Ardene Reid-Virtue | What kind of teacher are you?
THE COVID-19 experience certainly serves to emphasise the need for educators to be flexible, dynamic, innovative, and have personalities that captivate students’ interests. In the context of designing plans to ensure the education system does not buckle, were it to encounter anything similar to our present circumstance, there is the call for introspection that allows for a critical examination of instructional modus operandi and teacher identity.
One of the initiatives currently undertaken to engage students via distance/online learning is the partnership between the Ministry of Education and Television Jamaica to broadcast live Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) lessons to prepare students for the sitting of their examinations in July. I applaud the act of quick thinking and active problem-solving.
As one of the English A teachers, for one of the lessons I executed recently, I opted to express the objectives in a ‘clash mode’ – this, of course, was inspired by the recent ‘Verzuz battle’ between Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. A myriad of individuals, including students and educators, expressed positive responses to the energy I brought to the lesson. At the same time, there were others who considered the possibility of my offending the prescriptive way of teaching, especially the one dictated for a teacher of English. How could I have used Jamaican Creole expressions, and how could I have brought something as informal as a dancehall feature to the class?
This led me to think of the possibility that I may have disintegrated the conventional mould meant to shape and confine teachers of English, and teachers in general. Some people’s specifications of how educators should approach teaching result in some of us wondering if we should levitate in the classroom – be unnatural, very high and unreachable.
REJECT TRADITIONAL VIEW
Do not misconstrue, I unwaveringly value pertinent standards for behaviour and approach; they are irrefutably essential. However, I reject the traditional view that paralyses teacher agency and causes some educators to feel as if they should operate in a straightjacket, or spray themselves with a tin of starch before class. Also, I do not support the snobbery that has been pitted against wise and purposeful use of Jamaican Creole in the classroom.
My response to the ‘How could I?’ questions above is that I pay inattention to critiques that seek to imperially restrict my crafting of positive, dynamic and interesting experiences for my students. In order for me to provide pupils with optimal learning involvements, I endeavour to foster their learning styles and preferences, whether I interact with them face to face, online or through a television screen.
This motivated my choice for the aforementioned lesson, because I know for a fact that many students hate English, and starting with a ‘clash tone’ would have captivated many of them. Hence, I deemed appealing to the students a priority, not the satisfaction of the ‘colonial girls’ school’ image of a teacher.
Furthermore, since I knew everyone does not respond well to Jamaican Creole, further in the lesson I employed my best imitation of the British accent; therefore, I aimed to cater for all.
From this experience, I share some advice with educators as plans are afoot to further develop online learning, and we prepare to resume our face-to-face classes in September. Take some time to reflect and answer the question, ‘What kind of teacher am I?’ If you realise you are inflexible, inadaptable, boring, lack inventiveness, and you struggle to solve everyday challenges that arise in classroom contexts, then you have some work to do on redefining your teacher identity.
As we look forward to emerging from quarantine, we have to be quite prepared for the new norm that is being formed. Yes, all the counter characteristics for the ones mentioned above have always been important requisites for successful teaching and learning, but do realise, they are becoming increasingly more vital.
MEANINGFUL ONLINE ENGAGEMENT
Importantly, we must contemplate how we will sustain students’ meaningful engagement online, because just as how they become distracted in our face-to-face classes, it is even easier and more tempting for them to give minimal commitment to online lessons.
As well, bear in mind that creating a PowerPoint lesson that merely contains content, and does not facilitate constructive interaction, is the modern-day, technological form of ‘chalk and talk’. Do not become satisfied with this mediocre approach to delivering lessons. Employ a multiplicity of instructional resources that foster varied learning styles and interests to enable students’ receipt and comprehension of concepts via dynamic avenues.
In addition, as you embark on increased online teaching, do what Flower Darby (faculty member at Northern Arizona University) advises: “capture your personality and your passion in ways that are different from what you might do in person, yet authentic. Employ humour, and vary your delivery for the best effect. Do not be dry and demotivating”.
I am a dramatic, vivacious, and adaptable teacher of English who, through ingenuity, appropriates relevant material and methodologies to provide my students with enriched learning experiences. What kind of teacher are you? Are you ready for post-COVID-19 teaching and learning?