How appreciated are local educators?

4fca6038e35a5.preview-620An education system ultimately is only as good as its teachers. While there are many variables that contribute to the emergence of excellence in education, the one indispensible element is good teachers.”
This powerful, thought-provoking statement by Dr. Didicus Jules (2009) paves the way for extensive speculation into the realm of what constitutes being a good teacher, embedded in which is the need to recognize the role of teachers in 21st Century schooling. Further, much inquiry into the art of teaching is inevitable, simply because of its peculiar and complex nature. Notwithstanding the internal factors which contribute to teacher competence, it would be remiss of policymakers, to ignore their role in producing exemplary teachers by way of effective Teacher Education programmes. Hence the focus here on recognizing an area on the continuum in St Lucia, which if deficient, would directly impact the quality of teachers within the system, and by extension, the quality of formal education, from the primary through to the tertiary levels.
Are good teachers born or are they made? This intriguing question merits some attention here, as the value which is placed on this profession, is undoubtedly reflected in the quality of education which teachers receive. Can teachers be molded into becoming the ideal educator? If good teachers are born, why is there a need for teacher education?
Conversely, if teacher education is vital for success in the classroom, why are there in the education system so many qualified teachers who fail to meet the stipulated standards? In consideration of these open-ended questions, it is indeed safe to say that a model teacher can be characterized as having his/her innate qualities married with the exposure to an effective teacher- education programme.
Teacher Education is viewed by Mark Bray in Schwille, Dembele and Schubert as a process which begins when selected teachers engage in pre-service training, continues when they embark on the actual teaching field (in schools), and this journey extends till the end of their teaching career.
This definition of Teacher Education reiterates that just as merely having a passion for animals cannot qualify an individual to becoming an excellent veterinarian, that passion is merely the foundation, so too is having a love for children, or a nurturing personality, merely the basis for pursuing the field of education. One definitely requires the skills to construct and manage classroom activities efficiently, communicate effectively, utilize technology, and engage in constant reflection of their practice, to improve continually. And this can only be accomplished through formal training.
The process of educating teachers is referred to as the continuum of teacher learning which drives the education system. An examination of this spectrum is therefore crucial to measuring the value placed on educational practitioners in St. Lucia. Indeed, if we are deemed to be indispensible contributors to society’s future, then surely the continuous revitalization of Teacher Education programmes should be a priority!
Following is a succinct inspection of the pre-service stage of this continuum, its short duration being an issue of concern which is among the many with which the education system has been impregnated.
Firstly, it is important to understand that the importance which policymakers place on the art of teaching, determines the amount of effort they invest in the pre-service stage of the continuum, where the focus is on enticing and preparing teachers for the field. As it stands in St Lucia, the two years allocated to this demanding process is insufficient if, first of all, the career path is to be made lucrative and attractive, and if the four goals outlined on page 20 in the OAS Hemispheric project, are to be achieved.
According to the afore-mentioned document, the pre-service stage of the continuum “begins with the process of attracting desirable persons to careers in teaching.” Without a doubt, teaching is a peculiar profession; hence the need to ensure that much is done to market it as a viable potential career for school leavers. Additionally, their philosophy of teaching as a profession undoubtedly informs the way policymakers package the idea.
Do they believe the teaching profession demands from an individual a level of commitment and dedication akin to that of other professions, such as the medical or legal fields?
It must be acknowledged that before embarking on teaching as a career, the applicant must carefully consider his or her motivations. Is it a revolving door to other professions? Or is it a last resort?
Too often upper secondary school students misconstrue, or are uninformed of, the magnitude of what teaching as a profession entails. Consequently they enter the profession for the wrong reasons based on misguided notions. These perceptions are greatly influenced by    policymakers who, perhaps inadvertently, undermine the importance of teacher education.
Further, the criteria for selection into the pre-service program of teacher preparation have evolved drastically. Irrespective of the reasons for ease of access back in the day, the current   paradigm shift is welcoming, considering the demands of the teaching profession. The elements of a core curriculum for pre-service teacher preparation should encapsulate the student-teacher’s mastery of general knowledge, content area knowledge, professional knowledge, teaching methodology, and internship.
In St Lucia this comprehensive programme has been truncated to accommodate the two-year period, which has proven to be detrimental to the teachers’ level of preparedness for the field, and the contributing ripple effect on student learning. Currently, the preparation stage in St Lucia, a programme offered at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College Division of Teacher Education, begins with the provision of professional training and knowledge in content areas and critical pedagogy.
In the second and final year, prospective teachers are released into the field for a ten-week period of teaching practice, under the supervision of cooperating classroom teachers and program instructors. Success at this stage merits the award of a teaching certificate, which qualifies the individual for recruitment into the teaching service as a classroom practitioner.
What is wrong with this seemingly perfect scenario? Anyone who has been an educational practitioner for at least ten years would know that a two-year programme is derisory, when one considers this as the avenue for developing the characteristics of an effective teacher.  In St Lucia, teachers are no longer mandated to gain practical teaching experience prior to attending Teachers’ College. Therefore, the internship period, which is referred to as “teaching practice,” is the sole provision of an opportunity to experience the art of teaching. Granted, the uniqueness of teaching and teacher education suggests that learning on the teacher’s part is a continuous process. However, if this programme awards certification for practice, then surely more time is needed in the field to ensure validity of assessment measures!
Further, the brevity of this stint forces some student-teachers to perform for their grade, and upon return to the classroom, the great ideas and strategies seem to disappear, at the expense of student learning.
Understandably, the achievement of teacher proficiency is an intricate process, and characterizes unique challenges, which beginning teachers face. Consequently, a practical phased approach to pre-service teacher preparation over a period of five years is suggested, by the end of which time a teacher would become fully licensed and certified. With this model there is a heavy focus on accountability and authentic assessment, which together mirror the significance and the required validity of teacher preparedness.
Another recommendation for ensuring teachers are adequately prepared to embark on their teaching career is to include a well-structured induction programme for novice teachers upon entry into the schools, since when they first enter the classroom the expectations of what they perceived the education profession to be and the realities faced in the classroom can be different, resulting in their experiencing a reality shock.
Amidst this call for an increase in the duration of the pre-service phase of teacher education, one must be cognizant of available research that proves the longer the duration of the programme, the more expensive, and the shorter, the less productive: a dilemma, yet can be managed once priorities are recognized. A balance of time and money spent on teacher preparation and continuing professional development is well worth the pursuit.
While a comprehensive exploration of this evolving nexus of forces which constitute teacher education was not possible here, undeniable is the fact that teacher education and training are responsible for continuously preparing teachers to understand their mission in society, and to develop in them the competencies to execute that mission.
Admittedly, in order to overturn the perception of the education system as the panacea of all social problems, the bouncing of the ball must begin with the system of teacher education. After all, inimical to the developmental process of the education system would be to encourage the existence of inadequately prepared teachers. All stake holders and policymakers must aggressively pursue, attract and retain teachers committed to excellence, so that quality education finally is actualized in St Lucia.

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