Tests, homework, quizzes, readings. These do not necessarily ensure a successful learning process. Empathy, communication, connection, understanding. These are what learners come to class for. There are no bad learners. There are only teachers who do not understand their learners, who do not actively listen to them, and who do not accommodate their needs. When preparing for the next session, teachers should not only ask the question of what they will teach their learners, but most importantly how they will keep them connected, interested and engaged.
How can teachers do that?
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Think of them and treat them as your equals. Because they are! If you know what the true role of a teacher is, you will know that teaching is also a learning journey; meaning, teachers are learners too. Everyone in the classroom is a learner. Learners learn everything related to the subject you are teaching; and you, as a teacher, learn how to teach. Knowing things about the subject does not make you more knowledgeable than your learners. There is something called Google. The only things that will make people go to you instead of Google are your empathy level, facilitation skills and teaching methodology. Learners need an emotionally intelligent teacher who can connect with them. They need someone who can befriend them because the last thing they need in their lives is one more authoritarian person.
Picture this. You are a teacher. The system has already put you on top of the “pyramid” of education. If they decide to go wrong, they will get suspended. They will get bad grades. They will lose interest in learning that subject. FOREVER. And this might critically impact their entire future. How many times have you heard a learner or a person say “I hate X subject because my teacher hated me or I hated my teacher”? However, if you go wrong, you will just be a bad teacher, and you will still receive your salary by the end of the month. The only difference is that you have a choice. They do not.
One way to treat them as equals is by keeping them in the loop on every class related decision you make: Ask them about their expectations from and fears about your course. Ask them for their feedback and reflections on each and every activity you do. Give them control over the learning process, and if there is something that you would like to change about their suggestions, convince them and explain to them why the changes you are making are for their greater good. You are there for them, to teach them, to help them. The whole class should revolve around them. Let them make their own rules, so that when you apply them, they would not feel like something is being imposed on them. If you treat them like adults, they will act like it. If you treat them like a second class school party.. Well, you know the ending of that sentence.
There are no bad learners. There are only teachers who do not understand their learners. Give them personality tests, and try to understand where they are coming from and how they habitually function. Even when they side-talk, or don’t pay attention to class, or try to make fun of someone, it only means those are the ones who truly need your help, attention and guidance. It’s only their way to tell you “hey! I need your attention. I need your help. And this is the only way I know to ask you for it.” Good learners make teachers’ lives easier. True. But it’s not the good ones who need you, it’s the ones who are having issues understanding the subject and communicating properly with you and their peers.
Do not overwhelm them with homework just for the sake of giving them something (anything) to do after school. Give them homework only if it is going to boost their learning process. Homework should not be standardized, and it should not feel like a burden or a source of distress for learners. Learners should be put under different groupings based on their learning needs and styles. Each grouping should receive a different type of homework. What is the point of having a learner do homework on topic A if they are already excelling at it, and what they truly need is to improve their skills on topic B?
Go for the extra mile. Do not just be their teacher. Be their friend, their mentor, the person they voluntarily reach out to whenever they need advice or help. Chat with them when they talk to you after class, bring them opportunities, let them open up to you, ask them how they are feeling about their school, their courses, the system, themselves. Laugh at their jokes. Tell them stories. Ask them questions. Show them your vision of the class. Of the world! Empower them. Motivate them. Make your class feel like their refuge. Teach them about critical thinking. Teach them to think for themselves and to stop expecting (or letting) their teachers turn them into a copy of a copy of a copy.