The human dimension of being a teacher
Notes from working with English and Social Sciences teachers of Bal Bharati School, Rewa
In the last two years of designing and implementing training workshops for English and Social Sciences teachers from classes 3–5 at Bal Bharati School, Flow team has had a unique opportunity to explore and address the vulnerabilities of teachers.
Here we discuss some of their challenges which shape their practice, and how we tried to address them as learning designers and strategists. While we do believe in the effectiveness of our means and methods, a deep sense of ground reality that the teacher shows up for every day humbles us and shapes our understanding.
The time crunch is a major challenge facing primary school teachers at Bal Bharati. They have to cover a syllabus that is crammed with a wide variety of themes and concepts within a timetable that includes examinations, tests, and school programmes. In addition, they have to at a time address a class of at least 40 learners with varying degrees of language adequacy. Does this run-on sentence sound daunting in both intent and meaning?
As learning strategists, we understand the element of labour in everyday teaching and the complex web of the school ecosystem that sustains this labour force. So we tentatively introduced the idea of planning into the fabric of teaching, to highlight the power for making a schema for using time and energy. We began on the premise that teachers are planners at heart, they already juggle multiple roles within and outside the classroom. Within the classroom, effective teachers are both educators and enablers, outside they’re programme implementers and administrative support. Initially, the teachers embraced our strategy with skepticism but, in time, mutual trust between us and continual support from the management led the teachers towards accepting and even appreciating the strategies.
A mixed batch of learners
Another problem facing our teachers is that all classes comprise a mixed batch of learners with various levels of English language adequacy. A typical batch often includes learner spectrum that spans from those who are at word level to those at the long-form story level. This makes the matter of delivering lessons harder for teachers.
This led us to develop a reading programme that would enhance overall reading and comprehension skill of a class and we involved the teachers who modeled the habit of reading for their learners. Was that smooth either? No. But “smooth” is best in a finished product like pastry while the making of it is always the opposite of the word in quotes.
In most Indian classrooms, especially in smaller cities, the communication between learners and educators is often one-way. Teachers give lesson inputs using the traditional tools of textbooks and chalkboards and learners make notes. Bal Bharati has attempted to transform this mode of communication by introducing a new set of tools: digital board, ORTL kits, and training among others.
One of our attempts have been to identify what stops a smooth communication and we discovered that learners often experience lack of self-confidence, fear, and nervousness when speaking in class under teacher supervision. Among a few strategies, we came up with the idea of installing letterboxes in each classroom which the learners can use to send anonymous letters to their teachers. We hoped that this would help them share their fears, give feedback and share their difficulties. But the boxes are often empty, our teachers tell us, which made us arrive at one of our more formative solutions so far. Wait for it.
Self and mutual respect
Our engagement with learners has thrown light on one of the major challenges to an active learning environment: absence of self and mutual respect among learners and their educators.
We realized that one of the reasons why learners have often not been able to communicate freely and honestly with their educators is that they often stumble against a lack of self-confidence. Their fear of being found inadequate trumps their desire to know new ideas and thoughts. We saw a similar predilection among our teachers in the training workshops too. They often shied away from sharing their difficulty in adopting our methods.
We tried to address this by introducing reflective games and exercises that work towards awareness around the need for self-affirmation and how that leads to overall enhancement of skills. We have just begun the work and its effectiveness will be visible after a consistent period of practice and implementation.