Great Expectations: A Teacher’s Discourse

Further learning is only possible after the recognition of what needs to be learned.”

Only now do I realize the folly of the desire to please the powers that be. Am I correct to surmise that Asians, in general, with its paternalistic, autocratic and group-centric culture are culturally ingrained to seek the approval of their teacher over their academic performance? Or is it human  nature compounded by the rigors and demands of formal training?

A few things have been bugging me with my current class. After countless sleepless nights and many hours spent in exasperation over an apparent lack in improvement in one of the students in my class, I have found the link, the missing piece of the puzzle. I had pondered over it long and hard and had speculated to my sounding boards before finally giving up and letting it be.

The pieces are now falling into place. She’s pretty content to parrot words and phrases, roll over, bend over backward, forward and sideways all for the sake of going through the motions and fulfilling a mandate by management to attend the training. I reckon she thinks, “I have a job, and a stable one at that. This training is an absolute waste of time and an odious and unnecessary cause for an overtime.”

Pretty myopic view if you ask me, but such is the cold, hard fact.

A learning endeavor needs to start with a clear and unadulterated picture of what is expected of them and how they fare against the standard. Traditionally, this role was undertaken by the teacher. Yet oftentimes, it becomes an emotionally charged process for the student because the standards seem to be dictated by a seemingly infallible expert. How then is a passive learner supposed to refuse a pedantic approach? A mismatch between a teacher’s view of the expected quality and the student’s view of his performance could only result in a breakdown of the teaching-learning process.

I think this is what essentially happened in her case. Her antipathy towards the new standards being set by management affected her learning process. Even with my role as a Specialist, I am at a bind because I was brought in to effect these new standards and to make sure that everyone is at par with the standards.

As I am writing this, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with a friend/ colleague and former co-worker. She felt betrayed over her manager’s imminent move and the team’s subsequent dissolution because her manager failed to mentor and groom the team accordingly. She questioned her manager about this, and the manager remarked that she had already identified someone and was grooming her for a managerial post. The manager also added that she felt that my friend, along with everyone else in the team, were unsuitable and not ready for mentoring because of their competencies.

“That’s your opinion, not mine,” my friend quipped.

This statement reverberated in my head and it made me realize the value of self-assessment for both my friend and the manager.

In this sense, the teaching-learning process is comparable to a customer service encounter. Both teachers and learners need to know what each other’s expectations are to ensure: both parties’ satisfaction, that activities are occurring as expected, that deliverables or output meet expectations, that deliverables are received when expected and that anticipated value is received.

It is inevitable that during the teaching-learning process, both the teacher and the learner will form a judgment on each other, the teaching pedagogy and the student’s learning curve based on their personal expectations, perceptions, desires, feelings, needs, wants and values.

I remember the time when I was starting out as a Language Specialist a few years back. My manager then was overbearing and rather despotic. She had us jumping through hoops at her bidding and had a tendency to assign us variegated tasks, the sheer amount of which was considerable and almost comparable to our designated tasks. Despite this, I flourished under her management unlike some of my team mates. I learned a lot from her—one aspect that I value over interpersonal skills. As a manager, she exceeded my expectations, but I’m pretty sure not everyone shared my sentiments.

Knowing expectations is instrumental in developing a strategy for meeting and exceeding expectations. These expectations are a vision of a future state or action. It is usually unstated but critical to the success of any endeavour.

Does this scenario not reflect what often transpires in our classrooms? As teachers, we do have expectations of our students which we concurrently use to evaluate a student’s performance. If we, as teachers, were to rely on our expectations and fail to consider our learners’ own expectations of themselves, we might be setting our students up for demotivation or even failure. By conducting self- and peer assessment, we are able to negotiate through whatever differences we may have and come to a workable solution to make the teaching-learning process a success.

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