My time in Mawlamyine has been very valuable for me as a young educator. I’m always learning something new about the teaching and learning process and the strengths and weaknesses in my teaching. Some people have asked, since I had a chance to work with a very diverse group of students (and teachers), how did I approach my classes? After all, it is not easy to teach when there is linguistic and cultural diversity in the classroom. Although this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, these are typical components of my classes:
1) Encourage students to try and to not be afraid of making mistakes. Fear often hinders learning and growth. I often emphasized that it is okay to make mistakes because mistakes help us grow as students and people. I don’t expect perfection from students, but I do expect students to give it their best effort. For me, as long as students showed that they were trying, then I would have accomplished a good portion of my teaching goals.
2) Incorporate student ‘voice’ and feedback in lessons. An important aspect of my teaching philosophy, which was greatly influenced by my education professors at Bryn Mawr College, is the use of student voice and the habit of gathering input from students to get a sense of how they are doing in class. This is not just about checking their academic progress, but it is also a way to get to know how they’re learning and feeling. For example, in one of their exit cards, students told me how they felt about their speaking skills. Answers ranged from ‘feeling more confident’ to ‘shy’ or ‘frustrated.’ By being aware of who is feeling what, especially in large classes, I could work on getting to know them as individuals. I find it easier to adjust my teaching and lessons when I know more about what the students are thinking and how they are experiencing my class.
3) Promote collaboration and discussion. As I mentioned in a previous post, lecture is not inferior to discussion. There is a time and place for every teaching technique. Since the students were accustomed to mostly lecture and since the focus of all of my classes was to help students improve their speaking skills, I made sure to use plenty of group work and give ample time for discussion in class. By doing so, students were also given a chance to develop their collaboration skills.
4) Start with definitions. IRT taught me many things about teaching, but one of the most memorable lessons was the fact that we should never assume we ‘know’ a word and what it means. Nowadays, we all have different definitions of words and when we dive right into a conversation without defining what we mean, we could end up with more misunderstandings. One of my favorite moments in my classes is when the students and I talked about the distinction between ‘argue’ and ‘discuss,’ ‘argument’ and discussion.’ I asked them, “How do you know if you’re discussing or having an argument?” Well, our ‘discussion’ was inconclusive, but it gave all of us a lot of food for thought. It was very fascinating to uncover how our own cultural background and assumptions inform our understanding of words and reality.
5) Use task-based teaching and role-play. I often used role-play in class to give students a chance to practice language in real-life contexts. For example, several times students took turns playing the role of an interviewer and interviewee. Since many of the students will be applying for jobs in the near future, I asked them to think about the typical questions that they might encounter and how they might respond. This way, our lessons would (hopefully) be relevant to their lives.
I’m sure there are many areas where I could have done better. That is the challenge and beauty of being in education. We can always improve and grow with our students. One last point that I hope observers will see if they visit my classroom: I do my best to strive for excellence and model a genuine love for learning. I think this is the way to truly inspire our students to become scholars and lifelong learners.