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teacher at a school 150 years ago

Last March, when I was interviewing a few teaching candidates, one told me that “Teaching was a Woman’s job” and that men “should find themselves something better.”

 

I have often wondered what some of the historical reasons for the predominance of women in our classrooms are. Last week, while researching American Education History, I came across an interesting fact that throws some light on this.

 

The Carnegie unit and the Graded classroom are typical of schools all over the world; so it is the case in America. But it has not always been so. Before Horace Mann, American Educator and Politician went across the pond, visited schools and came back with the idea of the graded school, American education and classrooms were vertically grouped.

 

What that meant was that students aged 5 to 20 were schooled together in the same class. Because of presence of older students, men were required to maintain order in the classrooms. As the graded classroom evolved and students of the same age started being schooled together to the exclusion of other ages, managing them because easier. This ushered in women into American classrooms.

 

The same is seen even today – the percentage of men teaching High School is significantly higher than the percentage teaching elementary school.

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I have been reading about Kurt Hahn. I have marked interest in his work and ideas. Doon, the school I attended, based many tenets of its constitution in his philosophy. The Outward Bound Schools also owe their vision to his dreams.

I wanted to share this fantastic quote by him:

A great teacher never sets himself above his students except in carrying responsibilities.”

This one is going onto my softboard.

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With only ten days to go before I head to the United States, I’ve been bust typing up odds and ends leaving me with little time in which to think about writing a thoughtful post.

Between all the assembling, wrapping and packing however a series of thoughts, some coherent, others less so; some connected others as different as the quiet of assembly to the ruckus of recess.

I’m going to jot down thoughts in random order. Here we go!

How can we improve our Knowledge Management?

Schools, as institutions for learning and knowledge-creation often do little to archive the creativity and potency of the materials that our teachers create. There are two primary gaps in our management of knowledge:

a) In accessing organisational knowledge and

b) In archiving accessed knowledge

– It surprises me how few of the teachers in schools visit other classrooms or other schools. There is so much to be gained by having two teachers collaborate on observing each other (maybe to solve a particular problem identified earlier while sitting in on a pre-determined session) or even by observing how other schools get their basics right. I would like to see Principals set a policy where every school year every teacher collaborates with another teacher for at least two half-days on peer observation.

– Rookie teachers routinely flounder through teething troubles that a well-organised experienced-teacher-written wiki could easily solve, as could a mentor at school.

– As a newbie teacher, I spent several hours designing experiments, crafting props to use in the classroom and making sure I got my hand-outs spot on. It took a lot of my time. It was easier back then without a wife to come back home to, with more energy and maybe more nerves. Sure, all of us would love to have children immerse into practical hands-on learning, we would love to wipe the dust of teacher resource books and create new materials- but if you are teaching a large number of classes (or worse, large number of students) even the best intentions can go awry. Moreover, many activities-for-teachers books are well-intentioned but often carry programs that are not-pilot tested, causing demonstrations to blooper and learning to falter.Some of us give a few classes our best, disadvantaging the others – the best of us try and give all classes our best and are forever running to catch up with own own schedules. Several of our classes then become ‘chalk and talk.’ It would be nice if schools kept teaching materials, curricular samples, worksheets from year-to year as a one-stop-resource for teachers looking for a handy resource. It would help the dull teacher make his classroom more exciting and help the reflective teacher think about improving student success rather than with cutting chart paper.

 

What makes a good teacher?

I spent some time crafting a personal vision for myself. At the very top of this assignment, I wanted help!

What kind of teacher did I want to be? Obviously the kind that motivates students towards a love for learning, that makes class fun. What did that mean? What traits would embody a teacher of that kind?

I reflected on my own days as a schoolboy and found myself remembering teachers who were as different as chalk from cheese; from the tough booming-voice Mr. Sharma who was soft on the inside, who set us dry assignments and made us read textbooks in class as a way of learning, yet who loved each of us dearly to Mr. Bhagat whose classes were an intellectual adventure like no other but who outside the classroom was unapproachable. Also Ms. Singh, who would feed us (I went to a residential school) cookies in the evenings and run an efficient classsroom in the mornings- yet who wasn’t even a trained teacher (she was a teacher’s wife subbing for a regular on leave). Why did each of them endear themself to us?

