A teacher at our early childhood centre got her students to clap as they spelt out “papaya” loudly together with her and everyone was moving energetically to the rhythm of a rhyming cheer, “P-A-P-A-Y-A, P-A-P-A-Y-A, P-A-P-A-Y-A, PAPAYA-YEH!” When it was clear that everyone could easily spell “papaya,” she carried on with the lesson by introducing the fruit for the children to hold and to discuss its features. This was a learning experience that attended to the children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Importantly, it was one where each child succeeded in learning something new.
Understanding how a student learns and utilising the appropriate medium of instruction are critical qualities of a good teacher. These qualities as well as a committed and genuine belief that students are inherently good and can learn are just as important as subject matter expertise. Over the past 10 weeks, we worked with our long-time partner Once Upon A Monday, to conduct a parkour programme for 16 children aged from 7 to 12 years old. A professional parkour teacher was engaged and with the help of volunteers from the Singapore University of Social Sciences, a safe learning environment in every sense was maintained.
Parkour training includes climbing, jumping, running, balancing, and other methods of overcoming “obstacles” as one navigates from point A to B. Obviously, safety is paramount and apart from having the knowledge to assess the sturdiness of structures for climbing, one must recognise that safety is enhanced by teamwork and is not possible without having control over one’s emotions.
Nick punched a girl when a ball she threw accidentally hit him. The parkour teacher immediately sat him down to understand what was going on within him before reaching a mutual agreement that hurting another was not acceptable if he wanted to remain in the programme. Nick also consented to allow the teacher and volunteers to restraint him or remove him from the programme should he appear to be getting angry at any point in time. Over time Nick, appeared to have better control over his emotions and during the closing debrief he told us that the 2 mantras that he will always remember are “Start together, end together!” and “Take care of one another!”
We believe that Nick began experiencing control when the teacher sought his agreement to ensure safety for the class in a manner that may be embarrassing for him. At that moment, a degree of equity in the teacher-student relationship was achieved which encouraged Nick to reflect on his responsibilities as a student. Good teachers form strong caring relationships with their students and equity in these relationships also means humility.
The parkour teacher scolded Sam for snacking without waiting for the others, but when he learnt that Sam had gotten permission from a volunteer to eat, he immediately apologised and asked for forgiveness. Sam continued sniffling and did not respond and so the teacher then said, “It is ok, I will sit with you until I can earn your forgiveness.” Eventually, they started chatting and Sam told the teacher that he was forgiven, and he re-joined the session happily.
Teaching is hard work and being a teacher is a life-long endeavour to acquire knowledge, skills and to embody qualities and values that enable them to be of value to their students. We express our deepest appreciation and admiration for all teachers and wish them a very Happy Teacher’s Day!
For peace, community, and teachers,