How The Learners They Once Were, Shaped the Teachers They Are Today; Teachers in the Middle East
30th March 2018
by Nahla Al Malki, Associate Consultant; MA, DELTA, CELTA, BS Hons.
Over the years, I’ve worked on numerous Teacher Development and Teacher Training programs in the Middle East. In all these projects, a common thread manifested. These teachers all had similar backgrounds and primary education yet they reacted to these programs differently. This left me thinking about the never ending debate on how stubborn our beliefs are as teachers and what shapes them to start with. Even more importantly, I was trying to discover how the answers to these questions can help empower and develop our teachers.
So I decided to fully research the area. I conducted a study that included a range of teachers in the Middle East. All with highly similar upbringing, schooling and even teaching experiences. Educated by a more traditional system (luckily undergoing change now), they were taught by didactic teachers in uneventful classrooms. There was little room for analytical and critical thinking and the focus mainly was on a surface learning approach led by memorization. These teachers had thousands of hours of observations as children in classrooms. Lortie (1975) describes these years of observations as the Apprenticeship of Observation, where future-teachers (unknowingly) spend thousands of hours learning about the profession. Experiencing different methods, assessing different approaches and finally forming different beliefs and opinions about what works and what doesn’t.
My questions got clearer, why did some of these teachers continue to teach the same way they were taught as children despite years of teacher training and epxerience? Why did other ones teach differently or sometime the extreme opposite to the way they were taught?
I started interviewing all the teachers after they had all completed a teacher training program. This program facilitiated time and space for reflection on existing beliefs, backgrounds and experiences. I started to draw portraits of their lives, their upbringing, the social context around them, the society, their schooling experience and finally and most importantly their own perceptions of their schooling experiences. I ended up with two categories, those teachers who even 10-20 years after finishing school still admired and idolized their teachers, mainly based on their welcoming attitude and sympethatic approach to teaching. They admitted that even after all this time, they still sometimes used their teachers when they were 9 or 10 years old as an inspiration to what they do today in their classrooms. The other category was those who thought little of them and the experiences they had. These two groups sparked a very important finding. The teachers fond of their school educators actually faced more challenges in adjusting their beliefs, the reason for that is, they failed to see a gap or a problem with the way they were taught. They romanticized their experiences with all their flaws. While the other groups were realists, they saw their older classrooms for what they were, they were able to reflect on the lack of practice, the individualistic approach to learning and highly teacher-centered classrooms. Did both groups manage to develop and ‘update’ their beliefs? Yes! However, the first group needed more deliberate discussion and analysis of their older experiences. A critical reflection was needed to have them reconsider the practices they robotically repeated in their classrooms.
What does this mean for teachers and teacher trainers?
We need to bring out our past experiences as both learners and teachers. We need to discuss them and analyze them, because whether we know it or not, these experiences affect how we teach today. We need to REFLECT and prompt teachers to REFLECT. Continuous reflection is what helps us draw back on our deep and hidden experiences and re-assess them. Only a deliberate attempt to reflect will enable change and development. Thinking over and over again about why we do what we do with our learners helps us move forward. Reflection is what will help us take charge of our own development.
Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. 2nd Ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.