Paradigm shift in classroom interaction

Somewhat belatedly but fortunately, the past decade has witnessed a radical shift in the way teaching is managed in classrooms around the world. The focus of the classroom has now become the student rather than the teacher.

According to traditionalists, this is not the most effective way to teach. But there’s an emerging consensus that students should be encouraged to fully participate in, and assume responsibility for their learning. Under this process each individual student is valued and trusted and teachers must be clear about the fundamentals of innovation. Student-centred teaching is not a magician’s bag of tricks; it is about attitudes and relationships that need to be built and nurtured within conducive and enabling learning environments.

Against this changed backdrop, the role of teachers/ educators has altered as well. Now it is incumbent upon teachers to empower their students to develop critical thinking skills required to become responsible global citizens. Students should be encouraged to address societal, civic and business issues with sensitivity, to develop the perception to cater to their own needs and of people around them. Modern education has transcended textbook content and is now a combination of theory and life experiences. Discussions of global issues, books, music, and art are the new imperatives of holistic development. The new wisdom is that the human mind is like a parachute; it works best when it is open. Someone very wise discovered this analogy.

Looking back in time to a satisfactory and successful career as an English and humanities teacher in several of India’s most respected schools including DAV Public, Solan, and the American and British schools, Delhi, I prefer to describe myself as an ‘edutainer’ – a combination of educator and entertainer. Indeed I am fully convinced that it is essential to inject humour into classrooms, and it has to be part of every teacher’s persona. Humour improves communication and group work; it promotes trust and confidence. It is an acknowledgement that students too have egos that need to be respected. Every opinion matters, and it is our job to reaffirm to every student that she is unique.

Teaching in residential schools is a special challenge as it provides teachers greater opportunity to shape, mould and develop the character and personalities of students who are in our care 24×7. Whether we like it or not, we become role models and have a chance to change or mould the mindsets of students. At the start of my career as a teacher in 1995, a wise mentor told me to leave all my emotional baggage outside the classroom door as students pick their cues from us. That was — and continues to be — sound advice. Can we honestly wish our students a good morning when our body language suggests otherwise? Can we ask them to smile when we look like the grim reaper? Lets never forget that negativity has a way of permeating every mind and as teachers we dont need it in our classrooms. We owe it to our students to be positive, and if we can communicate with a sense of humour, we are definitely one step closer to creating an ideal learning environment.

When I interact with a child, I see the intermingling of families, generations of traditions, culture and ethics enjoined and sowed afresh to be shared with the world. An apple is more than just an edible fruit. Its the final product of a seed planted, toil and labour, and careful husbandry. Each one of our students is that apple.

For me teaching has never been a profession, its been a vocation. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to teach, not so much to transfer knowledge but to learn continually through interaction with students of different age groups. Everyone — including children — has something valuable to offer and in this vocation there are learning opportunities on a daily basis.

And if in recent times teachers have transformed from being oracles and fonts of wisdom into continuous co-learners, it is only fair that we should be humble and admit to being human. In contemporary classrooms its not demeaning for us to occasionally say, Ill get back to you on this topic” or even I dont know, lets find out Admitted fallibility gains us respect. As teachers we need to accept we are not Einsteins or encyclopedias pretending to know it all. After all, dont we constantly tell our students never to be afraid of asking for clarification of what they dont understand? Therefore, neither should we be afraid.

Finally, 21st century teachers should not be constricted by the walls of their classrooms. Today the best teachers are facilitators who create conducive classroom and beyond learning environments, and prepare children for the complex workplaces of this century. Education does not stop when the bell rings. It has to continue because we are discharging the vitally important function of preparing the future generations to build, nurture and improve upon the socio-economic legacy that has been handed down to them.

(Ashima Bath is former head of the English department and currently housemistress at The Lawrence School, Sanawar)

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