Have you ever wondered why as a teacher, your students’ learning abilities differ? Well, as an experienced professional, you might not be surprised because you know about that from your college years. However, you might still find yourself struggling to find an equilibrium between those students who learn fast and those who do at snail’s speed; those who can last longer in class and those who become agitated after a short period of learning activity; those who turn in assignments and tasks on time and those who would do that after a little pressure and then there are those who would not turn in those assignments at all. You are left at the crossroads of meeting the needs of all these learners who happen to be in the same class with you as the sole instructor, guide, or teacher to them.
Most times, the burden in the classroom stretches beyond cognitive needs where some of your learners grapple with social, economic, safety, physiological and psychological needs. Hence, as a teacher, you assume the additional roles of a parent, counselor, mentor, and advisor. Of course, many teachers usually do not get prepared for this and when it comes, the shock sets in.
So what should you do, knowing that these scenarios play out in every teaching task that you will be engaging in?
ABSORB THE SHOCK…
The first thing you can do to yourself is not to allow the differences and reactions of your students to get to you. Two things are involved here: firstly, what your students can say or the way they behave towards your teaching will affect your future subsequent output and dealings with them; secondly, your perception of not meeting their needs can send a deep shiver of inferiority complex in you. Avoid these two, if you plan on succeeding in your teaching career. Always bear this in mind: ‘There will always be that one student in the class that enjoys what you do.’ In absorbing the shock, tell yourself “it is okay to fail provided I am doing my best”.
LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR LEARNERS
The first point of call for this would be the dossier of each of the students. You could seek information about their parents, the number of siblings (with names if possible), their likes and hobbies, where they live, etc. This initial information can be handy in trying to identify with them. Imagine a student’s reaction when you tell him: “I imagine your two little brothers, James and Joe, will not appreciate your behaviour. They are looking up to you”.
You could go a further step to interact with them at a personal level. Ask them questions about things that do not relate to the classroom or their academics (of course there is enough time to talk about academic matters while in class and doing that outside of class often puts a learner off). Make them feel at home to open up to issues that concern or bother them and those that relate to how you guide them to achieving their academic needs. Your experience with this might just be the key to unlocking some of their potential.
WHAT ARE YOUR STUDENTS’ LEARNING STYLES?
A student’s negative feedback to your teaching in class might not be unconnected with their learning styles. While you might be more comfortable with a particular teaching method, you might need to adopt more than one method to meet the need(s) of all of the students. Educators have expounded on four (4) basic categories of learners: Visual learners, Auditory (or aural) learners, Kinesthetic (or hands-on) learners, and Reading/writing learners.
The visual learner appreciates learning when they are exposed to visual representations of what they are taught – maps, diagrams, and pictures make learning indelible for this category of students. For the auditory learner, the value of spoken words supersedes any teaching aids. They are always all ears and would appreciate a vivid description of concepts from the teacher; which they intend to keep regurgitating in their leisure time. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing; they often get agitated when a class session does not make them participate or practically solve a problem. Reading and writing learners concentrate on the written words to learn and so exposing them to notes and exercises in class will aid their comprehension.
Well, as a teacher, making one of the styles dominant in your teaching method will depend heavily on the composition of your class. However, you should know that using one style ahead of the other may mean downplaying the other styles and invariably relegating one or more learners in the class.
So what would be the best approach to this? Jamila Abubakar, Head of ATAFOM Language Academy and Head, Nigerian Office of ATAFOM University says, “We make sure that our lessons take care of individual differences. This is because students are varied in terms of their abilities; some can learn very fast; others are average while there are others who are very slow learners. We make sure we handle all these categories of learning while planning and delivering our lessons. We make sure every student is learning at his/her own pace and with respect as well.” By embracing a hybrid approach, the teacher learns to offer an engaging and participatory class that involves the utilization of all the sense organs.
Usually, it is not advisable for a student to be conservative to one style, so why should a teacher adopt one style in a class with different learners?
SPOT OUT THE ONE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
It is very likely that the student or those few students in the class who make comments or ask questions may be pointing you to the few flaws that characterise your method of teaching. Oftentimes, the teacher asks if there are questions at the end of the class and students say no, but a few manage to make remarks or ask questions that end up exposing what the teacher did not handle well. It is important not to shut them up!
Pay attention to that student who often needs more explanations! Pay attention to the one who always complains about boredom! Pay attention to those who easily get distracted! Pay attention to that one who hardly comprehends even after several explanations! This special category of learners needs more attention and time. It would be wrong to take personal grievances with a student with a short attention span or one with any learning disability. This would only worsen the relationship between the teacher and the student; make learning difficult for them and defeat the advocacy for mainstreaming.
SWAPPING ROLES DOES NOT MATTER
You could be the learner! Being the teacher all the time might not do the magic, but presenting yourself before your students as someone who could learn from them can improve the excitement of the teaching experience for both of you. The benefits are enormous: the student comes to appreciate what you do as a teacher and the teacher comes to understand what the students feel when a concept is not vivid to them.
The humility that comes with role swapping from teacher to student is truly uncommon and comes from the fact that no one owns the monopoly of knowledge. There are times when you come in contact with students in the class and aspects of what you do as a teacher is greater. What do you do? Teach and learn.
By doing so, you attract the admiration of your students and make them further yield to your tutorship.
GO BACK TO THE BOOKS
As a teacher, two pitfalls you might want to avoid are becoming too familiar with your books and approaching teaching as a routine and redundant activity. Truthfully, you will die before you quit the job!
It is not impressive to rely on yesterday’s knowledge when imparting today’s students. The brilliant ones among them will easily pick your weakness and approach you from there while those who need clarifications may upset you with questions that you can hardly answer comfortably.
Going back to your books makes you acquainted with fresh knowledge about developments in the area of learning and makes the teacher confident in his teaching approach. There is every reason for the students to be excited about a teacher who exhumes confidence both in his methods and his content.
Carrying along all your students is not a job that requires you to patronize your students and hypnotise them into loving you. It is an effort that exposes you to your flaws and how to correct them. You would observe that the points above have everything to do with chiseling yourself but very little to do with selling chocolate to the students whose experience in certain