Monday, November 10, 2014

The Secret to Being a Good Teacher

This year one of my part-time jobs was being a tutor to a middle-aged mom in the same condo complex where I used to live. It was actually my first time to teach an adult learner but not my first try at tutoring. I had also taught this young boy years ago but that was a short gig because I quit after just a few sessions.

The reason I lasted longer with this adult learner was that I finally unearthed the secret to being a good teacher (or tutor). The secret is that most students fail in school not because they’re stupid or feel like they know it all, and not even that they dislike the teacher. No, my experience told me that most students fail at school because they are AFRAID.

Students are afraid of school and learning because they don’t want other people to know that they don’t know the answers to the questions being asked. Students are afraid of their teachers humiliating them in front of the class. Students are also afraid that their fellow students (especially those who perform well in school) will make fun of them for not knowing the answers to the questions too. This is the root of juvenile delinquency – the fear of the unknown. Once I had realized this fundamental truth, it became easier for me to adjust to my student.

“Wait” you might be saying. “Shouldn’t the student be the one to adjust to you? You’re the teacher.” Well, the reality is that both sides have to adjust to each other. I had to adjust to my student by acknowledging that she is afraid that I will make her feel stupid. She had to adjust to me by acknowledging her fear and telling me what she was afraid of. Once we got past that stage, it became easier for me to teach her.

When your student tells you what she is afraid of, you learn to create lessons out of the academic topics that you can explain to her in terms that she will understand. So instead of acting like a professor in college who would talk using big words that people in the academic world seem to like to use, I had to scale down my language and explain the lessons in terms that she could grasp and that didn’t seem like they were obscure or difficult to understand. When necessary, we would repeat the lesson day after day until finally a light switched on in her head and she got the core of the lesson.

I had to learn patience and humility through this process, because she already knew that she didn’t understand the topics so I didn’t feel the need to point that out. Rather, I had to observe the way she would go through the lesson, waiting for the times when she would pause (puzzled by a part in the lesson) then I would explain that part again to her. I had to build up her confidence by staggering the lessons into small steps for her to go through so that she could see that big lessons are just small lessons summed up into a whole. I also had to acknowledge that some lessons were vague to me or that I had forgotten them so I had to go through those lessons again just to know how to teach them to my adult student.

The point to all this is that (in this age of soaring tuition fees and schools that are ineffective at educating due to overcrowding) we teachers must realize that our “business” is more of an advocacy and a lifestyle than a business. Yes, it does cost money to train teachers and it does cost money to educate students. But once we realize that the key to educating is to acknowledge that our students are afraid then more students would be able to overcome their fears because their teachers now know what the root of the problem is. And that would mean more students will excel in school and our country would have a brighter future because our human capital will be ready for the challenges of the labor force. So if you are planning to become a teacher, you should practice now how to get the trust of your students – and you will be surprised how they will bloom under your tutelage. That is what I know for sure.

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