By Sabeen Masaud
As usual, the school year ended with the standard summative exams. The students left for summer break while the teachers had the uphill task of marking the papers and finalizing the results—a typical routine. But do teachers take the time to truly reflect during all the routines at the end of the year? Perhaps not!
This reality hit me like a jolt when I was marking my 8th grade students’ language papers. In their writing section, they had to write an essay on one of the given topics. There were five options to choose from, and one of the options was “Are we a lost generation?” The options were same for all the countrywide branches of the school, and I wondered how many students would choose this sensitive option instead of the typical ones. To my pleasant surprise, quite a few students chose it, which showed how deep and courageous they are. The students used various arguments to explain what has made their generation go off track.
I was seriously overwhelmed when I read their papers. Then I realized how deeply we need to evaluate our teaching and our students’ learning. My whole year spent in the classroom with my teenage learners swept past my eyes, and I realized they are not lost. We, the adults, are lost—lost in centuries old traditions, lost in the way we were taught and our expectation that our students learn the same way, and lost in obsolete rules we have imposed on them.
Some of the mature writers in my class blamed my generation, the adults, for confusing them and not handling them properly, and they gave concrete reasons for their opinions. Some went one step further and tried giving solutions to their problems, too. For example, some rightly said their generation should be motivated by strong teachers who have the courage to listen to their side of the story, instead of merely expecting compliance. Another argued that they should be taught with technology, not books. Yet another said today’s generation respects discipline but discipline needs to be asserted tactfully so teenagers do not rebel and the class turns out to be well settled. He categorically faulted the adults and the school’s policy for not maintaining the discipline. Many students also discussed the generation gap and how children are not taken seriously, their voices silenced.
I felt so inadequate when I read their sound arguments, their simple, effective solutions, and their silent pleas to the adults—their teachers—to understand them and guide them accordingly. I realized how much I could have done but didn’t or couldn’t. As a language teacher, it is within my grasp to reach out to my students and realize their potential through various tasks, projects, and discussions. I need to adapt and rise to the challenge of learning with my students, who are definitely smarter than I am. I should change instead of molding them into something that falls short for them. All teachers, in fact, need to reflect and bring positive changes to meet the challenging demands of teaching this ever-growing, smarter generation of today’s digital world. Here are some of the things I could do differently in my classroom next year.
- Allow the use of cell phones—As per the policy at my school, cell phones are not allowed inside the classrooms, and we definitely we do not use cell phones as digital tools. We use computers in IT labs and projectors in the classroom. My students understand the keys of a laptop and a cell phone more than they understand the words in a book. They buy e-books instead of paperbacks. Why don’t I utilize their fervor and have them read online, rather than expecting them to open books and read? Also, teenagers are obsessed with gadgets; a student in my class collects cell phones like trophies, and they are his prized possessions. If I were a smarter teacher, I would have utilized his analytical skills by asking him to compare all the models he has and write a report on their pros and cons. He would have given me an excellent essay and he would have definitely used an online dictionary to look up new words and synonyms for the assignment. I could also ask students to design advertisements to show off their new cell phones and describe their features; or I could ask them to record interviews on their cell phones and then write the text out and improve on it. Allowing cell phones is not distracting if a teacher knows how to handle the class.
- Let students bring in video games—I can allow my students to bring their favorite video games, and, just like in STEM classes, we can combine language and math skills to learn. Of course, this means I have to learn all the games and do my research on STEM. But that is the beauty of this entire thing. My intelligent students are making me learn new things. So who is the teacher now? We can do so much by bringing video games into the classroom. My students can form groups and design new games based on the characters in books they read, like Hunger Games or Harry Potter; each new chapter read can mean adding a new level to the video game. Then they can write critical reports on each other’s inventions.
- Let there be rebellions—This new generation loves to rebel and break rules; I should let them. It sounds unreasonable and wild. In fact, it is not. They just want to test us adults and see how far we will let them go and to what extent they can test our patience. Let us make their rebellions into something constructive for learning. The students already decide class rules at the beginning of the year, so let them also decide the reprimands for breaking the rules. We can then turn the rules and reprimands into a constitution for the classroom. When a student fails to abide by the rules of the constitution, we can hold mock trials where students serve as lawyers and juries for their peers. The lawyers for both the sides can prepare cases and speeches. Imagine the fun and the learning that will take place. The sky is the limit. They will learn real-life skills and effective vocabulary for speeches, debates, arguments. They will become mature citizens who can evaluate their mistakes and are prepared for the consequences.
There is a way to embrace today’s generation and gain their love and respect, and the sooner we teachers learn it, the better off we all are. Teachers need to be smart learners, too.