A new year
Happy new year to all working in education, and that includes the students.
Yes, it’s that time of the year when students and pupils return from various parts of the globe (or backgardens, bedrooms, summer schools, etc.) to begin or resume their studies. There is the usual mix of trepidation and excitement as all involved face into the unknown.
Typically it is up to the teachers and lecturers to nurture the excitement and quell the trepidation. There are ways and means of doing this. It’s a case of finding the right technique for the right situation. Sounds easy, but it’s not.
US President Obama recently gave a back-to-school speech to primary school children. Given that Obama is an excellent speech giver and has inspired much of mass America purely by the power of speech, I figured I should listen to / read it. As I expected it is positive, upbeat, and inspiring. It gives a “you’re special, now go work hard and thereby show the world how special you are – your future is in your hands”. But there are always detractors – apparently, the speech was strongly criticised in some quarters as an excuse for pushing Obama political ideologies on young minds. Oh dear!
Teachers themselves are feeling the pressure too. We read in the newspapers about our large class sizes. As I have said before (and will undoubtedly say again), the larger the class the fewer teaching / learning opportunities that are available and the higher the workload for all involved. I would even suggest that this is the case at all levels; primary, secondary and third level education. My niece is in a primary school class of 37 pupils. Her teacher is now 4 days in to term. I can only wonder how her energy levels will survive.
Keeping the enthusiasm alive can be challenging even for the best of us. I have been advised that right from the outset I should let my students know that I want them to be open-minded, thinking-outside-the-box, questioning, thinking, analysing, etc. Is this a sure-fire way of terrifying those ingrained in the rote school of “learning”? Should I ease them in more gradually? In a semesterised 12-week program (with all the content delivered before the Christmas break) is there sufficient time for a gradual ease-in?
Students coming from the other side of the world to study here most certainly need this easing in space. Many have never been to this corner of the globe before. They need time to settle into our customs and habits and to figure out how to manage daily living here. I imagine that I would feel more than a little trepidation if I got off a plane in China, India or elsewhere to spend a year of my life there. How long would I need to settle in? It’s a regret I have from my own undergraduate days. Why, oh why, did I not get involved in one or other of the exchange programs with partner universities on offer?
Last thought goes to parents. Spare a thought for the many anxious parents wondering how their little one will enjoy their first day in primary / secondary / third level education. Sometimes the parents are more anxious than their offspring.