– Anouska Poudel
In my one year of teaching English literature to children in grade seven, I learned more than I thought I would as a teacher. After growing out of my school years and losing my sense of childhood, I had forgotten how interactive and bright children are. I had forgotten how intelligent and creative they are. I believe that the most important thing I learned is not to judge people younger than me based on their lack of knowledge, but rather as people who have an understanding of the world. George W. Bright claims that one of the largest barriers teachers face in understanding children’s thinking is prematurely concluding what the children comprehend based on their answers to one or two problems (Bright, 1996). This is so true about my earlier understanding of students.
According to Shulman, there are three fundamental dimensions that professionals must keep in mind; and they are to think, perform, and act with integrity. He describes signature pedagogies as forms of instruction that come to mind about the preparation of members of particular professions (Shulman, 2005). Pedagogy organizes the fundamental ways to educate future practitioners for their new professions. He claims that pedagogical signatures can also teach people a lot about “the personalities, dispositions, and cultures of their fields” (Shulman, 2005). Distinctive signature pedagogies must be invented for the field of education to study ‘educational practice, educating students, and preparing them for distinctive forms of professional practice’ (Olsen & Clark, 2009).
I was assigned to teach Jane Eyre and a few poems and short stories from Oxford Reading Circle. I was told to teach the version of Jane Eyre that was abridged by Maple Press, and they had a version at the school. However, the circumstances were not in my favor and before they provided me with the book, the school had to close down due to COVID-19 protocols. We were stuck to our laptops for an unknown period. It was my first time teaching, so I was rather intimidated. But I knew the book. I had my interpretation of the novel and, most importantly, I knew what kind of a teacher I was expected to be.
I started the class by introducing myself. I told them my interests and highlighted the hobbies they would be interested in, such as watching Japanese Anime, movies about Superheroes, fantasy novels that I devoured, and art. I know from experience with other children that they will listen to the teacher only out of duties to the school, and not out of interest. And sometimes, some children do not even feel that kind of responsibility for such duties. I wanted them to listen out of interest, and sharing those things had done the trick. Turning the video on for our online classes was mandatory, and I saw the children perking up at this news. I saw that they had accepted me and were now listening.
I asked them to introduce themselves and they shared everything with me. Even the shy ones were able to tell me about their hobbies without feeling the fear of being judged. I gave each one their own time even though we were short of time. Once the children seemed comfortable in the class and knew that the environment in my class would be friendly, I proceeded to introduce the book to them.
The first thing that I noticed when I was told to teach Jane Eyre was that it had a lot of themes that the children would be unfamiliar with. It was a completely different country set in the Victorian era, something they might not even have heard of. I assembled a bunch of videos that I showed them to introduce the era, the aesthetics that people preferred, and the social context of the author. This is the link to the video in the picture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZB5–HwdI8&t=26s
Some of the videos were short enough, so I showed them in class. So, instead of making it a task that was difficult and required full attention, I told them that they could play it in the background while they drew or played a video game. Because of this, I realized that many of the children had actually listened to the videos and knew what I was talking about when I talked about how the Brontes were brought up. I liked to give the children 5 to 10 minutes to answer some questions that I could put forward about those. Some of the questions are as follows:
- What do you predict the story of Jane Eyre is going to be about based on the videos?
- What do you think of the clothes that these people are wearing?
- What important lessons do you think Charlotte Bronte can teach you?
- Do you recognize the culture of this time as similar to your own?
I asked the students first to write directly to me in the chat box so that none of them copied each other’s answers. Then I asked them if any of them were interested in reading their answers aloud. Many of them were. I also made a habit of listing the people who raised their hands to speak up. This way, I was able to segregate the students who were willing to speak up and those who were not. For the first few days, I allowed students who were not confident to speak up to stay silent. I did not want to force them into situations where they were not comfortable. But after a few classes, I called their names and asked them to read their answers. They were hesitant at first, but when they realized that their own interpretations were allowed in the class, they became more comfortable with the idea of sharing.
