I had a teacher in school who on her first day made us sit like robots. Back straight, hands crossed and perfectly still. Every time a student turned his/her head away from the black board, she used to give a warning shout which was so loud, I am pretty sure it created sonic booms which slapped on our faces as it passed by. As the year progressed we realized that she was not so bad. She was a lot of fun. We used to talk about a lot of things apart from studies and school. There was light banter and arguments too. At the end of the year we were sad when she decided to continue in another school.
I started out being a fun teacher. But I realized the students had more fun than me. My 4th grade classroom was in chaos most of the time. Spending a whole day in such a class can seriously damage your self-confidence. I realized much later that I had to be more firm, which was very difficult for me. I had to be someone who I am not. It is easier to start as a strict teacher and then try to be fun, but not the other way around. If I think about my school teacher now, I think she did an amazing job. She had set the expectations clearly from the word go. May be in a harsh way. But in the end, everything worked out for the best. You cannot compare two classes. But I feel my class needs someone like that – firm and who means business.
I have tried many things. But I felt what was missing was a consequence that the students really hate. Lately I started sending misbehaving students to another teacher’s class (who they listen to) where they have to complete the given work and then come back. This has drastically reduced some incidents like cartwheeling in classrooms or randomly getting up from the place and rubbing what I have written on the board. They are seated now. But still they are not learning. You can bring the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink. They either sit doing nothing or start chatting with others. May be this is the right time for some rewards and recognitions. I have a love hate relationship with giving rewards to students. I had tried rewards earlier. But dancing on the desk in the middle of a lesson was more fun than any reward for them.
I teach 7th grade too. They give me a hard time sometimes. But they sit and listen if the lesson is interesting. The other day I was showing them the documentary Before the Flood. The moment they saw the effect of palm plantations on Indonesian forests, there was a collective gasp in the class. The gasp which made me so happy, which will keep ringing in my ears for a long time now. I showed them the film Gandhi. The silence in the classroom was deafening. I could hear the sound of my voice going through their ears, being embedded in their brains and their eyes lighting up. I felt like a magician while showing them the magnetic effects of electric current. Talking to a classroom full of students who listen you with unwavering attention, trying to make sense of what you are saying is one of the best feelings ever. To know that you have the answer to most of their questions, to know that you can teach them a new thing today, is something I call a teacher’s high. Happy thoughts about class are a rarity for me these days. But when it does occur I grab it with both arms.