Some educators that I have come across are either too stern, too strict or too authoritative. This is bad. All educators require a sense of innocence and a certain degree of creativity. But let’s talk about why we need these elements first.
It’s only by sheer chance that I have managed to meet educators who are sincere, dedicated and caring during my schooling days. Of course, I am not making a sweeping statement that most educators are the opposite of this as it will be so unfair to all the great and dedicated educators globally who are putting their hearts and souls into their teaching so that students in their class benefit. However, in my opinion, as long as there’s one educator who fails to fulfill the calling of teaching, there will always be students who are denied the joy of learning. And my heart goes out to them. Being an educator myself, I am glad to discover that I have a great team of colleagues who love their students and care for their welfare, while training them to be independent and self-directed learners. It’s just disappointing to see that in other educational institutions, the turnover of teachers is high. And I am quite sure that the same is happening elsewhere in the world.
When I flip the papers, there are often reported cases of students either being unduly or unreasonably punished, conflicts in the classrooms and many other similar incidents happening, not only locally but worldwide. The common perception among the reports is that students are getting more rebellious, which – on the surface- seems to be precisely the case. But that’s just skimming the surface. This is a misconception but it’s no surprise why people think this way. Teachers are supposed to be authoritative figures (at least in the classroom). Thus, if conflicts and altercations result in the classroom with things spinning out of control, it’s undoubtedly not the fault of the teachers. In fact, the teachers should be sympathised. They are the victims. It’s the students who are the ones who should be blamed, since they are the ones who are out of control. When the equilibrium is broken and the scale of classroom harmony tips, students of course become the rebels, and the educators the overthrown. But this is so wrong. And the reason why this is wrong is because people – including most educators – are making assumptions and not asking the right questions.
We tend to assume that students rebel because:
- They do not like learning;
- They want to have fun (which is partially true, and rightfully so)
- They do not like the teacher (yes, some teachers take it personally)
I am not saying that these assumptions are wrong. In fact, I feel that they are usually right. What is wrong are the numerous misunderstandings behind these assumptions. That’s why a good question for educators to ask themselves is “Why are the students rebelling?”and examine the causes carefully. When we examine the root cause of this, we will realise that the (underlying) issues lie with the educators, and not the students.
Let’s examine these assumptions one by one:
– Students do not like learning: I have read Ken Robinson’s book titled The Element: How finding your passion changes everything and was inspired by it. I share the same sentiments as the author that not every student fits into a conventional classroom. In fact, I feel that most don’t. It’s already very challenging to coach and mentor one student, not to mention a class of 25-35 students in a class, each with their different personalities, working styles, communication styles, aptitudes, attitudes and temperaments. So, how could we – as educators- blame the students when they declare their disinterest in their studies? It’s true that in recent years, students are encouraged to be independent and self-directed learners, with a strong ability to delve into knowledge on their own without the help of anybody. Not their parents. Not their educators. However, without someone to stir up their interest in learning in the first place, how can their passion be flamed? It’s just like a scenario where we are encouraged to go to a particular country for a holiday as that country is considered “the best destination for local and international travellers”, However, without someone or something (in this case, the media or viral marketing) to show us the way or even to enable us to gain awareness of the place, there’s no way that we will know that the place exist, let alone have an interest in travelling there, right? As educators, let us come in and transform learning activities into an enjoyable process. Let the students not only enjoy learning, let them fall in love with it.
– Students want to have fun: I believe it’s not just the students. Even as adults, we also want to have some fun and enjoyment in our lives. Fun is the antidote to boredom and lethargy. Fun is what imbues us with life and makes us come alive. Fun IS life. Although we sometimes use other words such as “humour”, “laughter” and “joy” to substitute it, they basically mean the same thing. Of course there are short-term fun and long-term joy but within the context of this article, let’s use the term interchangeably. Learning IS fun, but there are many educators who have turned learning in the classroom into a nightmare. I have even seen educators silencing a class with just one look. These educators are not encouraging learning. They are – in fact- suppressing/repressing it, these actions of which is an antithesis of the noble responsibilities of all educators. As educators, we are entertainers and storytellers. We use humour to engage with our students and through our engagements, brings learning to life. We weave stories to connect with students intellectually and emotionally, enabling them to understand that learning is a blend of intellectual questioning and emotional engagement. Both are two sides of the same coin. It’s only right that -like adults- students have fun in the classroom. Let students connect fun with learning and have them running into the classrooms, not dragging their feet into them.
