This is an abridged translation of a paper published in 2008 by Dr. Shaheen Irwani, Dr. Mohammed-Reza Sharafi and Murad-Yari Dehnawi, from Tehran University. The original Farsi paper can be accessed directly here. For the sake of brevity, no footnotes, the abstract nor the bibliography have been translated, and the literature review section in the paper was also not translated. For those familiar with Farsi and interested in further research can access the paper directly.
Teachers are the most crucial element in an education and training system. The importance of the teacher’s position and role, “their efficiency and competence, is such that some believe that the teacher is the reflection of the entire competence and efficiency of any education system.”
The Principles and Philosophy of Education is a mandatory educational course for student-teachers because the analysis and examination of the nature and essential characteristics of a good teacher show that many internal factors, including their beliefs about the mission of teaching, self-understanding, educational components, and their competencies, play a fundamental role in the manifestation of teacher behaviors in the classroom. Therefore, recognizing and correcting these assumptions and beliefs in the teacher training curriculum, particularly in the Principles and Philosophy of Education module, is one of the most important factors influencing the quality of the educational and instructional performance of the teacher.
In Iran, concurrent with the establishment of the Higher Teacher Training College in 1934, the Philosophy of Education module was included in the curriculum for the first time for those aspiring to the teaching profession. In this period, the Principles of Education & Training module was considered separately in the curriculum. Since then, these two modules have always been part of the educational program for student-teachers. After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the Supreme Council of Planning merged these two courses into one course called ‘Principles and Philosophy of Education & Training’ and offered it to student-teachers. Currently, this course is only part of the educational courses for student-teachers at the undergraduate level and is offered with a value of three academic credits.1
The longstanding experience of the instructors of this course for student-teachers indicates that despite the importance of this course for teachers and its potential capabilities to influence their thought and then their actions, unfortunately, this course has not been able to play an effective and fundamental role in this area; so much so that student-teachers have often complained about the irrelevance of this course to their profession and sarcastically ask why it is necessary for us to study the philosophy of education. It seems that the Principles and Philosophy of Education & Training, which is a theoretical course, cannot be of any use to their profession, which involves the implementation of the education and training process.
The study and examination of the effectiveness of teacher training curricula in some other countries also show that this issue has a global dimension. Therefore, this issue is not unique to the teacher training system in our society. Hence, addressing this issue and diagnosing its problems can be a step towards improving the impact of this course on the performance of teachers across a wide geographical range.
To elucidate the potential and actual capabilities of the subjects of the philosophy of education in the theoretical and practical foundations of student-teachers, this article aims to analyze and examine the enlightenments of philosophy and the philosophy of education in the needs of the teaching profession and to explain the consequences of learning philosophical subjects for teachers. Through this, the groundwork for understanding the importance of the philosophy of education for them will be clarified, and they will be encouraged to derive greater benefit from these subjects, thereby laying the foundation for improving their performance. Subsequently, after mentioning the research method and its background, the nature and essential characteristics of a good teacher are first stated, and then the implications of the philosophy of education in relation to them are discussed.
The primary approach of this research method is qualitative, and it has mainly utilized a descriptive-analytical method. For this purpose, initially, by studying relevant sources and taking notes from them, a systematic model of the essential characteristics of a good teacher has been described. Then, the enlightenments of philosophy and the philosophy of education, after being inferred from the relevant sources, have been analyzed and examined in connection and coordination with the aforementioned model. In the end, the results of the research are presented summarily in a diagram.2
Essential Characteristics of a Good Teacher
A teacher, like other professions, needs specific competencies to perform their job effectively. They deal with the education and upbringing of students, but as Kant says, ‘Education is the greatest and most difficult problem that man is concerned with.’ Therefore, such a serious matter cannot be entrusted to someone who does not have the necessary qualifications for it. Hence, a teacher must have competencies to be able to fulfill the serious responsibility they bear in the best way possible.
The importance of this subject has led to numerous research studies in this area. The results of these studies reveal the reality that it is not possible to come to a definitive and comprehensive conclusion about the essential characteristics of a teacher in the form of a list of competencies.
Korthagen’s View on the Essential Characteristics of a Good Teacher
Among the valuable and coherent efforts to define the essential characteristics of a good teacher is the perspective presented by Korthagen, a prominent figure in the field of teacher education. By studying the process of teacher preparation in the twentieth century, he has critically analyzed and examined the main approaches to teacher training. The result of his research is the presentation of an onion-like layered model of levels of change to define the nature of the essential characteristics of a good teacher. Given the novelty of this model and its valuable role in describing the nature of a good teacher’s characteristics, we will introduce this model. Then, the implications of the philosophy of education for teachers in relation to this model will be explained.
