Teaching Reflection: A Critical Incident

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A “prudent understanding of variable situations with a view to what is to be done” (McCarthy, 1984, p.2) encapsulates that moment when a teacher is met with new experiences that need resolving. Teachers are met with acts that define their personalities. While working in Asia, I was faced with one such dilemma as two students had complained to my manager that I was rude to them. I had mentioned, after class on the first day of a new term, that they had entered late, ignored me as they walked in across the class and sat down to subsequently talk with friends. Contemplating Asian culture which may ignore this kind of attitude, I still felt the need to deal with it.  What is called a ‘technical rationality’ (Schon, 1983), my reaction, I hoped, was a means to an end by telling them, in not so many words, that I would like them to respect the learning students and the teacher teaching. In this given situation and given they were both adults, who was right as we both had views? For this piece of writing, I would like to like to draw on Gibbs (1988) model of reflection with the hope of using the six steps to examine this classroom experience.

This ‘critical incident’ (Flanagon, 1954) emphasizes a direct observation of human behavior to examine the point of myself, the teacher, keeping two students behind after class to talk about their behavior towards the learning process. This is also the ‘concrete example’ (Peters, 1984) where we have to step back and test ourselves. One test is my ‘feelings’ (Gibbs, 1988) towards the students’ attitude of nonchalantly arriving late and traipsing past me. I felt somewhat annoyed as the class had been disturbed, I was disrespected as a teacher and unfortunately unsupported by my manager who told me to apologize to them.

Moreover, to ‘evaluate’ (Gibbs, 1988), the third stage of Gibbs’ model, which highlights the good and bad, is first to say that I chose a quiet moment to explain myself to the students after the class. The bad would be the students’ reaction to a situation they felt was nothing to be worried about which in Asian culture may have made them lose face.  So, to make sense of the situation and ‘analyze’ (Gibbs, 1988) it, I was left feeling that I was in the wrong. My manager was now telling me to apologize and forget about it although I felt he was driven by the Asian culture and business ethics of the customer is always right and do not say anything bad.

The “conclusion” (Gibbs, 1988) is to highlight and reflect on what more could I have done, seeing as I had to apologize (or jeopardise my job). Culture was an issue, but also I think attitudes to lateness of another teacher to which they had had the previous term. My ‘action plan’ (Gibbs, 1988) is now to see if the situation arose again what I would do. Of course, there are reasons for being late, and also for reactions to negative things said about someone. Culturally, maybe I was too abrupt and too serious. Finally, laughter and a smile work in Asian culture and also getting the students’ personal feelings as to the right behavior instead of pushing my personally held beliefs. Hopefully, this essay creates more reflection.


Peter Scales, 2008. Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector. 1 Edition. Open University Press.

Geoff Petty, 2009. Teaching Today: A Practical Guide. 4 Edition. Nelson Thornes.

Yvonne Hillier, 2005. Reflective Teaching in Further and Adult Education. 2 Edition. Continuum.

Andrew Armitage, 2011. Developing Professional Practice, 14-19. Edition. Longman/Pearson.

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