Over the decades, we have witnessed a different shift in the principles and methods of language teaching. The key concern behind such a move is to appease and address the need of the learners and make them achieve the desired linguistic competency. However, the ideologies of language teaching prescribed to us so far have proven to be contextually irrelevant. According to Kumaravadivelu (2003), “classroom-oriented studies carried out in the last two decades show that teachers could not be successful in putting the methods into practice in real classroom situations.” These findings have encouraged teachers to innovate their own practices and generate theories beyond what was prescribed, and grow as independent, autonomous, and reflective practitioners.
Throughout my six-year tenure as an English teacher in a private school in Kathmandu, I have encountered numerous pivotal moments in my classroom that have served as beacons of enlightenment, guiding me toward creating my own teaching methods rather than merely adhering to prescribed principles and methods. I think principles perform perfectly for scientific experiments, however; language teaching and learning necessitate a more adaptable and fluid approach. In this regard, every language teacher becomes a reservoir of principles, possessing a comprehension of learners’ unique needs, context, and intended objectives.
My journey towards transformative teaching commenced with a fundamental shift in perspective, prioritizing the needs of my students. This shift was prompted by the realization that my own educational background had conditioned me to cater solely to the expectations of my teachers, fostering the belief that they were the absolute source of knowledge. As a result, my teaching endeavors were driven by what I knew and what I desired to impart.
Nevertheless, the awakening of my conscience compelled me to recognize the inadequacy of this approach in the capital city, where students are inundated with abundant information and varied sources of knowledge. In this regard, I realized that introspection and self-evaluation are key to cultivating insights and intuition for relearning and unlearning.
Evaluating teacher from students’ bench
Knowing students’ attitudes, beliefs, and interest is quite rewarding for a teacher. Therefore, I decided to collect students’ feedback. The rationale behind gathering their feedback was: to critically evaluate my teaching methods from students’ vantage points, make learning more engaging and students centered, and find out the flaws which unconsciously go unnoticed in the classroom.
To achieve my objectives, I told students to write their feedback on the paper. I urged them not to show their write-ups to their friends. It is because I wanted to dig out personal opinions from them.
I collected students’ opinions from three sections. I took their feedback home and read it thoroughly. I divided the feedback into two groups. Positive feedback is one pile, and constructive feedback is another. I read all the constructive feedback twice and analyzed whether they had been true to their words or not, whether they had any personal influence and any prejudice or not. Then I picked up some of the common feedback, which really required my attention. One common feedback was that “You give us some contextual knowledge but extend it to dull and boring lectures.” This is what the teacher-centered approach is, where the teacher keeps on talking, and students become just passive listeners.
No matter whether students perceive it or not. As a result, students feel bored, unenviable, and exhausted. They don’t get time to exchange their personal thoughts, feeling, and ideas with teachers and their friends. At the same time, the teacher also becomes exhausted by screaming throughout the day and trudging home disconsolately due to students’ reaction of disappointment in his or her class. It indicated that high school students want specific information from the teacher instead of rattling off all the information he or she knows. It is particularly due to their age, level, and experiences in the real world. The next feedback read, “We feel your focus on only some students. So focus equally on all the students and promote students’ participation in class” I understood that it was the voice of those students who did not get the opportunity to participate in different activities in the classroom despite their talents. As a result, they felt socially distanced and emotionally detached in my class. At the same time, it was the question of equity in learning. In this regard, Ling, Nasri, & N. M. (2019) define “equity means that students should have equal opportunities to achieve their optimal abilities without being restricted by their community background or dispositional characteristics.” In my case, equity denoted scaffolding to especially those learners who have poor linguistic performances and cannot learn at the pace of other students in my subject. The aforementioned feedback enlightened me that treating all students equally regarding content delivery and teaching language skills is unjustifiable in a heterogeneous classroom setting.
Response to students’ feedback
The students’ feedback revealed that they wanted to activate themselves mentally and physically in the classroom. They wanted to listen less and engage more in activities that could be productive, meaningful, and interesting. I pondered the best strategies and materials that could equally engage the students in learning. While doing so, I discovered that our teaching and learning activities are limited when we fully depend on textbooks. Therefore, I did not fully rely on the textbook but prepared different materials and worksheets for teaching all four language skills. For reading activities, I created worksheets that were intellectually challenging. Students had to fully comprehend the text to do the activities to develop intensive reading skills, and the activities given in the prescribed textbook were below students’ level.
