Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 1: The Changing Teaching Profession and You

The Joys of TeachingEdit

She looked around the classroom, enjoying a blessed moment of quiet after the students finally left at the end of the day. “Ashley the teacher, that’s me.” she said proudly to the empty room. “But why am I doing this?” she added quietly—and realized she wasn’t always sure of the answer herself. But then she remembered one good reason: she was teaching for Nadia, who sat at the table to the left, always smiled so well and always (well, usually) tried so hard. And another reason: she was teaching for Lincoln, tired old Lincoln, who needed her help more than he realized. She remembered twenty other reasons—twenty other students. And one last reason: she was also teaching for herself, challenging herself to see if she really could keep up with twenty-two pre adolescents at once, and really accomplish something worthwhile with them. She was teaching so she could keep on growing as a person, keep on connecting with others, keep on learning new ideas. That’s why she was teaching.

Why be a teacher? The short answer is easy:

  • to witness diversity of growth in young people, and their joy in learning
  • to encourage lifelong learning—both for yourself and for others
  • to experience the challenge of designing and implementing interesting, exciting activities for the young
  • to aggravate the sense of attaining knowledge so that it can restored in the mind and propagated when required as in Hindu vedic way of teaching srutis and smritis.

There is, of course, more than this to be said about the value of teaching. Consider, for instance, the “young people” that I just referred to. They could be only six years old, or they could be sixteen, or even adults. They could be rich, poor, or somewhere in between. They could come from families who are Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, or something else. Their first language could be English—or something else. There are all sorts of possibilities. Whoever your particular students are, they will share potential as human beings: talents and personal qualities—possibly not yet realized—that can contribute to society, whether as leaders, experts, or supporters of others. Your job—I am tempted to say your privilege—will be to help your particular “young people” to realize their potential.

Nathan paused for a deep breath before speaking to me. “It’s not like I expected it to be,” he said. “I’ve got five kids who speak English as a second language. I didn’t expect that. I’ve got two, maybe three, with reading disabilities, and one of them has a part-time aide. I’ve had to more about using computers than I ever expected—there’re a lot of curriculum materials online now, and the computers help the kids you need more practice or who finish activities early. I’m doing more screening and testing of kids than I expected, and it all takes time away from teaching.
“But it’s not all surprises. I expected to be able to ‘light a fire’ under kids about learning to read. And that has actually happened, at least sometimes with some children!”

As a teacher, you will be able to do this by laying groundwork for lifelong learning. You will not teach any one student forever, of course, but you will often teach students long enough to communicate an important message: that there is much in life to learn—in fact more than any one teacher, course, or book can provide. The knowledge could concern science, math, or learning to read; and the skills could involve sports, music, or art—or whatever. Whatever your teaching is about, its immensity can be a source of curiosity, wonder and excitement, and a reason to be optimistic about life in general and about your students in particular. Learning, when properly understood, is never-ending, even though it sometimes focuses on short-term, immediate concerns. As a teacher, you will have an advantage not shared by everyone member of society, namely an excuse not only to teach valuable knowledge and skills, but to point students beyond whatever they will be able to learn from you.

“OK,” Jennifer Fuller said to me, suddenly getting almost businesslike in her tone. “Here’s my typical day teaching tenth grade: I get up at 6:30, have a quick breakfast, get to school by 7:45 if the traffic’s not bad. Then I check my email—usually there’s at least a little stuff from the principal or some other administrator, maybe one or two from parents concerned because their child is doing poorly in one of my classes, maybe one or two from students—“I’m going to be sick today, Ms. Fuller!”—that sort of thing. Now it’s 8:15 and I have two hours before my first class—this term I teach only biology, and I only teach periods 2, 3, and 5. Maybe I have marking to do before class, or maybe I have to get a lab demonstration ready. Or maybe we all have to troupe down to library for a staff meeting (groan…). Whatever I don’t finish in the morning, though, I have to finish after school. But that’s also when I meet with the Ecology Club (I’m the faculty advisor), so I might have to finish stuff in the evening. I try not to do it then, but a lot of times I have to. Whatever happens, though, I always quit by 9:00—that’s always when I watch TV for an hour, or just ‘vegetate out’ with a book.”

Whatever you teach, you will be able to feel the satisfaction of designing and orchestrating complex activities, ones that communicate new ideas and skills effectively. The challenge of designing and orchestrating is attractive to many teachers, because it is where they exercise judgment and “artistry” the most freely and frequently. Your students will depend on your skill in these areas, though sometimes without realizing how much they do depend on it. They will need you to know how to explain ideas clearly, to present new materials in a sensible sequence and at an appropriate pace, to point out connections between their new learning and their prior experiences. Although these really take a lifetime to master, they can be practiced successfully even by beginning teachers, and they do improve steadily with continued teaching over time. Right from the start, skill at design and communication of curriculum is one of the major “perks” of the job.

