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The learner is a person!

It’s so frequesnt to hear in the educational theories and spheres ” taking the learner as a whole person”.But,we rarely take this into serious consideration given the number of students we have to deal with,and given the amount of syllabus we have to cover before a standardised test arrives.

Humanistic theories advocate and recommend taking  the learner as a “human being” with all his/her qualities,sufferings and life situations and conditions   while we are teaching him/her in our classes.

As I have already mentioned, so many stressful conditions surround teachers that they completely ignore that the learner comes into school bringing with him/her every thing that he/she faces and lives outside school.

Today,I have lived a case which really “urges” us to take the learner as a whole person before taking any decision or before even starting your “warm up”.I have been teaching a student for the last 5 months and he would more often produce meaningless sounds in class while I am expalining or dealing with my lesson.This “human” would usually laugh in cases where no one else ,but him,laughs in his class.He would utter sounds that I used to consider as  strange enough to be those of a “human being”.I asked many of his other teachers, and they all said that he behaves exactly the same way in other subjects,which dismissed the fact that he had a problem with English as a subject or with me as an English teacher.It was really one of the mysteries I have lived during the last ten years of my teaching.

Taking learners as human being is a fact that must be taken seriously if we really want our teaching/schools to build full humans and citizens.I have learned that this poor adolescent is living miserable social conditions.I have found out ,today, that his father is a well-known delinquent and drankard in his   neighbourhood.So,all the “misbehaviour” of that student is no more than a reflection of the state of instability that he’s been living.Today,I have actually spoken with this poor kid in private and I have learned things that I should have understood from the beginning of the year.This student ahs even said that his father divorced his mother long ago,and that he’s living with his grand-parents,while his mother is married to another man far away from where he’s now.

These facts have given me an insight into the reason(s) behind this child’s behaviour.I wouldn’t try to expalin it more psychologically-a job I am not well-equiped to deal with.I would say no more than THIS STUDENT NEEDS OUR ATTENTION;I am now aware that what he was doping in his different classes is merely for the sake of getting some of the attention and recognition that he misses else where-his family.It’s unfortuante ,however,that many of his teachers are not aware of the situation he’s living,which still opens the door for more criticism and “irrelevant” behaviuor management solutions from his teachers.

I am now aware that this student and similar others misbehave with a view to getting some of the respect they have lost outside school.It’s so sad,though,that they continue to get disrespect both from us and from their peers,simply because we have FAILED to understand their life.We are really obliged to provide our learners with the self-esteem that is lost for them because of one reason or another,and to do that there must be other parts-administration staff-which must know every thing about every student’s life and provide us-teachers-with this type of information so that we act towards our kids appropriately.

It’s really so sad that the people who hold information of this type on our students continue to consider it as “secret” ,and “it might deprive the student of his self-esteem” in front of the teachers and peers.It’s high time that our schools had centers that ” really listen to the student,”and know every thing about his/her life.These are valuable information that would have saved me and the poor child a lot of trouble and misunderstanding!

I am now aware that no student can learn-or try to learn-while he/she misses other valuable parts of his/her life.Self-esteem,recognition and self-respect are essential before learning.

To sum up, we,as teachers,have to be tolerant and very slow while responding or interpretting our students’  (mis)behaviour.We should know that many things happen in our students’ lives outside  and inside school ,and they all affect the way these students behave ,react and learn in our classes.I now aknwoledge that there are  other things that are more important than the lesson plan and the use of a multi-media channel!

I am now aware that so many of the ways I tried to react to that particular student’ misbehaviour were inappropraite and totally missing the point.Because I have talked to him today and because he feels that I am no longer a grammar and language teacher,I am sure he will modify his behaviour.He simply knows that I am caring for him,and that’s what he needs.

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The corner-stone of school reform.

So many ideas have been written for years,and maybe for centuries on how to improve and develop education.Many educational theorists and psychologists have spoken about how  schools can meet students’ needs and requirements.Many others have spoken about materials,curriculum and methods.

The motivational theory continues to influence the eduactional sphere,and it keeps on being quoted whenever we want to speak about the relation between students and school.

I am greatly impressed by Maslow’s hirarchy of needs, and I think that it is absolutely the theory that sums up the whole issue of how to motivate students,and,therefore,how to make school better cater for the needs of those who attend it.

In my country,as in many other countries of the world,millions of dollars are spent every year on educational reforms.But,education continues to be the most problematic sector for world governments.And despite the millions of dollars that are spent on making it better,students still continue to lose interest  in attending classes,and the rates of school drop outs continues to raise year after year.

I am not sure if the educational policy makers are aware of Maslow ‘s hirarchy of needs and other educational theories!Probably,as it seems in our daily reality,they are not.

