146. Why we don’t change

change-resist

When people resist change, it is usually not because that they don’t know about the problem. I know that eating momos is not going to help me lose weight, but still I’m eating them. My mom knows that oily vegetable dishes are not healthy, but still she likes drowning potatoes in oil. Same with the smokers. They know cigarettes are unhealthy and can cause cancer. But still, many keep smoking.

Same goes for some teachers who resist change. They understand that they need to change. Teaching is not what is used to be 20 years ago. They know that their method is obsolete, their practice is ridiculously traditional and their knowledge is outdated. But still, many embrace the status quo.

Telling people – you need to change – is not going to work.

When educational institutions want their teachers to change, they send the teachers for training and try to give them new knowledge, skill, and attitude. Trainers think that if the teachers just understood about the new techniques, they would implement those techniques in the classroom. Or if the teachers just understood the importance of professional development, they would just start changing.

Still, nothing happens. Teachers fall back to their usual habit even after attending trainings and workshops.

This could be the problem. In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath say: knowledge rarely leads to change.

Students make noise in the class. They know that making noise is not right. They are wasting everyone’s time. But they still do it.

Street protesters know that burning rubber tire is harmful to health and detrimental to the environmental. But they still do it.

Employees waste time gossiping and pulling each other’s legs. They know it’s not productive. But they still do it.

The FM radio in our kitchen is always switched on. While listening to the morning news, the Nepal Traffic Police update, almost every day, says that over a hundred people were charged for “maa.paa.say” which means they were driving vehicles while being drunk. The ‘maa.paa.say’ rule has already been imposed for over two years but still people drink and drive (and get arrested and pay heavy fines).

They know the rule but they still make a mockery of it. Because, knowledge rarely leads to change.

Thus the big question: can we change? How? Let me leave these questions for you to figure them out.

(Inspired by Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to change things when change is hard)

145. What writing is for

why write

A lot of students ask me what writing is for. Unless they want to be a story writer, or a novelist, or a journalist – which most of them don’t want to be – they question the purpose of writing.

If they are going to open up a coffee shop or an agro business, writing skills will be the last thing they will have to worry about.

And they are right in many ways. Because, they perceive writing as similar to writing essays in exams, or news reports in papers, or speech for programs. They will not be writing academic essays while trying to set up a coffee shop.

But writing is beyond that. And writing doesn’t have to mean – big.

For example: writing a reflection at the end of the day, writing a list of things to do, writing down a phone number, writing an email to your friend, writing a message to your teacher, writing a plan, and so on.

One of my mentors said, “Writing is thinking on paper”. We are thinking all the time and writing helps us store those thoughts because we are not good at memory, especially in this age of information flood.

Writing helps us think better. Writing helps us remember better. Writing helps us make decisions better.

Writing can also help us become better readers. I started reading intently only after I thought I would continue writing.

Bottomline: writing helps us become better in life.

That’s what writing is for.

 

144. Overcoming the wall of hopelessness with passion and pride

(Originally published on The Himalayan Times – Perspective on May 8, 2016)

THT An Open Letter To Passionate Teachers

Dear passionate teachers,

When I was in Class VIII, we had an amazing teacher who taught us Physics. I used to wait for his class the way I would wait for momos to be served. He was tall and skinny. He was funny. He was warm. And, Physics made sense. However, he left the school after only three months. On his last class, we were in tears, he was in tears. I did not forgive him for a long time, for leaving us, for betraying us.

Now that I’m a teacher, I realize that teachers have the most unthankful job. We are the most obvious targets for every dark spot in the education system. And, many good teachers quit. I will never know why the Physics teacher left us but I am giving him all the benefits of doubt. May be he didn’t want to, but had to.

Bright teachers enter the profession with hopes to make a difference but end up quitting when they see the huge wall of hopelessness staring at them. For instance, many educational institutions don’t have proper induction system for new teachers. They are usually left stranded to figure out everything on their own. As a result, many never feel quite at home.

Likewise, many educational institutions have an irrational ‘fear’ of allowing their teachers to go for professional development. Most admins assume: If I let my teacher go for trainings, who’ll handle the class? After such trainings, the teacher will demand higher salary. Or, the teacher will join another school/college. As a result, teachers rarely get opportunities to grow and improve.

But, let me not blame the institutions only. A major chunk of the problem lies within us. Even when an institution supports our growth, many of us ‘chop our own foot with an axe’ by not preparing a personal and professional development plan. Year after year, we simply go into the classroom, teach the syllabus, and come out. We perform just enough to be in the safe zone.

A couple of reasons: first, we are teaching for the time being, and waiting for something else. May be a job at an NGO. May be a visa to fly abroad. Second, we feel we were the victims of the situation and ended up being a teacher. We never wanted to be teachers in the first place.

