Mohamed V University
Abstract – Teacher education programmes in Morocco are often accused of recycling old teaching practices and attempting to implement them. Instead of overwhelming theory and loads of unstructured practice, what trainee teachers perhaps really need is feedback as to how to improve their teaching methods and grow as professionals. This kind of feedback usually stems from personal experience (and context), this being the best way to reflect on personal methodology and develop a personal philosophy of teaching. This article discusses the role of reflective practice as a way to obtain such feedback, along with possible ways to encourage professional development and promote lifelong learning.
Education is a vital ingredient in the growth and progress of nations around the world. Throughout history, civilizations have suffered famine, disastrous wars and deadly plagues; they have flourished, fallen and then risen from the ashes. Humanity would not have managed to survive all these disasters had it not been for education, ways to instil and transfer knowledge about military strategies, geography, languages, medicine and more. Such knowledge has helped many nations re-establish themselves as stable, steadily-developing countries in the modern world, and carry on teaching history, however difficult it has been. Quality education is arguably at the heart of any country’s plan for progress, and Morocco is no exception. For an educational system to be successful, teachers need to perform at their very best. How can they do that? What makes a good teacher? How can reflective practice and lifelong learning improve teachers’ performance? And how can “teacher effectiveness” be achieved in a developing country such as Morocco?
Recent attempts to provide an answer to this question have managed to generate a very rich set of characteristics and skills that teachers need to possess in order to be “efficient” (see Walker 2008; Christenbury 2010; Miller 2012). For critical purposes, however, it is safe to argue that most of these fruitful efforts may have fallen foul of the temptation to state the blindingly obvious. True, academic knowledge, classroom management, concept verification and communication skills are all vital to the discussion, but at the same time one could plausibly claim that no one who lacks these skills should be permitted to teach in the first place. What is more, a teacher’s mastery of pedagogical skills can be observed, and even measured, by the naked eye. On the other hand, it is somewhat of a challenge to consider root qualities that can make one a promising, exemplary teacher, qualities like passion.
Perhaps a point that very few can disagree with, teaching is first and foremost about passion. Just like wanting to make a difference, passion fuels us with an enormous energy, and greatly increases our motivation to do well in a classroom situation. Teaching has always been conceived of as more of a noble mission and a way to extend one’s legacy than a mere job. Passion is a delicate quality, un-fakeable, and somewhat contagious. Passionate teachers tend to be highly inspiring vis-à-vis their students and colleagues with their relentless efforts in class and their strong work ethic. This is not to dismiss pedagogical skills; their importance is indisputable. However, without passion, a teacher may be no more than a “knowledge-imparting agent”, more of a mercenary with a task, than a “true” teacher.
Now, assuming a person has a passion for teaching and for the subject to be taught, and has sufficient knowledge about it, does this make them a “good” teacher? The answer is: No. A teacher in the modern sense is a lot more complicated. Teaching roles have become more varied than ever, and hence teachers’ responsibilities in class have grown accordingly. Expertise in the subject is no longer the sole criterion for effective teaching as much as the ability to deliver a comprehensive lesson and reflect on it. Perhaps it is common sense that the more teaching experience one has, the better one performs. However, that might just not be the case all the time, and outcomes can turn out to be highly idiosyncratic. The best and most efficient teachers are those who act as reflective practitioners and life-long learners. Let us take a closer look at these two qualities, the relationship between them, and their place in Morocco’s teacher training programmes.
Teacher education programmes in Morocco often seek to provide prospective teachers with a balanced proportion of theory and practice. This has been seen for decades as an ideal way to prepare trainees for teaching and enable them to pioneer their classes effectively. However, there are a few aspects of teaching that can be of paramount importance, but which are often overlooked in the country’s approach to teacher education. For one thing, it is quite important for teachers to carry on learning, even after obtaining their official certification. Lifelong learning is critical to teachers’ effectiveness, and reflective practice is one way to keep learning.