The very complexity of classroom life virtually guarantees that teaching never needs to become boring. Something new and exciting is bound to occur just when you least expect it. A student shows an insight that you never expected to see—or fails to show one that you were sure he had. An activity goes better than you expected—or worse, or merely differently than expected. You understand for the first time why a particular student behaves as she does, and begin thinking of how to respond to the student behavior more helpfully in the future. After teaching a particular learning objective several times, you realize that you understand it differently and more deeply than the first time you taught it. And so on. The job never stays the same, but evolves continually in new directions. As long as you remain in teaching, you get to have a job with novelty.

As a teacher its very important to understand the stranded,temperament and the mother tongue of the child.As a teacher its very important to have a sense of beingness with the child so that the child should feel free to communicate with the teacher.Its very common that a child has a kind of fear psychosis and they fail to communicate and this leads him towards failure.

Are There Also Challenges To Teaching?Edit

Here, too, the simple answer is also “yes.” Every joy of teaching has a negative possibility lurking near it. You may try to make a difference in students’ lives, but you may also have trouble reaching a certain individual student. The student simply does not seem to learn much, or never seems motivated, or often seems unfriendly, or whatever. And some problems can be subtle: when you call attention to the wonderful immensity of a field of knowledge, you might accidentally discourage a student without intending to—make her feel incapable of learning “enough.” The complexity of designing and implementing instruction can become overwhelming, instead of satisfying. Exciting, unexpected events in your classroom can become chaos rather than attractive novelty. To paraphrase a popular self-help book, sometimes “bad things happen to good teachers.” [1] But as in the rest of life, the “bad things” of teaching do not negate the value of the good. If anything, the undesired events make the good, desired ones even more valuable and satisfying, and render your work as a teacher all the more important. As you will see as from reading this book, there are supports and strategies for maximizing the good, valuable, and satisfying when teaching. You can bring these resources to your work, along with your growing professional knowledge and a healthy dose of common sense. In this sense you will not need to “go it alone” in learning to teach well. You will, however, be personally responsible for becoming and remaining the best teacher that you can possibly be; the only person who can make that happen will be you. Some of the resources for making this happen, and in all likelihood that you will welcome, are described in this book in the chapters ahead.

Before You Read Further: If you expect to become a teacher, decide what you think are the most important ideas or skills needed for this work. Go beyond obvious generalities (like “A teacher should know the curriculum and the students”). Focus on the kind of teaching that you personally hope to do, and be as specific as possible (like “A first-grade teacher should know several ways to introduce reading”). Look at your list of needed ideas and skills and ask yourself, “How, if at all, is this list different from what it might have been a generation—or even two generations—ago?”

Teaching Is Different From in the PastEdit

In the past two decades teaching has changed significantly, so much in fact that schools are not what some of us may remember from our own childhoods. The changes have affected both the opportunities and the challenges of teaching, as well as the attitudes, knowledge and skills that it takes to prepare for a teaching career. The changes are so important that they have influenced much of the content and discussions in this book, and even its title, Contemporary Educational Psychology.

To see what I mean, look with me briefly at four new trends in education, at how the trends have changed what teachers do, and at how you will therefore need to prepare yourself to teach. The first trend is toward diversity: students today are more diverse in many ways. The diversity has made teaching more fulfilling as a career, but also made instructional planning more challenging in certain respects. The second trend is toward instructional technology: classrooms, schools, and students use computers today than in the past for research, writing, communicating, and keeping records. The use of technology has created new ways for students to learn, but in the process has altered how teachers can teach most effectively, and even raised issues about what constitutes “true” teaching and learning. The third trend is toward accountability in education: both the public and educators themselves are paying much more attention than in the past to how to assess (or provide evidence for) learning and good quality teaching. The attention has increased the importance of education to the public (a good thing) and also improved educational choices for some students. But it also may be creating new constraints on what teachers teach and on what students learn. The fourth trend is toward increased professionalism of teachers. Now more than ever, teachers are in positions to assess the quality of their own work as well as that of colleagues, and to take steps to improve it when or if it is necessary. This change gives teachers more opportunity to use their professional expertise, but it also creates higher standards of commitment and of practice and therefore greater worries about teaching “well enough.”

How have these changes—as broad as they are—shown up in the daily life of classrooms? For the answer to this question, look at the trends again in more detail.

New Trend #1: Diversity in StudentsEdit

Students have, of course, always been diverse in the sense that each student learns at his or her special pace and special way, each has a one-of-a-kind personality, and each shows a unique pattern of motives to learn....(read more...)

New Trend #2: Using Technology To Support LearningEdit

For most teachers and classrooms, "technology" means using computers and the Internet as resources for teaching and learning. In principle, these tools have greatly increased the amount and range of information available...(read more...)

