It’s an attitude thing
If teachers do not change their attitudes, we will never get our education right, writes Nhlanhla Thwala
A teacher arrives late for class for no apparent reason. Her appearance is slovenly and her books and teaching materials are a mess. After lazily scrawling a few barely legible notes on the board, she slumps at her desk for the rest of the lesson, chewing noisily on a piece of gum while the class erupts into chaos around her.
Not exactly a picture of professionalism; and one that can be attributed solely to attitude. A person’s attitude is one of those intangible characteristics people tend to pick up on very quickly. It’s something instinctively felt, and it can easily inspire or undermine professionalism.
Professionalism plays a key role in the success or failure of a profession. It improves standards, boosts success rates, fosters trust and goodwill and creates better relationships throughout the value chain. This applies to every profession, including our teaching profession. The professionalism of South Africa’s teaching profession has been debated at length. Ultimately, it comes down to attitude — specifically, the wrong attitude.
There are several key aspects pertaining to teachers’ attitudes that need to be addressed. These include the attitude towards assessments, technology, learning and pastoral care. Teachers’ attitudes towards assessments are probably the best place to start. Teaching, like any other profession, requires assessment in order to attain and maintain a certain level of competence and professionalism.
Pilots, nurses, lawyers, doctors and pharmacists are assessed on an ongoing basis. Why should it be any different for teachers? Doctors and psychologists have to train for seven years before they are allowed to treat patients. Children are little patients. You wouldn’t let an unqualified doctor treat your child, so why should we allow unqualified teachers to teach our children? Teachers should be assessed and undergo professional development on a continuous basis.
At present, a number of teachers — admittedly not all teachers — have a defensive attitude towards assessment, perhaps because they are concerned it will reveal their incompetence. However, by refusing to be assessed, it is impossible to know how much they do or don’t know, and this restricts development and erodes professionalism.
A similar attitude towards technology exists. Teachers need to understand that technology isn’t a threat and it won’t replace them. Instead, they will be replaced by teachers who use technology. Technology can be used to greatly enhance their teaching capacity and professional skills, and it can give learners the edge in an increasingly tech-centric world.
Another aspect of teachers’ attitudes relates to lifelong learning. Teachers need to cultivate an attitude of lifelong learning to bolster their professional skills. Their attitude towards pastoral care to ensure they provide help, support, advice and guidance to learners also requires attention. Pastoral care can be undermined in an expertise driven world, so it’s important that teachers are mindful of this.
Role of learners and parents
Teachers do not teach in isolation and the attitudes of parents and children are just as important in this regard. Parents do generally appreciate the importance of education, but they don’t always respect teachers and fail to raise the profile of teachers in the minds of their children. Parents also need to adopt a more pro-active attitude to ensure teachers are qualified, accountable and adhering to high standards. This can be achieved by parents taking an interest in their children’s education and by engaging with school governing bodies. The attitude of learners also needs to change. They should spend more time on tasks, respect teachers and think more for themselves.
Lastly, the attitude of communities, society and corporates also holds sway. Instead of accepting the status quo and letting standards slide, they should make their voices heard. For example, they could agitate for an education that provides learners with the ability to work as soon as they qualify. They can also put pressure on the relevant authorities to change this scenario. To a large degree, this isn’t happening.
It’s worth pointing out the correlation between the attitudes of communities and professionalism. In countries where they are more involved and where teachers are respected and appreciated, the education industry tends to be more professional. There are many other facets to this equation, all of which are inter-linked. The challenges relating to attitude and professionalism are not confined to South Africa. Measures have been put in place in an attempt to rectify the problem, but much more must be done.
Dr Nhlanhla Thwala is CTI Education Group Managing Director