What Makes a Successful Teacher?

Introduction

The quality of children’s education depends on a variety of factors, including their health, financial statuses of their families, parental involvement, and personal characteristics. However, in most cases, attention should be paid to the skills and abilities that a teacher may demonstrate. In other words, the presence of a professional teacher in a classroom contributes to successful outcomes in modern education. The development of teaching skills, properly chosen lesson-planning elements, the recognition of students’ needs and disabilities, and cooperation play an important role in understanding what makes a successful teacher. In addition to the basics in pedagogy, each subject requires knowledge and maturity in its specific context. Primary science teaching in Saudi Arabia will be an educational context under analysis in this paper. The impact of the global educational revolution, internationalization, and new vision programs cannot be ignored as it promotes the improvement of education systems, particularly the scientific field (as cited in Shaukat, Vishnumolakala, & Alghamdi, 2020). This essay aims at discussing professional skills, continuing development, learning approaches, planning, and assessment, existing diversity and equity, student special needs, and teacher-pupil relationships in the primary science-teaching context in Saudi Arabia.

Teacher Skills and Teacher CPD

In Saudi Arabia, many educational facilities have already successfully launched programs that focus on science education. According to Shaukat et al. (2020), teachers have strong personal science teaching efficacy and use all available opportunities to deliver the material in a competent way. However, an understanding and improvement of special skills should become their priority. Kyriacou (2007) defines knowledge, decision-making, and action as the three core elements of successful teaching skills. New teachers spend much time observing the activities of their experienced colleagues and decide how to apply their own approaches in practice. As a result, there are three major characteristics of teaching skills, namely goal-directed behavior, context display, and training (Kyriacou, 2007). In other words, successful teachers should know how to use their knowledge, relying on different examples and following the principles of safety and evidence.

However, such an approach should not diminish the impact of creativity and confidence in the classroom. Teachers must motivate students in diverse activities and develop interesting frameworks and concepts to promote commitment. McAleary (2016) talks about the importance of a research engagement tradition that “recognises the value of insights” with “more informal models of enquiry and reflection” (p. 30). Therefore, in addition to following the already established norms and standards, a good teacher sees when it is high time to expand the boundaries and offer a new idea. Critical thinking and academic support are the skills that any science teacher should enhance because it allows reinforcement, guidance, and motivation in the classroom (Boulton-Lewis, Smith, McCrindle, Burnett, & Campbell 2001). At the same time, effective teachers are responsible for pupil, resource, and time management, assessment, conveying high expectations, and establishing fair discipline (Kyriacou, 2007). Reimers (2020) developed the term “twenty-first-century skills” of teachers, namely cognitive (analysis, problem-solving, executive functioning, digital literacy, and active listening), interpersonal (collaboration, communication, trust, and leadership), and intrapersonal (adaptability, self-direction, and integrity). Hard work is required to succeed in all these tasks and prospects.

Not all teachers meet the requirements set by professional scholars and researchers. In some cases, teaching competence is not a goal that may be achieved at one moment, thus, continuing professional development (CPD) (Kyriacou, 2009). In the Saudi context, science teachers are frequently involved in CPD programs to boost teaching standards and learning outcomes (Binmohsen & Abrahams, 2020). There are many online and face-to-face options for teachers to demonstrate properly applied skills in their jobs. The purposes of this practice vary from evaluating pupil outcomes to promoting collaboration. According to Binmohsen and Abrahams (2020), online CPD programs are easy to deliver, neglecting social, religious, and geographical challenges. In Saudi Arabia, CPD is a significant part of teacher education as it helps to stay updated about new research techniques, technological tools, and curriculum resources. Teachers’ abilities to observe student-learning processes, understand their needs, and choose appropriate classroom activities are improved in terms of CPD programs (Alamri, 2020). There are many benefits when teachers encourage cooperation and share their experiences and knowledge within the frames of the same academic facility or search for advice from different sources to achieve positive results.

