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Being an Effective Teacher (Part I)

I have played the role of a learner all my life.  I remember vividly many of my learning experiences typically involving a great deal of frustration and even pain but also an unmeasurable amount of ultimate joy and satisfaction. In first grade, for example, learning (or better, memorizing) the 10x multiplication tables was frustrating as it took me quite a while until I was able to carry out any of the multiplications in my mind without looking at the table. I thought of the time spent learning the multiplication tables as valuable time taken away from my fun activities such as playing with my friends or watching TV.

During my middle and high school years, the various forms of arts (ceramics, music, and drawing) that we needed to learn account for some of my most frustrating times. One specific instance can serve to illustrate my point: while in high school, my fine arts drawing techniques professor gave me an F for one of my assignments. I was very disappointed with the result and I told the professor that I really tried my best, and that in fact spent many hours on my drawing but the professor initially responded to me in simple terms: “That is too bad, as I do not grade effort. I grade results, and what you have here is unacceptable”.

Image Credit: jmawork (CC BY 2.0)

Image credit: jmawork (CC BY 2.0)

Despite the frustrations during the processes of my learning experiences, I must say that learning did occur after all. I learned my multiplication tables, and I managed to learn the appropriate techniques to render my drawing work acceptable to my professor’s high standards. Although to understand how exactly this learning came to be, I may need to consider the interplay of many factors. I am convinced that one factor in particular played a major role, and that was the teaching factor.

Without a doubt, my learning was facilitated by the intentional intervention of at least one key person in each one of the examples listed above.  For my multiplication tables challenge, I remember my dear mother patiently helping me by pointing out some effective strategies such as tackling the multiplication tables by parts rather than trying to learn it all at once (in one sitting, as I was hoping!).  She also showed me how to apply multiplication skills to solve some basic real life problems, such as figuring out how much to pay for two or more (up to 10) identical items if I knew the price of one, etc. Her strategic and meaningful approach did eventually pay off, and I was able to develop a sense of the planning, the structure, and the organization of knowledge that goes into learning new things.

I believe that my initial frustration was mostly due to my desire to learn as quickly as possible so that I could go out and play rather than learning well so that I could connect my learning with new real life situations, and also retain what I learned for a long period of time. Having mastered the multiplication tables helped pave the way for my further learning in all subsequent experiences where multiplication was a required skill. Thus, I felt a sense of accomplishment and great joy especially when I saw that I was able to learn something that was difficult, and that I was able to continue learning new things that built in part on what I already learned.

Because of her role in facilitating my learning, I see my mother as an effective teacher. That is, through her intentional intervention I underwent a transformation from someone who did not know the 10x multiplication tables into someone who did. As a result of this transformation, I was able to do things I could not do before. In particular, I was ready to transfer my newly acquired knowledge into further more challenging learning experiences so that I could continue learning and getting better at it.

In a similar fashion, I was able to improve on my drawing assignments in great part thanks to my professor who demonstrated a genuine concern about my weak performance and thus was attentive and responsive to my difficulties. Although in his initial response, my professor made it crystal clear that effort alone was not going to be enough to get a passing grade, he later did point out some useful exercises that I could do at home to improve on my drawings, the final product he would base my grade on.

These exercises were specifically directed toward helping me to draw fine lines with Chinese ink. It turned out that I just needed to practice quite a bit on how to properly hold and control my pen so that I did not end up with the usual messy lines deemed unacceptable, quite rightly I should add.  I must say that it still took me some time and effort to master the skill, but this time and effort was necessary for me to get to the level of performance expected by the professor.

Contrary to my initially unguided efforts where I did work hard and for many hours, the practice exercises recommended by my professor based on my unique difficulties actually resulted in my drawings looking cleaner and actually great. Thus, being able to appropriately manipulate my pen was an essential component skill for my success in this class. My professor very effectively identified this as my most dominant weak point and accordingly led me to the appropriate kind of practices that eventually helped me bring my performance to the required level to pass the course successfully.

I am grateful to both my mom and my fine arts drawings professor for effectively facilitating my learning. After all these years, I remain a learner, and I hope to continue playing this role for the rest of my life. Having experienced first-hand the impactful positive role that an effective teacher has on a learner, I also hope to play the role of an effective teacher for my students throughout my life.

I want to make sure I do my every best to ensure that my students have learning experiences that in the end produce the kind of lasting transformation on my students so that they can continue to be lifelong, independent learners and can feel the joy and satisfaction that comes from learning. I understand that being an effective teacher is not an easy task. In fact, teaching itself is a learning experience and thus comes with its own frustrations, but also—and perhaps more importantly—teaching comes with plenty of opportunities for joyfulness and fulfillment.

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  1. Being an Effective Teacher (Part 2) | Learning in Progress - April 26, 2017

    […] part of my efforts to become a better and more effective teacher, I have immersed myself in the literature about effective teaching. I had two fundamental questions […]

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