Before teaching, I used to think students wanted to learn. During my first year (my first day) of teaching I found that my students weren’t interested in learning. My students were interested in fighting, candy, cosmetics, graffiti, sleeping, and playing with a friend’s hair. My first year teaching was indeed, the worst year in my professional life. My students spent more time talking in groups, fighting and being punished by the head teacher, to the extent that we accomplished nothing the first semester.
My students did not have respect for each other, for their school, their teachers or their classroom. I was shocked by the daily violence between students and the constant corporal punishment meted out by teachers.
I was not willing to quit and I knew I could not change my students; I could only change myself. I needed to become the kind of teacher who deserved respect; respect for myself as a teacher and for the act of learning. My classroom needed to be transformed. To begin with, I started each class by removing all distractions from students. I took away all contraband which was restricted by school guidelines. This was the first step in making learning an object of attention.
When my students came into my classroom, they were only allowed to have a text book and pencil, everything else was removed or stored away. I also rearranged the classroom so that each student was an arm’s length away from their neighbor, so they couldn’t hit or play with each other’s hair. Now there wasn’t anything else to look at except me, the board and their books. I had their attention. Now, I began to make learning an object of conversation.
We began with basic exchanges, and then gradually worked in the lesson points. As students began exercising their language skills, I praised each student’s success. Every time someone did something right, I pointed it out to the class. Positive reinforcement and encouragement did more for class order than corporal punishment. Class infractions diminished; we had more time for learning.
With these gradual gains, we began to consider learning as an object of reflection. Students felt comfortable mulling over their own ideas; they began ruminating together in learning teams—and doing so naturally. Reflection is self-awareness complimented by the unknown; by potential and by desire. It’s a kind of intellectual kneading that blends various thoughts toward the goal of personal completion and renewal. Reflection both signifies growth and promotes growth. It makes a person whole. With these little successes and the newly felt confidence, I worked the class toward demonstrated knowledge.
I wanted the class to visually see their growth, as well as other teachers and parents.
How do we make learning visible?
Over the course of the year I used PowerPoint visuals to aid the students. The students were comfortable with this style of presentation. In order to illustrate their learning, I began limiting the visual/conversational prompts. At first students hesitated. Then they thought, smiled and engaged each other. They realized that they had the knowledge in their heads and only needed to share it.
During the teaching process, I had to quickly re-evaluate myself; the teacher became the student. I had to learn how to learn in order to teach. It was a painful process. I knew that I was responsible for teaching the students and that they were responsible for learning. But I had to learn to navigate my own classroom before we could arrive together at the desired destination: sharing the task of learning. The new ideas I gained were sought.
Seeking wisdom is an additional responsibility in teaching knowledge. I had to acquire new strategies that diminished learning by coercion and grew into learning for the love of learning. This was a Herculean effort. The challenge I face is to constantly renew the classroom vision and maintain learning momentum.
Teaching is a tiring endeavor. A teacher cannot live for the classroom alone; he or she must be renewed and rewarded as well. During this live-fire exercise, this running of the gauntlet, I have found happiness to be possible for not only teachers and students, but parents and administrators—when education does what it is supposed to do, transform lives.