02 November, 2010

The teaching chronicles - Part I

(Image courtesy : hccteachers/wikispace via Google) 

Sue of Sunny Days fame set the ball rolling (like she pretty much always does) the other day when she commented on a picture of mine on Facebook. A picture, which, if I may add, is more than 3 years old. She wanted to know if the kids I teach listen to me because I looked cute and like a total pushover in that picture.

Usha of Ageless Bonding also asked the other day if I had chronicled my “teaching experiences”.

The Mad Momma has asked me a couple of times as to how life as a full time working mom is treating me. Shameless me has not yet had the time to reply.

All in all, this post has been long overdue.

No clichés yet again, but fact remains that time does fly. As I drum up this blog post, I am rather acutely aware of the fact that it has been close to two months since I started working full time. It does not feel that long because time has simply been zipping past.

My teaching experience, before I took up this full time opportunity, had been restricted to the local primary and secondary schools. Once I started working full time for a language centre, I did realize that it required a whole different set of skills altogether. Like the saying goes, at every step of the way, there sure is something for each and every one of us to learn, no matter how old we get.

Teaching kindergartners, for instance, takes a lot more out of a teacher physically than does teaching Primary or Secondary students. Teaching Primary students takes a good mix of fun and focus with a healthy amount of disciplining thrown in. Striking a balance between all these factors is of primary importance. With the Secondary students, one has to be on top of the grammatical components that are being taught – because at any given point during the class, questions can be thrown at you. All in all, like I said, it has been a good mix.

When I first started teaching at the language centre, there were quite a few children who were hell bent on testing the waters. Exactly how far can we go with this new teacher ? Exactly how much indiscipline is she going to tolerate ? Exactly how much can we get away with ?. These are “The Three Tenets of New Students”. In any given teaching situation, a teacher is bound to come across students who are really keen on experimenting with these three questions and arriving at their own answers and conclusions. That is a given, irrespective of the age group.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve come across kids who have tried swearing loudly in class, kids who have (on purpose) left their cell phone ringers on, kids who have been outright belligerent, kids who have insisted on speaking in their mother tongue during an English lesson, kids who have insisted on coloring with normal lead pencils, kids who took it upon themselves to decide when a lesson begins and when a lesson ends, kids who howled their heads off, kids who smirked with that “I know it all. So I don’t need to listen to you” expression, kids who have been nothing but well behaved, kids who have shown a lot of focus and dedication towards learning English, kids who are extremely polite and well-behaved.

Like I said before, it has indeed been a very good mix.

During the early few days, as I worked at striking a balance in the classroom, situations did go slightly askew at times. But then again, everything has a phase of adjustment. Likewise, so did we. A teacher – student relationship is never a ready made one. It has to be built and yet again, with passage of time, it has to be consistently moulded and adjusted. Those wavelengths have to be primed to each other.

When I look at the very same classes now, I can see the difference. I can comfortably say now that I know what to expect of each class and the children in each class, definitely know what to expect of me.

Over the past month, there has been a definite shift in a number of children. Children, who, at the beginning of the term in September, came in dragging their faces along the floor are now enthusiastic members of the class. It is indeed a pleasure to see them change, to see them grow and adapt and to see them learning because they want to learn and not because they have to learn.

Over the past two months, I’ve seen a close quarters what a learning disability can do to a child. I’ve seen the erosion of self-confidence, I’ve seen the absolute inability on the part of the parents to come to terms with the fact that a child could have a learning disability. I’ve seen the sheer desperation on the faces of the parents as they cross their fingers, hope and pray that something somewhere will give and that their child will be able to adapt better to the demands of the world. I’ve seen what all of this does to children. It is very painful to watch a child going through something like this. More so, because you know you can work things, work around things for them to the best of your ability, you can give them your all and then some – but sometimes, even that falls a bit short. It simply isn’t enough. You ask yourself, you wonder, you question yourself as to whether there was something else that you could have done, whether there is something else that can be done to help the child. Trust me when I say this, nothing is more painful than a look of sheer anguish in those little eyes. I’ve learnt this only too well in the space of the past two months.

There are, even as of date, some children who treat these classes as some sort of an imposition on them. They did not want to enroll for these classes, their parents simply did it for them. They have reached a stage where they see the enthusiasm building among other kids in the class. Their ego still refuses to give in and they feign indifference, they yawn, they sit around with a defeated look on their faces. But I know it is just a matter of time and I’m prepared to wait.

