A novice teacher’s reflection: From the obstacles to the exploration

 

                 Dasharatha Rai

Flashback

Teaching became one of my ideal professions when I was a high school student. It was not because of I understood the susceptibility and nobility of teaching profession, but because of my personal impressions to the teaching profession. When I feel nostalgic for my high school, my memory shares only blurred images of the lessons taught in the cold and unsophisticated classroom of the village school. Rather, I vividly remember hanging on the branches of Kafal tree, being caught in the hooks of Aiselu, throwing stones at orange trees heavily laden with juicy oranges, and surreptitiously stealing plums, pears on the way to School. I grew up with nature and learnt more from the nature rather than from the school courses.

One of the things that attracted me to teaching is that I was enticed with a word associated with teachers. The word that vehemently pulled me in teaching profession is the holly term ‘Guru’. I was introduced this word by Purna B.K a Nepali teacher who spoke exquisite Nepali with correct pronunciation in a rhythmic tone. Since then, the term ‘Guru’ always became the dearest to me. It became an immutable aspect of my life. Though I was introduced the term by the Nepali teacher, I chose to be an English teacher. In my case, there are three things that motivated me to become an English teacher. Firstly, speaking English in my society is taken as social prestige and having tag of intelligent person. Secondly, I could not communicate in English even after completion of the SLC. Thirdly, my English teacher Mr. Nabaraj Tamang became a friend of mine more than a teacher. Among three, the feeling of inferiority for not being able to communicate in English always rumbled inside me. It proliferated my dream of learning English day and night. Therefore, in a dawn I strode to Kathmandu from village for pursuing dream to learn and become an English teacher.

After the completion of B.Ed. from Mahendra Ratna Campus Kathmandu, specializing in English education, I grew mature enough for teaching. My academic accomplishments placed me on the threshold of teaching. I started hunting for job in English medium schools in Kathmandu. Finally, one of my gurus in campus ascertained my interest in teaching and recommended me a school for teaching the students of grade nine and ten. I felt a little awkward to go for high school children particularly because of two reasons. Firstly, I had no experience at all. Secondly, to be honest, I did not have fluency in speaking. I was in a great dilemma what to do and what not to. At the same time, my guru made me a call and said, “Mr. Rai if you want to learn swimming, the level of water should reach up to your chin. Then, either you will swim or die. But, if I let you in the water that only submerge your knees, you will never sink and never learn swimming.” My guru indicated me that the more challenges I face the more competent I become. Eventually, I agreed to go for the students of grade nine and ten.

From the Obstacles

The first year of my teaching experience remained insomniac, frustrated and tiresome. As a novice teacher I did not have skills that are required to handle teaching and learning activities in the classroom except apprenticeship of observation and scanty theoretical knowledge. As I entered the classroom with coming led feeling of both excitement and awkwardness in the first day, around 40 bright, sparkling and curious eyes swallowed me at a glance with the warm greetings. Their sparkling and curious eyes were indicating that they wanted something new, something interesting from me.

The days were going well but slowly and gradually, I realized that something was falling apart. I came across some critical incidents while teaching in the classroom, particularly dealing with an effective lesson plan, teaching materials, fluency and delivery in speech, identifying the nature of students, controlling classroom so and so. As days went by the students ‘gestures and facial expressions in the classroom reflected that they were not satisfied with my teaching. I was winced by the students’ reactions. One day, I was dealing with one of the grammatical items the ‘Reported Speech’ in the class. I approximately delivered ten-minutes speech on the topic, presented two-three examples and offered some practice questions to the students on the board and asked them to practice. The first thing, students had to transform direct speech into indirect in copy. Secondly, each individual had to stand up and read out their answers to the friends. Thirdly, other students had to find the errors made by their friends and tell a correct answer. Finally, my job was to facilitate them. As I finished writing practice questions on the board, I went around the class and checked if students had written or not. One of the students in the last bench was sitting baffled. I asked him if he had written the practice questions. His answer was, Sir? “You haven’t done anything?” I inquired. He absently responded “No sir”. I was flabbergasted by the response. Alas! What can be more suicidal to a teacher if the students do not perceive what you are doing.

Similarly, in other days I prepared some charts and flashcards as the teaching materials to deal with vocabularies and some writing skills. However, the students showed no interest in it. Later on, I realized that my teaching materials were so clumsy and not attractive to draw the attention of the students. Interestingly, a few days later, I found some of the students were perfect artists in both painting and writing in the class. In the soliloquy I was stroke with some questions. Why the students of B.Ed. level are not trained to prepare suitable and attractive teaching materials by university lectures along with theoretical anecdotes? Why the B.Ed. level students are not engaged in classroom workshops to deal with preparing a comprehensive teaching materials?