This diagram shows that in individuals – teachers – there are different levels that can be influenced by various factors. The outermost level of this model is the level of environmental conditions and the behavior of individuals, which others can see. Usually, the level of environmental conditions (school, classroom, students, etc.) and the level of appropriate behaviors in different situations are seriously considered by student-teachers. They often focus on the issues present in the classroom, and their questions arise from these matters. The next level is the level of competencies. This level has a significant impact on the level of behaviors. Competencies generally include an integrated knowledge of the subject matter, necessary skills, and attitudes. The distinction of this level from the level of behaviors is that competencies are the capacity and potential for behaviors, not the behaviors themselves. In practice, suitable conditions cause competencies to be converted into behaviors. A fundamental assumption within this model is the mutual influence of its different levels on each other.
The next inner level is the level of beliefs. This level determines the competencies of a teacher. For example, if a teacher believes that teaching means the transmission of knowledge, they are likely not to strengthen their skills in using active teaching methods and not to benefit from them. The level of beliefs has gained international attention since the 1980s as a result of the introduction of the cognitive approach in contrast to the behaviorist approach in psychology.
Teachers’ beliefs about learning and teaching determine their reactions. These beliefs have been formed since they themselves were students and, although these beliefs are criticized by educators during teacher training, in practice, it is these old beliefs that come to dominate teaching. This has led to a shift in teacher education, with less emphasis on teaching and transferring scientific knowledge and more on becoming aware of and replacing personal practical knowledge.
The next level of this model is the level of teachers’ professional identity. The fundamental questions that teachers contemplate at this level are: 1) Who am I? 2) What kind of teacher do I want to be? 3) How do I see my role as a teacher? A common definition of professional identity is ‘an organized summary of information that is rooted in the observable realities related to individuals themselves and includes aspects such as personality traits, values, social roles, interests, physical characteristics, and personal biography‘.
In fact, teachers’ professional identity depends on how they think about themselves—their self-concept—and has been shaped over the course of their lives. Professional identity is often in the form of a coherent whole, a whole that includes an unconscious collection of needs, images, perceptions, feelings, values, role-taking from models, past experiences, and behavioral tendencies that together create a sense of identity and meaning.
This whole (the level of professional identity) affects the external levels of beliefs, competencies, and behaviors of student-teachers. This happens while often they are unaware of this whole. One of the essential priorities of teacher training programs should be to help students become aware of this unconscious whole of their being.
The innermost level of the model of the fundamental qualities of a good teacher is the level of mission. Some researchers call it the level of spirituality. This level encompasses answering questions such as what is the main motivation of a teacher for the work they do? In short, it is what lies deep within us that drives us to act.
This level is about giving meaning to a person’s existence. The central question at this level is why do I exist? The answer to this question can have a religious or non-religious nature. Therefore, this level includes individual values that a person considers an inseparable part of their being. The difference between the forces emanating from the level of mission and the level of competencies is that these forces manifest from within individuals, while competencies are learned from the outside. Therefore, it is necessary for a teacher educator to facilitate processes in which the internal levels of the existence of student-teachers affect their external levels of existence.
What Does It Mean to Be a Good Teacher?
The above analysis shows that the answer to the question of what are the necessary characteristics of a good teacher is not easily answerable and listing a set of competencies is not sufficient. In other words, the model of levels of change provides a useful framework for reflection on this subject. Often there are differences between these levels that lead to issues and problems for the teacher, others, or both. Such issues may manifest for the teacher as internal tensions and for others as inappropriate behaviors of the teacher. On the other hand, with interaction and coordination between different levels, the teacher will experience fewer internal and external tensions. In an ideal state, there is complete unity between levels. This means that behaviors, competencies, beliefs, identity, and the mission of the teacher together form a coherent whole that is in harmony with environmental conditions and guides it. If this condition is always considered, it can encompass the entire span of life.
Analysis of the Relationship Between the Nature of the Necessary Characteristics of a Good Teacher and the Principles and Philosophy of Education
In the continuation of the article, the potential impact of the principles and philosophy of education on each of the levels of necessary characteristics of a good teacher is examined to clarify the guidelines and enlightenments of the philosophy of education for teachers. It is necessary to remember that the discussions of principles and philosophy of education, due to the nature of their own requirements, have more guidelines and enlightenments at the level of cognitive competencies and the level of teachers’ beliefs. Therefore, the implications of the discussions of principles and philosophy of education are explained in detail at these two levels and briefly at other levels.
1. Level of Environmental Conditions: This level includes the school, classroom, students, etc., and those responsible for education must provide them. At this level, the lessons of student-teachers, including the course on the principles and philosophy of education, do not play a role in this context, and this is quite obvious.
2. Level of Teacher Behaviors: This level is not directly influenced by the discussions of principles and philosophy of education. The discussions of the philosophy of education can indirectly affect the level of teacher behaviors through the impact they have on other internal levels of the student-teacher’s existence. One of the characteristics of the teacher’s work – teaching – is weak predictability. This means that a complete and accurate prediction of situations and reactions in the teacher’s work is not really possible, hence specific behaviors cannot be taught to student-teachers that they can always use in practice.