New Trend #3: Accountability in EducationEdit

In recent years, the general public and public leaders have begun expecting schools, teachers, and students to be more accountable for their work, meaning that schools and teachers are held responsible for their educational activities, and that students are held responsible for learning particular amounts or types of knowledge. (read more...)

New Trend #4: Increased Professionalism of TeachersEdit

Whether you consider the first three educational trends worrisome, excitng, or a mixture of the two, they have all contributed to a fourth trend in education, the increase in professionalism of teachers.... (read more...)

How Educational Psychology Can HelpEdit

All things considered, then, times have changed for teachers. But teaching itself remains an attractive, satisfying, and worthwhile profession. The trends just described mean simply that you need to prepare for teaching somewhat differently than in the past, and perhaps differently than your own teachers did a generation ago. Fortunately, there are ways to do this. Many current programs in teacher education provide a better balance of experiences for future teachers than in the past; they offer more time to practice teach in the schools, for example, and often instructors make concerted efforts to connect concepts and ideas from education and psychology to actual, useful practices when teaching. These and other features of contemporary teacher education make it easier for you to become the kind of teacher that you will not only want to be, but also need to be.

This book—about educational psychology and its relation to teaching and learning—can be one of these supportive features as you get started. To make it as useful as possible, the text makes continual reference to the demands of teaching and to current trends and changes in the teaching profession. A lot of those reference are framed around the daily problems and challenges—and satisfactions—faced by teachers, and especially by teachers who are relatively new at teaching. Topics are emphasized roughly in proportion to two factors: 1) their importance as reported by teachers and other educational experts, and 2) the ability of educational psychology to comment on particular problems, challenges, and satisfactions helpfully.

The result is a book that is not just about the research happening in educational psychology, and that is organized a bit differently than many others in this field. Instead of making theories the centerpiece of the book, the focus is often teachers’ and learners’ roles, tasks and activities. Discussion of the theories is framed so as to contribute to understanding these roles, tasks, and activities. Wherever possible and appropriate, too, the research is related to the current trends in education discussed earlier in this chapter—either to support those trends or to oppose them or (sometimes) both at once. As it happens, educational psychology contributes strongly and concretely to understanding teaching, learning, and the changing educational landscape in which teachers do their work. As you read the chapters and sections of this book, you will (hopefully) see why.

If you want a preview of what is in each of the chapters, see also the detailed table of contents for individual chapters; they can be found by going first to the general Table of Contents and clicking on individual chapter titles. If you want a relatively brief explanation of what educational psychology "is" without a lot of attention to its applications to teaching per se, try the Wikipedia article Wikipedia:Educational Psychology.)

Chapter Summary: The Changing Teaching Profession and YouEdit

Teaching certainly offers a number of satisfactions; namely, witnessing and assisting the growth of young people, lifelong learning, the challenge and excitement of designing effective instruction. Four educational trends have affected the way that these satisfactions are experienced by classroom teachers:

  1. increased diversity of students,
  2. the spread of instructional technology in schools and classrooms,
  3. increased expectations for accountability in education, and
  4. the development of increased professionalism among teachers.

Each trend presents new opportunities to students and teachers, but also raises new issues for teachers to deal with.

Educational psychology, and this textbook, can help teachers to make constructive use of the new trends as well as deal with the dilemmas that accompany them. It offers information, advice, and useful perspectives specifically in three areas of teaching:

  1. students as learners,
  2. instruction and assessment, and
  3. the psychological and social awareness of teachers.

Key Terms from Chapter 1Edit

  • Accountability in education
  • Action research
  • Adequate yearly progress (AYP)
  • Assessment
  • Diversity
  • High-stakes testing
  • Instructional technology
  • Lifelong learning
  • No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB)
  • Professionalism
  • Teacher research

Internet Resources for Chapter 1Edit

Educational Testing Service

Try this website if you are curious to learn more about licensing examinations for teachers, including the PRAXIS II test about "Principles of Learning and Teaching" (PLT) discussed in this chapter. As you will see, specific testing requirements vary somewhat by state, but usually amount to an examination about subject matter knowledge, and often one about principles of teaching and learning as well.

Education branch of UNESCO

UNESCO is the abbreviation for the “United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.” This organization has extensive information and news about all forms of diversity in education, viewed from an international perspective. The challenges of teaching diverse classrooms, it seems, are not restricted to the United States, though as the new items on the website show, the challenges take different forms in different countries.

EdChange Associates Council for Exceptional Children

These two websites have numerous resources about diversity for teachers from a North American (USA and Canada) perspective. They are both useful for planning instruction. The first one—maintained by a group of educators and calling itself EdChange—focuses on culturally related forms of diversity, and the second one—by the Council for Exceptional Children—focuses on children with special educational needs.


  1. Kushner, H. (1983). When bad things happen to good people. New York: Schocken Books.