Lifelong learning, in general terms, is all about the pursuit of knowledge throughout one’s life (see Merriam, Caffarella 2007; Aspin, Chapman 2007; Tovkanets 2018). It is a kind of learning that is not bound by age or type of knowledge. Lifelong learning implies an eagerness to acquire knowledge beyond traditional schooling, and throughout one’s life. In the field of education, lifelong learning is perceived as the lifestyle of effective teachers. It is a mindset that considerably expands one’s thinking, instils creativity, and renders one proactive in every aspect of life. Its benefits are immeasurable, and often transcend the notion of abstract knowledge to more applicable forms of knowing. I am talking about what the French call “savoir”, “savoir-faire” and “savoir-être”. In a lifelong learning context, they may mean:
In teaching, it is almost inevitable that most classes include students with different abilities, learning styles, learning preferences and aptitudes. Each student has a different kind of motivation, and their success or failure may depend on the extent to which their needs and interests are embodied in their teachers’ practice. Attempting to cater for the needs of all students is more a farfetched aim than an achievable outcome, yet it can be approachable by teachers who recognise themselves as lifelong learners and reflective practitioners.
It is arguably possible that the conceptualisation of reflective practice as we know it today was derived from Schön’s (1983) reflection-in-action. The approach was later broadly adopted in education, albeit it can be applied to most, if not all, professional practices. According to Schön (1983), reflective practice often instigates the idea that improvisation can be the optimum approach to challenging situations in one’s work sphere. As an answer to “What makes a good educator?”, researchers and practitioners alike emphasise that a person’s ability to reflect on the content taught, teaching objectives and methodology is characteristic to effective teaching (see Habib 2017). In other words, reflective practice involves thinking critically about any decision made by the teacher, including what lessons to teach, how to teach them best, to what category of students, and desired outcomes in line with learners’ contextual and ethical backgrounds. As simple as it might sound, it is the idea of “questioning” that makes any teacher a better practitioner.
Figure 1 illustrates the cycle of reflective practice
– as inspired by Schön (1983) –
in four steps applicable before, during and after teaching. The first step towards mastering reflective practice is planning. This is presumably a step where the teacher identifies the layout of the lesson and the items to be taught in context. Most of the time, the organisation of the session, or lack of it, is a determining factor as to how effective the teaching process can be. Here, teachers rely on their lesson planning skills and students’ learning profiles, and use their sense of anticipation to identify potential challenges. Having planned the session, it is time for the second stage of reflective practice, i.e. teaching, the stage at which the teacher delivers the lesson according to the plan set out beforehand. It is crucial that teachers follow the plan as it is, in a manner that allows them to check their pre-conceived hypotheses and anticipated challenges.
As they apply what was planned in the first stage, teachers are required to keep a close eye on the progress of their lesson. That leads us straight to the third stage of the cycle, i.e. observation. This is a step that can be taken both during and after the lesson. While delivering the lesson, it is important that teachers notice what works, in what context along with students’ reactions. Other strategies to observe one’s teaching activities after class include – but are not limited to – video/audio recordings, students’ feedback or writing a report-like essay on how the class went. This allows teachers to identify their strengths, and to realise what could have been done better. Observation is an essential stage; if synchronised well with the teaching procedure, it can provide rich feedback on the efficacy of content and methodology. Having planned, taught and observed the lesson, the time comes to reflect on it. This stage is mainly evaluative, and requires teachers to look back at the lesson objectively, based on what has been observed, and to question their methodology. This step allows teachers to work on their weaknesses and account for the gaps in their pedagogical repertoire. After that, the fourth step consists of reflecting on the feedback generated and using it to plan the next lesson, thus earning the teacher valuable experience.
To conclude, there is a broad consensus on the importance of reflective practice in teaching (Lane et al. 2014; Skinner 2010; Schön 1983). It is an optimal approach to merge one’s knowledge and experience, the implementation of which can improve the practice beyond existing theories. Teacher education programmes in Morocco therefore need to not only give teachers sufficient opportunities to reflect on their activities, but also to teach them what to reflect on, when and why, as well as appropriate tools/strategies to do so. The implication of all this is that teacher educators must also be highly skilled in reflective practice.
