Rules and Dreamless Students
The problems I started seeing myself immersing into did have an impact on me. I started seeing that I would be dragged into becoming the teacher I didn’t want to be. Which means; using a lot of chalk and talk, being 100 percent dependent on the textbook, and trying to fill the students’ heads with as much information as possible. Therefore, I had to come up with a plan of action and start putting it in use before frustration gets me down.
Therefore, I got myself busy writing some objectives that I thought I wanted to achieve during my first school year. These included preparing the best lesson plans possible, making learning “FUNtastic” and introducing the notion of “edutainment” to my school, keeping a diary to reflect on my teaching and my students’ learning, a research on motivation as well as collecting a teacher portfolio. Also, I thought of attending as many symposiums and conferences as possible. I thought they were very crucial for any teacher’s professional development and that attending and taking an active part in them would make me a better teacher.
Back to school now. It was time to officially start the year. This means I’d be receiving students for the first time. “Huge!” I thought. During the first session, 20 students attended (out of 45), it was very normal for students not to come regularly on the beginning of the year. Even though the number of students attending was less than half of the class, I thought I should talk to them about the guidelines that would guide our work, the rules that we needed to respect and ask them about their expectations.
Generally, I have two main rules that I tell everyone that they should stick to and follow. The first is “RESPECT”, and the second is “DREAM BIG”. I wrote those two rules on the blackboard as big and clear as I could and as the very little chalk I had permitted. I explained that respect was very important to the process, that without respect we wouldn’t go anywhere. I emphasized that respect didn’t mean they had to be afraid of me, but to respect time, colleagues, the course book and other teachers and subjects. I added that to prove that I believed in respect, I wouldn’t wait for them to respect me but I’d start respecting them first. That’s why I asked them to bring badges and write their names on them so that I’d call them by their names instead of numbers or just the famous “Hey, you!”. This was new to them, no teacher had ever done this with them, so they appreciated the idea.
In addition to this, I explained that I believed in democracy and that it was important for me to know their opinions and what they think is good or bad. I said I believed in freedom of speech and that I’d let them criticize me as long as the criticism is respectful. I never REALLY understood what “to be taken by a storm” meant until that day looking at their faces as I was speaking. Some were literally mouth open, and others were just gazing in pure amazement. I thought this was a positive point. Getting students’ attention and making them follow what you say without feeling bored is every teacher’s dream.
Then, I started addressing the second rule; “dream big”. I asked them, “what are your dreams?” They replied with bewildered looks. I waited for a moment then paraphrased: “What do you want to become in the future?” No answer yet. I thought they needed an example, so I started explaining that everyone has dreams. Some people want to become doctors or lawyers because they think that by practicing these professions they’d be serving the community, making their parents proud or just because they pay well. Other people might choose to become soldiers because they might think that there is nothing holier than defending one’s nation and people. Meanwhile, others might prefer to become artists so that to express their emotions through the magic of art. “Now what about you? What do you want to do in the future?” Still no answer. “Ok, let’s take me as an example” I started, “I’m a teacher, but I still have some dreams that I want to accomplish, I want to become a writer, a photographer and a university teacher”. They followed every word I said with the greatest interest and “hunger” I ever witnessed. I understood no one had ever talked to them about their dreams before.
At this particular point, I started to feel uncomfortable and even shocked. I knew there were many students in each class (40 to 47). I knew they belonged to different age groups (14-21). I knew 65 percent of them were repeating the year. I knew many of them had to walk for 4 or 5 km to get to school, but knowing that they didn’t even know what school was for, and that they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives was mind-blowing.
I thought they needed to be familiarized even more with the notion of “dreaming”. So, I explained that every person has something special about him/her, that we are all different yet the same, and that our uniqueness is expressed through the things we love the most. Then I added that in order to become successful and glorify this uniqueness we need to believe in ourselves and our abilities and skills. I looked at a girl into the eyes and said: “If you can draw, then you might become an artist”, then I moved to a boy and said: “…And if you can play football, then you might turn professional”… Then I went back to the front of the class, I made sure they all had their eyes on me and I enthusiastically said: “The people who appear on TV are NOT better than you. You can be like them or even better, it just takes passion, devotion and hard work…”
I saw these words breaking the imaginary walls they had in their minds. I saw boys nodding in agreement, and girls shyly smiling in appreciation. I saw them literally changing their minds. I saw motivation in their eyes. I saw that and thought: “Boy, I’m charismatic!”
Then I changed the tone of my voice and said: “Ok, now I want you to think of the things that you love the most and try to come up with possible dream jobs”. I really wanted them to do this, so I explained that it was not a contest, and that there were no wrong answers. A few minutes later, I finally got some answers. Their answers were not extremely varied, it seemed that they all wanted to do the same things, and most of them just repeated the examples I gave before. Consequently, they said that they wanted to become poets, painters, teachers and writers. Again, I said that these things were extremely great and satisfying jobs, but that they needed to dig even further, maybe they’d find something more interesting that they really like based on their real skills and preferences and not based on the examples presented by the teacher. They promised to do so, and I understood there was a long way to walk before I get them to where they needed to be.