3. Level of Competencies: This level encompasses some of the necessary capabilities of the teaching profession. Here, first, the necessary competencies for the work and activity of a teacher are stated. Then, the impact of discussions on the principles and philosophy of education on these competencies is explained.
Teaching Competency: As competencies are necessary for any profession, teaching is no exception. Teaching competency refers to a set of knowledge, inclinations, and skills that, by acquiring them, a teacher can assist in the physical, moral, emotional, social, rational, and spiritual development of learners. The necessary competencies of the teaching profession can be classified into three areas:
a) Cognitive Competencies: Cognitive competencies refer to a set of awareness, insights, and mental skills that enable a teacher to recognize and analyze issues and topics related to education and training. For example, awareness of the foundations of education and training, understanding the interests and mental abilities of learners, awareness of goals, principles, and methods of education and training.
b) Emotional Competencies: Emotional competencies refer to the collection of interests and inclinations of a teacher towards issues and subjects related to education and training. Examples include: love for teaching, devotion to spirituality and fostering it in students, philanthropy, and interest in knowledge.
c) Skill Competencies: This group of competencies represents a set of skills and practical abilities that are related to the process of education and training. For example: skill in evaluating students’ learning, skill in teaching, skill in preparing lesson plans.
From the above-mentioned set of three types of competencies, the competency to influence the student is derived, which is the ultimate goal of a teacher’s activities. The relationship between the mentioned components can be displayed as follows:
The specific characteristics of the teaching profession, including complexity, breadth, delicacy, and indeterminacy on one hand, and the perspective on the nature of human beings and their well-being on the other, have led to the inability to compile the necessary characteristics of a good teacher in the form of a specific list of competencies. Therefore, listing all the necessary competencies of a good teacher is practically impossible. With the threefold domain of these competencies defined, the role and impact of the principles and philosophy of education on the level of teacher competencies will be explained next.
The Role of Principles and Philosophy of Education in the Cognitive Competencies of Teachers
Awareness and understanding of the foundations, principles, methods, and objectives of education are among the most essential cognitive competencies in the teaching profession. The course Principles and Philosophy of Education is one of the most important courses that play a significant role in this area. In this course, the philosophical foundations of education are explained and elaborated. The importance of objectives and how they are determined is clarified, which in fact guides the educational and pedagogical activities of the teacher. This course provides the teacher with the principles of education, which are essentially the criteria and general instructions. With these principles at hand, the teacher can innovate appropriate educational methods when faced with new and more complex situations, taking into account their requirements.
A philosophical mindset is a valuable aspect of philosophical discussions that has the capacity and ability to create and nurture mental skills in student-teachers. The cultivation of these skills leads to the improvement of the quality of their educational and pedagogical activities. By philosophical mindset, we mean the way of proper academic thinking and how a researcher deals with various issues. The concept of a philosophical mindset was first introduced by Philip J. Smith. In examining the characteristics of individuals who possess philosophical thinking and disposition, he identified three dimensions or characteristics in their way of thinking. These three dimensions, while distinct and specific, are closely related to each other. These three characteristics are: comprehensiveness, penetration, and flexibility. Smith describes the following four characteristics for each of these dimensions:
A) Dimension of Comprehensiveness: Observing specific matters with attention to their connection to a broader context, 2. Relating current and immediate issues to long-term goals, 3. Employing the power of generalization, and 4. Being mindful of theoretical aspects.
B) Dimension of Penetration: Questioning and probing what others assume to be obvious and self-evident, 2. Uncovering fundamental matters and articulating them in every situation, 3. Judging and making decisions based on a hypothetical-deductive method, and 4. Being attentive and sensitive to the nuances and implicit meanings of every situation and connecting matters with one another.
C) Flexibility: Freeing oneself from mental rigidity, 2. Considering issues from various perspectives, 3. Valuing thoughts and theories regardless of their source, 4. Patience in making provisional and conditional judgments and being open to action in uncertain situations.
If during the teacher preparation period, the way of thinking of student-teachers is considered and emphasis is placed on cultivating their philosophical mindset, each of the characteristics of the dimensions of the philosophical mindset includes a cognitive skill that assists teachers in carrying out more effective educational and pedagogical activities. Among the characteristics of the teaching profession are the diversity and abundance of action, time constraints, poor predictability, and the need for rationality. These characteristics highlight the necessity of creating and nurturing philosophical thinking in student-teachers. Below, the cognitive skills arising from the philosophical mindset and their role in the work of teachers are described.
a) The dimension of comprehensiveness: Observing specific matters in relation to their connection to a broader context: A teacher who has developed this characteristic in their mindset looks at educational issues with a broader perspective and can see apparently scattered matters within a wide and interconnected context, gaining a more comprehensive understanding of them. In this case, when faced with a specific problem, they can understand its connection with other related issues and find more appropriate and diverse solutions.