I realised that my year at Harvard would do nothing to make me a better teacher. It could probably make me a more aware teacher and a better-equipped one, but not a better teacher because teaching rises above what we are and comes alive in the moments when we reach out to a student and focus on him, not on ourselves.

Which is why most we had less hiring mistakes with those we hired post a Classroom demonstration compared to others hired through more conventional recruiting procedures.

I wonder if you could help me with this? What do you think makes a good teacher?

 

 

Who does the Principal learn from?

In this country, most Principals are captains of their own ships. Yes there are board meetings with experienced educators. Yes, there are workshops. But that happens one one or two occasions a year. A principal is coming from a context where as a recent teacher he has had a Principal/Administrator to guide him, workshops in collegial environments to share and learn from. With the elevation to Head, he moves from being to counselled to being the counsellor.

I know many people who find it rough. It can be difficult to provide all the answers when you are at sea yourself.

I call for a Learning Circle where Principals of a few nearby schools visit each other, observe, evaluate, comment, critique, learn and share. Apart from making the Principal a more able leader it would also send a strong signal to the staff about personal development and collaborative growth.

 

 

Better Writing and Better Assessment

This one could interest all you bloggers and creative writing teachers. I came across Creative Writing 101- tips on better writing by Kurt Vonnegut in the introduction to his excellent collection, Bogambo Snuff Box. I have included 4 of the 8 tips here:

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot.

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible.

I found this interesting because I love to write and have penned several short stories. But his tips, especially point #2- every sentence must either reveal character or advance the plot, is relevant to every writing situation, be it blogging or even teaching- whether in class or while setting questions for student assessments.

1. Use the time of the reader in such a way that he will not feel that the time was wasted. Students know when the unexpected assessment in class means that you have not prepared your material and being unable to teach, are using the assessment as a diversion. Don’t waste their time. Ditto with asking them to read pages and pages of hand-outs that have little relevance to the learning objective, simply because as a teacher, its been difficult to find appropriate passages and reading material.

2. Every sentence must do two things- reveal character or advance the plot. Now wouldn’t that make for great teaching even if we were lecturing?

3. Write to please just one person. If you make love to the world, your writing will get pneumonia. A call to action for those differentiated instruction and differented assessment designed to meet the needs of individual students.

4. To heck with suspense, give your readers as much information as possible. Very often we either expect students to guess what we want in response to a question on an assessment. It tickles our ego, provides us with the thrill that beseiges a creator of a good puzzle, but it does nothing to advance student learning.

 

Other Random Thoughts

– One way to promote classroom collegiality may be to shift seating plans in classes around every few weeks. It will make students more comfortable with each other. The next time there is a problem, the student in question, will have several other to consult with rather than just one trusted friend; a situation that most teachers crave.

– If there is one thing I would like to do at the start of every school year it would be meeting every student of mine for a one-on-one chat where I learnt more about him as a person, as a member of a family and community, as a young man with hopes and dreams for his future. That would probably help me shorten the learning curve and understand him better than I could even after several conventional assessments or classroom sessions.

Reading five blog posts and offering thoughtful comments and engaging in dialogue is better than reading twenty without doing any of these. Holds true for any kind of reading. I plan to stick to this principle even when new carnivals and my Google Reader conspire to seduce me into reading several blogs at a go.

 

 

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I was speaking to my wife who, sharing a few friends’ experiences, mentioned that teaching kids in the West was more difficult than teaching kids in India. The main difference, she felt, is of relationship- here the teacher is revered, there the relationship is more of equals- respect, maybe, not reverence.

She hypothesised that having kids revere you makes it more easy to teach them.

I feel what she really meant was “having kids revere you makes it more easy to teach control them.” All other things – and a healthy dose of respect – constant, I feel that teaching ‘equals’ is much easier and much more effective.

Reverence in the Indian school context makes the teacher an Authority who is supposed to inspire awe and intellectual subservience. (although in private schools across urban India this may have changed, it still remains a reality in many others). Students are tacitly expected to take the teacher as an expert on his subject, hang on to every word spoken in class, smile politely and not ask too many questions. But, without questioning, can learning happen? Sure the classroom is more disciplined quiet, but is it really more enagaged?

What do you think? Would you rather be the Sage on the Stage or the Guide by the Side?

