You are like me, I am like you

Jayshri Kannan

From the academic session 2009-10, the English Course ‘A’ curriculum for Nagaland Board of School Education was changed. The shift of emphasis was from prescriptive techniques to a more accommodative insider-oriented view of language teaching/learning. This meant a change in teaching methodologies and testing patterns.

The story so far…
Dr. Jan Nienu serves as an adjunct faculty in the Early Childhood Studies at Patten University. Currently, she is also the director of a child care center. She is married and lives in Northern California with her family.

She said in her article on Perspectives on quality education for Nagaland
“Corporal punishment was the main source of discipline and was heavily practiced by the teachers. This practice exists even to this day. I remember a teacher who, with his long stick, hit one of my classmates on the head making him bleed. We were so afraid we could not even console our friend.”

A study done by project officers and conducted through questionnaires during the need analysis stage helped give a better understanding of the social context. The Department of English at Aligarh Muslim University helped devise the questionnaire.

Some social implications:

  1. Majority of learners scored a low second division.
    As a result, they did not qualify for admission to most Universities.
  2. Many of them opted out of higher education and got into menial jobs.
    Many social unrests and insurgency problems were related to this.
  3. They developed a deep-rooted suspicion of Education as a route to higher opportunities in life.
    They are very hostile towards any non-Naga who went to work in these parts. Building faith becomes a huge challenge before beginning any work pertaining to education.
  4. A small minority moved out and got admissions in Universities based on tribal quotas. They found it difficult to adjust due to their inability to communicate effectively. Mental illness, low self-esteem, social insecurities, and financial pressures on parents were an offshoot.

The story now
Broadbent (1998) has suggested that a model, which supports trainee teachers in seeing “themselves as proactive in their learning environments” would enable them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. This was the rationale based on which master trainers were chosen.

This was probably the first time in the recent history of education in Nagaland, where teachers were at the heart of textbook development process, providing insights from the classrooms and making the tasks authentic. They found working on Functional Grammar tasks very challenging. At this point, the Resource Person took on the role of a critical friend to the trainee teacher who was able to develop greater understanding of effective teaching and learning (Edwards and Collison, 1996) . They were also able to develop the ability to look more critically at their own teaching and evaluate its effectiveness.

The philosophy was “You are a bit like me and I am a bit like you…”
Suggestions on making the atmosphere non-threatening were met with resistance. Years of teacher-centric practice was difficult to shake off. Team teaching clearly supported trainee teachers’ learning, provided access to exchange views and knowledge in a non-threatening context in which trainee teachers could work throughout the practicum. ‘Jumping in,’ a strategy identified by Stanulis and Russell (2000), was sometimes used by Resource Persons to convey to trainee teachers that they were expected to actively participate in classroom life. Though learner-centric classrooms appealed to most teachers, making the real change called for supportive team teaching where no one was better than the other, where they understood: “You are a bit like me and I am a bit like you…”

group The results unfolded right before our eyes. The teachers by the end of three years of consistent training and sharing began addressing their actual concerns. This was a crucial turning point for the Project officers. The hostile attitude vanished. Faith and trust grew tremendously. The trainee teachers felt empowered and began participating in decision-making. What brought about this change?

As the Project developed, four points emerged. The main point was the personal connection between the resource persons and the trainees where they understood that, “You are a bit like me and I am a bit like you…”

The second point was the value that all participants placed on teamwork and collaborative strategies.

The third point was unarguably the information gap, which made the trainees come up with their interpretations and gradually made them understand their roles in the project as a whole.

The fourth was the attitude with which resource persons and trainee teachers identified and implemented the newly evolved plans.

The project officers developed the materials into a textbook, Orchids: A multi skill course in English. It was decided that the testing of listening and speaking skills would be done towards the end of every academic year.

We had no readymade models to follow.
For a whole week, the trainee teachers shared and exchanged the assessment objectives to evolve an assessment scale that would work for them given their infrastructure. They worked it out based on their understanding of practices all over the world. One of the resource persons (Vijaya Subramaniam) suggested keeping a reflective journal, which began enhancing the professional relationship, particularly interpersonal aspects. Holly (1984) points out that there are no rules for journal keeping. Reflective journals, which in our workshop, we called a suitcase as it included what they brought with them and what they took back, provided each participant with opportunities to articulate their thinking. Most important of all, it made them understand that “You are a bit like me and I am a bit like you…”

Here is an extract from The Chairperson, Mrs. Nini Meru’s public announcement.
“I am happy to say that NBSE (Nagaland Board of School Education) is one of the first Boards (perhaps the first Board) in India to test all the language skills, i.e., Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. It is an honour and privilege for the State of Nagaland.”

Conclusion
With a Resource Person acting as a critical friend (Edwards & Collison, 1996; Tomlinson, 1995; Frost, 1993) trainee teachers ensure that they collaborate to set common goals; hold conversations for a range of purposes; make time to critically reflect during and after teaching and think about actions and outcomes through formulating and asking questions.

They also get over some of the threats that come in the way of evolving training programmes, the threat of seeming to be of lower intellectual ability. Conversations, collaborations, and reflecting in non-threatening situations work! It makes us understand that, “You are a bit like me and I am a bit like you.”

The author is Director, ELT curriculum reforms ,Nagaland Board of School Education, Kohima, Nagaland. She has authored 12 English Language Teaching books that are used at different levels in school curriculums across the world. She can be reached at jayshrik@gmail.com.