i) Connecting current and immediate issues to long-term goals: As previously stated, the ability to predict accurately in teaching is very limited. Even specific goals are fluid, but ultimate goals are clear and stable. By learning this mental skill and practicing its application in various situations, a teacher can consider daily educational issues in relation to the ultimate goals of education and guide their daily educational and pedagogical activities towards the realization of these ultimate goals, thus creating the conditions for connecting daily issues to long-term goals. On the other hand, connecting daily issues to long-term goals requires the use of reason, control over emotions, and resistance to the pressure of immediate matters.
ii) Utilizing the power of generalization: In this skill, generalization does not mean stating a general rule as a result of induction or examining specific cases, but rather it means that a person should be able to find a general rule about the causes of an issue or event through deep study of a few instances. This type of generalization is called creative generalization. It is through such generalizations that specific cases find meaning and form a coherent whole. Acquiring this mental skill enables a teacher to understand the causes of a student’s misbehavior or the occurrence of a problem by deeply studying and examining it, and to strive to articulate it.
iii) Paying attention to theoretical aspects: This characteristic and mental skill mean that a teacher should not confine themselves solely to tangible matters and habitual behavior, but should employ their innovative and creative mind, placing specific cases within a broader theoretical framework to understand their implicit meanings and gain a deeper understanding of them.
b) The depth of philosophical mentality: This aspect also includes the following characteristics if a teacher considers it as a mental skill and applies and cultivates it in their way of thinking, making it a habit and a mental disposition. These characteristics will play an important role in improving their performance.
i) Questioning and investigating what others assume to be obvious and self-evident: Often, personal biases and unwarranted prejudices prevent one from discovering the truth, leading to a superficial understanding of matters. However, a philosophically nurtured mind questions the obvious and self-evident, testing their truth or falsehood against the measure of reason and thus discovering their reality. If this characteristic and skill are cultivated in the mind of a teacher, they will not accept the opinions of others without question; they will not be confined by baseless prejudices and will allow students to question what is assumed to be certain.
ii Uncovering fundamental matters and expressing them in any situation: A teacher who has developed philosophical thinking not only questions the obvious but also strives to deduce the fundamental aspects and important ideas that are effective in solving the problems of that situation. This mental skill enables the teacher to solve problems that cannot be resolved through ordinary and specific methods by considering the essential points deduced from various situations. Since a teacher faces different students and unpredictable situations where conventional methods are not the solution, learning and applying this skill plays an effective role in solving new and more complex problems in various educational and training matters.
iii) Judging and deciding based on a hypothetical-deductive method: This characteristic and mental skill means that a person with a philosophical mindset does not turn to an inductive method to examine the basis of a general judgment about the occurrence of a situation. Instead, they use the empirical and observable matters of that situation as the basis for deducing a general judgment about similar situations, state a hypothesis in general terms, and use it to solve a new problem or situation, and revise their hypothesis based on that. As their experiences accumulate, they revise their general hypothesis and adopt a more suitable solution. One of the characteristics of teaching is the limitation of time, meaning that the multitude and variety of situations on one hand, and the urgency of reactions on the other, cause the teacher to have little time to think during class, to put situations together and weigh the consequences of each. They must act immediately. Therefore, the mental skill mentioned is one of the valuable strategies that can greatly assist the teacher in deducing judgments for situations.
iv) Being attentive and sensitive to the hints and implicit meanings of every situation and connecting matters with one another: This characteristic is closely related to the feature of uncovering the fundamental matters of a situation. An individual with philosophical thinking, after discovering the essential elements and components of a situation, examines the explicit and implicit implications of these elements and understands their meanings and significances, thereby gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of an issue and its consequences. A teacher who has internalized this mental skill in their way of thinking acts with greater awareness. Many actions and behaviors can occur in a teaching session, some of which, like the way of walking in the class or the teacher’s reaction to a sneeze or cough, may have implicit effects on the students. Therefore, this mental skill helps the teacher consider the explicit and implicit consequences of each of their actions and behave with greater awareness.
c) The dimension of flexibility in philosophical mindset: This dimension has the following components, each of which implies a mental skill that a teacher can utilize while performing their duties.
i) Releasing oneself from psychological rigidity: Psychological rigidity refers to a person’s inability to reconsider past experiences when faced with a situation, to act appropriately for that situation, and typically results in a habitual reaction that is not suitable for the current context. A teacher with this philosophical mindset usually behaves appropriately in new and unforeseen situations, which are characteristic of the teacher’s workload, because their attention is consistently focused on the ultimate goals of their work. They respond appropriately by considering the fundamental aspects of each situation and revising their past experiences, thus being less influenced by specific situations and matters.
ii) Considering issues from various perspectives: Most people in society, whose philosophical mindset has not been strengthened or developed, tend to view matters only from the standpoint of negation or affirmation, often considering different issues to be contradictory, such that affirming one means denying the other. However, this is not always the case. Different matters may not be in contradiction; affirming one does not necessarily deny the other. Therefore, those with a philosophical mindset can look at issues from various angles and propose different hypotheses to solve problems. A teacher who has developed this mental skill can act more effectively and efficiently in solving various problems and situations.