 

 

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This one is a rant.

If you had a student who missed one-third of the classes, arrived late for 20 sessions, turned in half the required homework assignments, failed 11 of 14 tests and quizzes, and never took the final exam, what would you do?

I would have probably:

a) Checked with the administrative department on news from home the first time she skipped class.

b) The second time it happened, I would call home.

c) The third time, I would write and inform the Principal.

I wonder if any of these steps were taken by Austin Lampros, Mathematics Teacher in Manhattan when his student Indira Fernandez careened of-course at the Arts & Technology High School.

If he did, what did the school authorities do about it?

Truancy Superhero

Whatever the case may be, I was shocked to read in the New York Times article this morning that the student in question, who had been failed by Mr. Lampros was given perimission to take the exam separately after being coached by another maths teacher for 2 days. After her aggregate score still fell below the pass mark, Mr. Lampros decision was over-ruled and the student promoted by the Principal. Apparently the school has a poliy that all students who turn up for even one class in the term get a minimum of 45 marks (of 100) when 65 are needed to pass.

Mr. Lampros quit.

What it worth it?

I don’t know. The student still graduated. The school still goes on unaffected. Hopefully he will find employment in native Michigan, but knowing the rather conservative administration of schools, I don’t see many jumping enthusiastically to have him working on their team.

Was it the appropriate thing to do?

Maybe. If he had indeed done Steps 1, 2 and 3 I mention above and has reason to believe that Ms. Fernandez’s absences were better categorized under truancy than illness, I can see why he was disillusioned.

Would I do it?

I would have probably brought the walls down if someone skipped 11 of the 14 tests I gave. Matters probably would not have come to head. But assuming Mr. Lampros did create his share of noise and the student was passed only to keep graduation rates soaring, I’d have to side with him. It would probably be the honourable and loyal thing to stick with the school and try and change things from the inside but lets be realists. As rookie teachers, none of us would have had the clout that early in our careers.

Frankly, I could not have worked under a head who I felt had compromised on the reasons for which we become teachers.

If change is what was important, I’d say Mr. Lampros has made a useful first step by talking to the press.

What’s my view on the action taken by the Principal?

This one action has probably seriously jeopardized the culture of the school, plunged the respects students had for her, made the other teachers feel a little distanced from their jobs and seriously undermined the confidence and the will-power of Ms. Fernandez who may never learn to take responsibility for her actions.

If the Principal may be in duress (low graduation rates may mean less money or no job) – the policy makers and boards deserve a swift kick in the pants.

If the Principal did this to cover her own inadequacies in not having discovered Miss Fernansez’s prolonged absences earlier, she is the one who should have quit.

Chivalry notwithstanding, maybe even received the aforementioned kick in the pants.

This is the kind of thing that gets my goat. What do you think? Let me know by writing in the comments section. Thanks.

See our latest EduPosts here.

 

(Image courtesy: Comics Reporter)

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child cowering down

This article seeks to present an overview and provide tips of sexual harassment in schools in the US, in India and look at some measures taken around the world. It also provide resources for further reading.

I have 2 nieces. Since they were born, the male domestic help has been replaced by ladies who come to help out.

I notice how sensitive my sister-in-law is about the events the girls will attend, about who will accompany her and how late they will be allowed to stay out.

In most schools I’ve worked in, there are rules to make sure that no girls are sent on errands alone and if there is training for the girls-team after school, a senior lady teacher is always at hand.

How real a problem is sexual harassment? Does it affect only girls? What about the boys?

This post is not intended to be an opinion or experience piece. Thankfully, outside of reading about the subject, I have no direct experience of this phenomenon. This post will be used to point you to resources that you may want to look up if this subject interests you.

A. How real a problem is sexual harassment at schools?

Lets start by defining sexual harassment. It includes intercourse but goes much beyond it to include: Sexual jokes and cartoons, slurs, repeated meeting requests, invitations for intercourse, sexual remarks, insults or innuendoes, attempted kissing, unequal facilities (lesser or no restrooms for girls or shared restrooms), nude or suggestive pictures and posters. Another important consideration is: Would the Behavior be different if the victim were the opposite sex?

I pulled up Google News on my browser. I search for “sex offences in schools”. I got 4 separate news items in the last 20 hours. When I broadened my search to include the wider definition discussed above, the results jumped to over 20 unique results.