One such girl in her pre teens was a fine example of the above. She refused to even acknowledge my presence in class initially. I used to have a tough time stifling a little smile. That battle inside her head was quite plain and evident. Over the past three weeks, I’ve seen the ice thaw – literally thaw and the icing on the cake was a couple of weeks bac, when, instead of just walking out of the class like she normally used to before, she waited, fidgeted, adjusted and re-adjusted the books in her bag, opened and closed her water bottle about 6 times and at the end of it all, gave me a rather shy smile, waved and said “Bye”. Last week, I had some paperwork to finish after class and she just sat down to chat after class. Yes !!! One more among the last few polar ice caps had just melted. And at the fag end of the day, it made my day.

Yet again, I would be lying if I did not mention here that there are indeed some days when, due to a wide variety of reasons and factors, I feel compelled to write to dictionary publishers and complain about the fact that the term "head banging" does not appear in the dictionary.  It is an extremely pertinent string of words actually "banging your head on the wall" - one that makes the literal "banging of ones head on the nearest concrete wall" seem painless !!

The past two months have brought me face to face with a myriad of situations which have only served to make me so acutely aware of the fact that we have two little gems at home, in Macadamia and Pecan. In a lot of ways, I guess I’ve begun to appreciate them more for what they are, positives and negatives included.

I've said a lot many times that Pecan's questions on a wide range of topics, are getting more and more complicated by the day. They are. But being in the midst of kids day in and day out, I have realized that curiosity is one factor that is fast declining among the present generation. It probably has a lot to do with the pressures and stress of the local schooling system in HK's public schools. Now, everytime Pecan throws a question at me, I am genuinely thrilled instead of flailing around like a fish out of water. I do, many a times, admit to Pecan that the answer to his question is beyond me and that we could check it out on the internet. Curiosity is indeed something that should be treasured in children and in all possible ways, kindled. I do send many silent "Thank You" notes to God Almighty for having blessed us with a child who is forever curious. For, I now realize that curiosity, as a feeling that is appreciated, is fast becoming extinct.

I've said many a times that Macadamia is a very loving and an extremely responsible child and that her mental maturity goes far beyond her chronological age. She cares. Period !! She cares deeply about her family, she cares about the pets at home, she cares about her friends, she cares about the world in general. Caring, yet again, seems to be on the decline. I come across plenty of children nowadays who simply do not care for anything or anybody. Nothing seems to matter, nothing has any effect and there is a visible sense of apathy in many children. Yet again, this has a lot to do with the public schooling system. Everytime I see Macadamia in her "I care about you" mode, it genuinely makes me happy. I used to wonder earlier on, if this very virtue in her would make her more susceptible to hurt later in life. But over the past two months, I've realized what a blessing it is to have a child as caring as Macadamia.

Teaching, as I've realized over the past eleven months or so, is not easy. It probably never has been, but then again, reality hits when one is actually in the teachers' shoes. It is very challenging, but then again, would things not be boring without challenges around ?

To specifically answer Sue's question as to whether I am a pushover in class - the answer is quite simply "No". But then again, neither am I a disciplinarian. To cut a long story short, there are a few quotes which are stuck to the back of my mind whenever I walk into a classroom. These quotes are golden rules for me because I do honestly believe that creating an environment conducive to learning is much more important than the actual learning itself.

All learning begins with the simple phrase "I don't know".

They may forget what you said. But they will never forget how you made them feel.

Treat your students the way you would want to be treated.

And the most important rule :

"Challenge of the day : Find something good in everyone."

3 voice(s) said so:

Just Like That said...

Good luck to you Gauri. Would you be floating n air if I said that this post reminded me of To Sir With Love? :-) It really did

utbtkids said...

I have worked with kids from 3 months to 10 years and I have to say that there is nothing to beat the 8-10 month old age.

Gauri, could relate to this post on many levels :) Every line of the post resonated with me. Yes, being a teacher made me appreciate my kids more, at times set me on a balance and sort out my unrealistic expectations.

The testing :) I can identify it anywhere and I know how to deal with it :)

Good one Gauri.

the mad momma said...

lovely post, Gauri. its so good to go back to being a part of your life via the blog. ... dont stop writing.