Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Fine Balance

Classroom management has always been my Achilles Heel. Some students do as they please in my class because I can never intimidate the more rebellious ones into obedience.

Ive somewhat resigned myself to this fact and I'm happy just to teach those who want to learn. I've already got my hands full attending to their needs. I really don't need the extra drama that comes with scolding/begging/reprimanding those who don't want to learn.

I'm forced to reexamine my 'you-can-lead-a-horse-to-water-but-you-can't-make-it-drink' teaching philosophy when I met a former student of mine last month. She was in Form 5 when I taught her in 2009.

I loved teaching her class because though the students were weak academically, they were not disrespectful (during exams, most of them would only answer the MCQ section, leaving the rest [structured and essay questions] unanswered).

The teacher-student boundary grew blurry as we became close and they started to confide in me stuff about their family and personal lives.

But when I saw this student of mine last Jan, it wasn't a joyous reunion. Yes, I was happy to see her but I was taken aback with the noticeable change in her appearance.

Remember 'The Necklace' by Guy de Maupassant? Mathilde used to be a beautiful, youthful and charming girl but after the whole necklace ordeal, she became a "strong and hard and rough" woman.

My surprise mirrored Madame Forestier's. What had happened in the 2 years since she left school?

She's working now and when I asked; "Kenapa tak sambung belajar?", her reply made my heart ache:

"Kalau result macam saya, macam mana nak sambung belajar?"

I didn't know how to respond to that and felt guilty about not preparing my students for the challenges of the real world (but would they have listened?).

I wished I could make my current students see that the real world out there is nothing like school, which they've become so familiar and comfortable with.

In schools, they can afford to - come late into class, play truant when they feel like it, neglect their homework & break myriads of other school rules - with little consequences.

But they can't do so in real life. Who would want to employ a tardy+lazy+unreliable employee? And what sort of job can they procure with minimal qualifications?

The encounter made me resolve to be a different kind of teacher. By hook or by crook, I will MAKE my students do my work and LEARN!

It took some time but my long-dormant sinister side is awaken at last. For each lesson, I mentally assumed the Cruella de Vil persona - my glare became more venomous and remarks more scathing - to make my students more compliant.

The tactic seemed to work for I noticed an increase in the volume of work submitted (though I still couldn't get 100% submission).

I was happy with the result but teaching suddenly became unenjoyable and depressing. It's tiring to frown and look angry all the time. I felt like I was walking with a huge chip on my shoulder, ready to pounce on the slightest hint of misbehaviour.

That's when I realised; "OMG, I've become THAT kind of teacher!" *horror*

So, it's back to the drawing board. I cannot keep on teaching like a Dementor - sucking out all the happiness out of people - yet I cannot go back to being so laid-back either. I need to strike a balance because though more students are handing in their work, I know that their compliance is only superficial. They do it because they fear my reprisal, not because they're engaged with my lessons. Thus, no meaningful learning has taken place.

It's still a work in progress but now I know that I need to achieve that fine balance.

I may not get it right all the time but I hope my students know that whether I'm mean or buddy-buddy, I always have their best interest at heart.