Κυριακή, 13 Οκτωβρίου 2013

Post for statistic purposes to you-know-who regarding you-know-what.

I did not find any contact information on your blog so I decided to write this post and leave it for you to see here. I am not mentioning your name as it would sound as if I was making suggestions, which I am not or trying to show off which again, I am not. Also, it is possible that someone else has had the same thoughts and then maybe, if there are enough of us, you could tell us more on the subject next time you are in Preveza.

The reason for writing is that during your speech in Preveza I identified with everything you mentioned, some of the things I do wrong and some of the things I do not so wrong, but there was one thing I did not hear mentioned so I would like to ask you about.

The problem: when I began teaching I wanted to learn as much as possible about the profession, so I read everything from sociology, to psychology and anything I could get my hands on. I attended seminars and speeches. And this helped me realize some basic facts until I settled into a teaching style that I think works both for me and my students. But once I settled, another problem emerged. I walked into a class and instead of children, I saw numbers: statistics, surveys, publications, facts and background information. This "blurred" my senses. I was not able to interact with the students because there was always this white noise from all these sources inside ny head.

What I did: I tried to deliberately unlearn everything I had learned. Now, this is impossible but I gave away all my books and stopped quoting statistics. I don't even read statistics, anymore. I don't buy books. I do my research, I attend seminars and seek feedback, but only in an abstract, general way rather than hard facts, as hard facts lead you to believe that if you do this, then that will happen, and we all know this is not how humans work, especially children.

What I also did was this: I deliberately blocked out any information that could alter my judgement of a child or student. I stopped asking about the social status of the parents, the performance in previous years or even what kind of family they came from, nationality, etc. I found that I just couldn't help being biased if I knew those things. If, for example, you go into the classroom knowing that a child comes from a divorced couple (or is foreign or poor or rich, an only child, etc) then immediately there are sterotypical expectations. No matter how well-meaning one is, it just can't be helped. The child presents one sort of behaviour and I catch myself thinking "Only to be expected, being what he is" and that is a damnation so unfair and so destructive! Unfair because it is rarely the child's fault and destructive because it is irreversible and it leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. The child can never get out of this vicious circle without a caring adult's help and if  that caring adult is biased then the child has no chance of ever doing anything better.

So I go into the class at the beginning of the year with no other information than what level and what book I will be teaching. This way all students are equal in my eyes.

I spend the first weeks interacting with the students, drawing my conclusions, forming opinions and
establishing a relationship with the children which is not based on external factors but only on what is going on inside the classroom. If a student hasn't done their homework, it is not because they have this or that situation going on but because they haven't done their homework which is something that may happen to anyone, really. This allows me to see the child as he/she is, not what their parents or previous teachers think. After all, they are sometimes wrong. After all, being given a clean chance is all some troubled kids need.

After this relationship has been established, then I ask for background information and only if there seems to be an actual problem, if the child consistently fails to do certain things or make even the slightest progress, which is so rarely the case! Most of the times, when a student stops trying, it is because the adult has silently sentenced them to being who the teachers think they are.

If you don't know a student was weak last year, then you will be genuinely surprised that they don't remember something and demand that they learn it and keep trying until they do. If you know they were weak last year, then you will unconciously justify this behaviour in your mind and stop trying earlier than you would normally do with a student from whom you have greater expectations.

For the same reason, I always try to think of new ways and new tricks. I never (or seldom) use last year's tricks because if I did, I would have the same kind of biased expectations, comparing last year's students with this year's students and, more importantly, it would make me relax, feel safe that all has been done already and ease up instead of giving everything I have in class.

My question: is there another way of learning techniques on the one hand but without losing your spontaneity on the other?