Purpose of Education and Approaches to Learning

CPD programs are closely related to the purposes of education and may be determined by the chosen approaches to learning. The Saudi education system considers early childhood education a fundamental component that exposes children to the school atmosphere and identifies the areas where pupils can grow in regards to their needs and abilities (Rabaah, Doaa, & Asma, 2016). Teacher preparation and professional development allow knowledgeable involvement with kids and learning the changes that constantly occur in modern society. In other words, the purpose of education is not only to provide students with the required amount of knowledge and skills but also to create an environment where they can work and cooperate respectfully. Learning approaches differ, depending on the challenges and issues like poverty, environmental pollution, or overpopulation, and education reforms are promoted to make sure that initial purposes of schooling are met (Aldahmash, Alamri, & Aljallal, 2019). The education of teachers or students aims at defining and encouraging the fullest potential of learners to live in a productive and creative way.

Successful teachers in primary schools must clearly define the purposes of education in Saudi Arabia and choose approaches to learning, meeting the needs of their pupils. According to Loughran (2017), educators should understand the worth of pedagogical reasons as a part of their development as it “goes beyond a ‘tips and tricks’ approach to teaching” (p. 74). One of the main expectations parents and society have in relation to children’s education is shaping students’ thinking skills and securing their engagement as primary learners (Alexander, 2008; Haydn, 2012). It usually takes time to observe students, evaluate their behaviors, and recognize their strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. To be a good teacher means to know when to observe, listen, explain, and ask questions. Not all children know how to ask for help or understand why they can or cannot perform particular tasks. The purpose of education is not only to identify the skills of young students but also to clarify how to develop them under a properly applied framework. In their classrooms, pupils learn how to become socially mobile, work in a close-knit community, and respect social equality.

To make sure all these goals and requirements are followed, teachers use different approaches to learning and cooperating with students. Today, there are many ways on how to organize students in their classrooms, either face-to-face or distantly. For example, van de Pol Brindley, and Higham (2017) recommend dialogic teaching as a means of communication between a teacher and students to create a democratic environment and explain differences in science. This approach turns out to be a part of CPD when teachers may change the classroom culture, demonstrate supportiveness (interest in students’ activities), and motivate participants (van de Pol et al., 2017). This communicative approach contributes to the establishment of social and self-management skills when students cooperate, reflect, and analyze information.

The choice of learning techniques mainly depends on teachers’ preparedness and professionals. In his study, Stobart (as cited in Day, 2017) underlines the importance of three types of learning – surface, strategic, and deep. The surface approach to learning is based on reproduction when students have to identify and cope with course requirements (Day, 2017). The strategic approach is all about reflection with the help of which students put their efforts into studying and achieve good grades. Finally, the deep approach makes learners seek meaning and relate their previous knowledge to current experience (Day, 2017). In Saudi Arabia, all these methods should enhance primary education even if pupils with special needs are involved.

SEND

Along with demonstrating professionalism in setting purposes and choosing approaches to learning, successful teachers may be recognized by their abilities to work with students who have special education needs. The term special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is not new in the Saudi Arabia education system. In 1987, the law addressing people with disabilities, also known as Legalisation of Disability, was enacted to safeguard human rights and promote equal privileges, and in 2000, the government established a Disability Code (Abed & Shackelford, 2020). Some students may have specific mental, social, or physical handicaps like blindness (partial sight), deafness (partial hearing), speech defects, and intellectual disabilities (Kyriacou, 2009). Therefore, teachers should be properly trained to know how to work with such students without addressing their disabilities directly and provoking additional unnecessary judgments. The reform in services provision for SEND students is based on the importance of implementing legalization, obtaining government support, increasing social awareness levels, and preparing a specialized cadre and equipment (AlMedlij & Rubinstein-Ávila, 2018). Although the majority of requirements include the use of outside resources, a successful teacher must demonstrate basic cooperation and communication skills.

The profession of a teacher includes a variety of tasks in regard to their students and colleagues. Teachers are responsible for providing special means of access to the course, developing curriculum modifications, and establishing a specific emotional climate for all students (Kyriacou, 2009). For a long period, most teachers in the primary sector who could work with SEND students were non-Saudi (as cited in Battal, 2016). Today, the situation has changed, and attention is paid to teacher education in the SEND context. Teachers learn how to offer and explain the use of visual impairment books, how to communicate with the help of signs, or how to support without diminishing the rights of healthy children.

