kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Reach to teach

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp/, Or what’s a heaven for?” ~ Robert Browning.

NITHYA Sidhhu’s “Challenge yourself with change” (StarEducate, March 18) set me thinking about my experience as an educator. I too have received commendation from students.

A lack of in-depth understanding of what teaching really involves might lead some to dismiss or even conclude that we are trying to blow our own trumpet.

But honestly, there are so many unsung heroic teachers out there who have done their students a world of good before launching them into life.

Only our students know this and they remain our valued evaluators, not the school inspectorate.

Henry Adams was spot on. Teachers do affect eternity, not kno-wing where their influence stops. Virginia M. Axeline says much the same through her revolutionary and inspiring true story called Dibs In Search Of Self which I read twice.

As an educator who has taught in school, college, and the university, I know I had to reach my students first before I could teach them. A teacher is basically an enabler — when you reach out to students because you have their interest at heart they will likewise reach out to you and make the all-important connection for a learning transaction.

It is crucial for teachers to recognise the awesome extent of their influence. In fact all stakeholders should realise this because “Education is the mother of leadership” (Wendell Wilkie).

I dare to call myself ‘experienced.’ ‘Experience’? Teachers tend to liberally count themselves ‘experienced’ in terms of calendrical calculations. Pedagogically speaking this is inappropriate.

An ‘experienced’ teacher is one who has had a felt sense of what she is doing, as well as how and why she is doing it.

She reaches first within herself and then reaches out to take measures to improve (e.g through action research) as she moves along her career path.

In empowering herself she can empower others to continuously improve. She understands that to live life is to constantly become, not stagnate.

Effecting change

When a teacher, although only in her first year of service, dares to take risks and tries something different because she is desirous of improving her capacity for teaching, she embraces her experience to effect a change for the better.

Conversely, a teacher may have been teaching for decades but routinely doing more of the same year in and year out — how “experienced” can she be?

To benefit from your experience, you need to be attentive and optimistic.

It is a fact that most teachers are reluctant to change once they get comfortable with their routine act.

Well, I happened to be restless, I wanted to do my best even in my first year of teaching!

I began using magazines and newspapers early, long before NiE became the buzz word in Malaysian schools.

I brought in music, percussion (both instrumental and bodily), verse, chants, toys, realia, real-life people, fruits and food, threw a party, held a forum, acted with students, staged short plays, sent them out with paper-and-pen task in hand, held classes under the trees and in the hall, in the field I taught them to drive (yes! my car) … to the extent that I was termed “radical” and “crazy” by some colleagues.


Years later I discovered a journal simply titled “Radical Teacher.” Apparently, the term was first used in 1975 “by a group of dissident college teachers of English.”

And guess what I found out – that radicals were in vogue; radicals reach their students. I was in good company!

In my time I was even hauled up to explain why I was not using the textbook. But guess what gave me the courage to carry on with my radical methods? My students, and the need to be true to the very best within me to bring out the very best in my students.

I still recall that if I happened to be a wee bit late for class, a few students would come dashing to the staffroom and announce “Puan Lucille, it’s your period now. What are we doing today...” all in the same breath.

My students consistently challenged and proved themselves.

They produced excellent results in English even though I never “groomed” them for exams.

They made real-life use of English – writing notes to friends, parents, teachers, and letters to the press. Think: What good is an A in English when the said student cannot string a sentence correctly?

We now face the unsavoury task of having to rescue a generation of incapacitated learners and users of English.

Teachers must trust what John Dewey said early in the day (1938) — the most important attitude that we need to develop in the student is the DESIRE to go on learning.

This equates with making learning a joyful and meaningful experience.

By adding small doses of creativity to our conventional practice we breathe new life into our routine classroom interactions. We need to have a passion for teaching – we must enjoy our noble deed!

Students need the will to learn and teachers can inspire this will by being enthusiastic about their students’ learning.

To be enthusiastic is to be charismatic and it is happily infectious!

I once presented a conference-workshop titled “Radicals...just wanna REACH” (the acronym stood for some teacher qualities). Yes, we must reach our students to teach them.

Another rambunctious conference presentation was enticingly titled “It’s ‘Lite’, its ‘Racy’ … it’s a Party!” This one saw educators having fun, with one lecturer even rolling on the floor with laughter!

Learning fun

The objective of language learning via fun was achieved. I have had the fortunate experience of some senior and well-known foreign professors attending and happily surrendering themselves to some of my joyful learning activities during conference presentations. They appreciated the underlying value of learning therein.

Sad though that our teachers, after enjoying all these activities, and being cognizant of the learning that accompanies such activities, remain reluctant to utilise the same — adopted or adapted – in their own classrooms.

They think of these as “extras” and fail to understand that these add to their repertoire of teaching methodology.

Many swear the textbook or syllabus must be “covered” first. Indeed, it’s the “covering” that is the problem! The syllabus must be uncovered, revealed. Listen to Bishop Hall, “Seldom was any knowledge given to keep, but to impart; the grace of this rich jewel is lost in concealment.”

I dare say my classroom encounters could fill a whole book, but who wants to know? I would be accused of blowing my own trumpet.

The most important thing is that my students long remember those special classroom encounters.

The fact that many students remain in touch and call you their “role model” to this day is indeed gratifying to an educator that she has done well by them.

I am supposed to be retired, but since my heart lies with the teachers, I continue to do teacher development.

And if what you do is inspiring, you’ll never think of retiring.


Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday April 1, 2012
Tags: education, pedagogy, teachers

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