Teaching in a diverse world
I had the experience of teaching a culturally diverse class of kindergarten. It was in 2014 that I became a pre-school teacher in one of the international schools here in Saudi. Back then, I had informal training of handling young learners through online courses like that of Coursera. I finished three courses and that somehow gave me the confidence to take on a teaching job in school setting.
The first two weeks of handling the class that was consist of boys gave me shocking volts! My goodness, I did not imagine how boys were so energetic and playful that you cannot just confine them inside the classroom and let them do some activities while expecting them to sit still in their place. Add to that, all of my students speak Arabic as their first language and only a handful can converse in English. Furthermore, most of these children are from the Middle East like Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, and some from India, Pakistan, and Philippines. Language and culture became a barrier for me. All of a sudden, I felt so hopeless because even my assistant teacher barely speaks English too. So it was more of hand signals, demo, use of pictures, videos and anything I can think of just to be able to communicate effectively.
Looking back, that experience made me realize the importance of teaching in a diverse world. Diversity of culture, gender, and language became a hindrance for me when I was starting. I was not prepared then, but what I think made me survive my first year of teaching was the support I got from co-teachers and from our coordinator and principal. They gave me the assurance that I was not alone and that they will help me to become effective in dealing with these learners. Now that I finish module 6, I come to appreciate that indeed diversity is more of a resource rather than a hindrance. I think that because of my experience, it made be more creative in my teaching and be more inquisitive of ways how to teach more effectively. I remember, during Arabic lesson, I usually stay in our classroom just to do some checking and to write on diaries for parents to get updated of their children’s performance. I also took this opportunity to observe the teacher and how the students behave and engage in her class. And after class, whatever were my observations or any questions that I may have, I will talk right away with her and I gained so much learning from that.
I had assumed that it is easy to teach young learners since the lessons are not difficult. But hey, it was not about the lesson after all. It is about being creative in ways that you respect the learners and find ways to connect rather than expecting them to submit to your commands. So, being a teacher does not necessarily mean having the full authority inside the classroom controlling behaviour but more of earning their trust and giving them safe and engaging learning environment. Some students learn fast, some are so slow but we should not take it against those slow learners. What I tried was to partner those students who were more advance in helping those who need more help. Of course I have to be sensitive too that I get to pair those who get along with. I learn that this is effective with some but not for all. I remember having this student who wants everything perfect. Any red mark on his notebook or activity book guarantees a meltdown. Indeed, every individual is unique and everyone deserves quality education. As teacher, let us be aware of differences and learn to capitalize on these rather than limiting our teaching practices.
Another assumption I had was that learning is effective if you achieve the learning outcomes. This may be true but it is not enough to meet your objectives. Instead, teachers must aim at making impact that last for the child to actually put the learning into use. I think creativity really makes a difference. Every time I use a different approach to teaching, like actual experimentation in Science, or games during Math, and group works during English, I got to observe genuine engagement from my pupils, rather than doing the usual workbook activities. Indeed, as teachers we should think of ways to teach our lesson that brings about significant learning and not just accomplish the boring everyday routine. Let us not limit our lesson to academics but more of equipping the whole child. I believe we can achieve more by being creative in our teaching and learning.
Lastly, I had this assumption that teaching involves our individual commitment and dedication alone. As it turned out, this is not the case. We need others for us to improve our practice and to advance our learning. We need feedback from our students to become aware of the situation. We need our colleagues to comment and give suggestions on how we can further improve, and we need guidance and wisdom from those who have been ahead of us in their professional journey. As discussed in this module, the scholarship of teaching and learning (STOL) are important so we can verify the effectiveness and study the impact of our practices. Moreover, it is through STOL that we can find ways to solve problems, issues and challenges that beset us. Therefore, as teacher, we should continuously search for learning that answers to our inquiry, and that involves learning with others like our colleagues or peers.
Now, given the chance to teach again, I will be more intentional of using diversity as a resource for learning, using creativity to further improve my craft, and finally, to continuously inquire of ways to find solutions to problems. Again, I am not alone in this endeavour, I need others to learn some more. J