The high school students expect flawless speech. But, in my case it was not. I do think that most of the university students still have the same problem as I had in speaking. As a novice teacher, surviving in the classroom was a great job. I delivered a sentence in a minute, means 45 sentences in 45 minutes. One of the reasons that interrupted my speech was grammar. When I delivered speech in the class, I focused less on speech and more on grammatical items like preposition, articles, tense and blah, blah, blah. Later on, I realized that over thinking on grammatical items created blockade in my brain, as a result, it could not activate my UG (the universal grammar). The next thing is that I focused more on transactional speech and less on interactional one. The transactional speech created more controlled situation in which learners became passive. In due course of time, I realized that much of our communication remains interactional. These were other reasons that the students were not motivated in the class. Meanwhile, I came across another question. Why do most of the students even in university level cannot master in speaking competencies?

Teaching became an arduous work for me at the beginning. I felt that I lost myself in a labyrinth of teaching. I bid farewell several sleeplessness nights. I could not zip my eyes properly by thinking about the students, my responsibilities towards them, expectation of administration so and so. Here, I realized a month of teaching practice conducted by campus did not adequately impart me the skills that is needed in the real classroom. No doubt, it introduces me the terms and conditions of practice teaching. But my profession demanded more than I could do. I critically view that practices teaching conducted by campuses across the country has not been as effective as it is supposed to be from both the practitioner teachers and the supervisors in most of the campuses in Nepal. Why our practice teaching cannot prepare a complete teacher?

Meanwhile, the theories that I studied in campus and real world practice fell apart. I should have straddled one foot in theories and another in practice but I fell into deep gorge of theories and practices. I have no idea at all whether theories and practices went along side in practice teaching or not. I do even have no idea whether the supervisors should guide the practitioner teachers to tie up their teaching learning activities with theories or not. Now, while sharing my experience I assume that the practitioner teachers should be taught to link the theories with practice in practice teaching as well. At the beginning of my teaching in the school I just entered the class told the students to turn out the page numbers and find the topic. Then I narrated what was given in the textbook. It made the students just a passive listener as a result they were bored. They were treated as a blank sheet of paper. This kind of teaching kept the curiosity, ideas, feelings, experiences and imagination of the students at bay. I followed the center to periphery approach. I remained in the center and the students in the periphery. I became like a strange creature among the students who does not know anything except what has been given in the textbook. It created social, psychological and linguistic gap between us. A teacher is motivated when he/she sees the pleasant countenance of his/her students but it did not happen so.

To the Exploration

After a year of my teaching I realized that I have ever had the worst teaching techniques. Then, I felt that I need to shift my teaching from deductive to inductive, inductive to deductive, transactional to interactional, interactional to transactional according to the situations. Concomitantly, I started bridging approach—methods and techniques. Understanding approach, methods and techniques demanded a rigorous and meticulous study. I had to wonder and ponder over every details while reading. I crawled over the books, research articles and journals to glean information on teaching. This is how, I became an autonomous learner.

I started presenting questions related to topics and asked the students to present their ideas and experiences rather than ordering them to turn the page numbers and listen. It helped me to create a floor for discussion. I used pictures related to topics and ask them to interpret it in their own words. I created space for sharing their experiences and stories. I ameliorated my teaching materials with critical consideration of the nature of the units. I took English as a language not a subject. It activated the students’ mind, body and soul at a time. They had to think and imagine, write down their thoughts and imagination from their heart, share their experiences and stories with their friends. I found that the students are extraordinary creative creatures. I ascertained that this is how my teaching was supported by rationalism. This is how I could generate linguistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence of the learners’. Understanding and bridging different theories helped me select methodologies—methodologies further –techniques.

Having been explored different pedagogical implications. I worked further for my professional growth and the students’ academic excellence. Firstly, I critically and meticulously reviewed the curriculum to identify level wise competencies. Secondly, I specified the unit-wise four language skills such as Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing activities. Thirdly, I identified the grammatical items to be taught. Fourthly, I dealt with language forms and functions to be enhanced in the students. It provided me the ways to handle the subject matters and understand the nature of the course I was dealing with. It was just like turning my head to the outer world in the Plato’s allegory of cave.

The above mentioned activities helped me to prepare for my journey. However, my destination had not been cleared yet. I hadn’t been able to accomplish the defined objectives. The objectives were my destination. Therefore, I started preparing lesson plans in a copy not in head. Before it, I used to feel that the task of preparing lesson plans is extra-load of teaching or I used to believe that I am from education background and I know about it very well.  Nevertheless, I prove myself wrong that I knew only the introduction and some elements of a lesson plan. But, implementing lesson plan and knowing about lesson plan are different things. I realized that no textbook or lecturer in university classes can anticipate what problem might occur during lesson or teaching except teacher himself or herself. The preparation of lesson plan helped me to ameliorate my teaching in multiple ways. Firstly, it helped me to manage and organize time and contents. Secondly, it helped me to set the step-wise activities to obtain the objectives. Thirdly, it helped me to substitute one activity with another. Fourthly, it helped me to ascertain different issues that arises while teaching in the class.

Slowly and gradually, I managed to handle the class smoothly. I lost myself in the unfettered pleasure of teaching. I was self-motivated by my own self-exploration of teaching and started preparing varieties of teaching materials. I rejoiced preparing lesson plans, making lecture notes to deliver speech coherently. I googled to find suitable and effective materials. I believe that effective lesson plan and teaching materials work as a panacea in teaching and learning activities. I did it all myself. During that time, I did not get any professional development support from the institution which I was engaged in, rather, judgmental and evaluative perspectives of my teaching. It also motivated me to work harder.

