Two days ago, I had arguably one of my worst experiences as a teacher in over 20 years.
It was another hot and humid Thursday afternoon.
After five weeks with them, I knew this wasn’t exactly the most exciting class to teach. The students usually looked like droopy petals of a morning glory flower that knows the morning is well and truly over.
This is despite the fact they had a good 3-4 hours of break time between their previous lesson and mine.
Blame it on the timing or day of the week. Bottomline? Short of doing cartwheels, there wasn’t much I could do with this bunch. Moses probably had it easier when he parted the Red Sea!
But to be fair to this class, maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Lord knows by the time I meet them every Thursday afternoon, I would have seen at least six of my 10 weekly classes already. So I too often feel like that droopy morning glory!
But I try. I speak TO them, not AT them. I ask questions and do my best to engage. And I even share personal anecdotes liberally, not to mention relevant videos. I even tell a joke now and then though I’m not always good at it.
Okay, one or two of them do respond. But in a class of more than 20, that’s not saying very much. Especially when this most recent lesson was our sixth one together. My patience by then was razor thin.
You’re probably wondering: after two decades of teaching, surely I should have seen it all, right?
Apparently, I’m not quite done learning how to be a teacher.
“If you can’t, teach!” — the ultimate insult
Looking back at conversations I’ve often had when I was in the big bad corporate world, I often wondered why I let disparaging remarks about teachers go.
Oh you never heard them? Not even the most infamous line that kicked off this segment of my post? Lucky you.
For some reason, I hear them quite a lot.
Most of these high-power executives I meet speak with disdain about teachers.
How out-of-touch they were with what’s shaking in the real world. How archaic are their teaching methods and syllabi. Even how unsophisticated and sloppy they would look in a black tie event.
And how they would falter under the fast-paced, demanding pressures and relentless onslaught of “real, economy-elevating” work. That is, if ever they were to leave the protective ivory tower that’s academia and enter the workforce (as though academia isn’t part of the workforce).
I’ll like to see these snobs take on my Thursday morning glories!
But I get it.
Many of these snobs only remember the lousy moments they had as students. Of hearing their teachers like inane drones that hover overhead in monotones. Of never being the teacher’s pet. And many hated the confines of classrooms and prefer to get out and on with their lives than sit for a term paper or a lesson on say Trompenaars’ Seven-Dimension Cultural Model.
Sure. Of course. We’ve all been there. We’ve all wanted to get out of the classroom and go play instead.
Still, are these reasons to pooh-pooh the profession?
Is it easy to stand before a class everyday and inspire learning? To deliver the goods, so to speak, to class after class of unique individuals with differing styles and preferences when it comes to absorbing new material?
To have them come together in one room and get along?
And to stay focused for two to even four hours at a stretch, when I haven’t a clue what kind of a day or week or even moment they just had in their private world before stepping into my classroom?
For a teacher, that’s exactly what courage looks like
To stand in front of a class day after day with none of the above questions completely answered, yet knowing full well you have curriculum targets to complete and marking deadlines to meet so students are suitably prepared and ready for their assignments and exams.
It takes courage dammit!
Like scaling a mountain. But without a protective harness!
And post pandemic, the stakes are even higher.
Students have gotten used to learning from a screen, something that’s already so ubiquitous in their lives that to reengage in-person feels almost like they’re a fish being pulled unceremoniously out of water.
I sense that each lesson, though I’m not quite sure that’s the only reason for the reticence in my Thursday class.
For I also sense something far more insidious that worries the educator in me, even the parent in me.
There’s a feeling of near-annoyance that’s bubbling just beneath the surface with this bunch. The reluctance to be in my class feels almost like a heavy winter cloak someone just threw on me, draining me of energy even before I utter the first word of the lesson.
There’s also a sense of entitlement, like they’re paying my hourly wages so I should just get on with the lesson and get it over and done with quickly please. For they can’t wait to exit stage right pronto!
Maybe it’s the flamboyant me in a class of students pursuing an engineering programme that’s like mixing chalk and cheese in a bowl.
Maybe it’s just the time of the day (3 to 5 pm). Or the weather.
Or maybe it’s just the absence of any chemistry between us.
I wish I knew.
What’s a teacher to do?
Even after 20 years of teaching, I’m still stumped what to do.
And so, two days ago, I defaulted to the oldest method in the manual. I gave the class of 22 seventeen-year-olds a good tongue-lashing!
Afterwards, it felt both good and rotten at the same time.
Thinking ahead to the next lesson, I can only wonder if I had done irreparable damage or raised the dead!
Guess I’ll know when next I step into the classroom.
Yep it’s going to take moral courage to walk in there again.
Wish me luck ok?