– Students do not like their teachers: This is an interesting one. Some educators often tell their colleagues that their students do not like them. I think a good question for these educators to ask themselves is “Do you like your students?” More prominently, “Have you respected them?”, “Have you given them the freedom to express themselves?”, “Have the students been given the autonomy and flexibility to do their projects?” Students of this generation do not like to have their teachers breathing down their neck as they work. They do not like educators using the “Carrot and Stick” (aka rewards and punishment) approach. Personally, I will advocate reasoning with the students and informing them about the importance of learning and the likes. Get them to understand why doing something in a certain manner is right and how it benefits them. Change only comes with acceptance, not with rewards. And definitely not with intimidation. Try treating the children like adults and let them have a say in whatever they are asked to do. Should they disagree with a valid reason or have a different idea for a project etc, accept them whenever possible, just like how kids accept all sorts of possibilities in life. However, more often than not, most educators do not, which is a mistake. Deep in our hearts, all of us want to be accepted. Denying acceptance of others is actually a denial of acceptance of ourselves.
So, what can educators do to resolve the three issues above? A good solution will be to increase our level of creativity through our sense of innocence. Since creativity originates from our sense of innocence, let’s begin by talking about our sense of innocence. Indeed, our sense of innocence is important in teaching because it leads to creative teaching, which is both inspiring and engaging. It will be good to note that our sense of innocence has not really left us as we grow up into mature adults. Think about the times that we play with our little nieces, cousins and other children. How do we engage them? We do that by relating to them with our childhood days. When we engage with them in play, we bring back or rather, memories of our childhood days come flooding back to us and something amazing happens: We become kids again, even though it’s just for a while. This is the strongest indicator that the child in us never left us. There’s some perception among neuroscientists, philosophers and great thinkers that time is a continuous stream of consciousness that has no beginning and no end. I agree with this. One question that we can ask ourselves is “How do we feel when we are 5 years old, 12 years old, 21 years old, 35 years old and so on?” Do we feel old? Of course, our bodies experience more fatigue within a shorter period of time as we age and we do see signs of aging on our physical self. But how do we feel? Do we feel old? If you are with me, you will agree with me that from a spiritual perspective, we do not feel old. In fact, most of us will feel that we have not age at all spiritually. It’s as if we never age. Only our physical bodies age. When we let go of all the stresses and worries in life, we become vibrant with life regardless of our age and we live again. More importantly, we regain the sense of innocence that we thought that we have lost it somewhere down the road but where it has always been there, waiting for us to acknowledge it. When we look at the blossoming of romance, we can also see evidence of the sense of innocence throughout our lives. If not, how do you explain lovers falling in love right in their seventies and eighties? Romance requires a sense of innocence, something that has been with us all this while.
So, how do we bring in a sense of innocence into the classrooms? It’s actually quite simple. Develop a childish side of ourselves and explore lessons and issues from this perspective. For example, when discussing about kindness in class, think like a child. Ask the class what is kindness. Tell a story from a child’s perspective. For example, I can talk about a time when as a eight-year-old, I try to help an old lady across the road but was in turn helped by the old lady when I slipped and fell. As you can see, humour is almost automatically introduced into class when we speak with a sense of innocence. Now let’s bring in creativity by exploring kindness from various perspectives but still from a child’s perspective. I can then ask the class: So, whose kindness is this? Mine or the old lady’s? Does kindness begets kindness? Is being too young a deterrent to being kind? Can old people be kind too? Is it normal for elderly citizen to help a 8-year-old young kid? Does kindness enable two human beings with such a wide age difference to see the common humanity that binds them together despite the passage of time? Kindness is an interesting but at times boring topic but when discussed from a child’s perspective, it becomes interesting and at times hilarious as well. Try it and see.
In class, have a sense of innocence and be creative. I believe that your students will love you for it.
Be a kid again. Ever wonder why there are some of us who look younger and thus do not look our age? It’s because they are the ones who – in their hearts – remember that they are still kids. It’s the acknowledgement of our advancing age and our resignation to old age that adds years to our faces.
Remember, you are a kid once, and you are still a kid now. And always will be.
So, do your students a favour: bring that kid back.
And be young again.