Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The teacher-student divide


The teacher-student divide

Some education commentators are concerned about false barriers that exist between teachers and their students and which could prevent successful learning from taking place


While the majority of teachers would like their students to at least like them, it should be remembered that a teacher's degree of popularity does not equate to whether he or she is a good teacher or not.

Teaching is not a popularity contest

All of us can remember teachers from our past who were good and those who were really bad. It's the ones in the middle that we don't seem to remember so well.

When students like their teacher, the latter is usually remembered as a "good teacher". It could be that a teacher whom they did not like was actually the better teacher; however, the style or manner of teaching was what made them disliked or less popular.

Traditionally in Thailand, teachers are respected in society. Today, there are some who would argue with this point of view, as over the years the position of teachers has somehow been eroded. Needless to say, even in modern times it is obvious who the teacher is and who the students are in our classrooms.

At least it's obvious in my classroom. I'm the overweight bald guy with a moustache wearing a shirt and a tie, just a little bit different from the rest of those in the room. I'd like to be popular with my students; however, you would have to ask them if I am.

The teacher-student gap

There needs to be some sort of collaboration between students and teachers if we are to make this student-centred learning work in accordance with the 1999 Education Act. In my opinion, the divide between teachers and their students is obvious and there is no need to reinforce the places we have in society, especially if we need the cooperation of our students for them to learn. It is impossible for teachers to force someone to learn. Teachers have to make the learning environment attractive enough for students to be motivated to learn. It's a case of leading a horse to the water and not being able to make it drink.

On the other hand, students have to take responsibility for their own learning and not just sit back and wait for their teacher to wave a magic wand to fill them with knowledge.

There are some who would state that familiarity breeds contempt; however, I am not so sure that is the case in the classroom. If teachers act as an example to their students, then there should not be any difficulty in their remaining as the authority figure with all the responsibility that it entails. If teachers set a bad example, then there is every chance that students will not respect their teachers, and then there would be a breakdown in the teacher-student relationship, which is needed to succeed.

Working together toward a common goal

I learn a lot from my students; they always keep me on the straight and narrow. The reason for this is that I listen to what they have to say. I might not agree with them all the time, but I bother to listen to their opinions and try to understand them as individuals. This transcends culture and is basic decency. By listening and discussing problems with them, it is possible to have an excellent working relationship that benefits everyone concerned. Before your eyes start watering and you reach for the Kleenex, I'm not one of these "touchy feely" type people who hug trees as a form of self-expression. What we have here is a chance for real communication (in English) to enable everyone to achieve their objectives.

Just recently, I wanted my class to complete a task, and I gave what I thought was an excellent explanation of what was required. To my surprise, one young lady in my class had a puzzled look on her face. I asked if she understood, and reluctantly she said no.

I had to explain about four or five times. Everyone was laughing because after every explanation I gave, I would ask if she understood. She kept saying no. After several attempts and a lot of laughter, we were able to extract a positive answer from her. The point I am trying to make is that the breaking down of perceived barriers will make the learning process more enjoyable for both teachers and students.

Steve Graham is an English language teacher at the Language Centre, Udon Thani Rajabhat University in northeastern Thailand. For more information or discussion, you could contact Steve at steve@steves-english-zone.com

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