When SEND children start their education, cooperation with parents or other primary caregivers is essential. In Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education underlines the importance of parental involvement in the education of children who have disabilities (Battal, 2016). Teachers may not invite parents to classroom activities, but they are obliged to consider their opinions in decision-making and the choice of educational programs. However, there should be a line between the participation of parents in their children’s education as an obligation and as personal willingness. Homework, independent projects, and reports demonstrate what children achieve at the moment but not what their parents can do. The example offered by Kant, Nangia, Satish, and Shinde. (2020) explains the peculiarities of parental involvement in classroom activities like open channels, home visits, and personal communication. This collaboration helps a teacher understand the context of a student and provide the required support (Kant et al., 2020). Parents have to be eager to want more about their children but not be afraid about additional responsibilities and academic tasks. Their role is to support, motivate, and protect against the outside world where disabilities are not common.

Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice

Primary education is one of the initial steps children should take in their life to acquire literacy, communication skills, and creativity. In science classes, pupils learn how to use the offered information and develop critical thinking about the environment. Regarding such purposes of education, successful teachers have to improve their understanding of diversity, equity, and social justice. Haydn (2012) states that a social justice issue is usually at stake in many academic facilities because teachers are responsible for the establishment of the working atmosphere and define student attainment. In Saudi schools, justice means finding the balance between the responsibilities of society and the responsibilities of individuals (Barry, 2021). According to Legislation of Disability, all children, either with or without disabilities, may “enjoy equal rights as well as access to free and meaningful education” (as cited in Abed & Shackelford, 2020, p. 1). Therefore, the need for social justice in education cannot be ignored and is based on a commitment to social, health, and economic inequalities. A primary education classroom is a place when students learn the world but do not recognize their inabilities or disabilities.

Along with socially justified decisions, teachers continue working in a culturally diverse country. During a long period, professional teachers with different nationalities came to Saudi Arabia and demonstrated various language styles, cultural beliefs, and personal characteristics (Shaukat et al., 2020). As a result, diversified learning styles were promoted through collective activities (teacher-pupil cooperation), reciprocal approaches (alternative viewpoints), supportive relationships (common understanding), cumulative tasks (coherent lines), and purposeful judgments (clear educational goals) (Alexander, 2008). Teachers who introduce the world of science to young students should not articulate diversity in primary education because their task is to create an informative background for all children with limited knowledge about the subject. However, diversity is recognized by teachers when they learn what each student can bring to the classroom, relying on personal experiences and strengths. It is necessary to explore and incorporate differences correctly, not to underline someone’s weaknesses but to enrich the environment.

To avoid complications and misunderstandings due to inequalities and poorly defined social justice, good teachers must demonstrate their professionalism in applying equity in the classroom. Kyriacou (2009) cites Fraser, who says about equity in education as the extent to which teachers treat their pupils fairly. However, it is not always easy to clarify the characteristics of fairness. The issues of equity and diversity are commonly addressed in different types of learning (Bush, 2009). Teachers must improve their knowledge on this topic regularly, taking into consideration their personal observations, recent research findings, and recommendations of colleagues. Personal circumstances and physiological factors like gender, race, or ethnicity never define the student’s educational potential, and teachers follow a simple rule that primary education is an equal opportunity for all people to begin their learning process.

Lesson Planning and Assessment

There are several more important tasks that a successful teacher should complete, including lesson planning and assessment. Preparation means the selection of short-term goals related to the science curriculum guidelines, the necessary equipment, and other additional resources that can help students to learn the material and a teacher to discuss a topic (Kyriacou, 2007). Teaching skills depend on how a teacher decides to cooperate with students. However, in major cases, the following items are met: clear aims, informative content, relation to past and future lessons, appropriate resources, and interesting design (Kyriacou, 2007). Following the example of mathematics classes in England, Blausten, Gyngell, Aichmayr, and Spengler (2020) introduce five great ideas on how to enhance planning in primary schools, focusing on “variation, fluency, coherence, representation, and mathematical thinking” (p. 35). To make this recommendation for the Saudi scientific context, mathematical thinking must be changed to scientific thinking. Still, according to Binmohsen and Abrahams (2020), science and maths curriculums have similar characteristics, like problem-solving, instructions, and inquiry-based learning. Lesson planning should also embrace several dialogue opportunities for students and teachers.

