Sunday, March 24, 2013

Honesty in the Classroom - In Praise of Younger students

I have been teaching for some time already, and this thought just hit me. Sometimes as teachers, we demand slightly too much from ourselves and our students that we forget to stop and look at the little victories that happen from day to day.

What am I talking about? For instance we expect students to "get" plate tectonics or demand and supply concepts straight away. Those are no doubt the easiest out of the bunch, but we also immediately want them to perform in their essays and writings. Aren't we then, no different from those magic-pill attitude from parents that demand instant gratification from us teachers as well? Instead of breeding this very unhealthy climate of learning, we should therefore understand that it takes time, and that students do put in plenty of effort as well on their own learning. As teachers we should acknowledge that.

So what are those little achievements?

1) Students always try to listen. They might try for 2minutes and give up the rest of the 118minutes in the lecture, but at least 2 minutes of their attention is given to us. They might be worriers as well - worried about their other subjects, worried about their future when their parents talk about the rising costs of living, worried about their crush and if they'll meet him/her for lunch. They are like us, with small people problems as well.

2) Students put in effort when they know it means a lot to them, or for those that they love. I have seen them work hard, put in long hours that will surpass some adults. Some of them study from 9am to 9pm. I certainly tried that for my A'levels. So as much as they appear disinterested in the classroom, it's also a human failure, and us being humans - easily distracted and impatient - is not a sign that they are equally disengaged when they revise at home.

3) Changes might come in small doses, and in different ways that originally intentioned. I once remember a teacher who did not teach me geography well, but taught me a whole host of other things that became important later in my education. So perhaps, our impacts on the students might not always be known....the same can be said of negative impacts too.

4) Students appreciate their teachers more than proportionately to their lousy ones. Honestly, how many good teachers do YOU have. Can you can count them in one hand? I rest my case.

Learning is BOTH the role of the student and the teacher. We can only build the safety structures for the students eventually to climb the mountain. However, every achievement is not one of our own, but on part of the student.

We are told that we are role models, with this divine ability and duty to influence our students and their character. However, I greatly disagree with that. Teachers are not always good people. Having aptitude in teaching and content does not make us saints. Teachers have private struggles as well. We are also not always morally upright citizens, because some (if not most) of us, have a past of some sort that we do not want our students to know. I have known friends who deliberately become good or normal because of their occupation. How and why should we give up our individual stylisations, to pass on a false standard to our students, to only have them find out that these standards are impossible. Why do we then hold ourselves to hold to this impossible standard as well? It would be equally hypocritical to ask the same from our students. I feel, there needs to be some honesty in the classroom. A mark of a good teacher, is one that shows the student the map, but also allow them to understand the consequences of each strategy chosen. Then henceforth, the conclusions of the path the students take, is not one of our responsibility. We should also not hold ourselves responsible if not everyone can achieve the ideal.

Young people have their own set of personal struggles and while they may live a life of comfort, it is also a very terrifying time in life. They have to experience for the first time, the hard knocks of disappointment and betrayal, without the ammunition of emotional experiences that adults have to draw from. At the same time, they have to also learn their books, understand how the world works and be accountable to their parents, schools and friends. It is not an excuse to be lenient, but it is definitely a call for a deeper understanding and engagement. As adults of a previous generation, we may not always know better.

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