One of the joys of teaching is of course, the children. Everyday for the past week, I have had many children come in and out of my classroom. I have made attempts at remembering their names, but what remains in my memory the most are my children’s questions and the quirky behaviour that irritates me more than it should because I am teaching teenagers with raging hormones.
There seems to be a cloud of inscrutability following me around at school. My learners have been desperate to find out more about me beyond the teacher persona that I have been trying to create. I was asked about my accent: why do I speak like a white person? Another question had to do with whether I went to a private school or not. Before I could answer this question, one of the children volunteered the information, “no man, she mos went to a model c school”. I’ve also been asked several times to translate the meaning of the tattoo on my arm. And of course, why did I choose to become a teacher? One of the learners decided to point out, “you’re black, you’re beautiful and you’re a woman”, which left me wondering why that profile doesn’t match up with what a teacher should be.
Among these interesting questions, which I simply choose to laugh at, there have also been the obvious: ma’am can we please have a free period? What is a transitive and intransitive verb? Must we write this in our books? Why do we have to do this? Why was it called a dompas? (this is related to the identity document used during apartheid for Black people) Ma’am, is this going to be for homework? What happens if I don’t do this for homework? And my favourite: Ma’am, is this for marks? These questions are not very riveting. Some I choose to answer, sometimes I use my teacher stare and the learners try figure out the answers for themselves. When I was in high school, one of my Grade 8 teachers had a poster on his wall: This is big school now. He pointed to this every time we were in class and asked a seemingly obvious question. I am tempted to do this for my learners, but I wonder if they would appreciate the sarcasm because I am also the same person who always says to them “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”.
I want to create a classroom atmosphere where questions are encouraged as this is central to learning. I also want a classroom where it looks like learning is taking place by putting up classroom graphics that encourage an interest in reading and language learning. So far I have articles from the City Press newspaper as well as questions from a Grade 8 Social Science class. I have asked my learners to help me create a visually stimulating classroom. However, learners have not made use of this opportunity (I keep a box with paper and a koki that they can use to write their questions to stick on the boards surrounding the classroom). Perhaps this is the single lesson for learning that I need to belabour: learning happens through asking questions. If you are not asking questions, learning is not happening.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much given that the learners are still trying to understand who I am as much as I am trying to understand them. This is the crux of teaching and learning: beyond the adverbs and Shakespeare, I really need to win their hearts and maybe they will open up and share their questions, big or small.