Yesterday, I started my first day of work at New Era Public School by attending the first of a three-day workshop led by four members of CERTAD (Center for Educational Research, Training, And Development), a research collective operating as a part of the Srishti College of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore. Each of the workshop’s coordinators has extensive experience in very different areas of study from educational psychology to art education to environmental biology to theater education, but the combined variations of their chosen disciplines was actually a conscious decision to promote the central idea of the entire workshop: that the rigidity of modern educational paradigms in India are not entirely conducive to assisting students in properly learning the requisite state-mandated material. As a result, the workshop coordinators focused on engaging the teachers in the kinds of activities that could be utilized in a classroom environment to encourage critical thinking among their own students.
First, they started the workshop with a handful of ice-breaker exercises like pairing up the teachers and having them spin, clap, and make eye-contact with each other in synchronization. After a while of this, the coordinators invited each teacher to randomly select a scrap of paper that had one part of a quotation by a famous person regarding education. After all of the teachers had found their proper groups and pieced together their quotations, these smaller groups were divided into different sub-workshops run by one coordinator each that focused on different approaches to classroom engagement from visual to kinesthetic to spatial to data-related. In each of these sub-workshops, coordinators introduced teachers to many different activities that they could implement in their classrooms to actively engage different kinds of students in the learning process. These included several spatial, linguistic, naturalistic, and bodily-kinesthetic activities that seemed relatively simple to all the teachers but also had the added effect of showing them how much more open-minded they could be in the classroom environment. One workshop coordinator, Manjari, explained the importance of differential instruction to the staff and myself by explaining Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. She said that the methods of teaching that had dominated the classroom environment so far focused on the existence of the average student around whose ability the curriculum had been decidedly fixed, therefore creating the strata of students from below average to average to above average or gifted around an unchanging teaching approach. Basically, you either don’t get it, you sort of get it, or you get it.
Now the teachers at NEPS are anything but unprofessional. They take their work and responsibilities to their students very seriously. But even they recognize the overwhelming emphasis Indian society has placed on board examinations, which leads to an enormous amount of stress among a student body that is already fraught with various socioeconomic and development problems. The teachers do everything in their power with the limited time they have in the classroom to teach their students, but without getting the kids to actively participate in their learning, retention and growth are both found wanting. If one accepts the premise of Gardner’s theory (which all the teachers in the workshop wholeheartedly did), there is no such thing as an “average student,” only students with different types of prominent intelligence. Moreover, if every child is indeed different and thus learns differently, different approaches must be implemented in the classroom to engage those intelligences. If a student has trouble learning through spatial methods, perhaps he or she will learn more effectively through body-kinesthetics; if neither, perhaps a linguistic or naturalistic approach would be more productive. Essentially, the point that the workshop coordinators were trying to drive home is that each student has different developmental needs that can be nurtured in different ways. And although it is impossible for each teacher to give total attention in this manner to each and every one of the dozens of students that walk into their classroom every day, they can learn how to at least assess these different needs through more inventive means. In short, it wasn’t a workshop to teach new methods (which there still were), but more so about developing new methodologies.
I have to say, it’s been a long few days and although I am anxious, I am also excited to try my hand at this most noble profession eight hours a day, five days a week, and apparently all the time in between.
I am ready to work. My only goal is to be prepared. My only hope is to be rigid and flexible, kind and firm, and engaging and authoritative with my students.