Negotiating the Role of the (Beginning) Teacher in the Classroom

Introduction

What is the role of the geography teacher in the classroom today? This is a complex question that has surfaced as a result of the recent (and upcoming) changes to the Singapore geography curriculum both at secondary and tertiary level. But perhaps the more important questions we should be asking are those that Brooks (2006) attempts to evaluate in her paper on Geography teachers and the making the school geography curriculum. She examined the “sort of geographical knowledges (that) trainee teachers are recreating in their classrooms” and questioned the “geographical knowledge the students may actually understand” (p. 75). Therefore, this paper attempts to review her paper by briefly outlining the main arguments and supporting evidence in Brooks’ (2006) paper whilst critically reflecting on its implications for teaching and learning geography in the Singapore context.

Argument 1: The Importance of (Accurate) Subject Knowledge Representation to Students

The first major argument in Brooks’ (2006) paper is how geography teachers influence the students’ takeaway of what school geography is by acting as a “mediator of geographical knowledge and a maker of the curriculum” (p. 77). She uses her lesson observations of 3 trainee teachers to bring out this complex role of the teachers in recreating geographical knowledges in the classroom. For example, through the study of the first trainee teacher’s lesson on solving acid rain, she noted how the study of acid rain had been simplified to a mere problem that could be solved using scientific means. She argued that the geographical aspect of the lesson was lost since the link between the “borderless nature of acid rain and its consequences in terms of the difficulty of establishing legislation and preventive measures” (Brooks, 2006, p. 78) across different countries due to differing political agendas was not brought out during the lesson. Hence, in presenting the issue of acid rain to students in this simplistic problem-solving manner, the geography teacher had mediated (or to put it in a more direct manner for this case study, restricted) the students’ understanding, both of the complexity of the issue of acid rain and the geographical nature of the problem. Brooks (2006) even went as far as to say that the “geography teacher has failed to teach them geography” (p. 83) if solving the issue of acid rain as a problem was all they took away from the lesson. This style of evaluating the geographical aspects (or lack thereof) in the lesson was similar across all 3 case studies presented in her paper. This was then used to illustrate how the geography teacher plays an important role in mediating the geographical knowledges of the students and even with the right materials, subject knowledge and pedagogical skills are required to effectively tease out the (accurate) geographical knowledge for the students.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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