‘Children don't learn best when they're in fear, says Kamala Mukunda
It is a great time to be a teacher in India. The very idea of what a teacher should be is changing. Earlier, we thought the teacher had to know everything, and just press the switch for information to transfer into the students' minds. When some students behaved in disruptive ways, they had to be controlled or else the information flow would be interrupted!
So the teacher had to be good at controlling behaviour, and we all know the easiest way to do that is to use rewards and punishments. When I remember my teachers, I realise there were so few who allowed their affection for their students to show. Most of them were feared or cordially disliked. But today, we know a lot more about how children learn, and this is transforming the work of the teacher.
Today, children know a great deal when they first encounter a teacher. They have sophisticated ways of making sense of what they hear or see. They learn by creating knowledge out of all they experience.
In fact, they are ‘born to learn'. But there's a small catch: they are also full of their own interests and inclinations, and the match between these and what's on the syllabus is weak at best!
So the whole model of information transfer has to be thrown out of the window.
And guess what, we've also realised that children don't learn best when they're in fear, or when they're running behind rewards. This means a teacher has to be creative, affectionate, flexible and infinitely patient.
I happen to think that this makes the job more tiring, but also more fulfilling.
The major challenges for a teacher now are not how to manage and control students, but how to connect with, inspire and enthuse them. (I know, ‘challenge' is usually a euphemism for ‘stress'. But I'm all for euphemisms.) I don't have to waste my time inventing meaningless rewards and hurtful punishments. I can instead spend time getting to know the kids, letting them get to know me, and helping them learn what's on the syllabus. Actually this change mirrors a transformation in myself as I was growing up.
When I was very young, I used to play ‘school-school' standing in front of a bunch of potted plants and earnestly scolding them, stick in hand. Later, in high school, college and university, I repeatedly found myself helping my classmates understand the material we'd just been taught. I think I honed my skills of explaining in such a way that the other person understands; something that many of our teachers failed to do! Without realising it, I was changing my own ideas of what it is to be a teacher, and beginning to enjoy the act of teaching more and more.
Kamala Mukunda is a teacher at the Centre For Learning, Bangalore.