A Fantastic Friday

I treasure weekends! They help me revive, recharge and do nothing much and laze around – well, just be myself. I love being at home; cooking food that I love; staying in touch with loved ones back in India over the web; reading books; listening to music; spending time on Sudoku & crosswords; going for walks in the morning and finally do some bit of planning for the week ahead. This weekend was especially welcome as I would be having an extended weekend due to holidays for the UAE National Day celebrations on 2nd and 3rd December.
Holidays, therefore, bring a sparkle to my eyes; a warm broad smile to my lips; an energetic spring to my steps and a relaxed laziness to my demeanour.

So, today I woke up by 6 am and by 6.45 went out for a walk. The sky seemed cloudy and it was very pleasant. After my walk, on my return I hopped into a supermarket and when I came out, there was a superfine drizzle. I had the choice of going by cab… but the smell of the earth was so tempting that I trashed the idea. I would walk in the rain and smell the earth… a rather unusual luxury in this part of the globe. It was a good 15 minute walk and I had a couple of carry bags. But all that did not deter me. As I was almost reaching home, a car stopped by, the man at the wheel lowered the glass and very courteously asked me if he could give me a lift! I thanked him and shook my head – the car sped along. I was truly happy to see the goodness in people.

Once I came home, I plunged in to cooking breakfast and lunch. Made delicious Tomato Pachadi (a typical Kerala dish with coconut & yoghurt), bitter gourd fry, Keera (a kind of Spinach) thoran (a dry dish seasoned often with grated coconut) to go with rice. By then it was 10.30 am. As I walked into the living room, my eyes riveted at an unusual sight well beyond my balcony – steady rainfall! Excitement got the better of me. I quickly changed my home clothes, and went down, without an umbrella. Yes, it was raining quite heavily.  I walked into the rain. The sight of happy umbrella clad children wading through the waters and jumping into poodles met my eye. In fact, some fathers and mothers had brought them out to experience the rain. Adults on the other hand found shelter and walked along sun shades to escape the rain. I even espied a father clicking the picture of a girl playing in the rain. I walked along, taking care not to walk along the sun shade – I wanted to feel the rain on me!

The way back was even more enjoyable. The rain was was getting heavier and falling on my face. Every person that I met had a twinkle in their eye – either because they too were enjoying the rain like me or because they found my walking in the rain quite amusing! By the time I cam back to my building I was quite wet. I entered the lift and looked at myself in the mirror. Lo! I had worn my kurta inside out!!! However, this did not perturb me one bit. I told myself, it is not as if you walked around in the nude, Asha. So it is okay! The whole experience was so refreshing even as it brought out once again the child in me.

(On my return home, later in the day I wanted to find out what gives this heady fragrance to the Earth when the first drops of water fall on it. Did you know that some kinds of Actinobacteria are responsible for the intoxicating odour emanating from the earth when the first drops of rain fall in places that normally have warm climate? Or that the scent of rain on dry earth is called, Petrichor? Or that the word has Greek  origin? ‘Petra’ in Greek means stone and ‘ichor’ is the fluid that courses along the veins of Greek Gods? Or that the chemical that causes this odour is called Geosmin? Everything truly embeds some kind of learning!)

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Gathering clouds – the view from the 15th floor balcony of my home, today evening

The whole day was a rainy one. By evening the sky had black clouds and there were  strong showers too. This time it was accompanied by Nature’s fanfare. Yes, the clamour of thunder and the flashes of lightning heightened my rain experience – of the rain-starved- average-Indian expat… and that too from Kerala where the Monsoon really weaves its magic and spell binds the rain lover!

The Power a Teacher Wields

“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 eternityhe 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 in board exam classes.

Time: November-February (revision time) as many Indian 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 let us look at the possible effect these 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” stage 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 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, the average, 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, 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.

During exam times students are highly stressed. Many parents convey their worries and stresses consciously or unconsciously to their children. Many a time 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?

Source:

**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

Values: Taught or Caught?

Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi has come out with a value education kit. Now, you may ask, isn’t that good? Well, the only hitch is that along with the kit were the names of 47 must watch movies for students. CBSE felt that watching these movies can help students acquire values. Seriously, whoever thought of this wonderful idea is certainly clueless about education, children and how children can imbibe the right kind of values! Besides it is a grave sense of depravation that makes us bank for value lessons on Bollywood movies which a many a time are far far away from reality!

“Moral education is essential for all children today. I’m pleased that CBSE understands the importance of it and has brought together such a fantastic kit for teachers to be able to guide their students,” said, MM Pallam Raju, Union Minister for Human Resource Development at the launch of the “innovative” Values Education kit by CBSE.

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The 47 must watch movies include those like Boot Polish, Chillar Party and The Blue Umbrella; Taare Zameen Par, Parichay; Paan Singh Tomar, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, No One Killed Jessica, Baghban; those that give a heavy dose of patriotic flavor — Haqeeqat, LOC: Kargil, Kranti, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, Shaheed, The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey, Sardar, The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Upkar. There are also the “classics” — Purab Aur Pachhim, Naya Daur, Manthan, Mother India, Do Bigha Zamin, Jagriti, Do Ankhen Barah Haath, and so on. Among the English movies to have found its place in this illustrious list is “To Sir With Love” and “Cast Away”. Wah, Minister, Wah!!! It is even worse to see who else graced the occasion – the erudite Dr. Shashi Tharoor!