Overall, to succeed in planning a lesson, a science teacher needs to make four decisions and continue developing integral planning skills. First, an educational purpose or several objectives are established for each lesson separately. Planning deals with such questions as the lesson’s format and content (Kyriacou, 2009). Teachers may address their colleagues for help to set the priorities correctly, surf the web to obtain international literacy, or rely on personal creativity. Any approach has to meet the academic standards of primary education in Saudi Arabia. Second, a teacher thinks about activities that may be suitable for a particular lesson. Special education for students with learning disabilities usually requires additional equipment and resources to organize a lesson in a way that is clear for all students (AlMedlij & Rubinstein-Ávila, 2018; Battal, 2016). Third, a teacher chooses materials that help students to study a theme better. Saudi schools prefer conventional methods of teaching where learning materials do not encourage students’ engagement (as cited in Shaukat et al., 2020). Education is directed to enhance national identity and social awareness. Finally, the ideas of how to assess the progress of a class are offered.

As soon as teachers demonstrate care about their students and all learning processes and are ready to promote rehearsal for some individuals in case of emergency, they need to think about assessment techniques. Assessments aim at appraising students’ performance and achievements at a particular moment (Kyriacou, 2007). This process helps to share feedback on each student, motivate children, and define their readiness for new material. It is important for teachers to remember that some assessments may hurt students’ feelings and decrease their desire to study. Primary teachers usually follow the standards of formative assessment (emphasis on further education), summative assessment (grades and rewards), and external assessment (parental involvement) (Kyriacou, 2007). A good teacher knows that assessments are used not to punish a pupil or define his or her weaknesses but to motivate and explain what can be done to improve the results with time.

Teacher-Pupil Relationships and Pupil Behavior

A final aspect of successful teaching in Saudi primary science classrooms is the establishment of professional and trustful teacher-pupil relationships and the promotion of proper pupil behavior. According to Kyriacou (2007), a positive classroom climate is usually determined by mutual respect and rapport between a teacher and pupils. When a teacher respects a student, the latter recognizes the offered care and support and is eager to cooperate and participate in different activities. Good rapport means harmonious understanding between a teacher and pupils, including genuine care and respect for children as learners and as individuals (Kyriacou, 2009). The nature of the relationships between classroom participants is determined by several pedagogical values that any good teacher should remember (Alexander, 2008). Some of them are teaching as transmission (students apply their basic skills), teaching as negotiation (students create common knowledge with teachers but not just remain passive recipients), and teaching as facilitation (respect for individual differences) (Alexander, 2008). All these types of relationships facilitate an educational process and help young students understand their tasks, accept new environments, and enhance development.

At the same time, teachers must control students and explain the importance of discipline in their classrooms. Kyriacou (2007) introduces pupil behavior as an activity that has to be regulated by clear rules and well-defined expectations. A good teacher defines appropriate pupil’s behaviors as an attempt to pre-empt their misbehaviors (Kyriacou, 2007). Pupils are responsible for completing their homework, doing the required academic work in class, and following the teacher’s instructions. At the same time, there are several areas of pupil behaviors that depend on the personal judgments of teachers. For example, some level of noise in a classroom may be allowed (Kyriacou, 2009). Some teachers like to share their opinions about ideal students by the level of their attentiveness, participation in discussions, and interest in the work. Still, there has to be a line between appreciating students and recognizing their weaknesses. Therefore, good teachers must be free from biases, inadequate comparison, and gender- or race-related issues. In this case, pupil behavior is well-defined and promoted in regards to the teacher’s needs and expectations.

Conclusion

To succeed in the chosen profession, a good teacher has to be ready to work hard and constantly improves their knowledge in all areas of education. It is not enough to create clear plans and consider available resources, including books and equipment. Primary science education may be hard for many young pupils, and the task of a teacher is to introduce this field in the most interesting and simplest way. Such skills as leadership, motivation, respectfulness, and communication must be recognized. In addition, decision-making and problem-solving promote a better understanding of the subject and academic purposes. A successful teacher needs to work with students who have special educational needs and parents who want to be involved in their children’s learning processes. If some questions or concerns occur, a teacher listens to all students and parents and decides as per the established norms and standards. In Saudi schools, the role of diversity, equity and social justice is high, and teachers demonstrate their efficiency at different levels. The assessment of student skills and knowledge and the explanation of expected behaviors and relationships contribute to a positive classroom climate.

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