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Handling Potpourri called Classroom



S. Indira Narayan

Educator


S. Indira Narayan is an educationist with more than 35 years of rich experience in the teaching field. She has held multiple portfolios. She has been associated with St. Ann’s High School, ICSE, ISC, Secunderabad, for over three decades, teaching English language and English literature for classes 10, 11 and 12. The last portfolio she held was as Academic Coordinator, St. Ann's High School, at Kompally Hyderabad, under the same management.

Indira Narayan has conducted numerous workshops for school teachers and continues to do so. She is also interested in writing and blogs regularly on http://vinplaksha.wordpress.com/

 

The word ‘potpourri,’ can be understood or defined differently. The word generally means, ‘a mixture of dried petals and spices placed in a bowl to perfume a room.’ It refers to a mixture of some apparently not related items, sometimes unusual.


I compare a classroom to a potpourri, a mix of different students with different learning abilities, different social backgrounds, different IQs, EQs, SQs, and with different likes and dislikes. Handling such a group of children is not easy for a teacher. More so, when along with teaching, observing and balancing the above said differences have to be done simultaneously. While taking the class, a teacher should be able to teach, observe and balance at the same time.


Teaching is not all about subject matter and methodology. A thorough grip over the subject and a good methodology are of prime importance in teaching. But an understanding of the psyche and the mindset of students are equally important. How can this be done? The teacher should go slow in the first few classes to make her observations, first about the general attitude of the class as a group; are most of them attentive? Are they listening carefully? Does their body language (primarily the expression on the face) show that they are interested? And so on… The responses to the questions asked on the lesson being taught are to be noted.

 

A class with more than 70% of receptive students can be considered a good one. The focus should be on the remaining numbers. In this group, we will see students who are slow in absorbing what is being taught, nevertheless making an effort to understand. Some may look blank either because they are not paying attention or because their capacity to assimilate is low. It is for this section of the class that the teacher should adjust the pace of teaching, without making it very slow. Reiterate from time to time about the understanding ability, by asking this group simple questions. It would be advantageous for the slow learners if the teacher can explain more than once and at least break down the explanation to their level. This may eat into the teaching time, but it is worthwhile. In time, the slow learners and others not up to the mark, will slowly fall in line. The academic level of the class will rise. Despite all these efforts, there still may be a few not showing improvement. Such pupils will need personal attention and motivation.

 

Apart from the learning factor, the class and the students will face some small and big problems of adjustment, both physical and intellectual. I recall a scene from the film ‘Stanley ka Dabba’. In the movie, two boys sharing a desk constantly argue, pushing each others’ elbows. This disturbs the class, the teachers get irked by it and admonish both, asking them to sit properly and not disturb the class. One young teacher, fairly new to the school, watches the same rigmarole. She goes closer to the desk to find out what the problem is. She then finds out that the elbows of the two would constantly hit against each other, thereby making it difficult for each to do their work neatly. On observation, the teacher finds out that one of the boys is a left hander. She interchanges their places! Problem solved and smiles are back! Simple isn’t it? But it took some interest, observation, involvement and thinking on the part of the young teacher. 


These small interventions, the personal interest of the teacher to take time to keep her class at ease are what make the subtle difference between any teacher and a concerned teacher. This incident is taken from a film for ease of visualizing, as many would have seen this film. Every dedicated teacher will definitely have such personal incidents where they would have helped their students and solved tricky situations. The purpose of this detail I have given is to impress upon all, that teaching profession is not just ‘teaching,’ but that it comes with a gamut of skills required for good teaching, in a potpourri called classroom.


Emotional levels of each student differ from one to another. The teacher plays a role in shaping lives apart from enhancing academic knowledge.  A student-teacher relationship has a great impact on student learning and their overall growth. A healthy relationship where a teacher takes care to be ‘with’ her students, practices what she preaches, lives up to the principles she dictates, is a sure route of a good teacher. As said in the beginning, emotional reserves differ from one student to another. Some are very sensitive and cannot take a reprimand from their teacher. The ambience at home plays an important role too. 


Children of a school, of a class, come from different social, economic and religious backgrounds. Family values play a big role in how these children conduct themselves. There is a tendency to tilt favours towards those from the upper strata of society, however subconscious it may be. In a classroom there should be is NO division between rich, poor or middle class. A student is a student irrespective of his/her social standing. To a teacher, all are one. Her classification, if at all, should be on the academic performance and on the conduct of the pupil. Values taught, along with other teaching, should be to bring out a responsible, well-behaved and successful human beings.


Handling this potpourri, demands from a teacher the ability to play the role of an educator, bringing awareness of the world outside; a counsellor, a mentor and a guide, understanding the emotional needs of this wonderful mixed bag of children, as a group and individually.


In a potpourri, each item – the flowers and the herbs, have their own fragrance; some are strong and can be identified easily; some mild - ones that take time to be recognised; some a bit bland but not to be ignored.  A teacher with a keen sense of commitment can surely take deep breath and enjoy the different ‘fragrances’ in her class and allow these to enjoy their individuality. After all, children are a joy to be with, any time or any day.


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