Aao Parhao – A lesson less ordinary
My experience of teaching high school students has been rewarding, frustrating and overwhelming – all in one fell swoop. I’ve come to believe it is through teaching that one truly learns. Every year the teacher is a year older, perhaps wiser. The students, however, don’t age. Yet, either through the work of evolution or technology, the classroom seems to fill itself with a batch that is smarter at outsmarting the teacher. The profession, by its very nature, forces you to keep up with the times. And with time, the ways of teaching are changing too. The classroom has become a whole new monster since I was on the other side of the teacher’s desk.
I think the primary agent driving this change has, of course, been technology. With the exposure that students now have to the ideals of the West, more and more have been trying to emulate how students in the United States conduct themselves in the classroom. This, however, poses a problem when the only case studies they have been exposed to are the exaggerated settings depicted in movies.
In my first week as a teacher, a student asked me if I was on Facebook and how he could find me. I had to make a call: be forthcoming about it and ask him to add me or draw a line. But to have said no without giving a reason would have been a thing I would’ve expected my teachers to do when we did not have such ready access to internet and had to take the teacher’s word for it. Instead, I asked him if he was certain he wanted me to know what was on his mind and to go through his pictures knowing that, being his teacher, I could choose to reprimand or embarrass him on a public forum. He was taken aback.
Clearly, the thought that a teacher would read and see things he wouldn’t want them to hadn’t crossed his mind. I then went on to tell the classroom that though I’d want to be a friendly teacher, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a ‘friend’. So with the request denied without having been sent, I saved myself the embarrassment of my students not seeing all the inappropriate pictures I am tagged in from time to time (with me not having gotten my head around how to manage the privacy settings). It was, in fact, more to do with me saving ‘face’ than them. That was perhaps the first instance I realised teaching would be something that I was going to learn more from than my students would from me.
Incidentally, after the first few years of teaching, I began to realise I was becoming progressively less patient in the classroom. This stemmed from the fact that an affable teacher is easier to take for granted. And whatever the advantages of being a congenial personality are to get on the right side of students, they are prone to keep pushing the boundaries as to how much personal information they can pry out. This process of erecting a wall, though, was eventually becoming a barrier in my effectiveness as a teacher. And gradually, I began to strip it down in a bid to be the teacher I always wanted to be: an approachable but stern one.
From what all the teachers I have interacted with have told me, it is an on-going struggle. And apart from the few naturally-gifted ones, most say they have to constantly keep their mood in check to make sure they don’t drag their emotional baggage into the classroom. No student appreciates a teacher who lashes out because he/she is having a bad day, because they spilt their coffee or had an argument with their spouse.
And trust me on this: students have a knack for knowing.
In a classroom such as mine, filled with adolescents, hormones are raging. They are discovering themselves physically and emotionally; some of them are in considerable distress in trying to cope with their changing bodies and feelings. The worst thing a teacher can do, and which most of us inevitably end up doing, is building an ‘us and them’ relationship with the students. Unless the child thinks of you as someone who understands what they are going through, he or she will never take anything you say seriously.
A couple of years ago, I had a student who was far ahead of the others both academically and creatively. N* aced all her subjects, math or art, and was the captain of a number of teams. Suddenly, she stopped performing. Her grades fell but she didn’t seem to care. Her affliction could only have been ‘love’.
Being a teacher, I wanted to tread carefully; so I gave a lecture to the class on being infatuated. I looked at N when I stressed how getting attention from the other person was not the end of the world. Being the intelligent person that she is, she took the hint and gathered herself. I like to think it was me who helped her get her grades back, but even if it wasn’t I could tell she didn’t think of me as ‘them’ anymore. By belittling students, you create a vacuum that forever divides. Save for the episode with N and a few others, I learnt this the hard way.
Teaching is by no means a walk in the park. And like any other profession, it requires a fair bit of communicational tact. But it can be one of the most rewarding experiences ever, for there is no feeling more gratifying than the one you experience when a student suddenly ‘gets it’. Their faces light up; it is like an epiphany. And it is in those moments that one realises how in their capacity as a teacher they can shape these young and wandering minds.
When you’re young and eager to learn, every little discovery is fascinating. How fascinating can a lesson on vowels or square roots be? It’s how you, as a teacher, make it.
This blog is part of an interactive campaign called Aao Parhao – Jo Seekha Hai Wo Sekhao (Come Teach – Teach All That You Have Learnt); a Call-to-Action to help change the future of Pakistani children, launched by the Express Media Group in collaboration with Ilm Ideas.
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The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.