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5 unconventional ways to improve classroom teaching

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

When the schools reopened in September 2021, I should have returned to my classroom and resumed my duties. But I did not. Instead, I hopped on a plane and travelled to the United States of America to pursue my Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement Fellowship at Claremont Graduate University, California.
Back story
I have been teaching for a decade now. In that time a lot has changed. Though I didn't have an impressive start to my teaching career or hold any leadership positions at the institutions I worked for, I went on to become a Fulbright Scholar and International Exchange Alumna of the US State Department.

Teaching is one of the thing that I can look at and say that it has honestly changed my life in so many ways but quite a few years in, there are several things in teaching that I have become disillusioned with and things that I see differently now. This is just an honest conversation. My teaching journey began when I moved to Mumbai. But over the years, I experienced stress and felt a lot of anxiety and a feeling of overwhelm. The things I was doing or decisions I was making just weren’t quite sitting right for me. I couldn’t identify the source of that stress until one day I stumbled across some research papers. When I read those papers a light bulb went off in my head and something clicked. I had some arbitrary idea in my head that I could only behave or teach in a certain way. It was the unhealthy side of teaching that got to me. I had these feelings that I had to do teaching perfectly following all the rule books. The first tangible lesson I learnt was not focussing on rules and methods but instead focussing on students.

My work was perpetuating stereotypes and I couldn’t be a part of that anymore. I was looking for some meaningful contribution to the classroom and I was talented only in the way that I could fit in. I switched my focus to researching teaching methods, and how they present themselves and impact diverse students. Through a series of sharp career turns my path has strayed pretty far from the typical teaching and it all started with one wild decision some six years ago.

It was the winter of 2015 when I decided to overhaul my teaching and that paved the way to my present position.

My journey
The first school I joined in December 2015 was a Government run Free school where I volunteered and taught English. A few months later I joined the US mission as a teacher. Over the next five years, I evaluated myself continuously and learned how to teach in a totally different way than I had been trained previously. Along this journey I learned a few things, which I think are worthwhile.
If someone had told me that I would spend the next few years of my life teaching students from diverse backgrounds, giving lectures at the US Mission, experimenting with different pedagogies and that I would become an International Exchange Alumna and a Fulbright Fellow, and will share teaching techniques at TESOL International Convention and other international conferences there is no way I would’ve believed. I was just living in the moment.
Seven years ago my teaching career was no different, and I always tried to fit in. But being an unconventional teacher now, I learnt a lot about self-worth, self-love and owning who I am and that gave me the confidence to connect with my students rather than seek approval from my colleagues and follow the crowd.
Having developed the skill of listening to students, their opinions, ideas, perceptions, and dreams was of particular importance to me. It broadened my perspective. This type of experience is priceless.
There were aspects of being a traditional teacher that I felt I missed out on, such as the morning assembly and staffroom conversation. However, everything is a choice in life.
During the last few years, I have started to feel disconnected from my knowledge of teacher education. I have become curious about other ways to be more effective in the classroom. This journey has made me evaluate how I view teaching, what types of things inspire me and motivate me and how I measure my classroom success.
I stopped believing these 5 things from my teacher education course and what I do instead;
1. When I was in teacher education, I was taught that teachers are always in charge. Teachers' job include making all the decisions, directing students in the classroom, controlling the class, and telling students what to do and what not to do. The students' job involve active listening.

This ideology doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Now, I strongly believe that a classroom is an egalitarian society. I developed a system for sharing knowledge rather than hoarding it. I leave my authority at the door. Involving students in the daily classroom process will make them more motivated and successful.

2. A skilled teacher maintains a quiet classroom. I have moved beyond that silence. It makes sense for us to allow students to interact in class as this is expected of them in the real world. Multiple studies have shown that listening to a teacher for up to an hour while suppressing one's own thoughts is unhealthy.
3. The third rule that I had to abandon in my daily teaching practice was that a teacher may sit down or stand stubbornly on the platform while the class is engaged in an activity.

By participating in an activity, a child is experimenting and innovating. As a result, I can learn more about her characteristics and unique traits as well as plan classroom lessons to accommodate her varying needs. The student's learning takes place in the classroom, not at home.
4. I was taught that students need to follow the syllabus
Today, I enjoy engaging students in the real world and teaching beyond the textbook. I have observed that my students have become more effective and responsive because of this. Each day, I strive to discover new possibilities with them.
5. Another attribute I eliminated was a teacher's strict long face.
I love to smile in class. It creates a warmer emotional climate in the class. I also share my failures and successes with my students. I feel more human when I do that. I prefer a happy and comfy classroom atmosphere. I want my students to feel like I am their own.

Wrap Up
For the past few years, I have been re-evaluating what I want my teaching to look like going forward. The above mentioned aspects enable and enhance experiences. To get to where I am today, I really had to go back to what is the heart of teaching. For me it looks a bit different than traditional teaching. I use these methods as a tool. I don't plan to follow the script anymore.

Let me know in the comments below: Have you ever changed the way you teach? What did you change?

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