Monday, September 29, 2008

A Challenging Week

(Note: This entry was started last Sunday, Sept.21, and is now being finished today, Monday, Sept.29th).

It has been a very trying past week. My remarks from the first post now seem a little na├»ve and overly optimistic. Things are no longer going “remarkably well”, which is not to say I’m disliking the experience (I'm very much enjoying it!), but rather that the experience is proving to be more challenging than anticipated.

On Friday I brought 35 kids to the Principal’s office. This was the result of Animal House behavior during an examination in a section of grade 6: paper airplanes, splashing water, cheating, running in the room, constant chatter, complete disrespect. Granted, the perpetrators consisted of a group of about 5 boys (or “donkeys” as a colleague aptly put it). However, at least half the class consented to the mayhem. After several unsuccessful attempts to bring control to the situation, I finally lost my patience. With 10 minutes remaining in the period I promptly collected the exams and coldly stated that the class had lost their privilege of having me as a teacher. Goodbye section 6F, my time will be better spent with students that value learning. I walked out angry and disillusioned. A fellow grade 6 teacher was sitting in the lounge correcting papers and called me in as I passed by—she must have sensed the negative energy radiating from my body. We sat down together at a table and talked, or rather she listened as I unleashed a flood of frustration that had been accumulating throughout the past week. She agreed that the behavior was completely unacceptable and advised me to return to the class and bring the students to see the Principal. As I marched the students down the 3 flights of stairs to the principal’s office, I began questioning the decision: What good would this really do? Would they simply be yelled at? Asked to apologize? Receive physical punishment (which is permissible in India)? Well, I ended up not being able to observe most of what took place, but I did notice several of the boys walk away in tears. 20 minutes later I was called in to meet with the Principal individually. This was my first time meeting her. I shared my feelings honestly and candidly and then she gave me her analysis. She advised that I not let these 5 particular boys ruin the opportunity for the rest of the class. If they misbehaved in the future, we agreed that I would send them down to her office immediately. If the behavior continued and they proved incapable of respecting their classmates or me, they would be thrown out of the school. Fair enough. She concluded our meeting by handing me a copy of an address given by Albert Einstein in Albany, New York on Oct. 15, 1936 marking the 300th anniversary of higher education in America. “Read this, I think you’ll appreciate it.”

So I read it, and indeed I was quite impressed. Here are a few excerpts (with my commentary) that I found notable:
The most important motive for work in the school and in life is the pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community. In the awakening and strengthening of these psychological forces in the young man, I see the most important task given by the school.
Well said, Mr. Einstein. In my experience, education, or teaching for that matter, does not work if students don’t want to learn (unless coercive measures are employed). Students don’t want to learn if they don’t find value or enjoyment in what they are studying. So, how does a teacher “awaken and strengthen these psychological forces”? Let’s look at excerpt number 2…
The teacher should be given extensive liberty in the selection of the material to be taught and the methods of teaching employed by him. For it is true also of him that pleasure in the shaping of his work is killed by force and exterior pressure.
Aha! The teacher must also enjoy what he/she is teaching. There has to be freedom and there has to be passion. And the final nugget of wisdom…
Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil’s respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.
The students must genuinely respect the teacher. Not out of fear or need of praise, but for being a source of knowledge/experience. And ultimately, for their common humanity.

So, in addition to being one of the most brilliant scientists, Einstein was also a pretty impressive philosopher of education. Now, let’s get back to those 35 kids from 6F. The following week I returned to the class and discovered a complete change in behavior—they were respectful and attentive. I expected this to only last for one day, but they proved me wrong with equally good behavior the following class. We’ll see if it continues… and whether their change in behavior is a result of fear or respect (most likely it is influenced more by the former). If it is motivated primarily by fear, then I see one of my challenges being to help these students learn to value their education, to see it as a privilege and a responsibility. If they can do that then they will hopefully learn to respect me not out of fear of punishment, but rather, in the words of Einstein, for "my human and intellectual qualities."

To conclude this post, there are a few positive happenings that I would just like to mention (future entries will go into more detail):

~I’ve begun teaching grade IX girls at Nischay and I love it! I will also start teaching them Latin dance in the weeks ahead.

~I’ve begun teaching Salsa/Merengue dance to the Hostel students. Girls on Tuesday, Boys on Thursday (unfortunately, they’re not allowed to dance together, but that may change…).

~I’m thoroughly enjoying the grade VI Cambridge honor students (8 very intelligent, but very rambunctious boys). Right now we’re doing a unit on Storytelling. They’re writing ghost stories, doing Mad Libs, and reading/listening to Shel Silverstein. Lots of fun!

~I’ve completed correcting all of the papers from my first assessment (test) for grades IV and VI on Verbs/Tenses (356 papers, 2 minutes/paper = 712 minutes ≈ 12hrs of correcting!). I celebrated with a Masala Dosa and a banana smoothie.

(The corrected exams)

1 comment:

Megan C said...

Juancito, I'm so very excited for you! I think the challenges you're facing are only going to make you a more amazing person than you already are.

As for the lil ones... kids can be shits, but they can also be great teachers in their own right. I'm sure they'll figure out that you're a teacher worth respecting quite soon.

And INDIA... so jealous. Much love!