Two days ago a leading daily in India screamed about a boy being sodomised for 3 months by 3 male teachers.

Lets look at some data from the US. This information is primarily from Hostile Hallways (published by the AAUW) and Sexual Harassment in Schools (published by the NASBE)

  • Students most often experience sexual harassment for the first time during sixth or ninth grade … but some instances ccur before third grade. — Hostile Hallways (AAUW Educational Foundation, 2001)

  • 91.5 percent of LGBT students report hearing homophobic remarks frequentlyor often at school—but 82.9 percent report that faculty never or only sometimes intervene when they overhear such remarks being made. — J.G. Kosciw, The GLSEN 2003 National School Climate

  • Boys are nearly as likely as girls to have experienced some form of sexual harassment: 76% of boys said that they have experienced sexual harassment, compared with 85% of girls. However, girls were more likely than boys to report that they had “often” experienced sexual harassment at school (31% for girls, compared with 18% for boys), and girls were more likely to report that sexual harassment had a negative impact on their education.

  • Nearly one-third (32%) of all students who have been harassed first experienced harassment before 7th grade.

  • Perpetrators of sexual harassment in schools are far more likely to be fellow students than adults. Of students who were harassed in school, 18% said they had been targeted by a school employee, while 79% said they had been harassed by a current or former student at school.

  • Students who have been sexually harassed are most likely to talk to friends about such incidents (63% report that they have done so). Roughly a quarter have talked to parents or other family members and another quarter have told no one. Only 7% said that they had reported being sexually harassed to a teacher.

– All 4 statistics above from the NASBE report

What is the scenario in India?

I could not find hard data on schools and sexual harassment. There are cases reported in the press (read one here) and the frequent report about Goa as a pedophile paradise but nothing concrete in terms of data about schools and sex offences has come to my notice.

 

  • Almost one in two children is sexually abused.
  • 70% of the children never reported the abuse.
  • Compared to those in the age group 13-18, younger children (5-12 years) faced higher levels of abuse (not that more children in the lower age group are affected, but that an affected person in that age group would have a greater order of atrocities committed against him)

  • The highest percentage of abusers were known people — friends and family

 

 

(graphic from Indian Express Article)

Given this situation what is disturbing is the debate around what is possibly the most important step in the control of sexual offences is often debated in India- Sex Education. Lets look into that here.

 

There is a strange situation in India: kids are learning about sex earlier and earlier- a survey in Mumbai showed that the age of access to pornography has dropped from 16 to 12 for boys and I posit that the same is true of connected communities over the world. At the same time schools and the government are becoming increasingly prudish about sex education.

Some months ago Madhya Pradesh banned sex education in schools (aimed at classes 9 and higher) because “illustrations in an the texts intended for teachers to instruct from were found obscene!” The obscenity in question? Diagrams of human bodies.

Other news reports indicate that: Maharastra has banned sex education (Mumbai, the city noted earlier is its capital!- BBC News, April 2007), so has Karnataka, there are appeals by the BJP for it to be banned in Delhi as it this could lead to schools becoming sex spots and compel a large number of girl students to drop out (Yahoo news , July 2007) and only ten days ago our honourable ex-Chief Minister of Bihar and sitting Minister for Railways said that Sex Education was a blot on Indian Culture and should be banned (DNA, July 2007)

It seems that most of the religious, social and political voices who discourage sex education have misunderstood it. Sex education is not about teaching kids “how to do it” it is about making them aware of themselves and their sexuality so they are more prudent, discretionary and alert in their sexual behaviour to response to that of others. If implemented thoughtfully, sex education can control or avoid sexual offences, increase hygiene, check unwanted pregnancies and HIV and clear many a confused adolescent mind.

abuse-ad.jpg

B. What can be done? Sexual harassment can be a torment. Apart from the huge emotional stress it results in, Targets of bullying and harassment experience anxiety, distress, confusion, loss of self-esteem, depression, and loss of concentration on schoolwork. Severe consequences may include psychosomatic symptoms, avoiding school, and committing suicide.

It is clear from the data presented that both genders are susceptible and that smaller children are more susceptible to sexual assault involving intercourse while older chidlren may be more at risk for harassment including abuse while the numbers of sexual assult may dip.

