I recently entered the yeah write super challenge. This is a non-fiction writing challenge that takes place in three rounds, with all writers competing for a cash prize. I just found out that I am through to the next round, alongside 17 other talented writers. I’m delighted to make it to round 2, and would like to share my first entry here! The prompt was “lessons learned”, and as I spend most of my time in a school nowadays, it didn’t take too long for me to find my inspiration for my essay.
Before I started my post as a language assistant teaching English in a French lycée (secondary school), I was a full time student. I knew the role well, having spent almost 16 years mastering the ins and outs of this complex profession. I started off as an innocent and emotional toddler, dropped into a sea of tears from my equally frightened classmates, and ended up the far-too-relaxed-about-looming-deadlines third level student I am today. As my experience grew and my hair went through 4 different shades of chemically induced abuse, I remained confident in one thing; the student is always right. Sure, the teacher or educator in question may have gone to university and be qualified in what they’re doing, but they just don’t know. They don’t get it. I could point out flaws in their curriculum or style of teaching from the back of the classroom, mid-Tweet. If something went wrong in my coursework or I got a bad grade, it was because the teacher did this, or didn’t do that. Of course, this self-righteous and self-centred viewpoint was diminished quite quickly as I started my first lesson with my French teenagers. To them, it turns out; it was now me who didn’t know. And I have to admit, that stung. How dare these students equate me to my past teachers, who really and truly didn’t get it? Nevertheless, my experience teaching has been truly enlightening. When I return to university after my post here, I will return with a new found respect for my teachers. Because, as it turns out, they do, in fact, know.
As detrimental and dangerous as it can be, the prevalent attitude in secondary school – that it’s all about your image – seems to be universal. You spend years comparing yourself to the other students, and questioning yourself. While walking down the corridor in a sea of students can give you a surprising sense of anonymity, sitting in class, just one among many, can leave you feeling somewhat unguarded and open. It feels like there’s eyes on you, so you appear how you want to be seen, how you think should seem; disinterested, too good for this and just plain over it. Well, let me tell you, when I have students in my class that sit with their head on their arms, refusing to join in the class, it does not make me think they are mysterious and aloof. It makes them look like a sulky adolescent who may or may not need to go see the nurse. And if you catch me on a bad day, when more than one class has had a student sitting like this, then you can bet that that’s the reason I’m going to call on you. See? All about the image.
One of my favourite things in school was talking to my teachers. When my music teacher was engaged, we used to spend class after class probing her with questions; where was she going to have the wedding, what was her dress going to be like, would she take his name? And after the wedding, we begged her to bring in pictures while the questions came pouring out of us once again, we wanted every single detail. When I started working here in France, the first few weeks were spent meeting classes and doing Q&A sessions with them, and suddenly, the roles were reversed. I was the one at the top of the class, being interrogated. It started off with the simple questions like where am I from, what’s my favourite food. Easy enough. Then some classes took a step further and started asking … inappropriate questions. And so, the importance of boundaries came into light. It’s important for me to have a relationship with my students. I loved that they wanted to know about me, and I too wanted to know about them. But you do it within reason. Ask about the wedding, yes, but not the wedding night.
Yet the most important and striking thing I’ve realised about the student/teacher dynamic is the dynamic between the two. I used to laugh when a teacher made a mistake. I had no qualms about admitting their faults, and even less about critiquing them. They had one job and one job only; to make sure I succeed. Now, standing at the other side of the desk, looking at students excited to practice their English with a native speaker, and then at others who have zero desire to be there, I know it’s not all down to the teacher. Teachers alone can only do so much without the participation of our students. The classes where the students are silent and bored, that’s where I see my mistake I made as a student. Thinking that just sitting in the classroom is enough to warrant my learning and success. It’s not. Teachers have a big part to play in the classroom, but so too do the students. We need to work together. Trust that the teacher knows what they’re doing. Listen to what the students tell you. Be open to learning from each other.
I’m not sure teaching is the job for me. It’s a hard job. Spending the last few months at the top of the classroom instead of sat down the back has genuinely opened my eyes. Education is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And for good education, you need two things; people wanting to learn and people wanting to teach. I now know from experience how easy it is to not fulfil your role as student, and teacher. When I go back to university, I will be going to my classes with a different attitude. It is neither the student nor the teacher who commands the classroom; it is a place for both. They need to work together for it to be a success. I can’t learn without my teacher, and they can’t teach without me. And if neither of us played our role correctly, where would we be?