Teaching and teachers occupy a significant portion of the waking and working moments of my life and yet I'm sometimes puzzled about how to respond to questions like - what's the new trend in teaching methods? Or, what are the new innovative methods being implemented in schools to teach students?
The reason for my puzzlement? Teaching, at least good, sound teaching isn't about new 'trends', like trends in fashion or eating out! It's about knowledge of children and their differing learning capacities, it's about subject expertise, it's about skills in managing and orchestrating learning of a class of 30 or more students, it's about wanting to do the right thing by every child under their care. It's about being competent, creative and compassionate all rolled into one. This is what great teaching has been for decades and every Teachers' Day, indeed every day, we need to reconnect to that core purpose.
However in our country, for the overwhelming majority of schools and classrooms, teaching is still a curious amalgam of ancient and 19th century colonial paradigm. Teachers still resort to rote-based teaching-learning, memorisation of answers without understanding, a one-way transmission of information and they expect unquestioning obedience from their students. On top of this we add external trappings of seemingly modern pedagogy – like interactive whiteboards, ready-to-use topic-wise power point presentations and click-of-the-button assessments. I would hasten to add that there is nothing at all wrong with any of these, except that they cannot be used authentically if the teacher mindset is outdated. It's almost like giving a 9 year old, a book on philosophy or religion. A child is not yet ready to understand the nuances of great thoughts and ideas till he/she is of a certain cognitive maturity.
So in order to leap frog our teaching and student learning into the 21st century, we need to focus on contemporarising teachers' mindset and their attitude towards the profession. If there needs to be a national drive – then it surely must be enabling and inspiring teachers to think, question, articulate and reflect on everything they do! That comes only if their training has been thoughtfully designed and delivered.
Subsequently, a to-do list would be handy for teachers to sustain, what has been for many, including me, a lifelong relationship with teaching. A successful school is one that has made the following a part of its culture for teachers:
1. Consider teaching to be a key profession, as any other. Do not compromise its importance by allowing domestic demands to distract from the true purpose of teaching, as teachers are wont to do. It is not alright to think that since teaching doesn't pay as well as other jobs, one can slacken effort. The question is will big salaries bring out the best in teachers or will great teaching and professional teachers command better salaries? I would most definitely say, the latter!
2. Take care of your overall physical and emotional well-being – in order to teach young people we need to have large reserves of energy and enthusiasm, regardless of our age and teaching experience. Cynicism, indifference or monotony have no place in teaching!
3. Focus on continuously improving skills and expertise – both in the subject concerned as well as ways to connect with and help children learn with understanding. Technology is a handy tool in this context. Just like a doctor's success is determined by whether he/she helps patients recover from ailments and illnesses, a teacher's effectiveness is judged only by her/his students' learning outcomes. Plan, prepare, deliver, reflect and plan anew as on ongoing cycle.
4. Care for and show positive regard towards all students – a good teacher is someone whom all children trust and feel safe with; someone who is firm but fair and friendly too.
5. Take help and support from peers, seniors and specialists– collaborating with colleagues and learning from others is the only way to prevent teaching from being a lonely and sometimes mechanical endeavour.
Maya Menon (firstname.lastname@example.org)