Let’s take a pause and ask: How many students have learned from what I have done? If they haven’t learnt, why?
To meet the needs of 21st century in education, teachers have to become efficient in research-based teaching. The word ‘research’ might be intimidating for many teachers due to its fearful preconception that it is time-consuming, expensive, boring and frustrating. However, research carried out by teachers can be rewarding. Let me simplify the issue here.
Searching for us is not a new thing. As a matter of fact, searching is part of life. We search something every day. We forget or misplace things and we search them. As for myself, when I have to read small prints, I search for glasses. If I don’t find them in one place, I search them in another. That means I research until I find them. Thus let us think from the perspective that research is nothing really big but an attempt to find solution of the problem. That means if we have a problem, we try to solve it first with one way. But if the idea doesn’t work, we try again to solve it differently or apply another strategy. For example, if I couldn’t find my glasses on the table where I used to keep them, I should search for them at other places. And I should continue my searches until I find them. If I don’t try to find out my glasses, I probably never will.
So let’s begin from where we are. If we don’t try out new ideas, how can we learn new things? How can we grow? Teaching is not repeating the same thing again and again with the same way, speed, and mentality. Let’s try research even if it may not sound like we are doing research. As teachers we have to develop ourselves and we should provide best opportunities and environment for students to learn. Even if we don’t know much about research right now, we will learn as we begin and as we continue.
As English (as a foreign language) teachers, there are so many things we have got to be aware of and there are so many challenges and opportunities. One of the challenges is we don’t seem to give much priority to understanding students. In other words, we don’t try to understand students’ needs and offer them support to solve their problems. Normally, our classes are lecture-oriented. There’s a prescribed text book. We enter a forty to forty-five minute class with this ‘scripture’ and a board-marker. We ask the children to open the book on certain page or just write the title on the whiteboard and start our rituals of punditry. We explain the texts or write meanings of difficult words to project us as ‘all-knowing’ beings and students as ‘all-ignorant’ creatures. Some of us even might write possible questions and answers on the board for students. This may become quite boring and annoying for students though we might take pleasure in having good, disciplined, quiet audience who appear to be surrendering to whatever we offer to them.
However, we have to take a pause and ask how many students have learned from what I have done? What percentage of learning do I think they have learned? If they haven’t learnt, why? What can I do to make them learn? How do they want to learn? Can I teach the same thing differently? Can I allow students to learn themselves with my guidance and assistance? How can I make my class more interesting and engaging? If I am not feeling confident in teaching how can I be? What can I do to acquire proficiency? Is it because of lack of my pedagogical knowledge? Where and how can I learn new techniques and latest theories? How can I become a progressive and innovative teacher?
Teachers have to know that if they are not teaching well or if they don’t have the capacity to fit their profession, students very well know it. Even if they haven’t realized it now they will soon. Teaching is a complex job and even if you are teaching for a long time, you might fail at any time if you don’t take your job seriously and if you fail to understand your students.
Know your students
Let me illustrate with an example. At a master’s level, there was this head of department teaching English. He gave a research task to students and set the submission deadline quite a few times, but hardly any students met his deadlines and submitted the assignments at the stipulated time. At this he lost his temper and vented his frustrations: “I’m so frustrated with you. You have failed me. What makes you so irresponsive? Why are you so uncooperative? Why are you so rude? If you are doing this to me, what must you have done to other junior teachers and visiting faculties?”
Were the students really unresponsive, uncooperative, and rude? Did the students treat other teachers less respectfully than him? There was hardly any truth in any of his hunches. The truth is he had given the assignments without doing much research as to the time requirement to conduct the tasks, availability of students’ time and their willingness to do the research. Besides, the concept and processes were not clearly explained.
The students were intimidated and felt they were unfairly given pressure. In some way, they felt quite humiliated as they were struggling to join the pieces of their research. This happened because there was not enough discussion in the class first. In addition, students didn’t feel ensured of support from the teacher. Worst of all, from students’ prospective, it was a unilateral decision forcefully imposed on them. Similarly, there was no ownership of students. The task involved more confusion and intimidation than joy and fun.
It was a tragic irony that the teacher who was supposed to teach students how to conduct research, did not research himself before assigning tasks and so at the end of the day he felt failed. This is just an example of how teachers can fail at any time regardless of their experiences and PhD degrees or holding any prestigious positions for that matter, if they do not pay attention to the nuances of research.
The author is a freelance writer and life member of Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association (NELTA)