iii) Evaluating the thoughts and theories of others without regard to their source: Often, when evaluating and judging the thoughts and theories of others, people are influenced by prejudices that may not have a logical basis. A person with a developed philosophical mindset can evaluate the thoughts and theories of others without paying attention to their source, thus determining their validity or invalidity based on logic and reason. A teacher, like any thoughtful individual, should be able to develop this mental skill and not base judgments about the theories and thoughts of their students and others on illogical biases and prejudices. This mental skill falls within the emotional competence of the teacher, but due to its close connection with other components of the philosophical mindset, which are mostly related to the cognitive competencies of the teacher, it is mentioned here.
iv) Patience in provisional and conditional judgment and an interest in acting in ambiguous and uncertain situations: This characteristic means that when people have the freedom to act, they encounter uncertain situations where they cannot make a general and absolute judgment. On the other hand, they must act within the context of the situation that has arisen. In this case, individuals with a philosophical mindset, instead of seeking absolute meanings, accept provisional judgments and act based on them, knowing that their judgments may change. Therefore, as soon as they find evidence for or against, they revise their judgment and act accordingly. This is why these individuals do not shy away from facing ambiguous situations. The complexity of teaching, the emergence of unforeseen situations, and the time constraints that compel teachers to make judgments and decisions based on changing conditions towards the ultimate goals of education and training. Therefore, the teacher can benefit from this mental-practical skill in various uncertain situations.
Apart from the mental characteristics and skills emanating from the dimensions of the philosophical mindset of Smith’s perspective, philosophical discussions also have other functions in the cognitive competencies of the teacher, which can equip the teacher to face various situations. Some of these characteristics include:
i) Analysis of concepts and terms: The analysis of words, concepts, and terms has always been a special activity of philosophers during their philosophical practice. Ludwig Wittgenstein was the philosopher who drew the world’s attention to the relationship between the meanings of words, their use, and ultimately the connection between different meanings of words and various uses of language. Wittgenstein believed that “philosophy is not a theory, but an activity; the result is not a number of philosophical propositions, but the clarification and explanation of these propositions”. A teacher who learns these activities, when faced with concepts and terms, first strives in their analysis and clarification, and thus can elucidate their true meanings for themselves and their students.
ii) Solving general problems: The study of philosophy increases the capacity and ability of teachers to solve problems. Philosophy helps the teacher to organize ideas and subjects; extract what is essential and necessary from a mass of information; find subtle differences between viewpoints and common grounds among opposing views; and integrate various perspectives.
iii) Growth and enhancement of the power of reasoning: Philosophy provides the teacher with the opportunity to formulate clear formulations, conduct beneficial discussions, and present categorized examples, thereby helping the teacher to increase their ability to convince as an individual. This means that it teaches the teacher to construct their viewpoints rationally and defend them logically against criticisms, understand conflicting situations, and reveal them with strength and clarity. Such an opportunity for the teacher is provided through philosophical discussions inside and outside the classroom.
3.2. The Role of Philosophy of Education Discussions in Teachers’ Skill Competencies
This group of competencies represents a collection of practical skills and abilities related to the process of education and training. Discussions on the philosophy of education are less directly involved in providing practical skills for teachers, but they indirectly affect the teacher’s performance through their impact on cognitive and emotional competencies. Nevertheless, learning philosophical topics entails some operational skills that teachers can benefit from. In this context, the following can be mentioned:
i) Writing Skills: Philosophy and the philosophy of education, by examining challenging texts, teach the teacher the art of interpretive writing and the use of comparative methods in writing, with an emphasis on maintaining justice and fairness in examining alternative situations. Also, through the full description of concrete and tangible examples, it teaches the writing of descriptive texts and, through the development and strengthening of teachers’ abilities to present their theories, it teaches them to write challenging texts.
ii) Communication Skills: Studying philosophy leads to the growth and strengthening of the teacher’s communicative and expressive abilities. This is achieved through the teaching of some basic self-description skills, for example, the skill in presenting ideas and structured discussions. Such skills help the teacher to remove ambiguities from their writings and increase their ability to express complex information.
3.3. The Role of Philosophy of Education Discussions in Teachers’ Emotional Competencies
In line with learning the teachings of philosophy and the philosophy of education, emotional competencies are formed in teachers that play an important role in improving the quality of their educational and training activities. These competencies include:
i) Achieving Personal Unity: Personal unity refers to the harmony between the emotional, moral, social, and rational aspects of a human being that constitute the pillars of their personality. A teacher who possesses personal unity is not influenced by environmental conditions and transient situations; there is no contradiction in their thoughts, and they act according to what they say. Personal unity is a valuable characteristic that many philosophers and thinkers have possessed. Familiarity with the lives of these individuals in the discussions of the philosophy of education inspires the teacher to internalize this valuable ethical characteristic in themselves.
ii) Cultivating Empathy and Tolerance: Discussions in the philosophy of education familiarize teachers with the diverse worldviews of people around the globe. This awareness expands the breadth of thought and emotion in the teacher. It enables them to see the world through the eyes of others, to understand the emotions of others, and to empathize and communicate with them. It also leads them to respect the beliefs of others, not to fear confronting new ideas, and not to be prejudiced only towards their own beliefs.
iii) Strengthening and Nurturing a Spirit of Curiosity: One of the personality traits of philosophers is that they are curious and inquisitive, much like children. They desire to add to the breadth of their knowledge by examining the causes and nature of things. Teachers can also be inspired by studying philosophical discussions and may adopt the approach of philosophers, especially in matters related to the process of education and training.