It is plain clear that the people who plan and implement educational theories jump into the higher levels of Maslow’s hirarchy.They have issued many documents and educational circulars about the standards that every student has to meet at the different levels of his/her school life.They have also spent a lot of money on changing the curriculum and printing new text-books….All this is adressing Maslow’s “esteem” and ” self-actualisation” levels of the human needs.

Many research articles have “warned” the educational authorities that to truely reform our schools and to motivate our learners,there are so many things that must happen first in the  students’ lives outside school.

So, to change the syllabus,and to print coloured text-books in Spain or somewhere else doesn’t really target the heart of the issue.What we need is to meet the students’ and the teachers’ first basic needs.First things have to be dealt with first.Numerous educational articles have found that the students that come from disadvantaged families perfrom badly in school.

Our authorities must first of all ensure that those who attend school are not hungry.We have to be sure that the student is not suffering from flu and,still, he/she can’t afford to buy the medecines.We must also undrestand that moral and psychological security comes before learning in the hirarchy of human needs.That’s why it’s of paramount importance to make our students feel secure inside and also outside school.I cannot imagine a student whose father is struggling with bread to attend school in full psychological readiness.No one can expect a parent who has ,maybe, ten other kids and struggling to ensure survival for them, no one can expect him/her to keep track of what his/her child is doing at school.This explains why  the majority of parents never come to school to inquire about their children’s educational difficulties or successs.And this is exactly the same reason why parents don’t come to school even if their child has a problem with a teacher or with the administration.Parents are too busy with the basic urges of their kids and their life.They have little space in their mind to fill with school matters.

An other factor that diminishes students’ achievement and which makes them at-risk children is the illiteracy of their parents.So many parents are illiterate ,and they are,consequently,totally unaware of the importance of education.Because of the high rates of unemployment in our country,and now in many developed countries too, parents believe that education has no  role in their kids’ life since they graduate ,and still remain jobless for the rest of their lives.Our educational authorities,hence,have to make it clear to parents that school is not all about jobs.Parents,illiterate ones I mean,should know the real value of sending their kids to school.But again this can only happen when their first basic needs are met.And to meet their basic needs,their poverty has to stop,and for poverty to stop,they should have jobs.It’s all an endless circle that is highly tied to poverty and survival.

Poverty does not only affect the school achievement of the poor child,but it also affects even the learning conditions of the other -middle class- students who are in the same class.Poor students are more likely to engage in misbehaviour affecting, therefore,both the teacher and the other class mates.This makes the job of the teacher inside the classroom even more complicated.He/she has to deal with various misbehaviour problems while doing his/her primary job of teaching.This also adds another burden to the teacher as he/she has to plan different lessons/activities for the advantaged and the less advantaged student in class;otherwise, the less advantaged one will keep on being poor in every thing.

To conclude,if our educational policy makers really want to improve education, they must think of ways to end the child’s poverty first.Only,then,comes reform into the other levels.Only then we can blame teachers and the curriculum for the bad results of kids and of the high rates of school drop-outs.

Are you a 21st century teacher?

I have been wondering about the thousands of complaints I get from my colleagues while I use technology in my classes or wheen I schedule an extra-curricular activity.Many of the complaints I get are about the “you excite the students too much,and they refuse to focus on the lesson”.I would agree that my colleagues’ complaints might be true to a great extent.I accept that the students get hyper-active and too enthusiastic to see what’s coming next even in my classes while using the computer.

I would ,however, redirect my colleagues’ questions and complaints to the following: Why do our students get too excited and active during or immediately after a tech-led lesson? Why do they lose focus in other classes, while they become totally engaged when they interact with technology? These are the questions we should ask ourselves instead of blaming technology for  causing unrest in our classes.

David Ausubel has long spoken about the zone of proximal devblopment within which our students learn,grow and get engaged. I tend to say that the “unrest” that takes place in our classes after a technology led lesson is due to the emotional and psychological unrest that has happened within the students’ inner selves.Being in a lesson that adheres to computers and web tools matches exactly the zone of the student ‘s growth;leaving that class into a chalk- led lesson retracts the student to stages well below his/her emotional,psychological and intellectual well-being.This is a reason already enough to shake the students’ state of the mind and to cause turbulance in our classes.

Our chalk’n lessons ,also,are a lot below Piaget’s stage of formal operations.I would go  further and say that today’s adolescent merits a stage special for his/her own age;they are not only able to operate “formally”, but they can also do operations a lot beyond what some teachers can do.I would’n expect a student that is totally familiar with web2 tools,video editting software,powerpoint slides and a lot more than that to focus on the stories of theMiddle Ages undertaken with “yellow” books and blackboards.If you want today”s student to get involved and engaged in your lessons,don’t blame computers or extra-curricular activities.Blame yourself,blame the chalk and find  a way out! That’s one of  the new teacher’s roles.Embrace technology;embrace your kids.