Regarding speaking activities, I used-cut outs consisting of clear guidelines for speaking. I designed the materials in such a way that students had to brainstorm for two to three minutes on the topic before they spoke. The guidelines helped them to maintain coherence in speaking. This activity helped me in two ways: one exciting part was I could maximize students speaking, and another was I could engage them in a meaningful talk. I assume that speaking should not only be commotion for students, but it should be meaningful where they can share their thoughts and ideas. In the same way, I used IELTS listening text in my class, and the outcome was so exciting.
The students’ feedback helped me modify my teaching method, which was particularly practicable and fit for my context. I could equally engage the learners in learning. In another way, the students were at the center, not me.
Teaching, a collective effort
Our faculty often used to have discussions on different ideas about teaching and learning activities and professional development. Therefore, the English faculty in our school adopted some techniques. Firstly, the school allocated one weak period for faculty meetings, which were regularly held. The meeting served as a platform for teachers to engage in narrative sessions, sharing their classroom practices, techniques, methods, outcomes, and the challenges they encountered during their teaching experiences. During the meeting, we did not only share the stories but also offered suggestions to the problems. For instance, experienced teachers shared their materials, discussed lesson planning, and suggested novice teachers use positive verbal reinforcement to the unruly students in and out of the class to make them responsible in their work. By implementing this methodology, we established a supportive community of educators, as advocated by Richards and Farrell (2005), wherein mutual classroom observations and constructive feedback facilitated a teachers’ support group. In addition, we engaged in a classroom observation process where we attended our colleagues’ classes to observe their teaching methods and reciprocally invited them to our classes for feedback. We diligently recorded these valuable insights in a personal diary, allowing us to enhance our teaching skills and refine our strategies. This instructional approach aligns with the peer observation framework proposed by Richards and Farrell (2005). Through reciprocal classroom visits, we observed our colleagues’ instructional practices and invited them to observe our own. We systematically documented the feedback in a personal diary to facilitate continuous improvement. After observing one of my classes, my senior faculty head, with extensive teaching experience, provided written feedback, insights, and recommendations, which read as follows.
You have incorporated materials that went beyond the usual textbook. This approach kept the students alert and engaged. The activity was a reading-based exercise, where students delved into thought-provoking texts and answered questions that required higher levels of cognition. The challenging nature of these questions fully engrossed the students, fostering a deep understanding and critical thinking. Besides, consider the pronunciation of ‘bicycle’ and get students to paste the material in their copy after they finish activities.
Rethinking evaluation system
Despite the tireless efforts exerted by teachers and students throughout the year, the final outcomes of students have consistently sparked discourse and deliberation among students, educators, and academicians. However, the concerns related to the evaluation system often go unnoticed within our educational setting. While our education system emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and creativity, the evaluation system relies on grades, often viewed as irrational and lacking justification from students’ perspectives.
Last year, two students had not made the required grade in two subjects to qualify for the next level. The outcomes left them feeling disheartened and humiliated, leading me to ponder, does this three-hour evaluation system truly assess students’ capabilities? Does it compensate for students’ time and efforts? Probably, the answer is ‘no’. Those two students, who served as representatives from my class, are just a glimpse of the thousands of students across the country whose self-worth and sense of pride have been severely undermined by the impact of this evaluation system.
Hence, it is imperative for educationists and academicians to engage in a comprehensive evaluation of the existing assessment system, ensuring that it possesses the necessary flexibility to effectively measure students’ abilities while being practical and contextually relevant.
Souvenir at farewell
Teaching is my passion. I feel I am born for it. I know nothing can be more rewarding for teachers than the complements and their students’ achievement. Last year, some students came to me with colourful paper folded artistically. They handed it to me with excitement. My inquisitive hand unfolded the papers. As the papers unraveled before my eyes, a symphony of emotion swirled within my being. The profundity of their gratitude echoed through the chambers of my heart. Their words, like sacred verses, embraced my weary spirit.
In the beginning, your classes were boring to be honest, but as time passed by, we got to know your English class was one of the most exciting classes. You have been a really great teacher. Your teaching style is wonderful. Your experience is learnable. It has been two years of your wonderful teaching that we cherish. Your handwriting has been a favorite part. If you will not be in our section next year. You will always be remembered.
Aloni, N. (2007). Enhancing Humanity. Dordrecht: Springer.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond methods: Macrostrategies for language teaching. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Ling, T., & Nasri, N. M. (2019). A systematic review: Issues on equity in education. Creative Education, 10(12), 3163.
Richards, J. C., & Farrell, T. S. C. (2005). Professional Development for Language Teachers: strategies for teacher learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.
About the Author: Dasarath Rai teaches English at Ideal Model School, Dhobighat, Lalitpur. He has accomplished Master’s Degree in English Education from Mahendra Ratna, Campus, Tahachal, Kathmandu. He is interested in teacher professional development, multiculturalism, cultural identity, and materials development in language education.