Am I not smart enough? Is that why I am in this remedial class? Why have you so segregated us?
Often and on, we in the teaching community face this question from students who we chose to give some extra training or attention.
For the years I have been a remedial teacher and have conducted remedial classes to many students. We have had fun in these classes, my students and I, whenever I have been successful in winning their confidence and have ensured them that they are in good hands and that this is not a punishment, it definitely is not.
Though I remember once I had mentioned the need for the child to focus more in education or learning, in this case, English, which was my subject, to my great shock and extreme shame, the father had lifted his hand to hit the child right in front of me and other parents. I felt guilty and rightly so for having been the reason for this public embarrassment for the child.
I realized the absolute significance of my words as a teacher to a parent and the child and how my words can impact their relationship and also impact the child and his/her mental and emotional health in the long run.
Thereafter I remember being extremely careful of what I speak and how so much so that students often chose to get their parents to meet me first, ‘mam, once you speak, no, they would joke, my parents will feel good and if someone complains later also, they will not take it badly.’ This sort of became a pact between some of my students and me.
I had another eye opening, life changing moment when I encountered another student of mine, Prabodh and tried to question his lack of interest in improving his English skills. Instead of accepting my observation or taking it negatively, Prabodh countered me, ‘Mam, I am very good at carpentry, Hindi, swimming and some other skills. Why should I be good at everything? It’s ok that I am not great at English’.
I laughed at my own folly, on hearing this confident counter. Indeed, why so? Why was I bent on shaming Prabodh for his poor English when I completely ignore his many other talents?
Again in one of my 11 th standard classes, I had another experience of a similar kind. I was advising Mukul Yadav to work on his English. The entire section of boys in the class, literally growled back, ‘ Mam, he is the state swimming champion. He is that and he is this….’ and while Mukul basked in the glory of collective compliments, I definitely had to retract my statement and politely add, ‘well, no harm in learning English as well!’.
But what am I driving at? I am trying here to point that to build on a new skill set, we need to acknowledge and appreciate, what is already present.
For example, when some of my students hesitate to speak in English, I allow them to speak in their mother tongue in the class. The class applauds the speech, poetry or any other presentation. This adds to the confidence of the student. I then gently interject to point out that it is a matter of pride to be able to speak your mother tongue fluently. It is a great achievement indeed.
While this being so, we still need to build our English skills, only because it is language in which academic interactions and expressions happen mostly, at least in our country. There fore we need to acquire this skill set.
This I have seen has often helped me to not shame a student for the skill he/she has already, but emphasize that we only need to build and improve on what is missing and needs betterment.
In my early years of teaching English, I have often approached the topic of imparting English language skills with an evangelistic zeal, somewhere though, after much reflection, and humbled by various experiences, I realized that gentle persuasion works better than any kind of shaming.
Acknowledge the existing skill set of the student.
Give him the credit he deserves.
Gently reason out the need to learn a new skill.
Most often than not, the student decides to collaborate with you in picking up the new skill, which he sees is going to benefit him.
Mission accomplished 🙂
Collaborative learning makes classrooms healthy happy spaces to be in for the teacher, as well as the student.