In my set’s formal teacher-training course two decades or thereabouts ago, much emphasis appeared to be laid on the making of teachers that create effective physical learning environments. The general teaching circle was very much concerned about: the structural building of the school; great classroom layout, the area your school was at; whose children you were teaching; what schools and in what country your students would go on to study in. Indeed my experiential practice of classroom teaching up until then and subsequently, in topmost Lagos nursery and primary schools, cared much about self-image.
Prevailing values were about; sieving and promoting high achieving students; getting right what parents wanted; keeping rival (or shall I say competing) schools green-eyed or at bay; getting right what the people that mattered in the society wanted and keeping business open as usual. My experience was within the elitist Lagos-Nigerian primary education circles. Whilst these concerns might have been all for the rights reasons, they were inadequate to assure a robust practice of teaching. You teach and then send forth your students into the real world.
The real world demands (then and now) that you churn out broad minded children who possess independent living skills that enable them naturalise quickly into new cultures. The outside is a mixture of pedigrees; everyone has a right to life. But on a private solo level, with my meagre earnings, and being an arty-crafty kind of person, I was thinking very much outside the box as somehow I had capacity within my heart to address the needs of students and their parents who were pushing into the upper class echelon of the school’s I had the grace to be teaching in.
My use of the word ‘grace’ is deliberate and was the bedrock for why I wanted something for the ‘have-nots’ within the ‘haves’. So I tucked into psychology, language and teaching materials at the Onikan – British Council Library and like materials at the then TBS -USIS library and creatively applied concepts sourced within my lessons.
I remember very vividly how my class children gushed with delight one Monday morning when they arrived class to find two huge pots of indoor plants nestled at vantage spots. My indoor plants were to engender positive aesthetic effects, mood-stability and therapeutic responses within my students and for everyone that came in. The down side of this move however was envy from some quarters.
You learn to prayerfully move on as best you can in life, when billow rage. Into my lesson plans I incorporated class-building games and puzzles; drama and sketches; as well as used multimedia tools to deliver my lessons. I was very interested in establishing a good rapport with each student. I began to learn from them and find out what they also wanted to learn from me. Because I cared about them genuinely and came down to their levels of reasoning I was able to supply my top-table students with extension exercises to carry on and then tailored longer coaching time and efforts to students that learnt at a slower pace.
A whole class might be doing the same topic but everyone cannot be working at the same pace and similar depths. A good teacher knows that students won’t all assimilate sub-topics at the same rate and with the same capacity. Then and now, I was and I’m convinced that creating the right psychological environment is the key to unlocking, maintaining, improving and maximising the cognitive functionings of your students.
Take a good look at your environment and the many huddles we face. It’s no use drumming your lessons into scared, hungry or violated students! How much of your students do you know? What are you doing to address the stressors that your students have come to school with? How are you creating a positive learning environment for your students?
Omoru writes from the UK