In addition, I read English books voraciously that miraculously developed my confidence and fluency in speaking. I read the books like ‘The First and the Last Freedom’, ‘Thus Spoke Jarathustra’ ‘The Sophie’s world’, ‘Shidhartha’, ‘Pride and Prejudiced,’ ‘The Old Man & Sea’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ’Things Fall Apart’ ‘The psyco-cybernetics’, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, ‘Into Thin Air’, ‘The prophet’ ‘Kafka on the Shore’, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Three mistakes of My life’ ‘Animal Farm’, ‘The winner Stands Alone’, ‘The Zahir’, ‘The Alchemist’ etc. I cannot express how I am benefited by these books both mentally and linguistically. Reading became the most powerful Bhramma Astra to destroy all my glossophobia. I thank my Guru Balaram Adhikari for recommendation of the books and drawing me in reading. If he had not mentioned the names of the books while teaching the course ‘Interdisciplinary Reading’ in the class, I could have missed this contemplative and meditative field.

In my opinion, teaching is an ongoing process of self-exploration. It means a novice teacher should be taught and trained why and how to reflect their teaching learning activities. On the surface such experience may appear irrelevant. However, deep down they have the potential to generate theories of teaching. At the movement, I am reminded of well-known English educationist Kumaravadivelu. He assets that the genuine theory of teaching can emerge only from the practice.

Suggestions to the Novice Teachers

Based on my experience, I would like to share some of the tips that may help the novice teachers to deal with possible challenges in their professional life.

Dealing with contents

  • Study the curriculum meticulously to identify level wise competencies.
  • Study the syllabus thoroughly and identify language skills such as Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.
  • Identify the unit-wise grammatical items to be taught.
  • Identify language forms and functions to be taught.
  • Make your lesson plan every day in copy not in head.
  • Make your objectives more precise and attainable.
  • Clearly mention your role and the students’ role with estimated time in each activity in the lesson plan.
  • Divide the activities into different steps with appropriate teaching materials.
  • Speak in a natural way with correct pronunciation, tone, pitch and intonation.
  • Create a floor for discussion to connect with students’ past experience.
  • Connect the taught lesson with students’ real life situation through examples and clarification.

Dealing with Besides Contents

Besides our expertise, we need to be aware about different things that contribute us to face the challenges and become a good teacher. I would like to share some of those things related with our profession.

  • Do Extensive Reading. In my experience, extensive reading plays a crucial role to develop our language. It develops our vocabulary, sentence structures and critical thinking in indirectly. Furthermore, if you take references of the books while teaching in the class with some quotes from them, the students will be motivated for reading.
  • Build an appropriate rapport with the students. We need to be both democratic and autocratic according to the situations with students in class. If we become more democratic, then students may take advantages from us such as gossiping in class, not doing assignments sincerely, becoming reluctant to engage in classroom activities etc. And, if we become more autocratic, then they cannot express their thoughts, become indifferent to us and learning becomes painful. Therefore, we need to maintain an appropriate rapport with the students.
  • Present yourself as a role model. We need to present ourselves as a role model. Our personality determines who we are. The way we think, speak and dress directly influence our students. For example, I have found some teachers especially male teachers untidy and careless in many places. I don’t think their uncombed hair, the shirts half tucked inside the trousers and half untucked, addressing the students with ‘Tah’ ‘Tero’ motivates students to become like them. Therefore, present yourself as a role model.
  • Renew yourself. We all know that learning is an endless journey. Therefore, we need to keep updating ourselves every time. Most of time teachers fail to arouse interest in learners while teaching. They complain that students are not motivated in learning nowadays. It happens when teachers cannot meet their demands. Today’s students are more informed than teachers. when learners are more informed than us it definitely adds challenges in teaching. For instance, our students can understand better English songs than us, they can understand more slang language and they may have acquired better pronunciation than us. Therefore, we need to keep sharping ourselves time and again.
  • Respect your profession. Living with dignity makes you realize your existential value. At least, we should spend 25 years of our age to become a teacher. This phase of life is called ‘Brahmachary Aashram’ the time of learning and exploring knowledge. By this time, we might have earned bachelor or master’s education. Thereafter, we enter to our professional life. However, our society does not understand the susceptibility and nobility of this profession. The teachers do still lack respect in our society. But, keep in mind, 25 years of rigorous study is not everyone’s cup of tea. The certificate we got from university is the outcome of our ‘Sadhana’. Therefore, always be positive and respect our profession.
  • Look at yourself in the mirror. Learning is something that most of people records in mind but not in copy. The thing that is recorded in the mind is formless, abstract and may be substituted with another learning in due course of time. Therefore, keep records of your feelings, experiences, ideas and thoughts regularly that helps you to evaluate your professional activities.

Author’ bio: Dasharatha Rai is a teacher, translator and spiritual practitioner. Mr. Rai has been working as an English language teacher and serves as a content coordinator at Merocreation, a web-magazine for youths and children.

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