Surveys done by educational researchers in the field of social-emotional well-being indicate that students want to succeed at school. They want to avoid bad company, attend and be on time to all classes, have nothing to do with drugs, despise delinquent behaviors, make teachers and parents proud of their accomplishments and respect the elders. Most importantly, every student surveyed expressed a genuine desire to get good grades.
These are what they said they want. However, the picture we see in schools is different. Why? Research further indicate that most students get distracted from their inner conviction of what they should and should not do at school because of how they are treated.
Students who do not find learning meaningful will eventually be put off by schooling and start engaging in unhealthy behaviors. They do this to justify the act of being in school by force. To reduce the effect of cognitive dissonance (a phenomenon when one behaves contrary to what he/she thinks and feels, causing intense disturbance in thinking and behavior), they convince themselves that if they don’t go to school to study, they would do so for some other reasons. Most often, the reasons are counterproductive, and sometimes, damaging to life and future.
This is why teachers need to take their jobs seriously. Teaching is not merely passing down information. It is passing down information to humans who yearn to become better and possibly the best. Every time I come across an actor being recognized as the “chosen one” by a “wise person” (in movies), I think of teachers having to do the same with each and every child, on a daily basis.
Each student is chosen to do something important in life. Teachers need to look beyond lesson delivery, to the immense possibilities and potential of every child. Lessons taught from this point of view will not just inform students, but inspire them to continue nurturing their quest for knowledge and practical wisdom.
Belief affects practice
Most teachers do not think this way. Many are comfortable continuing in their belief that only a few are destined to greatness; others will have to be satisfied with mediocre, if not shoddier future. As long as teachers view students this way, schools will continue producing ill-adjusted individuals who are utterly confused about life and everything they hold dear. A major chunk of student populations in all schools around the world experience dissatisfaction and hate learning on the grounds of emotional conflicts and frustrations.
In other words, students fail not because they lack the intelligence, but because they choose to rebel against a system that do not cater to their emotional as well as cognitive needs. Obviously, when a teacher thinks that only a few would eventually succeed, he/she would invest most of his/her energy and time on these students – and knowingly or unknowingly neglect the rest. If students are not cognitively challenged, they become bored, and this affects their emotional senses – and soon, they are spiraling downward at the speed no one could imagine.
Change we need
If we continue this way, we would have a world that is inhabited by predominantly insensitive, irresponsible, and selfish individuals, and a handful of brilliant individuals who will constantly try to protect themselves from the former. This is not the aim of education. Education is supposed to make everyone productive and happy. It is supposed to help us celebrate shared values and appreciate others.
The way we teach today determines the kind of world we would have in the future. Teachers do not teach for students to pass tests, but for them to become better humans. As the famous 20th century educator Dr. Haim Gnott puts it, “Fish swim, birds fly, and people feel,” – our primary duty then, is to teach with heart.