“Education is not about filling a vessel, but kindling a flame”, urged the great Philosopher Socrates.
This has been my belief since as long as I can remember.
It is important for a teacher to encourage children in widening their imagination, thinking and creativity rather than focussing on turning them into a knowledgeable adult through learning of facts. The sole aim of a teacher is not to focus on curriculum completion for their students. A teacher’s role is much more than just following the curriculum, completing the syllabus and being a curriculum specialist. Teachers are leaders who are catalyst for change in each individual child’s life in the classroom. This brings to mind a popular book Divasvapna by GijubhaiBadeka. The author GijubhaiBadeka was strongly against the kind of school whose sole aim was to teach and guide students with the final objective to overcome a test at the end of the year called the “examination”. The book stresses on the importance of establishing rapport with students before beginning any teaching. The tools used by the teacher for teaching – Storytelling, Games, Library building and Model readings made children don’t run away from him. They love and respect him unlike the students of teachers of other classes. Building a healthy rapport with students can effectively influence all important areas of teaching like classroom management, handling difficult behavior in students, academic progress, and freedom to express and so on. When you form a bond with your students and believe in them by inculcating “I CAN” in their belief system, the students will automatically feel connected to you.
If I ask you to think and tell me about your favorite teacher right now then I can bet that you would hardly remember the teacher whose sole aim was to complete the syllabus and that’s all but you would describe me about the teacher who made you feel valued as a human being and how she made you feel as you learned a particular subject – the sense of discovery and excitement in learning a subject and providing a space to make mistakes , fall down million times and get back up a million and one times every time with a readiness to face your failures.
My own experiences with facilitating learning in children started when I started teaching three girls in the age group of 6-10 years in my office neighborhood. Daily I spent time with them for 1-2 hours in the nearby park and sometimes in office itself. Initially I felt that for me it was not difficult to connect with these girls as they were the ones who had approached me for teaching and not the other way round. I did not have to make any effort in making them come regularly for class. In fact if on any day I was late then they were the ones who used to come to my office and eagerly waited for me to finish my task and go with them to the park. Daily we talked, played and enjoyed studies. Initially I didn’t have a structured plan and just went along with the flow with the purpose of connecting to my children. There were days when children were distracted and were not interested in what I had planned for them. This made me bogged down with how to go forward but upon reflection I realized that the basic purpose is to have children enjoy the process of learning and not to force them to do something in which they are not interested. Days went by and I felt more confident in my ability to handle more children. Then later on we started a project with 16 more children at the Gautam Nagar area of New Delhi. Initially I was pretty sure that I can handle 19 children along with my co-facilitator and my only focus in the beginning was to build connect with them. Two people handling 19 children seemed easy to me.
Whenever a new session starts in school, there is a tendency in new teachers to take feedback of all the students from previous teachers and also look at the previous year’s performance. As a result they have a propensity to come from the past when dealing with the new class for example in matters relating to children’s behaviour, performance in studies etc. and as a result children don’t get a chance to prove or express themselves because of the teacher’s biases. The teacher has to bring a shift by focussing on the fact that he/she is not teaching a class of 40-50 students, which may feel overwhelming to begin with, but he/she is dealing with a group of individual students. When teaching, they need to be addressed as individual students rather than a whole class. Having each child connected to the teacher makes learning fun and not burdensome.
When dealing with a new class, connecting to children is very critical for a teacher. Once this happens then curriculum and syllabus automatically follows. It is not important to focus on syllabus completion alone rather studies can be used as a medium to tap into the unleashed potential of children.
With all said and done, it was not an easy task to begin with and I had unknowingly formed many presumptions in my mind about many of them. For e.g. in my mind I had labelled four students as always being distractive, naughty and difficult to manage in the class without understanding the reason behind their particular behaviour. This caused a lot of problem as I was finding it hard to look at those four children in a different light. I learned that in such a scenario it is important for us to be conscious whether we are labelling the student as distractive or the particular behaviour of the student as distractive. This shift in perspective creates a huge difference in a teacher’s outlook because when a student is labelled as “distractive” then she is always looked upon as someone who is about to do something mischievous to distract the rest of the students. Whereas when a particular behaviour of a student is labelled as distractive then we may dig deeper and understand the reasons behind such behaviour. This can be done in peace time at the playground when the child is playing or while the child is enjoying her favourite activity. Or we can also talk to the child during the class by talking separately alone. When our intention will be to build connect with students then the ways of dealing will automatically follow.
At the core, building a relationship with students is about having an interest in getting to know their world attempting to understand them at a deeper and at the level of feelings. It requires teachers to fish out the pearls in a child’s personality. By pearls I mean the innate qualities of a child. The teacher needs to ask herself “Am I ready to drop my assumptions about this child and look at her in a new light focussing on her innate potential?” That’s where the shift happens.
Sometimes teachers tend to spend a lot of time in talking about their students to other teachers and the parents of children by providing feedbacks and discussing about a particular issue but very less time is spent in talking to the child herself. When teachers spend time in getting to know the world of a child, a lot opens in front of her. For e.g. being mindful of a child’s interest in a particular area, the teacher becomes alert and can help the child in enhancing her interest in that particular area.
Another thing which I have learnt from my experiences is that building a rapport with students also involves building a rapport with their parents and involving parents in the teacher’s plan for their child. This can be by seeking their cooperation in partnering with the teacher to nurture their child into a limitless adult. Besides parents, teachers are a role model for children and are also considered as second parents so imagine what can be achieved for the child if these two partners together nurture a child’s unleashed potential. Getting to know the parents at a deeper level also helps in connecting teaching practices to the child’s daily life and to develop curriculum that is meaningful to the students. This is especially critical if your students are from a different socio cultural economic background than you.
Some other things which I plan to do in my classroom on a regular basis are as follows:
1. Facilitate activities in the classroom that encourage students to talk about themselves and nurture their self-expression. These may include free hand drawing or drawing about a particular life scene, story making activities, classroom discussions involving lot of questioning on the topic of study, debating, journal writing about their feelings and so on.
2. Make it a point to attend any co-curricular activities that our students are taking part in whether in school sports day, annual day or anywhere else the child is associated. This makes the student feel connected to their teacher at a more personal level.
The greatest thing we as teachers can do is to offer a caring and supporting hand to our students in their journey of life. A teacher has the power to completely transform the school experience for a child. If a teacher gives up on a particular student then that student might as well give up on herself thinking that nobody believes in her. As teachers and facilitators of learning we often underestimate how even the smallest caring thought or gesture can have a huge impact on our students.
So go on and enjoy this beautiful feeling of being a teacher in a child’s life!