“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some who didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor or lawyer or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”
~~~ Donald D. Quinn ~~~
Teachers are the change agents of the future. They train young minds and lay foundation for the future. It is a challenging task with diverse kinds of learners with even more diverse backgrounds and cultures in the melting pot of a classroom. Yet, the power of a classroom teacher is enormous. This is why Henry Brooks Adams said that the teacher affects eternity; he can never tell, where his influence stops.
Yesterday I was chatting with a friend who also happens to be the mother of a teenager. After discussions about all and sundry, the conversation veered to school, learning and of course teaching. She shared some insights into the nature of teachers at large in a classroom. And that brought me to write this post on teachers’ conduct inside classrooms.
Imagine these scenes.
Location – many Indian Schools especially board exam classes.
Time: January & February as many Boards have final exams in March / April. (This can happen in any class at any time, but when the fear of exams looms large, it impacts young minds more.)
Case 1: Teacher walks into a classroom. A revision lesson is in progress. The teacher has set a target for revision and starts the QA session. Children answer questions. Then a Q is asked to one student who has not been doing well academically. The child is not able to answer. The teacher launches a tirade. She starts from how hard parents work and struggle to send the child to school and ends with accusing the child of not being responsible enough.
Case 2: Teacher walks in and asks questions. This time the first student to whom the question is asked is unable to answer it. The result – the teacher literally flies off the handle and screams at students. She says she is already stressed out and swears that she does not need more. (A smarty mumbles in an undertone – “is your board exam writing child also giving you trouble like us???”)
Case 3: This teacher is also revising lessons. Whenever students don’t answer questions she goes into hype about how well her own children did when it came to studies. They never gave her trouble like these students. Why can’t you be like that? She rants.
Mind you these are no hyperboles. Let’s accept that these do happen in Indian schools and classrooms. Now look at the effect these responses / reactions make in children.
Case 1: The entire class empathizes with their peer and shuts out the tirade. They switch off. The class gives the teacher a blank ‘there-she-starts-again’ look. The teacher has lost and antagonized the whole class. It takes real effort now to get the transaction back to “I-am-ok and you-are-ok” again.
Case 2: The teacher conveys her own stress levels and reveals the picture of a totally not-in-control kind of person. Instead of having her students look at her in respect and with dignity, her body language conveys the message that when one is angry one raves and rants and that it is okay. Children covertly and overtly make fun of her.
Case 3: The teacher here demonstrates a grave mistake that many including parents make – that of comparing children. When even siblings show enormous differences betwixt each other, the teacher expects her diverse class to be like her child!
It goes without saying that these are totally negative strategies for the classroom. Raving and ranting in the classroom has never ever succeeded in its mission – be it making students learn or behave better. The earlier we stop this the better for us. Or else just like how corporal punishment is a crime now, teachers will soon be made accountable for mental harassment in classrooms.
As a teacher I always believed that we need to leave our baggage outside the classroom – be it mental or emotional. Approach the class without preconditions and judgements. Each class is a clean slate. And when we leave the classroom, erase everything from the slate. Don’t carry it to the staff room and make a mockery of children. More than anything else, it shows us in poor light and in poor taste, as undignified human beings. Let us not be the kind wherein we have to say, “I taught them, but they did not learn!”
Research* proves that effective teachers have high energy and the ability to help all students learn—the low achievers, the average achievers, and the high achievers. So let us demonstrate this in our classrooms. The teacher has to be a fine human being in the classroom. Understanding, care and concern and empathy along with firmness of purpose are hallmarks of a fine teacher. Our small actions can have lasting impacts. Get our students to love us first. Then the love for the teacher will translate into the love for the subject. Without much effort, we can get our students to pay attention, listen, work hard and do well.
Exam times are times when students are highly stressed. Many parents convey their worries and stresses consciously or unconsciously to their children. Many a times they have over expectations about their own children. Poor children reel and double under this burden. And if at this time the teacher also unleashes verbal whiplashes, it is grave injustice to children. We teach them violence in one form or the other through these seemingly simple actions.
Each child is an uncut diamond. Let us love them, understand them, care for them, empathize with them and through these polish the rough edges in them. Then they will shine, love us, love our subjects and bring for them, their parents, us and our schools glory. Such children will make a great society and a fine nation. Isn’t this then the aim of education?
*Wright, Horn, & Sanders, ’97 in “Teacher and Classroom Context Effects on Student Achievement: Implications for Teacher Evaluation” in the Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education