Learning from students, a reflection by Aadya Deshpande

There is an ocean’s difference between teaching in a classroom just once, and sitting with the students in their classrooms to try and understand what the system is like. I had felt this ocean’s difference when after I had just taught a class in Arusha Day Secondary School on the human Skeleton, I sat in the class with the same students going through their daily routine alongside them. I understood so many more things about those children in those 4 hours than I would learn spending a month being just their teacher.

The first day I was sitting the students, the class was mathematics. I was watching the teacher go on with the corrections on the exam paper in class (while trying to have her students participate in those corrections) when I noticed one of the students next to me doing exceptionally well on a difficult question. I was surprised because the teacher had outlined him was someone ‘very weak’ at Math. In fact, she had told me, the whole class was very weak at mathematics, where the student who scored highest in the exam in fact only got 35%.

Therefore, I decided to give him more similar questions to understand if he truly understood the concept. What surprised me is that everyone started doing those questions, eager to practice. When they showed me their answers I was surprised to find that their logic was in the right place. They had the potential to do very well in Mathematics, only their technique wasn’t correct. They didn’t have their basics straightened out, which is why they could usually do the first few steps in the question but then couldn’t finish the question in the correct answer.

This is why I decided (with permission from the principal) to start an after-school Math tutoring program, in which I helped them tackled their most difficult Math subjects. I taught them logarithms and their basics. At first, they found it difficult to grasp the concept, but soon they started to learn and do very well. When I gave them their end-of-the-topic-test all the students did very well. Only one student failed (<40%); however, he had got all the questions he attempted correct, only he was too ‘bored’ to finish the exam so he left early on. The student, for whom I started this Math tutoring, passed with distinction (>75%). In the process on sitting with them, learning and going through logarithms with them, I realized the way they understood best—practice and more practice. I also became a friend they came to with problems; they told me things that I believe their teachers for 3 years don’t even know. Not only that, the children in turn taught me the value of listening and being a part of them. They taught me that before trying to go ahead and teach them, I needed to watch and understand the different ways in which they work.

I want this entry to be an inspiration to teachers (those who don’t already do this) all over the world that to teach your students effectively you might need to listen to them first. I want this also to be an inspiration for the future participants of DukeEngage LTP that to know, to really fit LTP and to really get the Tanzanian teachers to use LTP effectively in their classroom, you have to listen to the people first. You might have to sit in a classroom for a long time to actually understand how the education system (in each school) works and then think further as to how to use LTP effectively in that particular school. You might have to listen to what the teachers have to say, to understand them and to experience their lives to truly try and help them in using LTP in their classroom. We can’t be foreigners who walk into local classrooms and command the teachers to completely change their teaching style and start using cameras, printers and other expensive equipment when they don’t even have electricity in their schools. We need to take things slowly, and the first step is to listen and understand the teachers and the students that we’re always so eager to ‘help’.

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