The Role of Philosophy of Education Discussions on the Level of Teachers’ Beliefs
The level of teachers’ beliefs has a significant impact on the level of their competencies and is, in fact, determinative of their competencies. In this section, the impact of discussions on philosophy and philosophy of education on the level of teachers’ beliefs about the components of education and training is examined.
One of the most important philosophical methods of changing teachers’ beliefs is the conceptual change approach. The nature of the conceptual change approach is to replace the existing viewpoints of student-teachers with correct ones. For example, a common concept among student-teachers is that teaching is the transmission of knowledge. However, today’s teacher educators strive to replace this with a constructivist view of teaching. The strategies of the conceptual change approach include:
i) Student-teachers should be encouraged to reflect on a concrete and tangible teaching experience.
ii) Help student-teachers become aware of their implicit beliefs that play a significant role in their understanding and behavior towards a situation (experience) and similar situations.
iii) Critiquing these beliefs for student-teachers and students will lead them to realize the incorrectness of the existing beliefs.
iv) Provide the student-teacher with an alternative theory that seems scientific and practical.
v) Finally, practice behavior consistent with that alternative theory.
In this approach, it is necessary that the alternative theories for student-teachers be reasonable and comprehensible, as well as beneficial and appealing, so that they are placed at a higher level than their current beliefs.
“The influence of the inner on the outer,” according to Bagheri, is one of the general characteristics of humans. By ‘outer,’ it refers to all observable matters that emanate from a person, and by ‘inner,’ it refers to aspects that are not observable, such as thoughts and intentions. Based on this characteristic of humans, what is inside them affects their outward appearance. With this foundation in mind, one of the principles of education is inner transformation. If there is a change within a person’s inner self, their actions and behavior will also be reformed. One of the ways to transform a person’s inner self is to change their perspective. This method aims to alter a person’s perception of matters. This transformation is among the definite requirements for change in human behavior and actions.
The most important role of the philosophy of education is to provide the teacher with insight into various areas. Since the philosophy of education deals with the analytical and critical evaluation of various matters that the teacher is involved with, it thus provides deep and extensive knowledge, transforming the teacher’s perception of these matters and subjecting their beliefs to change and evolution. Consequently, the teacher’s actions and behavior are transformed. Some of the matters related to education that the philosophy of education provides new insights to the teacher include:
The teacher’s attitude towards the nature of humanity: The subject of the teacher’s work is the human being, the student. Understanding humanity is the foundation of any educational system. What is the truth of humanity? What talents and existential capacities does it have? What constitutes its well-being? These issues play a fundamental role in directing the goals of education, its principles, and methods, etc. Depending on the teacher’s perception of human nature, their educational stance towards the components of education will differ.
To clarify this matter, some characteristics of humanity from the perspectives of Marx and Islam have been stated, and the educational stance of the teacher influenced by each viewpoint is presented.
|Human Characteristics from the Perspective of Marx||The educational stance of the teacher is influenced by the perspective of Marx|
|Humans are the product of social and historical conditions.||Lack of belief in students’ innate talents|
|Humans lack will and choice, and historical determinism forms their personality.||Lack of attention to students’ presentation and choice in the process of education and upbringing|
|For humans, there are no absolute moral principles; all moral values are relative.||Cultivating a sense of ethical relativism in students|
|Human Characteristics from the Perspective of Islam||The educational stance of the teacher is influenced by the perspective of Islam|
|Humans have an innate inclination towards God.||Uses educational methods such as good advice, reminding of blessings, and teaching lessons to awaken the students’ innate nature.|
|Humans possess inherent dignity.||With educational methods, they facilitate the honoring of the student’s personality by enabling abilities and overlooking shortcomings.|
|Humans are capable of thought and reflection.||Cultivates a spirit of thoughtfulness and contemplation in students.
With educational methods like assigning tasks according to capacity, punishing according to the error, and warning, treats students justly.
|Human potential is evolving.||Does not keep the student passive in educational activities.|
|Humans have will and choice.||Values their voluntary activities, utilizing their willpower to develop their personality aspects.|
|Humans are capable of following examples.||Introduces a perfect model to the student and strives to be a suitable role model for them.|
The tables above demonstrate that a teacher’s perception of human nature has a complete impact on their educational and instructional orientation. Examining human nature and its implications in setting goals, content, principles, and methods of education in various philosophical schools lays the groundwork for clarifying the teacher’s perspective on the student and leads to greater self-awareness of their viewpoint regarding the nature of the student; it also provides the correct and new insight to facilitate change and reform.
