Saint Lucia
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The Open School on How to be An Effective Teacher: The First Days of School

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

WELCOME students to another week in the Open School for the first term of the academic or school year 2023 to 2024. The school is open to parents, guardians, teachers, students and members of the public. It is my hope that students will acquire knowledge and skills which will enable them to improve student achievement in Mathematics.

Today’s lesson is the first in the series on “How to be An Effective Teacher: The First Days of School.” At the end of the lesson, students should be able to (a) Explain in their own words who an effective teacher is. (b) Say how a teacher can create an impact on his or her students?

School Reopened on Monday, 4th September 2023, for the academic year 2023 to 2024. At the Primary Schools, students receive new teachers. By new teachers I mean that the teachers would have been in the school for the last school year, but many other students would have received teachers who are entering the classroom for the first time. We can call them neophyte teachers; meaning that they may be coming to the classroom with much academic skills but little or no knowledge and skills in teaching.

Teachers are diplomats and ambassadors of tact and sensitivity, as they facilitate productive, positive interaction among the wide range of personalities, cultures, beliefs and ideals.

Indeed, what a teacher does on the first few days, weeks will determine his or her success or failure for the rest of the school year. He or she will either win or lose the class on the first days of school.

Now, the students themselves will be testing the teacher in several ways, during the first few days of school, whether he or she is a repeat teacher or a neophyte.

In our education system, very few teachers receive any instruction on what to do on the first day of school or the first few days.

Indeed, over the last three decades, Principals have advocated that neophyte teacher should go through an induction ceremony before they come to the classroom. The principals insisted that neophyte teachers should get some experience or training on what to do on the first day or days of school.

The Ministry of Education responded with an induction or orientation programme during the summer vacation for prospective teachers who had been selected for temporary appointments in schools in St. Lucia. But that programme did not continue. In some cases, the prospective teachers received letters of appointment just days before the re-opening of schools. Others receive their letters of temporary appointment after schools reopen, leaving no room for an orientation programme prior to the re-opening of school.

Now there is overwhelming research, evidence that the first two to three weeks of school are critical in determining how well students will achieve for the remainder of the year.

The effective teacher establishes good control of the class in the very first week of school. Now control does not involve threats or intimidation of the students. Control means that the teacher knows (1) what he or she is doing, (2) classroom procedures (3) the professional responsibilities of a classroom teacher.

What are the professional responsibilities of a classroom teacher? The following are some ideas: (a) Planning and preparing lessons; (b) Encouraging student participation; (c) Researching and developing new teaching materials; (d) marking or correcting students’ work and recording performance (e) Setting assessments and overseeing examination; (f) Providing students or learners with one to one support; (g) communicating effectively with other teachers, parents and other educational institutions; (h) Undertaking administrative tasks such as keeping and filing of records, keeping the class register up to date; (i) printing or photocopying resources for lessons. Now I am not close to exhausting that list of professional responsibilities!

Indeed, Effective teachers know what they are doing. Teachers who do things right are efficient. And teachers who do things right over and over again, consistently, are effective.

The following are the four stages of teaching: (1) Fantasy, (2) Survival, (3) Mastery, and (4) Impact.

Many teachers never progress beyond the second stage, the survival stage. The purpose of the First Days of school, is to get to the third stage, the Mastery stage, so that he or she can make a difference in the lives of their students.

Now let us look at the FANTASY stage. There is a common belief by neophyte teachers that to be a successful teacher, all they need to do is relate and be a friend to their students. They also believe that teaching means doing activities, especially fun activities.

We come now to the survival stage. Teachers are in survival mode, when they rely on ineffective practices just to make it through the day. To them, teaching is a job, and not a vocation, and they do it for the pay cheque and vacation benefits.

Now there is the Mastery Level. Teachers who know how to achieve student success, employ or use effective practices. These teachers know how to mange their classroom, teach for mastery, and have high expectations for their students. Effective teachers strive for mastery by reading professionally and going to professional meetings and workshops.

Finally, the fourth stage is the IMPACT stage. Effective teachers are able to make an impact on their students. A teacher’s role is to open the door to learning and to improve performance.

Now two questions for you: (a) Explain in your own words who an effective teacher is. (b) How can a teacher create an impact on his or her students?