The mission of teacher training centres in Morocco may have focused in recent years on preparing pre-service teachers to perform teacher roles in line with modern theoretical frameworks. However, for such an ambitious mission to succeed, practice lessons need to be flawlessly consistent with the trainees’ savoir-faire, as well as with their theoretical knowledge. Teacher educators typically instruct prospective teachers on the various intricacies of effective pedagogy. So why is it that Morocco’s ranking in global education sinks further into crisis year in, year out? We must ask the question: Is training teachers enough to improve the quality of a national school system?
Over the course of their training, novice teachers end up with a conception of what makes a “good” teacher. The notion is – more often than not – overwhelming, exhaustive and quite idealistic in nature to say the least. Instilling reflective practice might be more important, though that cannot be done without knowledgeable tutors who themselves are reflective practitioners. Regardless of the decent skills bundle that they ultimately receive, many of which are inapplicable due to contextual complications, pre-service teachers often encounter numerous challenges in fieldwork after they have qualified. Such complications can be as trifling as oversized classes, or as crucial as teachers’ deteriorating authority in public schools. The latter is sadly reflected in the increasing number of cases of violence against teachers lately.
Merely training teachers may not be enough to improve the quality of the country’s educational system. It is true that training centres have relatively up-to-date programmes when it comes to theory, and that sterling efforts have been made to teach modern methodologies. It is however highly unfortunate that the teaching materials allocated for the use of such modern philosophies are, to some extent, primitive. Teaching science without adequate labs or IT without computers is somewhat unrealistic. Most classrooms are not equipped with data projectors or any sort of technology, whilst others still have chalkboards. Above all, classes tend to be very overcrowded, with an average of more than 45 students, and do not get me started on the state of the libraries, even where they exist at all.
Morocco has witnessed teacher strikes on an unprecedented scale in recent months. Teachers all over the country have come out to protest against what they perceive as the Government’s approach to educational reform. Practice lessons have been significantly reduced, pre-service allowance cut in half, along with a number of measures taken by the Ministry of Education, most of which do not serve the teaching community. Teachers’ strikes have been met with police brutality and unnecessary violence. Regrettably, the public sector is suffering from long-term financial shortages. This is a problem that seems to affect only teachers, and their salaries in particular. Accordingly, teachers’ salaries in Morocco are thus arguably some of the lowest in the world, with an annual starting salary of about 60,000 MAD, or approximately 5,500 EUR. However, considering the country’s GDP, it is still possible to survive on such a small amount. Many teachers unfortunately also claim that they have been subjected to consistent unjustified deductions from their salaries. Not only that, but – reportedly – even the country’s pension fund might not have the capacity to pay teachers when they retire. To make things worse, the protesting teachers have no adequate representation in Parliament. This effectively prevents them from voicing their concerns via legitimate channels.
There is one trait that has not yet been thoroughly addressed in this article, though it could be the most crucial characteristic of effective teachers. I am talking about motivation, an element the importance of which is actually beyond measure. No matter how skilful a teacher may be, very little can be done in the absence of motivation. It is a quality that is not necessarily inherent, but rather stems from one’s work atmosphere and from the legal framework governing practice. As a teacher, it is easy to be affected by feelings of abandonment in a ruthless, utterly judgmental environment. Any teacher who does not perform well under such circumstances inevitably ends up losing out in a blame game played with the school system and civil society. Teachers in Morocco have very few facilities to help them teach, and are expected to cope miraculously with the many challenges that they face in their work environment. On the whole, teacher education in Morocco has been in a state of chaos recently. What the country needs is a proper reform. Teaching teachers may at times simply not be sufficient to evolve an entire educational system.
By and large, we are only just starting to pay any attention to teacher education in Morocco. True, it is possible to encourage teachers to teach, but it would take some remarkable improvements in teaching conditions. Developed countries around the world recognise the indispensability of human capital as the driving force behind their progress. As such, and to improve Morocco’s school system, teacher education centres need to provide teachers, the human capital of the field, with meaningful training and sufficient professional development opportunities, to make them lifelong learners and reflective practitioners, and most of all to motivate them to perform their best regardless of the circumstances.
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Said Ouboumerrad is a Doctoral student and teacher of English at Mohamed V University, Rabat; a former instructor at the American School and the Insight Center for Adult Education and Youth Empowerment, Salé.
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