ALTHOUGH teachers are sometimes accused of not investing enough time or energy into their students’ learning as they should, at times it can be quite the other way round.
There are occasions when teachers can actually do a disservice to their students by giving too much and failing to recognise the fine line between teaching and learning.
It may however, not always be the fault of the teacher when she oversteps the teaching-learning boundaries and “over-teaches”. More often than not, she may be just fulfilling expectations which are to an extent tainted by some common misconceptions.
The more information the teacher conveys to her students; the longer she speaks or dominates the teaching-learning session in the classroom; the greater her role in “helping” students with their assignments or projects, the more efficient she is deemed to be.
A teacher who does not do as much for her students may very well be labelled as being less effective.
Hands-on: Instead of being spoon-fed by their teachers, learners can be resourceful by using the newspaper to improve their vocabulary. - File photo
I have often wondered about this especially when someone starts talking about the “declining standards of education” in the country. Although many comments are unsubstantiated and tend to ignore context and settings, there is a measure of truth in them that we simply cannot afford to sweep aside. Have we, by placing expectations on teachers which are not really theirs to fulfil, created generations of students who do not recognise or understand their role as learners?
Is it this what has contributed to masses of students who still look to teachers to feed them with information, solutions, answers, and a sieved form of second-hand creativity?
Is it because teachers were expected to do even the thinking for students that we have ended up with students who are unable to think for themselves? And what about the teachers? It is not uncommon to hear complaints from teachers when new elements are added to the curriculum. Despite the fact that the changes or modifications are within the scope of their own subject content and expected teacher expertise, laments are often heard from teachers at the lack of guide books or ready-made packaged resources.
When workbooks or reference books do arrive in the market, there is a collective sigh of relief because now there is a source of instant, processed information which they can in turn repackage and deliver to their own students. The more there are of these, the better of course.
But then again, teachers may merely be fulfilling what they perceive to be expected of them. The more notes, hand-outs, exercises or material you disburse, the more committed you appear to be towards your students’ learning.
More than just input
The principal and subject heads are impressed by the sheer amount of “input” you give your students and how well your students are able to in turn regurgitate all this.
It is all well-intentioned of course, and there are undoubtedly many advantages in giving students as much help as you possibly can. “Scaffolding” which is the support given during the learning process, is in fact necessary. It may be the only way to go in certain classes as otherwise, you will not be able to achieve any learning outcome.
There are also times when teachers feel they are teaching themselves more than anyone else in the classroom especially when they have to provide answers or solutions for every assignment because the students are simply unable to complete them independently.
At other times however, what is perhaps more challenging to the teacher is knowing when she needs to stop and when to let her students take over. For me personally, this has been one of the biggest challenges in all my years of teaching in a national school.
There have been times when I have had to remind myself that my classroom teaching lesson was not a platform to showcase my knowledge of a certain topic, but rather a place where I needed to motivate my students enough to pick up where I left off and fill in the gaps for themselves.
At times, when students presented weak or flimsy arguments during a writing assignment, it was an effort to just give hints or suggestions of something more substantial and not write the entire points out for them.
Like over-protective parents who sometimes do too much for their children, we may be guilty of depriving our students of the opportunity to actually learn when we so freely supply them with what they should source for themselves.
By not letting go when we should, we also deprive students of the opportunity to discover, think, stumble, make mistakes and learn from them.
And similarly, we also deprive ourselves of the very same opportunities when we demand for guides, resources, work-books, or model question sets with answers provided.
While all these are definitely helpful to the teacher and may even prove to be life-savers on occasion, we may be short-changing ourselves of originality and the opportunity to exercise our own thinking skills by depending on someone else’s interpretation or analysis.
Those of us who have been in the teaching scene long enough will surely remember the days when we were students. There were hardly any workbooks, model examination questions and answers, or specially organised talks on “examination-answering techniques”. Even photo copy machines were hard to come by those days!
Our teachers I remember, left us pretty much on our own to come up with solutions, answers and projects. There were times when we had to make our own notes or devise our own questions.
And yet all that apparent lack of teaching if judged by today’s standards, made us more resourceful, innovative, critical and capable of being independent learners.
Teaching, after all, as we hear so often, is about facilitating the learning process or setting the stage on which learning can take place. It is about pointing out the whole realm of knowledge that is spread out before them and the possibilities that lie ahead. Possibilities that they have to discover for themselves.
For this reason, I especially like this quote by Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis: True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.