Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Raising a toast to teachers

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By Patricia Mukhim

India is one country that pays tribute to teachers every year. Considering that teachers mould and shape young minds in a span of nearly 15 years (until they graduate), students owe them a debt of gratitude. There are of course teachers and teachers. Not all join the profession out of love for it but because it offers a livelihood. Teaching is a skill that cannot be learnt. True, one is exposed to models of teaching during the B Ed course but those without an inborn love for the profession are bound to fail sooner than later. Indeed teaching is not exactly a pleasurable experience unless one has the passion for it. Often teaching turns into a chore where the teacher just waits for the bell to go so he/she can finish off the class, move to another class and dish out some more inane stuff that the students of today can easily get from the internet. That many teachers are still not tuned to the idea of teaching a generation of net savvy young people is what has created a yawning gap between teacher and student.
There are still a number of teachers in our State who are not familiar with emails, leave alone accessing the internet for information on their subject.  In the age of WhatsApp, of uploads and downloads and smart phones which children of this generation are clever at, a teacher who is at sea so far as the cyberspace is concerned will soon become a “has been.” Children today learn so much more from the internet than they do from books. So addicted are young people to the internet today that book learning is a secondary activity; a compulsion of sorts because they have to score marks and because most teachers still mark them on the basis of what the text book says. No wonder parents today leave nothing to chance and certainly don’t trust their kids to study by themselves. If both parents are working then at least one parent would take leave during the half yearly and end of term examination period. During these critical weeks, you cannot expect parents to turn up for meetings or social meets. The refrain is, “Kids are having exams.” In fact examination time is as testing a time for parents as it is for kids. Those of my generation and even my children’s generation grew up without private tuitions. They managed to score good marks even when left to their own devices. Is it because there was not much to distract them as there is today? It is a humungous challenge for parents and teachers to hold the attention of their wards. There is the television, the Ipod, Ipad, besides the ubiquitous smart-phone. I have also seen exasperated parents who have reached the end of their tether because their kid just does not fit into the ‘formal’ school system. Sadly, in this society the few who don’t fit into this mental prison called ‘school’ are considered misfits when they could actually be geniuses. When you consider the fact that most geniuses and inventors were school drop-outs in their time you begin to wonder what schools actually teach, except conformity of a kind where the student unlearns the meaning of freedom of expression and becomes a nincompoop who does not know the meaning of dissent, debate and free expression. Do we wonder why so many of our young people fare so badly in personal interviews? They are diffident, cannot communicate clearly and lack confidence. Why does this happen after 15 years of schooling plus those years of being in pre-school? Teachers should start asking themselves these pointed questions.
It is heartening to know that some schools take their teachers through a refresher course and invite learned child psychologists to help unravel the techniques of teaching young kids and also why certain modes of communication actually don’t reach the cognitive domains of a child and why other methods do. But the problem with teachers is that after the refresher courses are over and done with they get back to the same old classroom and into the same old rut. Change is just too challenging for them. They prefer the tried and tested even if that ‘tried and tested’ path has failed to click and students just don’t absorb what they are taught.
A class period usually lasts between 30-40 minutes. What do most teachers do in that time? They lecture. Lecturing is basically talking down to students. Educational experts believe that the attention span of a human being does not extend beyond 18 minutes. And those 18 minutes of teaching should involve different brilliant techniques. Experts also say that students learn best in a conversation format. A conversation is not a monologue. It’s a dialogue. In a class it could mean several dialogues between different people and not necessarily only between the teacher and the students. Once a conversation on a particular subject is opened up, the students learn from one another and from the teacher. A conversation is most interesting when the teacher asks probing questions and guides the students to discover the answers for themselves. Of course, this teaching method requires thorough planning. Even the questions need to be thought out so that the focus is not lost. And one thing that teachers need to accept is that they do not have all the answers to all the questions. Some of the questions would need to be kept on hold for students and teacher to find out and share the next day. That is teaching-learning.
Perhaps what teachers often forget is that our brains are trained to look for something brilliant and new, something that stands out, something that looks delicious. Dr James Flynn, political studies professor at the University of Otago, New Zealand believes the world’s population is getting smarter, and not just a little smarter, but much, much smarter. Flynn says if we compare 18- year-olds of today with people who were 18- year-olds ten, twenty or thirty years ago, the present eighteen-year-olds will get much higher scores on IQ tests. This should tell us something. It means the kids today are much smarter than us grown-ups and their IQ is higher than that of their teachers and parents. According to Flynn, the reasons behind this is because people in most countries spend more time learning not just in formal education settings but online through sites like TED.com or Khanacademy.org etc. Harvard and Princeton are today offering free online courses on a range of subjects. You just have to have the interest to learn. In an article in The New York Times, Flynn argues that IQ is rising because in industrialised societies we give our brains a constant mental workout that builds up our brain sinews.
To think of having to teach such an IQ loaded generation when one’s IQ is naturally lower than that of the learners is an awesome task. But it also means that teachers of this generation have to keep developing their mental sinews. They have to keep learning, reading, engaging constantly. They cannot be left behind on any account. But are teachers up to the challenge? Many are worried about their bread and butter above many other things. Governments ought to understand that they must treat teachers with respect and pay them their just dues on time. Only then can Government expect teachers to deliver. Will the Meghalaya Government take this pledge today? Alas! We have an unwilling Minister heading the Education Department, although he too was once a teacher. That Education which is so crucial to the future of Meghalaya should be headed by a faded and jaded politician who is not interested in any innovative thinking for the cause of Education is unfortunate for Meghalaya. Will the Chief Minister please give this important portfolio to someone more dynamic and progressive? That would be a meaningful gift to teachers on this auspicious day.
As a tailpiece I attach here a link to a video which is a letter written by a parent to his kid’s Kindergarten teacher. It is quite an eye opener!  The link is https://medium.com/teaching-learning/an-open-letter-to-my-sons-kindergarten-teacher-ed1f90239ae7
Wish all teachers past and present a happy and meaningful Teachers’ Day!

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