The teacher’s attitude towards the nature of knowledge: Epistemology or the theory of knowledge is one of the important subjects that is examined in the philosophy of education. “Philosophical epistemology” is the main guide for educators because education at all stages draws from knowledge about how knowledge arises in humans and the types of knowledge.
In each method of acquiring knowledge, teaching, and evaluation, a specific conceptual analysis about the nature of knowledge is implicit. Therefore, not every method of acquiring knowledge, teaching, and evaluation is compatible with every conceptual analysis of the nature of knowledge, and vice versa. Thus, a teacher may be unaware of their presupposed conceptual analysis of the nature of knowledge, which underlies their teaching method and evaluation, or even their actions may be in conflict with their beliefs about the nature of knowledge. To clarify this matter, some components of education from two perspectives—behaviorism, which is based on philosophical realism, and constructivism, which is based on philosophical relativism—have been compared.
|Behavioral Perspective – Concept of Knowledge||Constructivist Perspective – Concept of Knowledge|
|Behavioral Perspective – Teaching Methods||Constructivist Perspective – Teaching Methods|
|Behavioral Perspective – Assessment||Constructivist Perspective – Assessment|
|Behavioral Perspective – Role of the Student||Constructivist Perspective – Role of the Student|
The table above shows how a conceptual analysis of the nature of knowledge affects many components of education, including teaching methods, evaluation, and the role of the student. Two different perspectives on the nature of knowledge can lead to different and sometimes contradictory effects on the components of education. In this case, the philosophy of education helps the teacher become aware of their viewpoint regarding the nature of knowledge; it articulates the presupposed conceptual analysis hidden within it; it states the components of education that are compatible with it; it clarifies the advantages and disadvantages of various viewpoints and offers an alternative perspective that is more beneficial and acceptable. This enlightenment enables the teacher to deeply understand the philosophical foundations of their profession and creates coherence between their beliefs and actions.
The teacher’s attitude towards values: Another important issue examined in the philosophy of education that leads to the teacher’s self-awareness is the issue of values. As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of the teacher’s work involves the intervention of ethics and ethical reflections in education. As Nel believes, “education speaks of values and is generally an ethical act”. Therefore, the teacher’s perception of values, whether absolute or relative, and whether mental or objective, has a complete impact on the orientation of their educational activities, as well as on their teaching ethics and general morality.
The Role of Philosophy of Education Discussions in the Level of Teacher Professional Identity
The level of teacher identity encompasses a summary of organized information related to the teacher, such as personality traits, values, social roles, interests, physical characteristics, and personal biography. Fundamental questions at this level include: Who am I? What kind of teacher do I want to be? How do I perceive my role as a teacher?
As previously mentioned, changes in teachers’ professional identity can be difficult and may be distressing, even if the incorrectness of some of the student-teachers’ self-conceptions becomes clear to them. However, there are strategies that can help student-teachers become aware of their professional identity and, if necessary, correct it.
In this context, Arthur Combs, a prominent researcher in teacher education, believes that effective teacher training requires changes in student-teachers’ perceptions, emotions, attitudes, beliefs, and their inferences about themselves and the world they live in. Among these, the perception student-teachers have of themselves, that is, their self-concept, is the most important and affects all aspects of their lives. Since the self-concept of student-teachers is a mental and internal matter, change in it is possible only if they participate in the process themselves. In other words, creating change in an individual’s self requires a new experience that helps the person develop a new perspective about themselves. One of these methods is introspection.
Introspection means that student-teachers view matters related to their profession from a broader, deeper, and relatively new perspective. With this profound understanding, the groundwork for changing individual beliefs about oneself is laid. This approach is one where discussions in the philosophy of education can play a significant role, as mentioned in the section on teacher competencies. The philosophical mindset and cognitive skills derived from it enable student-teachers to evaluate matters related to their profession, including the role of the teacher, more deeply and broadly, and pave the way for changes in their beliefs and perspectives.
One of the valuable teachings of the philosophy of education for student-teachers is that it fosters the development of broad-mindedness and freedom from prejudice. Studying the thoughts of great thinkers and educators in the field of education expands the intellectual horizons of student-teachers. Consequently, they become acquainted with various worldviews and life perspectives that are not necessarily contradictory. This facilitates the re-examination of their assumptions and beliefs about themselves. Therefore, it may lead to a change in the self-concept of student-teachers, enabling them to view themselves more positively.
