A teacher’s conundrum

Disha Jain

In the midst of the current pandemic, where everything seems to be thrown out of gear, I wonder why my mind constantly takes me back to an idea that one of my favourite teachers always emphasized upon (thankfully) – simplicity.

At a time when teachers are finding it difficult to cope with a sudden surge of online dissemination of ‘knowledge’, I am beginning to realize its relevance more than ever before.

Simplicity
My teacher always said that the ability to convey a tricky concept in simple language so that a reader/listener understands comes with an in-depth knowledge. You need to have the ‘inquisitiveness’ of a child in order to inquire. You need to persist in knowing a ‘phenomenon’ in its entirety. This journey towards knowing is in itself a reward. But the journey requires consistent effort and perseverance. Quick-fixes won’t work.

As a teacher, when I see my digital space inundated with invitations to free online webinars that offer handy advice to adjust to the ‘new normal’ way of teaching online, with innovative methods to engage students, I feel overwhelmed. This is ironic because that’s exactly what these webinars want us to not feel with their promise of providing easy accessibility and efficient digital assets.

Notwithstanding how I feel, I let my focus shift to ‘knowing’ about these technologies, more because of the fear of missing out on tools and strategies that claim to make learning interactive and fun for students.

I’m drawn to these platforms for I really, really want to keep my learners engaged. That’s what is expected of me, right? And so, I inevitably start with a simple and interesting tool at one moment and soon after, I find myself experimenting with another interesting tool that I came across somewhere on an educational site. Social media and popular search engines make it easier for me to navigate from site to site, thanks to the imperceptible work of data analytics.

The very next day, there’s another one that pops up on my digital space. I am tempted to try that one too. While doing so, I’ve completely disregarded the first one that I had started with, because that became too common a tool by the time I chanced upon the ‘new’ one. Plus, the students have become bored with using the same tool over and over again, so the situation dictates that I start ‘shopping’ for another one.

The fact of the matter is that there are so many fancy terms for teaching methodologies today that I spend more time in getting to know about them, than on knowing what all these teaching methods have primarily in common – the children – a simple fact that a teacher is bound to lose sight of in this frenzied pursuit.

Am I focusing on studying my subject in such a way that the children, no matter what method I use, find it purposeful? Am I struggling with the question of how to simplify instructions so that EVERYONE understands? Am I immersing myself in the subject in such a way that I am asking myself as a teacher –
1. Why I want to teach this to the students.
2. Why is it relevant? How can they be motivated to acquire it and apply it to become better at thinking creatively and critically?

In my chase to find new tools to engage students every day, I spend no time pondering over such questions, which appear to be ‘outmoded’, no matter how foundational. The idea of ‘the more the better’ seems to have taken every educator in its stride, which is why it appears normal to spend a lot of time knowing and exploring new technologies and letting students have a go at them. Ultimately, students are engaged in knowing more about the tool.

Mindful reflection, however, will allow us to realize how, thanks to this frenzied rummage, the focus shifts to excitement and confusion – excitement to see how a new tool works and confusion about the learning goals students had set out to achieve in the beginning.

In all this, therefore, the deeper questions, the basic ones – why I am there; what subject knowledge I wish to facilitate for my learners; what subject knowledge I want to simplify for my students; whether I am giving them an opportunity to struggle with a concept introduced; or if they see the excitement in why they are learning a concept – get sidelined. And I, as a teacher, consequently, end up having no knowledge of any of these at the end of the day, for how will I know, if I continue to make learning nothing more than just an opportunity to tirelessly search for a new technology for students’ immediate consumption and instant gratification?

The author teaches English (IB curriculum) at an international school in India (Noida). A recipient of the Junior Research Fellowship in Education, she holds a double masters in Education and English Literature from Delhi University (India). A teacher and a life-long learner by choice, she is fond of writing poetry and reflective pieces. She can be reached at [email protected].

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