Teacher conduct: How does it impact learning?

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A teacher interacts with students. A teacher's dress code oc conductshould be exemplary to students. (Photos by Lydia Atieno)

Growing up, Ange Thaina Ndizeye, a Kigali-based mentor, believed that like many of her contemporaries, she would pursue her graduate studies abroad. But this ambition changed as she sailed through high school due to what she says was the influence of her role model – her teacher – and consequently, she went ahead to study here in Rwanda and graduate as a medical doctor.

Ndizeye says she got inspired by this teacher, who used to love his work, and was so dedicated and passionate about his profession. She says this teacher was an inspiration to many others as he spared time to counsel them whenever need arose.

“Thanks to my interaction with him (the teacher), I came to believe that even in Rwanda, I would make it. He taught me that what mattered most was how passionate and dedicated one is towards what they are doing,” she says.

And because of her personal experience, Ndiziye believes that the way a teacher conducts themselves before students, either while interacting with them; in class and even how they dress, impacts learning and even future career choices.

She explains that being a good role model is every teacher’s responsibility as it plays a big role in shaping students.

Education experts also affirm that how teachers conduct themselves is important and can affect their learners positively or negatively.

According to Learning Theories, an educational perspective book on behaviourism, a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli.

It says that the learner starts off as a clean slate, and their behaviour is shaped through positive or negative reinforcement. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behaviour will happen again. Central to this reinforcement is no one other than the teacher.

On the other hand, Psychology For All, a non-profit US-based organization, indicates that the environment influences behaviour at different levels. Immediate behaviour is a function of the setting in which it occurs. The personality make-up of people is shaped by the nature and type of environment in which they live. In a school setting, whatever takes place in and out of class is driven by the teachers, implying that their conduct means a world to the learners.

To reinforce proper behavior and effectiveness among teachers, is also the reason the Ministry of Education has in a place a teacher’s code of conduct which schools are supposed to adhere to strictly.

Teachers’ say

Claver Ndahayo, the vice-chancellor for academics at Adventist University of Central Africa, believes that all teachers should be encouraged to always have positive attitude towards their learners.

“A negative attitude demotivates learners and can even push them away from school. If schools have proper guidelines, teachers will definitely create a good learning environment for each student,” he says.

Ndahayo adds that in whichever way they behave, either inside or outside school, teachers should be very cautious because they are role models to students everywhere.

Juliet Murekatete, the head teacher of Karangazi Secondary School in Nyagatare District, says it’s important for teachers to be good examples to their students as they are the basis of their future aspirations.

“Educating youth by impacting them positively in different ways, is not only helpful to students but also to the entire country because they are the leaders of tomorrow. Inspiring positive morals in them will enable them lead the country in an upright manner in future,” she says.

Murekatete observes that students can portray bad habits due to different issues they are facing either at home or in their daily lives.

As a good teacher, she says, knowing how to handle such cases in a way that will not hurt their feelings is part of what is required as it boosts academic performance.

At ESSA-Nyarugunga Secondary School in Kicukiro District, William Wasswa, the director of quality assurance, believes that a teacher’s conduct matters a lot to any learner.

“Take an example where  a teacher enters a class and doesn’t greet the students they are teaching. It implies to the learners that it’s okay not to greet people, which reinforces a bad character trait,” he says.

At their school, Wasswa says they encourage every teacher to put on a white overall whenever they are in class. This doesn’t only show uniformity of teachers, but also shows students how prepared they are.

According to him, teachers ought to know that whatever they do, they are setting an example to their students, and as such aspire to be good role models.

However, Wasswa says that it is not only the physical appearance that matters. For instance, they encourage teachers to have a discussion session with their students in the first 10 minutes of the lesson.

He explains that during this time, a teacher can take learners through career guidance. This gives students good time to share what is on their minds and ask for help where they don’t understand, which is also part of proper teacher’s conduct, he adds.

Jacky Irabagiza, a counsellor and matron at Martyrs School in Remera, Kigali, says since students spend most of their time at school, teachers should mould them in a way that will have positive impact in their life.

“Once a child has gone astray due to bad influence from the teacher, it’s hard to reverse it, especially when they have grown up in such an environment. A teacher is a mirror through which learning occurs, and their attitude has a big effect on the learners they are taking care of,” she says.

Irabagiza adds that the code of conduct also includes how teachers should organise themselves.

“If a teacher’s dressing code to work is good, their students will also follow suit,” she says.

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A music teacher instructs learners. A good teacher should be friendly to their students. 

Parents share their views

Patrick Sibomana, a parent in Kigali, says teachers should be guided by professional ethics. They should behave in a manner that sets a good example not only for learners but also entire community.

He explains that teachers should mind their talk, behaviour and even how they interact with other people. It makes it easier for parents to encourage their children to use teachers as a reference for ideal behaviour.

Annette Batamuliza, a parent and daycare teacher, says being an exemplary teacher cultivates loyalty in your students.

“This can also boost academic performance as learners will be more attracted to such teachers and not to other things that are not academic-related,” she says.

Officials speak out

Mary Kobusingye, the in-charge of special education in the Ministry of Education, recalls how in primary school they used to imitate and nickname their teachers who had bad habits or dressed inappropriately.

“It shows that a teacher’s conduct has either positive or negative impact on those you are handling. For instance, a teacher with a nickname due to bad attitude or behaviour gives room for students to waste their precious time discussing that particular teacher. But when they behave or conduct themselves in a proper manner, every student will want to listen and even emulate their character,” she says.

Kobusingye points out that, teachers with bad attitude towards certain students negatively impact them, which can even lead to academic failure.

At Rwanda Educational Board (REB), Claudine Nzitabakuze, the head of Teacher Education Management and Professionalisation Department, says although teachers conduct should be part of internal regulations of each and every school, there is teachers’ code of conduct, which is being developed.

He says the code of conduct will be there to guide teachers on the rules, norms and their responsibilities, and the consequences that come along with it not abiding by them.

Nzitabakuze, however, says a teacher is and should always strive to be a role model for the young generation.

“Teachers should keep in mind that whatever attitude/behaviour they portray, impacts students positively or negatively as they learn from the environment that surrounds them,” he says.

What students think

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Herve Tuyisenge

Herve Tuyisenge, S5 student at Kigali Leading Technical School

The relationship a teacher has with their students will define the future of this student. For instance, a teacher who keeps on encouraging students who are weak in some subjects makes them to have hope and continue working hard. However, a lot also depends on the students’ attitude towards their teachers.

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Rita Bishumba

Rita Bishumba, student at University of Kigali

No one was born knowing everything. We all learn from other people, and as students, I believe teachers influence our behavior and choices. Students fail because they didn’t get someone to guide them while in school, and yet this is the role of a teacher.

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Fredrick Rugamba

Fredrick Rugamba, student at Apaper Secondary School

We are supposed to follow the examples set by our teachers. I believe whatever I am told by my teacher is right. Teachers should do research before coming to class to avoid mistakes since most students believe teachers never give wrong information.

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Jeanette Uwase

Jeanette Uwase, student at St. Patrick SS Kicukiro

When I was in primary school, I used to perform poorly in mathematics. After guidance and advice from my teacher, I started learning how to love the subject and right now I perform better than many students. I think teachers should set such examples to give students hope.