Schools

As time marches on

Shaping memories for a lifetime. Photo: R. Eswarraj  

Throughout history, teachers have always come from different backgrounds — with varied experiences, motivations, expectations and preparations. There is a story in each of their decisions to become a teacher, and quite often there are wonderful anecdotes from their work that tell us a lot about them.

My grandfather was a teacher in a school in Thanjavur. Even several years after he had retired, he was often surrounded by people wanting to learn Tamil, English and Mathematics from him, though he was 70-plus by then. Many of his students were foreigners who visited The Theosophical Society frequently. His passion drove him to put extraordinary efforts for his classes. This would always amaze me. I used to wonder what could be driving him to do such things. Definitely not money for, he earned nothing from all this.

He also taught my grandmother to speak and read English and instilled in her a great interest in reading the newspaper daily, so she was well informed for a woman of her time. This helped her carry on a conversation with his pupils who came home, and made people look at her with awe.

My husband remembers Professor A.L. Krishnan, past Principal and Head of the English Department at A.M. Jain College, who taught him more than 50 years ago. Professor Krishnan would mono-act roles like Shylock and Portia from Shakespeare's “The Merchant of Venice”, taking his students back in time. His oratory and style of teaching must have been something special, to have left such a lasting mark on his student.

The more I think about these things, the more I am convinced that only passion could have been the driving force for such teachers. For the best teachers, the challenges come from within. They take it upon themselves to pass on what they knew to the next generation. And the way they do this brings them an exalted position — liked and remembered well by many of the students who pass through their classes during the teaching years. I am sure this is the way it has always been with teachers — and it may remain so in the future too. In fact, teachers have greater opportunities and better facilities available today than what obtained earlier, so they should be able to engage even more strongly with their students as a result. But there are also many challenges.

New challenges

Many parents today are well educated; this is especially true of mothers, who in the past were considerably less educated than their husbands but not so nowadays. So, there is greater support and involvement with children's education and holistic development from home. On the other hand, the same development has given opportunities for both parents taking up jobs, which leaves them with very little time for their children. These developments bring challenges to the classroom too.

With the rapid developments in technology, and with the consumer market being flooded with very well researched and developed educational products, children can find a lot of information at their fingertips, along with a great variety of methods for imbibing it. This no doubt sharpens their wits. But in the process, their dependence on and confidence in the educators sometimes take a back seat. So there is great demand and obligation on the part of a teacher to teach using a pedagogy that encompasses the knowledge and information so gathered by the students.

Here I am reminded of a Grade VII student in our school who was unwilling to agree with the teacher's explanations on global warming. According to him, from what he had read, there was no such thing as global warming and that it was an exaggerated phenomenon. In such situations, where a student brings in different opinions into the classroom, the teacher is confronted with two challenges; one, to make him appreciate what she wants to teach and, the other, to recognise varying skill sets and degrees of knowledge in the class.

Educators must now teach to the higher order thinking skills of students. This means the teachers themselves must be highly accomplished, and be able to recognise these higher order skills and incorporate the same into their lesson plans and assessment processes.

Testing times

Teaching apart, in any society, there is also the emotional challenge that students confront, especially when they go through adolescence. For instance, the strong influence of the visual media exposes children instantaneously to different emotions through a window with both audio and visual effects. But some of them also lend themselves to revealing to children things they should not be watching yet.

During the teen years, students are also more likely to believe that teachers don't understand their emotions or needs, or give sufficient weight to their views and opinions. This shows up as attitude problems in the class. The challenge here is for the teacher to be abreast of all that attracts their attention, and use such things to guide them effectively.

Problems and opportunities

The ubiquitous gadgets — cell phones, ipods and mp3 players — take students to a dream world from which it is quite tough to pull them out. Added to these are the social networking sites which blur the line between knowing things and merely seeing/hearing them. Online, the ‘truth' of what a student learns is also less clear. At the same time, one cannot take away the opportunities for learning through these devices and the worlds they connect to. It is for the teachers to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses that students have picked up through these exposures.

To be able to manage these challenges, a teacher should also think of strategies that will make her deal with the situations better. She must be well prepared, have all kinds of learners in mind while preparing and delivering a lesson, be ready to answer a variety of challenging questions from students, and be prepared to respect and appreciate children for what they know.


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 12:26:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/school/as-time-marches-on/article2420761.ece

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