Reflections on Teaching
Right after I completed undergraduate studies, I entered a teacher training college in Singapore to become a teacher. This “becoming” process entailed a study of the following courses (see picture below):
Here, I built on the techniques and theories I had learned in my linguistic and sociological studies in my undergraduate program (e.g. sociology of education; sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics). I was being prepared, and preparing myself to teach English Language and Physical Education. I learned the WHAT and the HOW –subject matter knowledge and techniques — of teaching. I had teaching practicum in my alma mater and remember being excited about being posted to my first school. The WHO that is me, in my early 20s, in my first job, was still a greenhorn.
Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. – Parker Palmer.
I found out that this school had a totally different learning environment from my alma mater. That my students came from the surrounding low-income neighborhood. That some gestured or uttered vulgarities, worked part-time, came from broken homes and had no one who bothered to know how they fared in school. A lot of the WHAT I had learned in teacher preparation classes probably came out of me intuitively as I didn’t recall thinking about theories. I drew upon every ounce of the WHO in me to do the HOW: caring for my students (a few of whom were in gangs and were glue-sniffing or on drugs) and hoping to God I was teaching them to learn how to read and write in English as well. I spent 4 years in that school, my first school as a trained teacher.
Many years later, one of them who had been a glue-sniffer hollered at me in the dark streets of my neighborhood. He was selling roasted chestnuts and had pushed his cart into the street I lived. I was surprised that he still remembered me, but more so, I was glad that he was still alive and trying to make a decent living. We parted happily and I remembered this encounter fondly. I wasn’t sure if my teaching did any good that first year. I was putting out bushfires, dealing with difficult students and trying to learn the culture of a new learning environment that I had never been exposed to. Though I’m a first-generation university graduate and scholar, I have come to learn that I was privileged to have gone to “good” schools throughout my formal education. That I didn’t quit teaching then is a testament to the pull of teaching on me. I love teaching. There is an unquantifiable sense of gratification to know that one can make a connection with a life that goes beyond the boundaries of a classroom.
Over the years, through formal education and real world practice, I’ve learned a lot more about teaching and garnered more experience under my belt. I’ve amassed an arsenal of tools and techniques, and become versed in many types of learning and instructional theories. Since the days of overhead transparencies, I’ve transitioned to the creation of multimedia and digital media to enhance learning. I experiment with Twitter to connect with my students (and to build a professional learning network) and to encourage them to connect with the global community from whom they can learn much (See archive or Storify of tweets). I advocate the use of student blogs so that students can have a voice in their learning journeys; artefacts that document their growth (See aggregation of student blogs). The videos (created in 2015) below offer a glimpse of one of the multiple ways I communicate feedback with my students.
Time has zipped by. I’ve taught for more than twenty years! The integration of technology in my teaching has not dampened my excitement at teaching a new class the least bit. As I incorporated more digital pedagogy in my work, I have become more connected with my students. Teaching is not just any profession, as you have probably heard. A teacher is many roles rolled into one and these roles all demand a connectedness between the learner and the teacher. Teaching (and learning, which are inseparable) is about the cultivation of relationships from one to another, and from one to many others; relationships that support the unfolding of a certain vulnerability and openness to new ideas; to scaffolding thinking that challenges the status quo and may make the learner uncomfortable (See my connected learning course for examples of activities). As the number of students I’ve taught grew, the challenges have differed and occasionally enlarged under different learning conditions, but the privilege to connect and make a difference with that kinship kept me motivated as a teacher.
Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life. – Parker Palmer.
Parker Palmer, in his book, The Courage to Teach, questioned, “Who is the self that teaches?” At the heart of teaching is the WHO that I am. Being a perpetual learner is critical to staying sharp and timeless as a teacher.
Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. – Randall Bass, 2012.
The growth of the Internet has changed the learning experience of students. “Classroom” is now a porous concept with the boundaries of learning going beyond the walls of the school and the home; to learning with others in a two-dimensional and three-dimensional world online and offline. As a teacher in this digital age, I cannot rest on my laurels. I am always in the state of becoming, to nourish the WHO that teaches. Onward.
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