And, here’s my argument. If you are a teacher – by choice or by chance – you can always choose to conquer the wall of hopelessness and make a difference. For that we need two weapons: passion and pride.

You may not know if teaching is your life’s calling. But as long as you are a teacher, teach with passion. Every single time we go into the classroom, we can choose to spread happiness among students, sow hope, and share dreams. As one of my mentors said: students can smell your passion, and regardless of any subject you teach.

We must also walk with pride. Let’s say with conviction: I am a teacher and I make a difference. Let’s not scratch our head, give a fake smile, and pretend that you didn’t have a choice. Pride is contagious. With pride comes respect. Let’s restore respect into this noble profession.

Dear teachers, we can’t wait for someone else to do it. Here’s what I propose: Let’s build a community of passionate and proud teachers. Let’s empower each other so that we can destroy the wall of hopelessness. You might ask – how?

Start an online community on social media, ask teachers to join in and contribute their stories. Then, start an offline community. At the college I work, we’ve started a weekly session named “Empowering Fridays” where we welcome passionate teachers to share their methodologies, stories and insights. You too can join in. Or better, you can start similar support groups in your colleges and schools.

When teachers get involved in a community full of passionate and proud teachers, may be then bright teachers wouldn’t feel lost and aimless. May be then, students wouldn’t have to feel betrayed by their teachers.

Passionately yours,
Umes Shrestha

142. How not to screw up on social media?

Originally published on NELTA ELT Forum, March Issue.

teacher-on-social-media

Some people just love making clowns out of themselves. When I saw this photo on my Facebook wall, I laughed so hard that I had a rupture in my windpipe. This ‘teacher’ was asking to be ridiculed on social media and he got properly ridiculed. I instantly shared it in my circle and every one of us almost died laughing. But a few minutes later, when the sense of amusement fizzled out, I got angry – angry like a hungry skinny dog chasing an annoying cat. Because, not only was this ‘teacher’ demonstrating his stupidity, he was also destroying the tiny ounce of dignity teachers have about this ‘honorable’ profession.

Teaching is a revered profession, but you see, teachers usually get a bad rap all the time. The little bit of reputation we have plunges down to an abyss every year after the SLC result comes out. Parents blame the education system, they blame the schools and, they blame the teachers for the terrible pass-rate of SLC appearing students. School this, school that, teachers this, teachers that. Society condemns us. Parents hate us. Journalists harass us. And many a times, we end up regretting our decision to be teachers – thukka bekkaar ma teacher bhayechhu.

And, this particular teacher who ‘teaches at kathmandu baneshwor’ isn’t helping a lot. Amidst the hostility towards teachers in general, our ‘teacher who is seeking a gf’ is just making the matter even worse for teachers living under intense public scrutiny.

What if he had said ‘m a teacher..teaches English at kathmandu baneshwor’!

May be he has realized the damage he inflicted upon every teacher. Or may be – let me hope beyond hope – that it was just a prank on the social media. But we can extract great lessons for teachers (and for anyone in a responsible profession) on how not to screw up one’s reputation in public.

So, here are five ways a teacher, especially an English language teacher, can avoid screwing up on social media (and save EL teachers from public persecution).

1. By being social:

The world of social media is more real than the real world now. This is an irony and yet this has become a part of our lives. Social media is where people ‘interact’ now, and this interaction is unlike an interaction on television or radio or newspaper. It is two-way (or rather, multiple-way), dynamic, and it is instantaneous.

Teachers may forget this fact and may treat social media as a platform only to announce, inform and promote their glorious feats. I did this. I did that. They forget to interact. They don’t talk with each other. They just want to be self-indulgent obnoxious announcers.

Let’s be social and start getting engaged in meaningful interactions.

2. By interacting with students:

Some of my teaching colleagues have a strict rule: Don’t accept friend-request from your students. But I see no harm in having students in your social media circle. Classroom interaction is essential, however, social media engagement can be productive in a different way. Students love it when teachers break formality and talk with them even outside the classroom.

Besides, social media can be used to teach language in engaging and creative ways. You can create classroom blogs, you can start micro-story competition on twitter, and you can start photo-caption writing assignments on Facebook.

Let’s interact with students in the classroom and beyond the classroom.

3. By being an active member:

If you have joined groups (in Facebook or in Twitter) and if you have remained a passive member in such groups, you are just occupying precious digital space. If you want to be a silent onlooker on social media, there’s no point of being on it.

Therefore, join groups because groups are even better platform to interact with teachers particular to our subject. Facebook has official groups for IATEFL, TESOL and NELTA. Join them and start interacting with teachers, trainers, writers, publishers, and people in the community.

