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I wrote a note a few days ago, on my Facebook page, titled, ‘To the child writing exams’. It struck a chord with the people who read it, especially parents and teachers. These people observe the stress that children go through, when it comes to exams, assessments, assignments and see their dread. Almost everyone who read it mentioned or expressed a concern that things needed to change. And it’s a bit disconcerting that we’re still talking about ways to reduce pressure in 2018! What happened to the love of learning which is the very foundation of education?
Of course, I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I didn’t confess that I’ve gone through the exact gamut of emotions when it comes to getting my kid to study. In my case, asking my daughter to study for her tests/exams almost invariably would wind up with both of us frustrated and at least one of us in tears. It was exhausting and what was worse? It didn’t help her study. At all!
Until I stepped back earlier this month and learnt a few important things. Some of these things come primarily from my own experience, growing up. Others from watching and observing how Gy responds to different ways of being told the same thing. Yet others come from my years of experience,as a teacher. It’s surprising how I’ve never connected any of these dots before. Perhaps it needed time for it to happen.
First, a bit of background about me. I hold a Master’s degree in English language and Literature. For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading, all things books and losing myself in the beauty of language. But did you know that I also studied Advanced Math/Optics/Mechanics in my A-Levels? (That’s Grades 11 & 12 in India). And did you know that I fell in love with Math in Grade 10 after I had detested it all through school? Let me explain how this happened.
Anyone can learn
I came back to India for my tenth grade exams and was flustered to realise that most of the syllabus for the year had already been covered in the previous year! I was at sea and pretty much in tears when I walked into school that first week. Panic set in and so did the terrible cluster headaches that would plague me for the next four months. But that was all set to change.
Enter Mrs. Thilagavathy. She was my tuition coach for Math and I recall with crystal clarity the day I walked into her class, looked down at my feet and said, ‘I am terrible at Math. I am not a Math person. I can’t do it. I have no way of knowing how I am going to get past this year.’ She waited for me to stop speaking, asked me to look her in the eye and said,
‘That is not true. There is no such thing as a Math person. In fact, every subject becomes extremely easy if you know how to approach it. Anyone can learn if they are ready.’
Naturally, I didn’t believe her. She was a teacher. She was supposed to say these things to motivate the kids. She sensed my disbelief and went on. ‘Tell you what. If, in six months, you don’t bring up your grades AND fall in love with the subject, I will agree with you and refund all the money you’ve paid me. Deal?’
I couldn’t pass that up. So we shook on it.
In six months, not only did I get my grades up, I topped the class in Math! I stared at my paper in disbelief and took it to show her while she grinned with an ‘I-told-you-so’ look. And my love for Math grew so much that I ended up taking it in my A-Levels.
(The fact that I was the only student who took both English Literature and Pure Math caused scheduling Hell at school but that’s a story for another day!)
To this day, I attribute my thirst for learning and the constant yearning to grow, to that teacher and her methods.
How did she do it? How did a teacher make me believe that anyone could learn anything?
Every time I took a problem to her, she’d ask me to work it out on my own, after she’d explained the concept. If she noticed that my eyebrows were furrowed with confusion, she’d slow down, explain each step, wait for me to absorb it and then ask me to try again. She’d then ask me to work out 10, 20, 30 or 50 problems along the same lines, each time tweaking the sums so I would have to think out of the box and come up with solutions.
She never raised her voice but she was firm. She exuded this sense of authority that made me respect her and love her at once.
What I try and do with Gy: I tell Gy that it’s okay to fail, even repeatedly. What matters is picking yourself up and trying again until you get it right. The joy that comes from this is unparalleled. Kids learn this as they go along.
Mrs. T was a role model in the way she spoke to each student. We were, at any given time, a group of 25 people in her class. Yet, she took time to personally sit next to each student, mark the paper, go over the mistakes and point out where they could improve. Every single class, I have observed her doing this.
She taught me that in order to be truly good at something, you must get involved in the teaching and learning process.
What I try and do: Even if I am rushing against deadlines of my own, I make Gy a priority. I explain concepts as well as I can until I am sure she’s grasped them and can see the smile of understanding light up her face. And I do this without distractions from the online world.
PIN THIS POST FOR LATER
If there’s one word to describe Mrs. T, it would be kind. She exuded kindness like a beacon giving off warmth. Students who experienced panic attacks the day before a test would come in to her class and walk out with lighter hearts and minds.
She counselled them to stay calm even in the face of tough papers and tougher teachers.
What I try and do: Earlier, with Gy, I would snap at her, asking her to focus and not let her mind wander. That worked terribly! If anything it made her more mutinous and prone to further distraction. Instead, I started telling her to focus for just 20 minutes and then take a break. Asking her to do stretches or a quick dance to break the stress seemed to motivate her and hone her focus!
Excitement/ Make it fun
Mrs. T made classes fun. She’d frequently narrate tiny anecdotes in the middle of a stressful paper to help us laugh and release the tension. This helped clear our minds and focus better on the task at hand.
What I do: I encourage Gy to break into crazy dance moves and extol a subject’s beauty like it’s the Mona Lisa. Excitement is contagious, have you noticed? It’s one thing I love doing, be it in blogging or parenting. It keeps the spark alive and the energy going. Ask my blogging circle. They’d tell you I drive them insane with my excitement. Gy would probably tell you the same thing.
For this method I must give full credit to my husband. It was he who introduced the idea of fun learning through videos and encouraged Gy to ask questions. (More than the ones she already asks, I mean!) He scoured the Net for information and broadcast the videos on our TV so she could see the excitement that went into learning the Periodic Table or Algebraic equations!
She revels in the visual knowledge and soaks it up like a sponge! We then do a pop quiz to see how much of it she’s able to recall the next day.
I’ve always wondered how I feel equally passionate about writing tutorial style posts on the blog as well as the sentimental ones that focus on parenting. I love timetables, scheduling and ticking things off checklists. At the same time I love dreaming, conjuring up ideas, painting visual word pictures and creating fiction.
I dive into newsletter tutorials with the same energy that I throw into making pins for my posts. I love tracking Analytics as much as I love engaging with posts that awaken a feeling of home.
That’s when I realised something.
I am not a Math person. I am not a Literature person.
I am a learner and I love learning for its own sake.
*Recommended Reading: This book is something that I discovered a couple of years ago and I cannot stop singing its praises to every parent I meet/talk to. It will change the way you look at learning and education.
Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure
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