What I learned in teachers’ college

I am always amazed by the many teachers’ college programs offered that lack a substantial practicum component. While this may work well for courses geared towards content material, to offer courses in classroom management or special education online, it really boggles my mind if there is no practical aspect. Practicums are designed to help to solidify concepts, and to give opportunities for reflection and correction on teaching methodology and implementation. How can we learn to manage a classroom when we’re not in a class to actually apply the techniques as we learn them?

I went to two teachers’ colleges: one was at the University of Toronto, Canada through OISE – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and the second one was through The George Washington University.  Both of them reputable and high-ranking. The first taught me the much-needed basics of teaching and learning, and offered two blocks of practical training; the practicum was about 4-5 weeks in length. The second taught me the intricacies of special education and I was in the classroom as soon as my own classes began for a period of two years.

I can honestly say that what I learned in those two years has benefitted me in immeasurable ways. I have remembered and applied the lessons learned in a myriad of ways throughout my teaching career. And I owe a large part of this to Dr Denise Bello, who was my adviser and mentor throughout the program.

So what did I  learn?

1) Assume nothing.

Working with the population of students that our cohort did – at-risk, secondary students with learning and emotional disabilities – Dr Bello insisted on us assuming nothing about our students. While this meant that at the beginning of each year – and throughout the year – we read the nine-inch-thick file on the student, that overflowing manila folder was not the means by which we would define the student. They are in need and we are there to facilitate fulfillment of that need within the context of school.

Do not assume that they are going to be horrible or difficult or ADHD or bipolar or any of those ailments simply based on the other teacher-interactions with the students. Make sure you determine what your interaction is going to be based on this new opportunity for a mutually transformative relationship. Let their file inform your interaction, but not define your relationship

2) Change begins with you.

In the classroom management class that we took we were introduced to many profound concepts and ideas, most of them, however, surprisingly easy to implement. Our first lesson for the class that has stuck with me through all these years was the idea that if you want your students to behave a certain way, make sure you model that behaviour, believe that behaviour is the best way to be and give ample opportunity for the students to learn it from you.

This particular point really resonated with me and I was compelled to reference a verse from the Quran in my mid-term exam:

“Verily, God will not change the condition of the people, until they change what’s in themselves.” (13:11)

It highlighted for me the need to really ensure that if my students aren’t behaving in a way that promotes learning, is my behaviour reflecting one who is ready to learn themselves?

3) People first definitions.

Dr Bello insisted on this and I will forever be grateful for this particular lesson. When speaking about a student with a learning disability, we were taught to never say the deaf person, or the blind person, or the handicapped person. This is larger than political correctness. It is larger than being polite. When you  refer to a person as someone who has a visual impairment or the student who has learning disabilities, then you choose to define the person by their human-ness and not by their disability. You are forced to look first at what makes them human and then address their disability as one component of their human-ness, not the full package.

This simple act helped me see my students for more than what they or anyone saw them as: beyond labels and disabilities into a realm of potential and ability.

I was given ample opportunity to learn, implement, refine and improve on each of these lessons because of the guidance of a dedicated mentor and substantial practicum component.

~ by Omaira on November 9, 2012.

4 Responses to “What I learned in teachers’ college”

  1. Awesome lessons Omaira! Each so true and Islamic in principle.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Rehenuma! I was blessed to be part of such an awesome program and have such a great mentor. I felt everything I learned was so compatible with how I viewed life and teaching and learning. And, yes, very Islamic!

  2. Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

    JazakiAllahu Khairan for this. I wish more people would focus on the person and not use differences to identify and distinguish.

    Wassalamu ‘alaikum

    • Walaykum assalaam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu Mona,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and add to the discussion. It is easier to point out differences than look for commonalities. In an age where we need to foster meaningful connections especially with our students for me it was a lesson well-learned, Alhamdulillah.

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