You would seem too old for those kids looking at you and never relating your lessons,your ideas,to their world.Their world is not  the one where you lived while at their age nor is it the one wheere you are now if you are techno-phobic.Most kids love fiction but not in the way they were told by their grand mothers around fire. Don’t forget that all of them have satellite dishes,and they watch most of their loved stories coming on air.So to make them engaged, do it in the same way.Teach them fiction,teach them critical thinking and analysis not the way you learnt it 10  years ago, but the way they live it today.

All the same,most of us think that extra-curricular activites are “extra”.It’s unfortunate that they are named so! Have you ever asked yourself why do students leave your class and join the “extra-curricular” activities room? Have you ever wondered why do they prefer the guitar,acting and singing to our regular lessons?

I suppose that these are the questions we should ask.We have to make our lessons more or less similar to the extra-curricular activites.Look at the things that you can bring in from those activities into your classes.There are so many things that attracts students to extra-curricular activities that you might use in your classes to make them loved by those you teach.Make your lessons a lot of fun;fun is not the opposite of serious work.Laughter shouldn’t be absent in your classes;if it does, then something serious is happening.Let students use technology,let them see a computer even for a while.

Students love to touch today’s gadgets.So why should you be scared of the mobile phone? Think of how you can use it to the best of your learners.There are plenty ways in which the mobile can be exploited in the classroom.The simplest is to use mobile dictionaries.Think about using the mobile video camera in projects.Give your kids the opportunity to see that the mobile is not bad in itself;what makes the difference is how you use it.Allow your students to see that the camera of their mobile can be used in taking pictures outside school and talk aboutthem in class.Give the students the opportunity to explore the audio recorder of their phones.It can be used to interview their peers and,and to record the teacher’s instructions….

Can you accept the label of “learner”?That’s what 21 st century teachers hould be. In the light of the huge techno-gap that exists between us and those whom we consider learners, an exchange of roles is nowadays cruciel.We have to listen to them and learn from them.There are plenty of things they can teach us every day,especially in relation to technology tricks.So why do you keep saying that you know every thing,and resist to assume the fact that they might teach us so many things?

So let’s make our life similar to theirs;technology rich.Let’s be global citizens the way they are! The job of the 21 st century teacher will not be that easy at all levels. We will face more misbehaviour if our teaching doesn’t match the students’ expectations. We will bee looked at down if we keep struggling with chalk;while those we teach are many steps ahead! They will abuse us with facebook and mobiles as soon as they know that they scare us.

The leaders we need for the 21st century Moroccan schools.

I have seen a story today in my school,and it has kept me wondering about the future of our schools considering the type of leaders we have in the present time.

The story of today has pushed my thinking to write a post on what I think are the most important qualities that a school leader should have for our schools to endorse some of the 21st Century leadership skills.

Our leaders have to understand that it’s high time for them to consider themselves as hosts in their schools and not as supreme leaders.When leaders understand that school belongs to all those who are withing its walls,and to some of those outside as well,the community,only then can they take into consideration the others when they want to take any decision.

This leads us to another quality that is needed in our current educational leaders.Decisions have to be taken in a sharing and collaborative way within the school boards and bodies.Leadership is sharing and collaborating not  taking unidirectional and bureaucratic decisions despite the rest of the school community.Students are there,and they are directly affected by any decision that is taken by their leaders.That’s why it’s necessary to take their existence and role into the utmost priority.Many  wrong decisions are taken in their absence and they just accept them because they trust us.The leaders should know that they are responsible for those kids,and they really have to care for them.

Leadership,we should assume,comes from the bottom not from the top.Our leaders should understand that what gives them power is those whom they “administer” and not those who have appointed them.This means that decisions should be taken with respect to the needs, the conditions and the environment of those who are to be affected.School leaders don’t have to execute non-practical and unsuitable  plans and decisions.This would be possible only if we take the children in our schools as ours,not as means to make money or to be promoted.

Today,we also need leaders who know how to motivate and boost their partners’ self-esteem and motivation.A lot of things inhibit a teacher’s and a student’s work in and outside school,and the school leader shouldn’t add more burden to the school stakeholders.In our schools,there should be leaders who know how to make differences between the different people who are under their supervision.These differences should stop being on “friendship” and personal relations.They should be made on professional performance and efficacy.