It exists in both, rural area and in cities and shockingly, your near ones may the one you need to be most careful of.

The data presented effectively kills any misplaces notion of “this happens only in poor families” or this happens only when “parents don’t care.” It can happen anywhere, anytime but thankfully there are several small initiatives that can go a long way:

1. Establish and Follow a Sexual Harassment Policy: A good policy should give a clear message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. There may be be two policies, one for students and one for staff. In any event, the policy statement should be comprehensive enough to include student-to-student, student-to-staff, staff-to-student, staff-to-staff, and supervisors-to-staff harassment. It should define sexual harassment and give some examples of unacceptable behavior. It should have a clearly explained complaint procedure and make it easy for the victim to contact responsible authorities. The policy should be posted in a conspicuous place in theschool, included in the student handbook, and an effort should be made to ensure that all concerned students, staff, and parents — are aware of and understand the policy.

Survey a sample of your students periodically to find out attitudes about sex, information about harassment at school, school culture and information about school policies etc.

 

2. Start Young: Most people balk at sex education for little kids. This is because the labelling of the term is incorrect. I would call it self-awareness, where the child is made understand his body and what kind of touch is clearly inappropriate. For example, being touched anywhere under your clothes is wrong. If it happens, what should be done? This is the kind of simple information that can be given to kids.

Sex Education then should be introduced systematically. In addition, students should be encouraged to speak to parents and counselors (as opposed to peers) in the event of an incident taking place.

It is important to communicate that anyone engaging in improper touching or fondling should be discussed with the parent. In schools, especially in hierarchical societies, in India actions of family elders and teachers are not questioned openly as children are told to ‘obey elders’ and going against any of their actions is usually poor manners.

 

3. Start Conversations: Conversations can be started by talking to parents- making them aware of model parental behaviour (not laughing at lewd jokes, for example), encouraging them to discussing information about peers and schooldays with children etc. Information should be made available to students clearly and explicitly through special workshops and through integrated curricular elements.

In school and in homes, encourage open discussion. Repression will lead to ‘experiments’ with the body, urge to access (unsafe) materials or adults for enlightenment on this subject.

 

4. Run background checks: This is obvious, yet many of us, in our hurry to recruit candidates skip this step as it takes time. Research has shown that most crimes or cases of harassment at school take place through older students or employees. While one can’t predict how recruits will turn out, one can surely restrict past offenders from working on campuses that we serve.

 

5. Control access through online pornography: This one is extreme- yet is it is a rising data point in sexual harassment scorecards worldwide. Research has established that on-line Pornography plays an accessory role in negative social issues such as child abuse, violence against women, rape, inequality, relationship and family breakdown, youth crime, promiscuity and sexually transmitted diseases. Access should be controlled until children have been talked to about the birds and the bees and is easily made possible by browser settings and specialised software like NetNanny. Online pornography can easily lead to access to other forms of sexual content on the net, including chat and video- putting a child at risk.

But these tips are just me. To know what the experts think about this, do read some interesting (some with ready-to-use tips) here.

 

Further Reading

1. Hostile Hallways: The seminal work from the AAUW. Read their report here and access a complete guide for students, schools & parents here. It has sample surveys, questionnaires and guidelines for policy-setting and following.

2. STOP Project: Chad Harms at the Iowa State University has done some interesting work on identifying sexual predators on the internet. His articles delineate strategies they employ and what parents/schools/counselors need to be aware of. Access his useful website Stop and Help, here.

3. New York Times: On How you can Distinguish a Budding Pedophile from a Kid with Boundary Problems. An involved, but very readable article.

4. Global Measures against sex offenders and their employment in school: A BBC report on what the UK, US and France have done in this regard. Also read about the Vishaka guidelines, the lame effort by the judiciary in India to control sexual harassment here.

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I came across this a few minutes ago. It made me smile. Thought I would share it with all of you who recently re-started or are heading back to school after the summer.

We all have Calvins at school and frankly, they make work more challenging and, sometimes, a lot more fun!

Enjoy!

 

calvin doesnt want to return to school after the summer

calvin doesnt want to return to school after the summer

Aside: (Don’t forget to read our post on Sexual Harassment in Schools here and our latest posts here)

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