Teaching Again

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, I was having thoughts as if I was still teaching at the school I used to teach at. I would really like to teach again, and I would like to teach at that school, despite some of my negative experiences. I came slightly more awake, and I was thinking should I try to return to teaching? I want to home school our daughter and be home with other babies. I used to have the thought that when she was a little bit older, maybe no longer nursing or something like that, that I might teacher until I had another baby, but now I can’t quite see my way to it.

I could see possibilities for how it might work, but I’m loving being with my baby so much. I feel like it’s better for her, so I would have to make sacrifices in that regard. If I waited until she was school age, I would have to make sacrifices in her education as I already know the school provides a mediocre education even in Islamic subjects, and that the administration has a much different educational philosophy and would expect her to spend the bulk of her time in her studies, so she just plain wouldn’t have as much time for being a kid and just exploring and playing.

I also had the strange thought that if I got good enough at my Bengali (I’m still studying) that I could teach English over there, but that’s not going to happen. My husband would think I was nuts. We spent such a long time waiting for his visa, and he doesn’t want to go back there. I was really just thinking that my daughter (when she is older) could have a bit of an International study abroad kind of experience, but I don’t think my husband would see the point of that as we wouldn’t be sending her to one of those expensive schools in Dhaka, and I doubt he thinks there’s anything too great about the schools in our area of Bangladesh.

Our family donated money to two schools in the area though. One was an Islamic girl’s school, and the other was an English medium school. I was invited to come visit the schools (and I really wanted to), but no one ever took me, and I wasn’t allowed to go out on my own due to my limited Bengali, the political situation, and general attitudes toward women and foreigners.

Bilingual Children’s Books

I thought it would be nice to buy our two nieces in Bangladesh these bilingual Bengal-English children’s books. I got them The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Giant Turnip, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Unfortunately, The Giant Turnip is not the cute version my 2nd grade class read with all the animals. It is an adaptation that left out all the animals. I don’t actually like it, but I’m not going to return it. My nieces should still find it helpful for practicing reading in English.

While I was at it, I also bought Baby Are You My Baby? in Arabic. I have to say here that we are not an Arabic speaking family. My husband and I can both read Arabic to recite Quran, and we know some basic grammar and phrases, and that is about the extent of our fluency. Not being Quran or written for learners (even though it’s a baby board book?), Are You My Baby? lacks the diacritical marks to tell you how to pronounce the vowels, so I looked them all up online before reading it to Baby for the first time.

She loves it. I was reading it to her in Arabic. It starts out with the Papa dog asking, “Are you my baby?” Then the next page has a picture of a donkey, and the donkey says, “No!” Then there is a flap with the picture of a puppy, and the puppy says, “Yes.” So, I was reading it to her (in Arabic) and I when we lift up the flap to reveal the puppy, I hear her gasp in delight and look back and forth between the dog and the puppy. She realized that the dog and the puppy went together. She understood the whole point of the story, and I wasn’t even reading it to her in our language.

I’m not really fluent in Bengali either. I understand a fairly good amount, but my speaking skills are behind. I still try to speak with Baby in Bengali sometimes, and her reaction amuses me. For example, today I said to her, “You have to get dressed and put on some nice clothes.” Then I said, “Shoondor jama.” She grinned at me. This is her typical reaction when I speak Bengali. She grins or laughs like it is a very amusing game between the two of us.

A Recommendation

I am reading a book called Secrets of Mental Math by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer. It is a really excellent book. I never really considered myself a math person, but this book makes it so easy. Why didn’t they teach us this stuff in school? If you are a teacher or a parent, I highly recommend it. In fact, I highly recommend it for everyone.

Good Teachers

I was just thinking today that the most influential teachers in my life might not even have been considered “good teachers” by the standards  many are judged by. Think about it. If you are a long time out of school, do you really remember so much about their subjects or even often their teaching methods. You remember the good and the bad. And many people I know, even well into their 50s and 60s still have the ability to get worked up over remembered injustices of their childhood. People remember if you are nice, and people remember is you are unfair.

In my teacher training, I remember a quote that our teacher shared with us. I don’t remember who originally said it. But it basically stated: They may not remember what you say. They may not even remember what you do. But they will remember how you made them feel.

Now that’s a lasting impact. It matters how you treat people. It is the values that you live by.

The focus is often so much on academics. Our students need to know they are loved. They need to know they are valued. Yes, they need quality teaching, but your methods won’t matter if you can’t connect with your students. And even the worst of methods can be effective with a passionate and caring teacher. The teacher matters more than the methods.

