This has been bothering me for a little while now. I keep bumping into some of the kids I taught last year. That’s perhaps not the right word at all. Perhaps I didn’t actually teach them anything. Every encounter leaves me riddled with disappointment and guilt. The conversations with them always make me feel that they learned nothing last year and now it’s much better because they are learning a lot. (I have to emphasise that I am an absolute fan of their new teacher and one of the reasons why I was so relaxed to leave the school was because I knew he was going to take over my groups. Also, I don’t crave my students’ laments about how much they miss me half a year later.)
It just makes me think. And this thinking often brings me to the same conclusion. We get these kids very young and we engrave our idea of what teaching and learning is at a very early stage. They earn their roles as students and we tell them what a teacher is like. And when they encounter a different set of values and a different attitude they are shocked and almost incapable of adapting to it. This is of course reinforced by school administrations and parents who were brought up with the same kind of reverence for grades, tests and authority. The roles are fossilised in most systems.
I got very excited in September last year when I got a call from out of the blue pretty much begging me to do what I had thought I was bursting to do: teach in a secondary school in Budapest, and put all my ideals and ideas about teaching into practice. I kept banging my head into walls and encountered pretty severe resistance from students. Every time I tried to discuss the issue with my students I got the same answer: you should be more strict. We should do more tests. We have only done two units of the book. When are we going to prepare for the language exam? You like us too much.
Of course, the students were reflecting the school management’s and their parents’ expectations as well. For a while, I tried to resist and kept at it, but soon I realised that there was little use trying to change people, and I found myself reverting back to the good old model of teaching to test.
This was the main reason that I didn’t mind finding someone to take over my spot, and then finding the best possible person, I was relaxed about the way things turned out. But then there are these encounters with my ex students, and while I don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of, I always feel a bit of blame in my students’ voices for the one year of their lives I wasted. They might be right but knowing what I know – believing in independence; taking responsibility for one’s own learning; that sticks and carrots are a clumsy and useless method of evaluation; engaging the intellect and emotions of the students; and not succumbing to the traditional way of teaching – has become such a vital part of who I am as a teacher and a human being that I am not willing to sacrifice that.
It was with these thoughts that I sat down to my computer that evening after talking to one of these ex-students, who though very kind and gentle, sort of made me feel the same guilt.
And then I open my Facebook account and I find this.
The link pointed to this video presentation:
And I felt somewhat better. Yes, this is something I want to achieve: my students watching videos like this in their spare time and thinking: he might have shown this but if not I’m sure he will like it. Did she learn something from me she might not have otherwise? Perhaps. She definitely made my day and restored some of my somewhat diminished trust in students and teaching.
I think I can only teach people I like (having said that, I do like just about everyone), and I can only teach people who understand that learning is not a duty; it’s why we are here and why we are special. We can enjoy learning from each other and just because one party gets paid to do so it does not mean that they have the authority. It only means that their responsibility is even bigger.
Very interesting that just as I finished this post I came across this Conversation on TED: Well worth a read and it’s somewhat relevant.
I will look at this issue from a bit of a different perspective in my next post, where I will look at the responsibility schools take (or not, as the case may be) in sapping students’ abilities to think creatively. I believe that all we are doing is preparing school leavers to work the system, which of course compels them to maintain the system, rather than giving them the tools, mentality, motivation and bravery to critique, reform or even tear down systems that don’t serve them well (enough).
- Bring Language to Life in Your Classroom (by Karen Frazier) (teachingvillage.org)
- Being Involved=Belong to Class (mmselsectionc.wordpress.com)
- Authority leads students to responsibility (mmselsectionc.wordpress.com)
- Letting students teach themselves. Sugata Mitra’s new experiments in self-teaching (soclassaction.wordpress.com)
- Why I Teach (tokickapigeon.wordpress.com)