The Thumb Rule Of Maintaining Distance As A Teacher

by | Mar 10, 2019

Tell me about a thumb rule.

The thumb rule about teaching is to create a space. This space is for the child to grow in

How you will ask? Give her the space to explore, discover and criticise. She could find it your pretense of being invisible in that sacred space more distracting than an actual distraction you may cause. The content of some subjects might sound funny to her, and she might even fear the content. She will find her own way through it and that is the discovery and learning by self-learning. But to reach there, every teacher must create a learning space.

Who discovered this space?

After six months of being a so-called teacher, I learnt my first lesson in teaching today. First one? Or the “thumb rule” perhaps. I learnt that creating that ‘space’ comes with a lot of challenges. Let’s take up one for now and investigate a little further into it.

The challenge of attending to your students’ sexuality. The students get infatuated with their teachers so many times – can you remember one of your teachers’ you’ve had a crush on? Almost all of us have had a crush on one or the other teacher, lets not lie, at least once in our lifetime. Imagine then, has every teacher been subject to being crush-ED by someone? How do you react when a student is crushing on you? If you are focused on creating that space, perhaps you will see the development of every new discovery in your student, even the development of this crush. Your student will get distracted by you perhaps, but being a good teacher also means giving your student space to develop that crush as well.

It happened with one of my friends here at Aavishkaar that he went to teach a small group of fifteen year-olds. He was teaching them about the thumb rule of science, the thumb goes upwards and represents … What the girls understood although is far from any of that science. One of them bursted out laughing and then it was a cascading effect. He, being the adult in the room, decided to take a seat and sat there smiling. He wouldn’t be part of the joke, nor would he stop them from laughing at his expense. It was this space that beautifully surfaced in his classroom that day.

I hear from other teacher-friends how the girls in their classes send them cards with extra-sweet compliments. He feels extremely proud and happy when he reads them.

Then there are also times when the boys in your class would question your bias-ness where none exists. “Ma,am, you were helping him but not me!” An answer from me six months ago would have been, “Oh I’m so sorry you felt that way, I’ll give you more time the next time.” But as per guidance, I would now call this student over with his questions right away and address them with a straight face. I would negate his misunderstanding not by words but by action. Such things happen between female teachers and femal students as well though – would you still call that sexual tension? Probably we have made an umbrella term and put a lot of teacher actions under this term where the teacher in the community is fearful of taking an extra step to getting closer to the student, or curbs every laughter at the sight of adult content.

I went into the classroom during my first few months thinking it was my opportunity to engage with the students and get to know this new community better. But I had been misusing the privilege of being their teacher. My job in that classroom was to create a learning space and not a focused group discussion about who these children are and their backgrounds. It did help me build a relationship of trust with them, but it also made that learning space muddy.

How does another one of the teachers at a coaching centre training young adults act in such a situation? When the students come too close to him, he makes sure he is standing on one side of the table and points out the other side to them and say, “that side of the table is the students’ zone.” When sharing personal stories, I have slipped so often and so far away from the actual teaching that my focus has drifted away from delivering learning strategies to the students. While I manage to get their attention and concentrate on something I want to share, I myself become the biggest distraction.

Yesterday, a while after I started applying this new learning to my classrooms, a student who I last taught four months ago, told me that I look upset or troubled. She coaxed me into a comfortable sharing atmosphere because she was looking for a space to get closer to me. While I did feel my heart sink at this gesture, I also bound all my thoughts together and made sure to paste a grin on my face every time she happened to be close to me. I would revert to her care by resolving the issue instead of making her my confidant and making the clear line muddy again.

I had often leaped at the opportunity to get closer to people, but all this muddy-ness during my fellowship year is making me insane. I can’t seem to handle any of the professional-personal distance and its all gone haywire. But I think this is one of my core islands of personality which is now undergoing renovation. The happy in me struggling hard to save it from destruction, but the wise in me knows a new one will be built instead which will be more appropriate to my circumstances and add to my growth.

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