Wonder who will have the time to watch these movies! Or the patience!! Most of them run into 3 hours plus and if we expect our students to sit through these movies and imbibe values from them, then we are sadly mistaken. I don’t even want to look at whether the movies are the right ones – for what is right and what is wrong is extremely subjective. If I want my students to have a certain value, then I must model it. The students’ parents should model it. Leaders around them should model it. Without such real life models, is it logical to expect students to imbibe values by watching movies – and that too Bollywood ones? Why is it that mostly only Hindi films found a place in the list? Are only Hindi films capable of teaching values? Why not movies from other languages?

I would rather take up a different route to highlight values in a classroom. Watching this short movie (22 minutes) called Butterfly Circus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p98KAEif3bI followed by a class discussion on what impressed them the most / what would they have done had one of them been Will, the man with no limbs?

Or a simple poem like Advice from a Tree

Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter

Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light

Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots

Enjoy the view!

Ilan Shamir, from Advice from a Tree: Guided Journal, published by Your True Nature, ([Shamir 1999]).

a discussion followed by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XorBu-FKDTg

Or a simple story like this one: The Japanese Master

A great Japanese master received a university professor who came to enquire about wisdom. The master served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.

‘It is overfull. No more will go in!’

‘Like this cup,’ the master said, ‘you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you wisdom unless you first empty your cup?’

Or even a great song like “Imagine” which can be an effective tool to talk about war / peace / brotherhood and universal love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRhq-yO1KN8

Or better still this wonderful video from The Hindu titled Classroom to drive home and create awareness in the citizens of tomorrow about the unruly behaviour of our elected representatives and driving home the point – not to be like them!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Flmpg5IZ7qA&feature=plcp

I guess that this movie list was added on without giving much thought into it. Is that why I cannot see the same list and circular in the website anymore?

Finally, I am left grappling with this grave question in my mind: can values be taught or are they caught????

Prepare Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs

Why should we drastically change the way we provide our students learning experiences? According to former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. By the time today’s high school students take up jobs a decade later, many of those jobs would have died a natural death. Therefore our current methods may be irrelevant and inappropriate in preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs which may be radically different from what they are today.

In today’s knowledge driven world, students have plenty of sources to bank on. Well, the primary source is no longer the educator, but Google or Wikipedia. Even reference books like Encyclopedia Britannica are outdated because it gets printed only once a year. Wikipedia on the other hand gets updated round the clock. It is this aspect of Wikipedia that forced Encyclopedia Britannica to propose accepting additions, deletions and corrections from the general public in their online version – which by the way is not free like Wikipedia.

Today’s teacher can make the difference only when s/he teaches pupils the way how to sift the chaff from the grain from this plethora of information and use the relevant information in the best possible way. Learning by inquiry is what is needed. Pupils must get to answer open ended questions that will make them analyze, synthesize and create. Instead of teaching subjects we must teach children. For this to happen, we must not really depend on the text book but use it only as a prop to source information.

The focus of our teaching should be to engage students so that they build their PLTS (Personal Learning Thinking Skills). Pupils should be taught content to develop their skills, attitudes and competencies. What are the 21st century skills that students need in a knowledge based economy? Learning to collaborate with others and connecting through technology are top in the list. Assessment & Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) led by the University of Melbourne, a worldwide collaboration sponsored by CISCO, INTEL and Microsoft, divides these skills under four broad heads:

  1. Ways of Thinking: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Problem solving, decision making and learning
  2. Ways of Working: Communication and Collaboration
  3. Tools for Working: ICT and Information Literacy
  4. Skills for Living in the World: Citizenship, life and career, personal and social responsibility

If we as teachers need to equip the pupils entrusted to our care with all the above skills, we must stop cramming information in pupils’ heads and ask then to regurgitate in an answer sheet in the examination hall. Understanding concepts, applying them in practical or even real life situations as well as weaving in opportunities for analysis, synthesis and creation is what must happen in classrooms.

Over and above all these, today’s pupils must be imparted the skill to indulge in lifelong learning – be it at 17, 37 or 67 years, they must be able to keep on learning. For this our classrooms must become hubs where thinking is churned; inquiry is facilitated. There is a complete shift in the role of the teacher – from the seeming ‘fountain head of wisdom’ to the facilitator to the mentor and finally the coach.

Though it might seem a difficult option for the teacher, it is not as difficult as it is made to be. Acceptance of the need for change is the first and foremost step. Once that barrier is broken, things will fall beautifully into shape. I am sure we owe this to our students.

Reference:

  1. http://atc21s.org/index.php/about/what-are-21st-century-skills/
  2. Gilbert, Ian; (2010) Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google? The essential guide to the big issues for every twenty first century teacher: Routledge