Subscribe to the star people of the profession. Follow David Crystal, Ken Robinson, Scott Thornbury, Carol Reed, and Sugata Mishra. However, out of your excitement, don’t start spamming or sending random messages to people. No one likes annoying stalkers.

Let’s also build a network with local teachers and try to meet them in person.

4. By being mindful about grammar and spelling:

I don’t want to sound like a pedant who chases you down with a prescriptive sword every time you butcher grammar rules. However as EL teachers, we would be committing a grave mockery in public when we write sloppy posts riddled with silly errors. I have seen English language teachers post status and comments in a camel case, like this: i aM aN eNglish lAnguage tEacher. This is childish. (My pet peeve is when an EL teacher writes in a SMS style. I jus h8 txt msg.)

I believe an EL teacher, even when posting in informal contexts, should honor the accepted grammatical conventions – not to prove that he/she is perfect in grammar – but to avoid miscommunication. Also, to follow: practice what you preach. If we want our students to follow convention, we should lead the way.

Let’s thus start editing before hitting the ‘Post’ button.

5. By logging out:

At the end, we can’t simply forget that we live in a real social world where meeting people in person is an enriching experience. I love hanging out with fellow teachers, drinking coffee (sometimes beer), and talking about favorite sports. These ‘informal talks’ provide amazing opportunity to connect with each other and create a safe trustful relationship.

Meet teachers in clubs, libraries and workshops. Share stories. Teaching is a challenging profession. However, we can refresh our mind, brain and soul with passion and hope when we share stories of success and failure among each other.

NELTA recently organized its annual international conference. Conferences like these are opportunities to present, talk, learn – and most importantly, to build a network with teachers from home and abroad. Attend the sessions and send the presenter an email, telling him/her about the take aways of the sessions. Start a meaningful conversation, and build a strong relationship that leads to collaborations.

In conclusion:

Social media, especially Facebook, is a part of our reality now. People expect teachers to be responsible – online and offline. If you are on them, use them to enhance your personal and professional influence. Initiate conversation. Initiate dialog with people and community in the profession. But don’t misuse the norms of social media and ruin your personal and professional reputation. And lastly, don’t make a clown of yourself in public and make it difficult for other teachers to defend the profession.

141. Be courageous: make teaching personal

Originally published on King’s College Blog.

“Don’t get emotionally attached with students.” A friend suggested me. He had been teaching for some years. “Don’t smile,” he warned, “Or they will never take you seriously.”

I was jumping into the teaching profession without prior training. And I was seeking proper guidance.

Another friend of mine chipped in. “We have to maintain the teacher-student hierarchy.” Why? “Because that’s the way it’s been. A guru must always reside above a chela. A teacher’s job is to instruct, and a student’s responsibility is to follow.”

Their suggestion seemed to make sense. After all, a teacher is the ‘owner’ of knowledge and students are the ‘receivers’. A teacher is the supreme one who pours knowledge into the empty heads.

They also told me to maintain a distance from the students. “They will start dancing on your head and you will not be able to control them. Don’t let them near you because they will manipulate you and your decisions.”

As I was listening to them, I thought about my own teachers. Most of them were strict, imposing and unapproachable; they rarely treated us like friends. I could recall only a few faces of those who had smiled at me, hugged me, and asked me about my life. Unfortunately, the faces of those who had canned me, thrashed me, and bullied me also flickered, like a scene from a Hitchcock movie, in front of my eyes.

I come from a school system where beating the hell out of students was glorified. Teachers, principals and even parents – believed that students must be beaten to straighten them out. A lot of my teachers therefore would (happily) crush our fingers with wooden dusters. The pain. The embarrassment. The hopelessness.

I rarely had any emotional bonding with my schoolteachers. And now, my friends were also suggesting me to be like those schoolteachers. They wanted my teaching to be cold, cruel and detached.

But that’s not teaching, is it? Would you – as a student – want a teacher like that?

So, I threw away the ‘teacher’s guide’ my friends prescribed for me. I would rather not be a teacher at all than be the ghosts of my former teachers. If I’m spending 90 minutes inside the class, I don’t want to act cold, cruel and detached. Instead, I want to spend the time making my teaching personal, winning the students’ trust, and motivating them to do what they are supposed to do: enjoy, learn, think, discuss, and question.

Some teachers might want to play safe: follow the rules, implement the lesson plan, and conform to the protocol. Go to the class, teach, and come out. No headaches. But, is that teaching? Is that teaching enough?

Someone has said: all humans are created equally, but some are more courageous. And those courageous one choose to be teachers.

Therefore, I invite all teachers to be courageous and make our teaching personal. Let’s not make our teaching a monologue, but a dialog where students and teachers engage in conversations, reflections and assimilations; where students and teachers end up learning from each other; and where teaching is meaningful. Memorable.

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