The Writing Center, in collaboration with the Office of Student Affairs, organized a reading and writing workshop for the newly enrolled students, aptly named “Warm-Up.” The sessions were introduced to not only warm the students up for the rigorous workload but also to teach them the art of reading and start equipping them with the tools necessary to navigate the way forward. Decamping the hierarchical ramifications that exist in school systems has been central to the Writing Center, which facilitates a safe space for students to work on their writing, irrespective of their command over the language or their confidence regarding it. With peer-led tutoring sessions and organized events centered around academic and creative writing, the team aims to help students become better writers and thinkers.
The event was particularly contemplated by the Writing Center considering the covid chaos, and because the team wanted to labor the point that writing, as an art or even a college requirement requires a myriad of other skills, including reading, listening, thinking, and speaking. Although the team had developed a somewhat clean outline, they still ruminated on the lesson plan bearing in mind that they were to interact with a larger and unfamiliar mass, unlike the rather personal sessions they had otherwise grown accustomed to. The nervousness and scrutiny grew louder, but so did the learnings that were intrinsic to teaching.
The lesson plan was intended to provide a proper structure and guidance to the tutors as they each led a peer group, and to which the tutors attest that it served its intent. But it also presented the lesser-known part of the profession; the adaptive sense that goes along with teaching. The team made a captain-obvious observation: teachers have always been pushed to mold themselves into the rigidity of the syllabus, which has only refined their knack for retrofits. Swastika adds, “Teaching in a classroom is unpredictable; there are hindrances and shortcomings.
We had a full-fledged lesson plan down to minutes, but some situations called for improvisation.” The ongoing pandemic brought with it an impending struggle for everyone, but be that as it may, it also demanded that we best adapt to the crisis in order to take the work forward. Sneha, another tutor at the Writing Center, carried this responsibility by leading a group virtually over zoom. Regardless of the roles, teachers have had to change their working practices to ensure that they serve their purpose, even if it means adopting a rather unconventional measure. The students are always at the heart of what teachers do, perhaps the teachers might not influence their grades or practices but they still want good outcomes for their students nonetheless.
Students can only pull from the information that has been presented to them. Many times they are just emulating the beliefs and thoughts that have been endowed to them. This is a saddening knowledge to begin with, and even more so, because it’s rather unsurprising. Perhaps in a world and school system when the only thing that matters is measurable, critical thinking is not encouraged, nor rewarded. The most rewarding experiences within the four walls of a classroom, between those who play the roles of an educator and a pupil, are kindled when critical thinking is employed and some insight is gained; when any thought isn’t a fleeting moment but a weight you carry. But critical thinking is based on a strong foundation of general knowledge and is generally a long, slow grind to make critical thinkers. There is the reality of time, unlearning and even abandoning obsolete routines, embracing the change.
The fact that not all individuals will become critical thinkers at the same time rings true, especially in large classrooms that do not usually account for the student’s background. Understanding where the students come from, acknowledging how their backgrounds dictate their daily interactions and approach to learning, is of the essence. Roshani adds, “I didn’t expect that teaching individuals with similar academic qualifications could differ so much. It made me realize that teaching is so much more than just making people understand what you already know.” Treating young individuals with innate value and perceiving their responses through an empathetic lens; taking a step back and considering why they are doing what they are doing from the vantage point of what they have endured is important as an educator. Perceived teacher empathy and a lack thereof accounts for much of the student’s response and their indifference to the system and conditioned response, a mere product of it.
These revelations pose a bigger question: If students are indifferent to the system, where exactly does it put the educator? Are they not on the same boat together? It also presents the oscillation between the visions of doom and the visions of progress. But as easy as it may seem to denounce the legroom for change, many puzzling questions remain unanswered; What is the best approach to foster critical thinking skills in school? Just what should be changed?
“How are you to imagine anything if the images are always provided for you?” -Detachment(2011)