There’s a particular class in my school that almost all teachers enter with a sense of dread. Many reasons are given – they’re lazy, noisy, unable to comprehend lessons, do not have discipline, and pretty much everything under the sun. I myself despite all my effort to disagree with my colleagues, in the end I somehow subscribed to that too – probably from the frustration of not seeing any progress despite hard work teaching them. I dreaded the days where I have a double period with this class, because I am tired of having to resort to drastic measures to retain classroom control from being taken over by them. As for how, I probably wont share them here.
This drags on for a few months, until a few days ago. I have recently attended a few workshops about teaching strategies for PMR and SPM English, and decided to modify and apply some of the methods learned on my students. Using the understanding of breaking essay writing into small chunks of writing tasks, I designed a module that aims to help students produce a paragraph. The first class from the same form did well with the module – but I wonder how would the kids in this class take it. Worry that these kids won’t be able to engage well, I decided to break them into small groups, and go around teaching each of it. Hopefully small tutorials would help me to teach, and they to learn, better.
The result was that the students were focused on the task; they try their best to meet me in the middle. Some started asking questions, bringing forward their work for me to see. Even the most difficult student actually sat down, did his work, and barked at his friends for mucking around! Seeing such positive environment, I top it up by throwing praises to some students, who are known to be hard to manage. Perhaps not used to the praises, their face grew red, as red as those Washington apples. I made a point to thank and congratulate the class for showing their best with me, and I can see that some are really proud of themselves.
Later that day, I had a chat with some female students from the class, asking why are they so attentive on my lesson that week. They started telling that my previous lessons are too hard, I moved on too fast, and they struggle to keep up with me. They also said that this modular approach is difficult at first, but they somehow managed to get it after repeated exercise. They also enjoy small group tutorials, saying that they could get their work checked on the spot. No doubt these are great news, and it made my evening drink tasted somehow sweet, despite being just black coffee with no sugar at all.
As I sip my coffee, I was reminded of things my lecturers in teaching college used to say:
“Design lessons that are within their ZPD, and provide lots of scaffolding”
“With weaker students, always let them work in groups – when a few average joes are put together, they can outsmart a smart alec”
“Sometimes, little teacher talk, and more time on task is what the students need to learn”
But the one that struck me right in the chest is:
“Students are naturally well behaving, responsive and eager to please. It is we teachers that destroy those values by teaching like a robot, asking students to do the same thing over and over again. These are teenagers, when they get bored, they start doing funny things and they misbehave. And then we teachers punish them, knowing little that we are the reasons for that to happen”.
Reflecting on the last sayings, the punishment causes the kids to dislike us teachers. And then we go in and teach like a robot again. The students misbehave even more as they already find the lessons boring, and they now hate us. And then we punish them again. It’s a vicious cycle that continues, resulting in the expulsion of the student(s), or that the teacher gets a heart attack.
I finished my coffee with the thought that it is important for us teachers to teach at the right level, as that would keep them engaged in their task, reduce misbehaviour, and ensure positive learning outcomes.
These words are so simple, and yet it took me almost 2 years of teaching to fully comprehend. Well, at least I do now.