Teachers must be frank with their students when they are unsure of answers, instead of “bluffing” their way through a lesson.
YOUNG TEACHERS develop fast when they aren’t intimidated, shy or afraid to ask questions of their experienced colleagues.
As for senior teachers who choose to view these questions in the right light, even the most innocuous questions can have educational value.
A case in point was when a young Science teacher in her twenties asked me the type of material used in Visking tubing.
The question was interesting, even to me, because while Science teachers do make use of the Visking tubing in experiments, we rarely think of anything else but its semi-permeable qualities.
According to this teacher, one of her bright students had queried her about this in the laboratory and she had been stymied by it.
I was equally baffled but we “googled” and researched and found our answers.
The Visking tubing is made of processed cellulose. Some websites claim that it is made of regenerated cellophane.
Either way, the tubing still has tiny pores that allow the passage of small molecules, such as water and glucose, and thereby serves as a model of the small intestine in experiments.
I must say, I learnt something new that day. Anyway, in that year, this young teacher often turned to me to seek answers to questions that rattled or had been asked by her students.
I often knew the answer, but there were times when online reading helped us both, not only to verify facts but learn new ones.
What I liked about this lady was her professional integrity.
She did not believe in “bluffing” her way out of tough questions but chose instead, to embark on fact-finding missions first before doling out any answers.
Such is not the case with some teachers who think nothing of practising the art of deception. Some do it skilfully and get away with it, while some end up damaging their credibility as teachers.
I also know of teachers who masterfully avoid questions or promise the answers at a later date, and then do not get back to their students.
Rather than admit that they lack the knowledge or aren’t sure of the answer, some even come up with “facts” thought up on the spot.
The danger with such an approach is that they may end up, being wrong or worse, as a laughing stock.
Once when I entered a Form Three class, I found a group of students laughing their heads off.
They were tickled, not at some joke, but at the ignorance of their new English Language teacher, who had insisted that the female gender for peacock did not exist. According to this teacher, if the peacock is a female, it is simply called “a female peacock”. (The correct answer is “peahen”.)
Upon hearing this, one of the students who spoke excellent English had daringly stood up and said, “That is a cock-and-bull story.”
Not understanding the idiom, the teacher had replied seriously, “No, please don’t say that. The peacock is a bird but the bull is a cow. They are two different animals.”
This answer and many others of a similar nature were the direct cause of their mirth and merriment.
I don’t know why this English Language teacher had not chosen to confess his ignorance and then gone on to look up the correct answer.
I guess some teachers just do not like to be seen as incompetent or incapable of holding their own.
In my case, I am extremely careful and have been so for years. Once, while teaching the Krebs cycle in class, a Form Six Biology student of mine asked me if the malic acid found in fruits such as apples and berries was the same chemical substance as ‘malate’.
His father, he said, took a supplement that contained L-citrullinemalate that reputedly helped boost his energy levels.
He also wanted to know what the letter “L” stood for.
Looking for answers
Respecting his intelligence, I asked for some time to look up the answer.
The amount of online material I discovered in relation to this topic was mind-boggling but the very next day I provided him and the whole class a well-informed answer.
Here’s another thing: Every time I did research of this nature, my own knowledge base expanded.
For instance, until I read up on the topic, I had not known that ‘malate’ supplements are used for building fitness and strength!
I also learnt this: Students develop a healthy respect for honest teachers who neither dismiss their questions nor take them lightly.
On my part, I have often encouraged my students to read beyond their textbooks in search for such information and knowledge.
However, given the huge amount of materials they have to study for examinations, many of them profess they have no time to do so!
In the same breath, I have also come across students who have confessed to me that for the sake of their own amusement, they are not above “testing” their teachers on purpose by throwing them a “difficult” question or two!
This only means that teachers have to exercise caution before they choose to give any off-the-cuff answers.
Also, if you have inadvertently given out a wrong answer, there’s no shame in admitting your mistake and correcting it.
Since September heralds the beginning of the examination season, teachers would be well-advised to be thoroughly prepared for all manner of questions!
The New Straits Times Home News Education 08/09/2013