The Role of Discussions in the Philosophy of Education at the Level of a Teacher’s Mission
The level of a teacher’s mission: As previously mentioned, this is the deepest level and essentially the main source of behavior for student-teachers. This level includes responding to questions such as what is the ultimate purpose of a teacher’s work? Among the educational lessons for student-teachers, only the philosophy of education can impact this deep internal level of their being. In this regard, the philosophy of education can fundamentally influence the level of a teacher’s mission by providing insight into the nature of existence, human nature, the ultimate purpose of creation, and personal goals, and consequently affect their other internal levels. The way of providing insight into the nature of humans (students) was previously detailed at the level of a teacher’s beliefs.
Here, the provision of insight into the nature of existence, the purpose of creation, and the personal goals of student-teachers is explained in detail.
The teacher’s perspective on the nature of existence: Every thinking person, including teachers, will one day, after meeting the essential needs of life, ask themselves whether the world they live in has a purpose. Is it created by a creator, or has it come into existence by itself, by chance? What is my place in this world? Is death the end of my life? Why have I been created?
The answers to the above questions shape the teacher’s worldview, which is essentially their philosophy of life. A teacher knows, whether consciously or implicitly, that all aspects of their life are influenced by their philosophy of life. At the very least, the role of the philosophy of education in this matter is such that it compels and motivates the teacher to contemplate such questions, to understand their importance in their life, and to achieve greater self-awareness of their philosophy of life, which they believe in anyway.
As a result of the teacher’s effort and search for answers, their perspective on the nature of existence may change, and consequently, they may revise their outlook and philosophy of life.
The teacher’s perspective on the essence and purpose of education: One of the fundamental axes of the philosophy of education is the determination and clarification of the goals of education. There are various viewpoints regarding the essence of education and its goals. A teacher’s belief in any of these viewpoints affects all their activities. Among the common perspectives in determining the ultimate goal or goals of education is the examination of the purpose of human creation in religious texts. In this approach, by examining and analyzing religious teachings, ultimate, intermediate, and detailed educational goals are inferred and set as the standard for student education.
The central question at the level of a teacher’s mission is why a human being, a teacher, has been created and what should be the ultimate goal of their work? Therefore, the philosophy of education with a religious approach can play a fundamental role in determining and clarifying the goals of education for the teacher and in understanding the teacher’s mission. It can also have an impact on all the internal levels of their being, including identity, beliefs, competencies, and behaviors, and consequently have a more effective and constructive influence on the external process of teaching and education.
Islamic philosophy of education aims to create and nurture this lofty belief in student-teachers that the philosophy of human existence and their education is to recognize God as the sole lord of humans and the world, to submit to His lordship, and to reject the lordship of others. The formation of this belief in student-teachers causes them to align their teaching mission with their divine mission and to facilitate the guidance of students to a noble human status.
On the other hand, Islamic philosophy of education promotes the idea among student-teachers that human nature and happiness depend on their actions, which can be liberating or enslaving, considering human free will. Therefore, despite all external and internal limitations, ultimately what forms human identity and determines happiness or misery is one’s actions. The formation and nurturing of this thought in the conscience of student-teachers cause them to look at their actions in general, and their teaching mission in particular, with a greater sense of responsibility.
Creating self-awareness and coherence in the personal goals of student-teachers: One of the important factors in educating a good and influential teacher is their goals. Human behavior is always purposeful. In fact, individuals give direction to their personality through the goals they set for themselves and their activities. A teacher’s behavior in the classroom and the methods they use are influenced by their goals and beliefs.
When a teacher’s goals are unclear, their behavior will also be disorganized. This disarray of goals can also cause disruption in the interaction and communication of students and others with the teacher, as they cannot clearly decide about the teacher’s personality.
To eliminate this mental disarray, discussions in the philosophy of education can lay the groundwork for the growth and expansion of a personal educational philosophy, making student-teachers aware of goals that are in line with the teaching profession and personal life they are striving to achieve. Having a philosophical viewpoint gives them clarity and transparency, offers them coherent perspectives, and encourages them to ask themselves the following questions as a hypothetical critic and reflect on them:
1) What is truly important and worth doing? 2) What does the school and society expect from a teacher? 3) Beyond teaching, what am I looking for? 4) Is what I want valuable? 5) Are there better and more important goals that I should focus my attention on?
The development and expansion of such a viewpoint among student-teachers require their active participation in classroom activities and problem-solving, in such a way that they express their personal beliefs and goals during activities and discussions; defend them with valid reasons; provide opportunities for their classmates and teacher to critique them, and if necessary, seek to change and improve them.
Conclusion and Summary
The analysis and examination of the nature and essential characteristics of a good teacher, through the discussions of principles and philosophy of education, have revealed that, according to Korthagen’s onion-like layered model, these discussions provide valuable insights at many levels of internal change in student-teachers, which can lead to the improvement of their educational and pedagogical performance. Among the entire set of educational and even specialized courses for student-teachers, few, if any, can play such a role and function in improving the quality and effectiveness of teachers. Therefore, it is necessary to pay more serious attention to the content and teaching methods of this course, diagnose the reason for its lack of impact on teacher performance, and provide the conditions for its effective influence.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.