A teacher is always learning
In 1990, when I started teaching, I thought that I would become a good teacher and I would know many teaching techniques in 5 years' time. Now, having been a teacher for more than twenty years, I realize it is not as I thought. In my experience teaching is something very special and it is a new experience every time. Each day becomes special and unique for me and for my students. There are times when I am teaching the same topics as in the previous year but the approach and method changes according to my present students. I have experienced days which didn’t work and I wasn’t feeling good about it. On those days I reflected on that particular day of my teaching and planned it again differently. So it worked well next time. Some times I was even planning my lessons during my sleep. A classroom is not only a teaching space. It is a learning space for me and for my students. Learning is something which happens all the time irrespective of age. We never know who will be our teacher or when or where. My strong feeling is 'Every student is a teacher as well. And every teacher is a student'.
Students are teachers and learners
In my observation, students carry a lot of strength and they hold the class with special energy. I have experienced such an atmosphere throughout my teaching career. I have taught from grade 1 to grade 8. I have also worked at times with teachers, sharing some of my teaching methods and learning styles.
This work has become very successful for me especially because I always feel that I am not alone in my class. My students are there participating in my teaching as well as in their learning. I have felt that everyone in the class is 'a teacher and a student'. With the strength of a whole group a real learning takes place.
Importance of individual attention to students
When I began my work as a teacher in 1990 for one whole year I was teaching in a tuition center. There the students from various standards came to get extra help. So we had a mixed group from different grade levels. I was challenged to help all of them in the same space and time. In that situation I learned to help them individually. I had to set up my class in such a way that it was possible for me to do individual work with each of them.
Immediately after this, in 1991, I joined New Creation School as a teacher. I feel that there was something similar and there is some connection between my past experience and my present work. I had some knowledge of giving individual attention to students, a sense of attending to them according to each and every one’s need. When we teachers have the approach of attending to the needs of the children individually, it enables them to learn in a healthy atmosphere without the need for competition. A competitive approach spoils the real learning. It creates confusion and even jealousy in the mind of the other learners, which hinders the process of learning among the students. The one who is better and the one who is being compared to the one who is better – it hinders the learning for both. Whatever small progress is made by a student should be acknowledged and appreciated. In my class the students feel that. They come forward asking questions and seeking help without any fear.
Freedom for teachers to create projects
In my twenty-four years of teaching I have done a number of projects with my students. Some of them are:
- A project on continents,
- A project on mapping (India, Tamil Nadu),
- A debate on 'A clean place to live is a city or a village',
- A project on ‘means of transport’,
- A project on ‘Light’ – this particular one was done with another class in Europe as an exchange project.
For small children I have done a project on ‘shopping’. We made fake money in my 3rd standard and then we used the money to do shopping. In this way they understand about money and its value. Once in our kindergarten section the whole team did a project on shopping, where every child contributed something or other, according to their capacity, and we fixed a date and invited the whole school to the shopping mall. It was such fun, everybody enjoyed it. It gave them the feeling of real shopping. We worked for nearly 2 months on this project.
Especially with small ones I am used to watching their moods. By ‘mood’ I mean the work that they are focused and concentrated on spontaneously. For example there were times, usually after lunch, when the children were 'building houses' while playing outside in the playground. It was a concentrated time for them. At that age (7-plus) it was real work for them; it was not merely play as it may seem to an adult. I try to notice these moments and apply them in curriculum topics, and particularly social science topics. In this case, asked the children each to build a house and to build whatever they would need to live happily together. After they had completed their building work we sat around their village or town or city and had conversations about those houses, temples, and so on. We had discussions about the various aspects of a village in particular. After that I included sketching and writing a few sentences related to their work.
This kind of teaching is possible only here in Auroville. We teachers have such freedom. This freedom enables us to be practical and to be present in that moment.
Whenever I did this kind of work it enabled the students to learn fully in a happy mood. They concentrated on whatever they were engaged with. The teacher and students together created a happy learning atmosphere and learned a lot from each other as a whole group.
