My role as an educator is something that has become more … important ? … apparent? … definite?… as the years have gone by. I started teaching English Lang and Lit at 21 years old and now I am 34 so this is my 13th year teaching 15-19 year olds.
It is not easy being a part of the education system here because I do not agree with a lot of what takes place. Meaning… it is a purely academically driven system and everything is a straight paper based test. While you “hear” about the obvious merits of teaching across curriculum or to different learning abilities or to engage different styles of teaching – the end result is that they are all tested exactly the same way.
Students here are funneled into a system where they begin to take lessons from as early as age 8 to be able to pass all the different examinations that they are faced with and they are overwhelmed by the workload and and often burn out. Students that appear to be clear scholarship candidates at 15 burn out by 17 and are often fed up and frustrated and no longer interesting in learning.
Parents are made to feel that their child won’t accomplish anything in life unless they pass these exams and only if they are interested in a job pertaining to the sciences. There is scant regard giving to the Arts and Humanities and with an average of 400 scholarships a year only 5 are allotted to Arts/Hum subject areas. Students are therefore dissuaded from doing these subjects despite their having a possible love/ passion for them.
As the years have gone by I know I teach differently to most of the teachers even at the same institution that I am in. I stopped giving homework years ago and by that I mean written. While their first practice essay they may take home to work on everything after that is written in class. All they have to do at home is literally pick up the book / poem/ play and read it.
My class also tends to be a bit more relaxed. While it is extremely hot as we have no air conditioning in my class and temps do rise to 34 -35 degrees Celsius as of late, the room I use is on the far end of the school away from much of the noise and distraction. Since I painted the class myself with a few students years ago (we all put up money to buy the paint and I supplied the KFC for lunch) we chose the colour which differs from the usual pastel – yellow or blue and happens to be more of a mint green but there is an accent wall where the whiteboard is that is a darker green.
I try to give them a different “feeling” due to the colour and where the class is situated to break up the usual monotony of the rooms they usually go into daily. Round tables also help with this as no other classroom in the school has this type of furniture. There is no “sitting alone” as you have to sit with three other people wherever you are. You want quiet yes but you also need them to interact with each other at times as well.
Children tend to be “children” at any age. Even though they are not tested on it in any exam I still make them draw at times to see how they visualize what they read. They had to write their own poems which I do not mark based on content / what they write about moreso I give guidelines as to what they should have them in – devices, rhythm, a theme and I mark based on whether they meet those requirements. (Colour whether it eh pencils or paper = excitement)
Coloured paper or Bristol board sheeting pages are not supplied to me by the school I buy it myself and I have them use it. It takes away from having them just use folder pages all the time and gives even myself a bit more incentive as well to mark the work). I probably learned best through visual imagery – concept maps / colours/ diagrams/ tables. Therefore this appeals to me still and is a major technique I use in my classes.
In a class of forty there will always be a top ten who will excel regardless of your being there or not, twenty who can do well with a push from you and a remaining ten that feel like lost causes – not all will remain that way but some of them will. No matter how much you repeat or fix or comment or test some students will not necessarily “do well”. This could be based on ability or interest and regardless of the answer it’s always hard when a student doesn’t do as well as you would like them to as rare as the instance might be. Even when they all do exceedingly well you can’t help but still want to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to improve what you did or change or add.
It is also very tiring though. Tiring and frustrating. Syllabi change almost on a whim with clearly no conversation from the top down… whatever students don’t do well in regionally seems to be eliminated so as to improve scores overall as opposed to finding a way to get the regional scores to improve WHILE bettering the student. Thousand of students writing exams means that papers are often lost/ not marked properly and the overall grade that is made to seem to determine your future is really not a true reflection of the student at all. People drill or cheat to make sure that their students excel on paper but it still begs the question what caliber of student is really created at the end of the day.
Additionally I teach only girls. Teen girls. I could go on ad nauseum about all the issues that come up daily outside of what we have to get done in class. If all I had to do WAS teach my life would be easy but as a teacher you don’t only “just” teach. You can’t let any teachable moment pass you by… whether it to be to enlighten them about something historical, political, local and the list goes on. If it’s not a meme or viral it’s likely they haven’t heard of it. The age of technology has changed the way in which children learn and in turn respond to the world in which they live – and it is scary… Scary because of how easy it is to acquire information yet how little they actually know.
I’ve had to explain what was no man’s land in WW1, Brexit, why does the drop in oil price affect us – Segway into what is OPEC, sing a Whitney Houston song (I will always love you), the Greek myth Narcissus, sing nursery rhymes and the alphabet, explain why the last US election was such a big deal – Segway into why the refugee ban was a big deal, the issue in Syria, laws of our country, talk about sharks (as an apex predator) and the list goes on… and on… and on… half of these topics came up on the last week… whether it be related to English language or literature or nothing under the sun… the goal is that they know SOMETHING MORE walking out of class than when they first walked in and sometimes that means filling in the most random gaps when a topic comes up.
Yes I know I am good at what I do but I don’t know if I can do it for another 22 years. The system increasingly seems to be concerned with only performance / results and not whether we are helping to mold students with an all rounded school experience, hungry for learning and interested in new and creative ways of being productive members of society. I feel like I am swimming against the current, always in a daily battle against the system that is supposed to be working alongside or with me…
On a side note: There is a little spoken word poetry club that I oversee and when I can I try to put a drawing on the board for them before they begin their sessions… I’m no artist but I try.