Believe in your students. Believe they can thrive. And love them. Because when they know that you care, they will strive and often amaze you. But fear and threats and punishments will only breed resistance.

I hear of too many people who talk like students have to be forced to learn, like they are in battle with their students. Teach the way you would like to be taught. If you are bored, your students will be bored. If you bring your enthusiasm and love for the subject, your students will respond, and if you can’t do that, then why are you teaching?

Learning How to Learn

I started taking this course on Coursera a ways back called “Learning How to Learn, ” and I got the recommended book for it out of the library:  A Mind for Numbers. I don’t really just use these things for my own learning. When I read these kinds of books and articles that are about how the brain works and how we learn, I try to use the information to make myself a better teacher. One thing that can kind of surprise me is how little many of our traditional teaching methods are based on how people really learn.There is a saying: Study smart, not hard. Shouldn’t we be teaching smart, not hard?

Some of the ideas I got out of the book so far are the difference between useful practice and overlearning. So overlearning can be useful in a couple of occasions such as when playing a musical instrument, but in general, according to the book there has not been shown to be a benefit to continuing to practice something in the first session after the concept is understood, but the concept should be revisited and practiced frequently. So how should this inform my teaching? It would seem that I should introduce the concept, go through the example or problem, then move on to something else. I should perhaps assign something from it for homework, so that students revisit it, but not an excessive amount, as quantity is not the thing here. Then definitely the concept should be frequently revisited and practiced in the following days.

There is also the idea that we learn better when our brains shift between different modes of thinking.This means short, frequent study sessions, rather than cramming.

This is not all new to me. I had already encountered some of these concepts in a book I read several years ago about introducing humor into our teaching. We remember the beginning and the end of things better, so breaks in the middle of class are actually important for learning, shifting gears, changing activities (if only my former principal was more on board with this type of teaching).

Sometimes, I think it’s too bad I’m not still teaching, and I wonder if I’ll have the opportunity to put these ideas into use. I’m not saying I am an excellent teacher, but I feel I have potential. I’m willing to improve my teaching and whenever I learn something new, I try to implement it.

A little bit ago, I thought about applying for substitute teaching just to keep my foot in the door, so to speak, but my husband looked at me and the baby and seemed to ask who would be watching her. I’m not saying he really disapproved, but I couldn’t really resolve that question to my own satisfaction.  I guess I just have to trust Allah in this matter, that He will guide me to the best path.

Early Childhood Education

Perhaps this seems surprising, because I am a teacher, but I do not really believe in early childhood education. It’s not that I don’t believe that early childhood educators are specialist well trained in what they do, I just don’t believe that children need to be formally educated so early. Based on what I saw as a teacher, people always seem to be in such a rush, worrying that their child will “fall behind.” And basically, what I’m going to say is, what difference does it make? What difference does it make whether your child learns to read at 4 or 7? Will it help your child any in the overall course of their life?

I’m going to argue here that small children do not really need formal education. They need an enriching environment where they can play and interact with the real world. Reading to your child for fun can be beneficial, but there is no need to do this in a formal way. Play is the real business of children, and they learn skills for problem solving and social situations from it.

Many children are not really ready for learning academic skills prior to the age of 7. Our Prophet (s) told us to let children play until the age of 7 and then to teach them. Studies from various countries have shown no real academic benefit to starting earlier. A child who starts early struggles to learn skills for several years, and can get a negative perception of them, but children who start when they are developmentally ready, learn quickly. In several northern European countries, formal education does not start until the age of 7, and students in these countries outperform those in the US and UK where children begin their education earlier.

As a teacher, I saw many examples of the state trying to push children to learn skills at an earlier age that were not developmentally appropriate. For example, 2nd graders were expected to learn to interpret symbolism and figurative language in their reading. This is a skill that is not age appropriate for these children. It is not a matter of education. It is a matter of how the child’s thinking works at this age. According to David Elkind in the  Power of Play, children younger than 7 or 8 often have difficulty understanding that something can be 2 things at the same time. If I child cannot understand something being more than one thing at the same time, how can they understand figurative language and symbolism?

Despite the fear and worry of parents, that their child will be behind in learning skills, I cannot see how being ahead is any real benefit to the child. If a child learns the necessary skills during the course of his schooling, how is learning them earlier of any benefit? Children also develop both physically and mentally at vastly different rates. This competitiveness and comparing them to other children serves no useful purpose.

If we let children learn and grow at their own rates, I think we would see that they will grow into happy, healthy adults. They will learn the skills they need. And they will be more likely to reach their own unique potential.