I was introduced to the idea of ‘world Englishes’. It was very interesting and liberating as much as empowering. The term ‘Englishes’ is meant to symbolize the alterations in structure and role of the varieties of the English language that are used in linguistically and culturally distinctive contexts. It symbolizes the vast range of literary creativity coming from these distinctive contexts (Kachru, 1996). English had long become a tool or a weapon to colonize or to help colonize countries around the world. It is a very post-colonial school of thought that allows us to make English our own and not a language that was used against us as a weapon. English has become the key to employment and thus financial empowerment in the state and private sectors (Rahman, 2002).
Because of my familiarity with the discussions about world Englishes, I do not focus on accents. I believe that if their speech is understandable, there is no reason to change the way a person speaks. For me, the focus became on the individual pronunciation of the words because these were still children who were ages eleven to thirteen. They were still confused about words like imminent and eminent, insure and assure, effect and affect, and so on. Because of this, I made the children read a few paragraphs. Many of the children loved reading aloud and, thus, raised their hands a lot, but there were also children who refused to volunteer. So I whipped out my list and called the names of the ones who had not raised their hands to read. I did not interrupt when they made mistakes in pronunciation but while I was explaining, I would emphasize the words that were difficult to pronounce.
In my experience, teachers in Nepal believe that the more homework you give, the better it is for the child because the child will be too busy to be distracted. I experienced this as a child and I was told this by the coordinator of the school. He insisted time and again that I should have given larger amounts of homework that required a longer period of time to complete. There were two particular reasons for which I completely disagreed with this idea.
As much as I believe in hard work, I also believe in working smart. I do not believe that writing six pages for a question is the best way to learn for children of this age. For one thing, their knowledge system is not as varied as a person with a master’s degree and their stock of vocabulary is too small to fill up such long pages. They end up copying everything from the book, from their friends, or from the Internet.
The second reason was: If a child dedicates almost twelve hours of their day to school, how will they develop other skills that they require to become a healthy-minded adult? I remember that as a child I was fortunate to have a school that ended early in the day, where I finished my short but exciting homework quickly and dedicated my time to my hobbies. This allowed me to become all right there and discover my passion for writing. It allowed me to grow a completely different skill that I use properly to this day.
As a result of this, I did not resort to giving extensive homework or assignments to the children. Rather than that, I gave out fun little activities that they could do as Generation Z. There were some assignments I gave:
- List the differences between a woman of the Victorian Era and women of today. (Pictures are optional)
- Draw Jane as a child using the descriptions from the book.
- Compare John Reed to another fictional character you know from other books or movies.
- Imagine you were Bessie and write what you would have done to Jane when she cried in the Red Room.
I gave each assignment a gap of three days so that they could discuss them with their friends. When I received the finished assignments, I checked for copied answers. If there were any, I asked them to do them again or they would not be graded.
This article is a reflection of how I prepared and performed in a classroom to teach seventh graders the book, Jane Eyre. Looking back at the activities and the interactions I have had, I am very satisfied with the amount I have been able to teach.
- Bright, G. W. (1996). Understanding Children’s Reasoning. Teaching Children Mathematics, 18-22.
- Dinkmeyer, D. (1961). Understanding Children’s Behavior. The Elementary School Journal, 314-316.
- Kachru, B. B. (1996). World Englishes: Agony and Ecstasy. The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 135-155.
- Olsen, K., & Clark, C. M. (2009). A Signature Pedagogy in Doctoral Education: The Leader-Scholar Community. Educational Researcher, 216-221.
- Rahman, T. (2002). Language, Power and Ideology. Economic and Political Weekly, 4556-4560.
- Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature Pedagogies in the Professions. Daedalus, 52-59.
[Ms. Poudel is pursuing M Phil at School of Education, Kathmandu University.]