Once I wanted my 6th grade students to learn about continents and countries. As we are in Auroville I thought that I could get help from various people who are from each continent. We have first-hand sources. I chose a few people, one for each continent and fixed a time for them to come to our school. Before they were expected, we, as a class, prepared a number of questions connected to the continents so that they could ask questions about the things they wanted to learn or know about each continent. Our students met the 'representatives' in small groups and had conversations with each of them. Once that was over the students were given time to work on their continent projects. They tried various ways to prepare a presentation and each group shared with the whole class their knowledge of each continent. That was a “Wow!” moment. They had the experience of talking in English, then sharing in the class, and then they made a book each. It was a very successful project.
Class management: Importance given to each student
I would also like to share my experience about how I manage my classrooms. Over the years I have developed a lot of different methods of managing my class. I always work on setting up a system which works by itself. I always include the students and have discussions with them about 'How do we want to keep our classroom?' 'How do we show respect for each other in our class?' There are many other small things. It is very important that everybody gets a chance to do the daily routine of the classroom. This way of working encourages students to participate in the day-to-day activities. I have seen children waiting for their turn to come. When each one of them experiences the routine in a nice way, they understand and they develop a real respect for each other. It works for all levels irrespective of age and grade. They like to 'own' the class. They like to experience leadership in the classroom situation. And they like the set-up to be fair. When they see that it is something that they would like to be able to do, the response from them is amazing.
Most of the time I select a student to assist me. For example: If I am about to do a lesson on reading, I need to monitor the reading and to choose those who would like to read. During my lesson those who want to read raise their hand. I get the help of the student assistant to choose one of them to get a turn for reading. He or she is free to choose anyone and in any order. He or she has a certain order in his or her mind and does it accordingly. It is a small exercise but they love this one. The title given to this person is ‘Chairperson’. Whenever we have to have a discussion on any topic this system of ‘Chairperson’ works very well. The moment the class is in the students' hands they have a real respect for that and they take care of it well. Although the children are generally sitting on the floor, ‘Chairperson’ gets a chair to sit on. At first they sit on the tip of the chair being unsure but later they gain confidence and assert themselves well on a chair and handle the situation. My work of quietening them becomes very easy. These are the moments when they are naturally responsible.
If a teacher wants the students to learn anything, that particular thing should be practiced in the classroom situation. I see the classroom as a mini lab where the students have their small society in a concentrated way. It becomes a safe and secure environment to practice their real life challenges in a moderate way.
Goal of education: Goal of life
The Mother tells us that education starts before birth and continues for our whole life. For Her the goal of learning is not only to gain knowledge so that in life one can earn money and respect. She teaches that we learn for the joy of learning, and to widen our knowledge, so that it helps us each to achieve what we need to achieve in life and to serve that purpose for which we were born.
To know for what purpose I was born, will it be enough for me to memorize answers and to get certificates? Will I achieve my purpose in life if I just try to satisfy the wishes of my parents? Each student needs to search within to know the answers to the questions 'Who am I? What is my role in the world? For what reason was I born? What type of skills do I need to achieve my goals? How can I learn what I’ll need to know?'. And then, 'How do I go about aiming and continuing to aspire towards this?' This is where Auroville school education makes a steadfast effort to focus on every child, and helping each to grow from wherever he or she is at.
As teachers we encourage and appreciate any small progress made by a child in a sincere manner. We have zero tolerance towards cultivating fear in our students because we strongly believe that feeling scared or being beaten is a hindrance to a child’s growth as a whole person. At times, we meet with the parents and help them learn how to take care of their children so that the parents are in tune with us.
Nurturing the inner being: Learning by practice
Whatever activity is done with the children is oriented towards reaching the inner self. These include day-to-day simple activities such as arranging shoes in front of the classroom, concentrating on food when eating, or playing a game for the sake of playing and not worrying about success or failure. We encourage each of the students to become aware of keeping their surroundings orderly and clean. We would like to help the children become self-disciplined and to have self-control, and so we give them opportunities to organize their own work by themselves. Every detail of awareness in day-to-day actions that we want to develop in the children must be experienced over and over. They learn it by doing and by practicing. And very importantly, all of these activities are done according to the child’s age and capacity to understand.
Currently Davaselvy is in a coordinating role as a principal at Udavi School. She lives in Prarthna with her mother, daughter and husband.
Her email address is davaselvy (at) auroville.org.in.