The Fault in Our Teaching: Part 1

Ever since I started teaching I heard many tell me that I was too friendly with the students. Never in my wildest imagination did I thought I would be told that I am ‘too friendly’ with the students. I still do not understand how my being friendly is a problem for other teachers, as long as it does not impact a child’s learning negatively, because after all that is why we are here, right?

Apparently people have a habit of confusing friendliness with leniency. I have a strong belief in maintaining balance. I am neither too friendly nor too lenient. There are boundaries that I have set. However, what the main problem teachers think is that this results in students taking ‘advantage’ of the ‘friendly’ teachers. But have we ever wondered why this is the case? Why do students feel like they can ‘use’ such teachers?Treat-others-as-you-would__quotes-by-Swedish-Proverb-90

Unfortunately, the problem with our teachers is that they have been strict for far too long. The problem arises when we as adults forget that just like adults have ego, self respect and dignity so do children. I still vividly remember how my history teacher threw my copy across the classroom floor when I got all my answers wrong in 6th grade. I was hurt. I never respected that woman. I never learned anything from her. I don’t remember anything I studied during her class but I do remember this one event. It is carved into my memory.

When teachers emotionally or physically abuse children, often children become too shallow. So when they ‘rarely’ see a ‘friendly’ teacher they assume that she is weak and will be easily manipulated to their will. Okay so now the children sound like evil villains. Remember this, bad people aren’t born they are made. The environment at home matters, no doubt about that, but the way students are treated at the school matter too. An average child spends half of his/her time awake at school.

For all the teachers holding on to grudges against children who falter at some point and do something unethical, please forgive them. Not for their sake but for your own sake. For all the teachers trying to be authoritarians, stop bullying them. Not for yourself, but for the sake of everyone involved. For all the teachers who do not admit they are wrong and feel ‘hurt’ when corrected by a student, let go of that ego. You are only teaching children to be perfectionists, which is incorrect and impractical.

I respect teachers who make mistakes, accept them and apologize. I respect teachers who are so down to earth that they consider themselves equal to the children and not superior to them. Treat your students the way you want to be treated!

My Teaching Philosphy

For me, learning is a process of acquiring and enhancing knowledge and skills. Since aptitude varies from individual to individual, the process of learning should also vary.

According to my teaching methodology, a teacher’s main job is to facilitate learning. The process of facilitated learning is where students are encouraged to take more control of their learning process. Therefore, when I teach, I drive the learning process of the students on their inquiry, curiosity, and questions. I base the child’s learning on discussions that result due to the inquiry and make sure that every child is included in the discussion and has something to add. There is also ample evidence that supports that active learning promotes memory retention.

Learning Pyramid by Howard Gardner

Learning Pyramid by Edgar Dale (1946)

Figure on the right shows the learning pyramid developed by Edgar Dale (1946), an expert in audiovisual education. This pyramid is, to a huge extent, very accurate. It shows the approximate amount of learning acquired when using various methods of teaching. Most of the learning takes place when one is teaching others. This is why I involve most of my students in activities where they themselves are explaining what they had learnt to others. This can be done by involving them in group discussions or presentations of any kind related to the topics. Furthermore, I like to integrate various types of learning methodology. Research supports that students retain more when the instructor mixes different teaching methodologies.

It is evident from research that every child is different. Learning is different for every child. The theory of multiple intelligence challenges the idea of a single Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Howard Gardner (1983) has mentioned 8 types of intelligence:

  1. Verbal-linguistic intelligence
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence
  3. Visual-spatial intelligence
  4. Musical intelligence
  5. Naturalistic intelligence
  6. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  7. Interpersonal intelligence
  8. Intrapersonal intelligence

Everyone has all eight types of the intelligence listed above at varying levels of aptitude. Perhaps there are even more than these that are still undiscovered. I believe our schools should be able to harness the intelligence and interests of students and pivot learning around what interests them, for interest and passion is a great driving force for learning.

However, this does not mean that what works for one student might work for another. This is something every educator should cater to and keep in mind. Some students need separate one on one time. I make sure to keep personal counseling sessions after each chapter is finished to answer questions, revise, and review the previous material. William G. Spady said it right:

“All students can learn and succeed, but not on the same day, or in the same way”

Throughout my experience in the education system, either learning or teaching, I have realized that we base our learning on the child’s capacity to cram; not remember, but cram. Cramming is different and remembering is different. Memory matters. While everyone has different capacity of retaining information, cramming has proven to be very useless in the long run.

Furthermore, test scores do not generally test what they aim to; especially not in Pakistan’s education system. Tests are made by teachers therefore; it changes from teacher to teacher and it also depends on the teaching styles. Most teachers don’t let the students explain in their own words because they would make mistakes. Mistakes are a huge part of the learning process. We need to give room to students to make mistakes but we also need to set a limit to how many mistakes might indicate zero to no learning. Furthermore, I have found rubrics to be very beneficial in this regard. They help breakdown the various elements of measurements.

Since the dawn of technology information flow has changed. It is faster. Every day we gain access to new information. Every day that previous information becomes obsolete. Research has shown what a student learns while he/she starts college changes exponentially by the time he/she graduates. It is becoming more and more important to teach kids how to synthesize information after developing fundamental concepts, than teaching them how to cram. I am in no way undermining the importance of remembering important facts, rules, and laws, however my main aim is to help students access and synthesize that information.

Changing era means changing learning styles and it means teachers need to change the way they have taught and to a huge extent what they have taught. Furthermore, just like learning, teaching methods are also ever evolving and a teacher is someone who will have to unlearn some techniques and learn some new one as Alvin Toffler has said:

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”