Teaching from the Heart

by SC

Teaching has always been an appealing occupation for me, because teachers have the ability to shape and influence the lives of their students. Whilst a core component of being a teacher involves passing on knowledge about a given subject, the dedication and passion of teachers can often be infectious. For myself, I was greatly inspired by a few teachers from my high school who added humour and creativity to the subjects, they became my role model during my teenage years. Two key aspects which I want to reinforce in my classroom is the need to broaden the scope of English, in a time where multi-modality and flexibility is becoming a greater focus in the workforce. Also I wish to challenge the traditional format of the classroom, allowing students greater freedom to participate in their learning whilst reducing the authority of the teacher in the classroom. For education to remain relevant and accessible it must adapt to the changing circumstances and environment of modern society.

In 2010, ACARA acknowledged the need for English teachers to incorporate different forms of literacies such as ICT, viewing and listening. However, there is a disconnect between the policies and what is being reinforced in the classroom. From my own personal experience, learning in a traditional Christian high school, I felt as if a vast majority of teachers, particularly the older ones, were reluctant to shift from their established teaching style. There was a sense of hostility as if the inclusion of ICT and the move away from essay writing had somehow tainted the purity of English. This outdated view is reflected in a small experiment performed in 2006 with English high school teachers, who were asked to elaborate upon what they defined as ‘literacy.’ Out of 56 participants, not a single teacher mentioned ICT or higher order thinking skills as examples of literacy; instead they only referenced traditional markers of literacy such as grammar and spelling.

English should challenge students and change the way they view texts and society, but it should also adequately prepare them for the work force. The next generation will be disadvantaged if English as a discipline no longer equips them with the tools and flexibility to chart through an increasingly globalized world. I think it’s a shame that most English classes never attempt to divert from essay writing. It wasn’t until I studied education at university did I realise how repetitive my English lessons were, part of me was disappointed that I never experienced the full variety of the subject. Whilst drama is often located at the bottom of the subject hierarchy, it allows students to physically engage in English, in a manner which traditional approaches like essay writing does not. An American Report named Are They Really Ready to Work, published in 2006, found that the average high school employer ranked professionalism, team work and oral communication as the three most attractive qualities in their employees. The collaborative nature of drama pedagogy more accurately reflects the reality of the work place, promoting interactions between students and portraying success as a team effort. However the Australian educational system has yet fully separate itself from ingrained theories such as social Darwinism, thus it still celebrates the success and achievements of the ‘lone wolf.’

Education should be a two way conversation between the students and the teacher, it is important that both parties contribute towards the learning process, allowing students the opportunity to develop a deeper and more personal understanding of their subject. The ascension of the internet has revealed the outdated mentality of Australian high school. Intelligence can no longer just defined by the ability to regurgitate memorized facts because of the widespread access to search engines. Instead the incorporation of ICTs, machinery and the internet has resulted in the workforce shifting towards human capital. Thus it is increasingly important to move away from the outdated teaching format, where the teacher adopts a doctorial style of teaching. The need to foster creativity is a necessary in an age where ideas are more important than physical labour, this can be cultivated by allowing encouraging students to present their opinion to challenge a superficial approach to English.

High school education in Australia seems to be constantly outdated, sacrificing innovation to preserve tradition, highlighted in the English discipline’s obvious bias towards the technical aspects. The analysis of individual sentences or visual scenes, whilst necessary, often overshadows a more comprehensive approach to the text. In my opinion, university has a more sophisticated attitude towards English and essay writing. By providing broad and open-ended questions and by shifting the focus away from English techniques, it allows for more creative and specialised responses. By diverting away from the repetitive formula of essay writing, schools are tapping into the student’s higher order thinking, giving them the opportunity to tackle an issue or question from multiple perspectives. An example of this flexibility in the classroom situation was the university tutorial where different groups had to create a story about a bird and its victim with cardboard. It was one of the most enjoyable English lessons I have ever experienced, since we were able to personalize the story by embedding our meaning and symbolism in the visual medium.

Aristotle once famously said “those who know; do, those who understand; teach” and this has become part of my teaching philosophy as well. I feel very strongly about this and I wish to become the teacher that encourages inclusive dialectic pedagogy to further increase the students’ understanding. I’ve been tutoring since early 2013; I’ve seen firsthand the importance of trusting your students and giving them the opportunity to voice their own opinion. Likewise most of the teachers I connected with attempted to incorporate the students into their lessons, for an example, implementing the use of response cards or group discussion. The common connection in both teaching methods is the break from the standard and predictable lesson format and both are also widely supported by educational research. Classrooms which employed response cards performed much better than hand rising classrooms, with 62.2% of students receiving a 80% or more on a test, a large increase from 29.7%. Langer and Close also writes that on average, group discussion significantly improved engagement and understanding, though student generated questions had the largest impact.

In the English discipline, the effects and benefits of group discussion is widely known and accepted amongst the teachers, with 95% of teachers recognizing the benefits of formative assessment. Yet despite ACARA and the Quality Teaching Framework highlighting the necessity of student opinion and feedback, 61.1% of classes had no discussion at all and only 1 out of 54 classes averaged more than 2 minutes per day. When there is only one authoritative voice in the classroom it subconsciously promotes the idea that there is a single truth, which cannot and should be challenged. This contradicts the changing nature of the modern work force, where problems often have multiple solutions, team work and higher order thinking are usually the keys to solving such problems. Likewise by only pushing one perspective in the classroom, experimentation and making mistakes, both which are natural parts of learning, become frowned upon, since it deviates from the ‘singular truth’.

Allowing students to contribute to the classroom is important because each individual brings their own set of constructed knowledge, thus giving them a chance to contextually engage a very broad and impersonal curriculum. Research has found that the biggest connection to improved academic results is the increase in active student response, yet nearly all the teachers in my high school spent most of the lesson time on academic instruction. Active student response is different to participation which is simply being present during a classroom; active student response is defined as an observable response to instruction. Yet the average high school student spends approximately 50% of the allocated lesson time being distracted and only 1% of the classroom time responding or speaking.

Personally I wish for students to speak up during my classes because that’s a big motivator for becoming a teacher, I want to continually learn from students who have experienced different environments or perspectives. The continuous dialogue is important because it provides helpful feedback, but also I think forming a connection with the students would stop me from ‘burning out’ or losing my motivation. Because I tutor students one on one, I routinely start every lesson with a few questions about their previous week and then we end the lesson with an exchange of interesting information. The information can be facts, statistics or quotes from influential people, but it allows me to glimpse at my student’s passion and if possible attempt to incorporate their experiences or knowledge as explanations or references in my lesson. I do this because it creates a sense of mutual respect, not only do I value my student’s opinion; I am also willing to learn from them.

Being fluent in English unlocks many opportunities for an individual, it allows them to decipher and decode the world around them. Like every other language, English is a discourse with its own rules and associations, students who are unable to engage in such discourse will be alienated, stigmatized and given less opportunities in life. Thus it is important to rethink how teachers approach education, we have to adapt to the changing environment, technology is now an essential part of life and this must be reflected in education. To promote multimodality, the definition of English must be expanded; teachers need to start asking for homework in the form of videos, podcast and Prezi power points. Instead of normalizing submissive and quiet participants, our students should be encouraged to speak up; because research has consistently showing doing so will result in increased academic results, but also because it is important students know their opinion is valued. I wanted to become a teacher so that I could help make an impact upon the lives of thousands, I wanted an occupation centred around human connection and relationships. Hopefully I can be a teacher that ‘teaches smarter’ rather than ‘teaching harder’, a teacher whose infectious enthusiasm spreads beyond his classroom and into the school.