I get my answers from the learners

Disha Jain

It was my first Teacher’s Day and I had just finished reading To Sir, With Love, a book that has left an indelible mark on me as a teacher, especially the incident where the author, who is also the protagonist of the novel, asks a pivotal question:
“So long as we learn, it doesn’t matter who teaches us, does it?”

Learning from the learners’ perspective is one of the most meaningful lessons that I have learnt as a teacher. My first Teacher’s Day celebration was one among many where I learnt this important aspect of the teaching-learning process. This day I had decided to put into practice an activity that students usually love to do in their free time – mimic teachers! Since my learners were in the mood for celebrating the day with me, I decided to go a little easy and asked them to mimic me as a teacher. It sent waves of excitement across the classroom. To them it seemed a bit unconventional, a teacher asking the students to mimic her in her presence. It is one thing to mimic your teacher when she is not there, but quite another to do it right in front of her. Naturally, they seemed a bit hesitant. To be honest, even I was in two minds about this activity, but then I realized that such an activity could be a good starting point to gauge how students observe a teacher and how it impacts their learning capacity. It was, in one way, an unconventional way to seek feedback from the learners.

So I set the tone to make them comfortable and told them that since it was Teacher’s Day, I wanted to know how well they observe me in class, that it was now my turn to become their student! A few students did take the lead and the rest chose to remain spectators with me.

Needless to say, this activity was a riot! Apart from the merriment it generated, it was also a moment that helped us bond better; it made me more accessible as a teacher who could share a laugh or two with them. This ability of reaching out to students emotionally is relevant in evolving an ethos where students are at ease asking meaningful questions, and seeking assistance in solving day-to-day problems.

Also, the teacher’s instructional role and the way she asserts herself in class play a significant role in creating the learning environment. Researchers, worldwide, have tried to understand the roles that teachers’ emotions and instructional behaviours play in promoting activity related enjoyment among their students. In fact, in the education community, it is believed that learners tend to remain more involved in the learning process when they are motivated and positively engaged in their learning, implying that the quality of instruction a teacher gives in the classroom is significant in establishing a social environment conducive to learning. Emma Jean Hartel and Kathryn May Page1 refer to this kind of transmission of ‘discrete emotions’ from one person to another through social interaction in a group as ‘emotional crossover’.

While sitting there, in the role of a student, with a few of my students taking delight in imitating my standard remarks and behaviour, I could see how the language used by a teacher for instructions reflect her own temperament towards teaching. This ‘emotional crossover’ in the form of instructions, therefore, gains importance in terms of its influence on the quality of interaction between a teacher and her students. Julia Warwas and Christoph Helm2 discuss this aspect in great detail while studying the relationship between learning and a teacher’s attitude towards her profession (although the research pertains to the field of vocational education, its findings are equally relevant to all fields of education).

For me, it was indeed surprising to see (and delightfully so) how much of an impact my gesticulations, language and positive reinforcement made on the students, who were so ‘sponge-like’ in absorbing even the minute details of my conduct in the classroom, so much so that they even copied the way I wrote on the blackboard! By asking them to mimic me, I had given them an opportunity to talk about the ways in which I could learn from their candid observation. One student, for instance, pointed out how I could make my instructions more decipherable from the blackboard by writing in smaller fonts. There were some who came forward to tell me how too much of a movement on my part created distraction, making it difficult for them to focus on the verbal instructions. It was quite revealing for me to see how students of grade 6 could come up with such valuable insights. This activity provided me with a lot of food for thought. At the same time, it also gave us an opportunity to share constructive feedback with each other. Through this activity, we were able to establish an important component of the teaching-learning process, which was to create a rational and non-preachy language for feedback, with a view to enhancing our capacity to receive and act on it to improve our own performance. Looking back at the incident, I’m glad I asked my students to mimic me, for it allowed me to make my learners conscious of how their behaviour, attitude and response towards their own learning also influence my interaction with them.

There is indeed a lot that a teacher can learn from her students. In her ability to be receptive to feedback, she shows willingness to learn from meaningful feedback, setting a very crucial example for her learners to follow.

When the activity finally came to an end, it left me with even more determination to continue to evolve as a teacher. I will always remain grateful to my students for bringing so much happiness and many valuable memories in my career as a teacher.

References

  1. Härtel CEJ, Page KM (2009). Discrete emotional crossover in the workplace: the role of affect intensity. J Manag Psychol 24(3):237-253 (cited in Julia Warwas and Cristoph Helm’s ‘Enjoying working and learning in vocational education: a multilevel investigation of emotional crossover and contextual moderators’).
  2. Warwas J, Helm Christoph (2017) Enjoying working and learning in vocational education: a multilevel investigation of emotional crossover and contextual moderators. Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training. Retrieved from https://ervet-journal.springeropen.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s40461-017-0055-2.

The author is Middle School English teacher, who has worked previously with International and CBSE schools in Delhi and Noida. She can be reached at [email protected].

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