investment in educational programs increases people's value to society. The teacher is therefore a facilitator in the betterment of society and this is probably the value I hold most dear: the opportunity to spread knowledge and stamp out ignorance. It is imperative that students recognise the ‘ways in which learning can empower them as individuals and make a difference in their communities. (LLUK, 2007) Above all else I believe this to be one of the most important values and the clearest reflection of the worth of a teacher. The power to influence individuals (in the right way) is the ultimate responsibility and duty, not only of the educator, but of society in general.
DfES (2004) Equipping our Teachers for the Future, Available from: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/
Doelat, M. (2008) ‘'Further education is critical for developing local workforces', Independent Education, 5th June, [online] Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/further/further-education-is-critical-for-developing-local-workforces-840168.html
Garner, R. (2007) 'Truancy rise blamed on 'boring and irrelevant' lessons', The Independent Education, 21st September, [online] Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/truancy-rise- blamed-on-boring-and-irrelevant-lessons-403046.html
Lipsett, A. (2008) ‘The issues explained: changes to qualifications’, Education Guardian, 1st September, [online] Available from
LLUK (2007) New Overarching Professional Standards for Teachers, Tutors and Trainers in the Lifelong Learning Sector, Available from: www.lifelonglearninguk.org
Petty, G (2004) Teaching Today (Third Edition), Cheltenham, Nelson Thornes
TLRP (2006) Challenge and Change in Further Education, Available from: http://www.tlrp.org/proj/index.html
About the blogger
Asghar Hussain is an MA in Philosophy from Birkbeck, University of London and holds a PGCE from the Institute of Education, University of London. He has over 8 years experience in teaching at some of the largest, and most reputable, UK further and higher education institutions. Hussain has several scholarly publications to his credit and is currently looking into the field of social psychology and educational philosophy in relation to the current state of education. He has presented his research work at prestigious conferences in Education and is an active blogger on various forums. His research interests include: The Economics of Education, Psychology of Teaching and Learning, Designing for 21st Century Learning, Professional Development for Educators, Teaching Methodology, Philosophy and education, Evaluation of Digital and Virtual Learning Environments, Politics and education, and Creativity in Education.