Linked to this is that our leaders should stop evaluating the performance of the teacher in a half in hour observation or depending on what they get from other people within or outside school.Evaluating a teachers’ efficacy has to be on  a long term process.It should be made depending on the teacher’s overall performance,on the students’ results,on the teacher-student relations, not on the teacher-administration relations.

ooooh,it’s in the end but so heavy I think.Today’s leaders have to be “literate”.They have to be equipped with some of the 21st century skills.It’s still so sad to find out that our leaders in schools are ICT illiterate.It makes me so desperate to find out that leaders think of the computer as a waste of time,and see the internet as a tool that instills bad behavior into our school life.It’s so killing to find out leaders who are scared of the student’s mobile camera and of facebook or twitter.Most of them know nothing about social networking sites except what they heard during the Lybian and the Egyptian uprisings.Leaders of today should have access to web tools that should be of great benefit to everyone in school.The leaders of today should know that a mobile phone is not bad in itself.It’s just the way we use or see it.They have to know that a mobile can be used to take photos,photos can be used in projects,projects develop speaking,listening ,reading…if this is what they -leaders-assume to be learning.

ah,again,our leaders should know that learning is not only within the walls of an enclosed classroom.They should be taught that learning takes place every where within and outside school.They should learn that extra-curricular activities are vital to an adolescent’s life,just the same as play is for a four year old child.Leaders of our present schools have to know that presentations,drama,singing,drawing…build different things.At least they make school loved and enjoyable.

For all these qualities to be in our leaders,they have to read,research,communicate and above all they have to listen to what the school says.

What do children value most in school?

I had been shaking my head for a long time before I finally decided to start putting my ideas,my thoughts,the things that puzzle me ,that make me angry or happy in my teaching days into this site.You cannot imagine that this space was created a year ago but I have never been able to write any word till I have finally come to an agreement with myself as to where and when to start.

There are,absolutely,so many stories that happen in our everyday lives ,and that we want to share with others.And since I have no one to share with in my real life,I cannot make the nights of my wife so sad by the things that happen in my school.I will,therefore,throw them online lest they find a reader or two!

As to the story of today,it’s not really something new in my professional life;but,as I was following my great friends on twitter today (@abouaimran) I  had to reply to a question put there by @SimpleK12 about what is important most for children in school.I really thought that children forget the teacher’s knowledge of the  skills as well as technology tips or any other matter as soon as they feel that they are ignored ,abused or marginalised.Hence,my answer to @Simplek12 ‘s question on twitter was “democracy”.

Today,as I was heading towards the door of my classroom in the end of the session I found out that one of my students left a handwritten note on my bag.The note says exactly ” Please teacher stop racism,please!”. I cannot decide about the definition of “racism” for an adolescent.But,I am absolutely sure that someone in my class was feeling down today.I was really sad as I felt that I might have said or done something that was not appropriate.I am sure that I was monitoring homework tasks on modals and my words might have hurted one of those who didn’t do the homework.

I remember I didn’t say any of those bad words or insults that might be considered racist.I remember that I was dealing with my students all in the same way.And I thought that I was behaving according to the interests of secondary school students who are taking their baccalaureat exam in the end of the year.

This lesson has taught me,though;that students are very sensitive and that they give more attention to our words and our feelings towards them that our methods or garmmar lessons.I have learnt that I have to take greatest caution lest I offend on of those I value most in my school,students.I know now in real-not from theory-that students care more about relations with teachers and less about what the teacher is saying about the syllabus.

I-or we?-have therefore to stop thinking that to be a good teacher,it’s enough to master the topic ,and it’s enough to make it clear to the students.There so many unnoticed things in our classes.They are unnoticed because there so many absurd parts in the human beings.The teacher trainings ,therefore,have to focus more on those unseen parts of the student and less on the things that can be reached from a google click such as how to make a lesson plan fgor a reading text.

Our teaching has to take the whole child into consideration for it to be successful and here’ s where the dogme might have some strenghts.Were I using this approach and not forced to follow a prescribed syllabus that has to be finished,my students would have voiced his/her feeling out.The humanitarian theorists were absolutely right in saying that the child’s inner fellings determine how much learning takes place in the classroom.

But,don’t you see that the teachers’ inner feelings have to be taken into consideration first.We are bieng treated as machines that have to perfoprm certain tasks-finish the program by the end of the year- regardless of what happens in our schools or classes.How  would a teacher-machine then have enough time to look for the unnoticed things that pass by in his/her class?It’s completely impossible I think unless the student is brave enough to stand and say what he/she feels.That’s another story because our educational system is not building such a oerson fornexactly the same reason.We are focusing on how much that has to be covered and we ignore that in this “how much” almost ,nothing is learned because so many things happen at once in our classes and they are left unresolved.

I have to deal with this situation tomorrow.I should know what happened exactly and I have to understand the meaning that is used for “racism” in the mentioned note.I am sure that “racism” should have gained a new meaning in my class today since I am teaching students who are culturally,linguistically…of the same race.

Our teaching has to stop  being machine-like.There must be times to stand up and reflect on what’s going on in our classes.The hidden things that we don’t see have to be uncovered if the filter(Krashen’s) is to be lowered.

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