What I learnt, when I taught: Lessons from my first ever teaching experience

Every year after the academic year ends, Yuwa School organizes a four-week-long summer school. The summer school gives an opportunity to the students to expand their learning beyond academics using extracurricular classes, fun activities, and projects. Some of the classes this year were on singing, dancing, photography, and drama while others focused on improving reading, efficient online search, and knowledge of textiles and handlooms. The summer school also acts as a safety net for some students that are lagging behind in academia to catch up with their studies or lessons for the next academic year.

My project supervisor, Rose Thomson Gastler, who is also the Educational Director of Yuwa School, offered me to take an extra class of my choice during summer school. Generally, teachers would decide what they would like to teach and students would sign up for the classes that they want to attend over the summer. On several occasions, I’ve heard Yuwa girls express their frustration when navigating digital tools and resources because of either lack of data or exposure. I decided to conduct an extra class on the same topic to teach the students the collaborative online tools for data and time management.

It rooted from the idea that a class on online tools and resources could especially help the students who are coaching football and facilitating workshops to navigate their daily work. The students already used several tools such as Google Docs and Google Sheets for class work and for updating football practice data online. The summer class project for me was both, a fun immersion activity at the host organization and a capacity-building opportunity among coaches and facilitators for efficiently reporting performance data of their football and workshop sessions, aiding my project goals at large. This was a novel and one-of-a-kind experience for me. During this short time, I learnt a lot about teaching and how it challenges you as a person. In this blog, I want to share the main learnings from my experience along with those of Yuwa’s teachers.

Set expectations together 

When I began preparing for my class, I listed tools and topics that I thought would be beneficial for students for data and time management for their school, football practice, and workshops. However, I felt that the list I prepared may not completely align with what the students who enrolled for my class would want. During my first class, I discussed with the students why they enrolled for my class, what did they think it was about, and what do they expect to learn. I was surprised by a variety of responses from learning how to search things online and data privacy to making online payments. We discussed and decided together what were the most sought-after skills that the students wanted to learn, what was feasible given the timeframe and different skill levels of the class, and what topics we could eliminate because of lack of expertise on my end. This helped in creating an agenda for the course that worked for me and for the students, setting a collaborative environment right from the beginning. 

Plan ahead

Once the overall topics were finalized together with the students, I prepared a tentative timeline on the flow of various topics and what was my learning objective for that certain topic. For example, how many tools and resources were sufficient to teach students the basics of Google Sheets, how much information was too much, what topics should precede another one, etc. I also estimated the tentative time that would be needed to finish a certain topic. A day before the class, I worked on the structure to teach a specific topic. This has been extremely helpful for me to feel confident and prepared for my classes and what to expect as the course progresses.

Discussion to set expectations during my first class. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Discussion to set expectations during my first class. Source: Yuwa India Trust

Let go of the plan and embrace uncertainty

Now that I have said how important it is to plan ahead, one should also be prepared to let go of the plan. During one of the lessons, I taught students how to keep notes and reminders using Google Keep. All went well, till I realized the students picked up the tool quicker than I expected and almost half an hour of the class was remaining. Panic kicked in and I had to decide quickly what to do next! I admit it has been tough for me to let go of “my precious” plan but I did it. I created an exercise that would kick-start the next in-line topic. This incident helped in setting an adaptable mindset for me for the rest of the course. 

It’s okay to not know and get back later

As a teacher, I was tempted to be a know-it-all till I realized it does no good to anyone. In one of the classes, students began discussing the importance of privacy on social media platforms. The discussion went smoothly and I was able to share my perspectives on the topic based on my experiences. However, not being an active social media user limited my exposure and nuances on the topic. I was unable to come up with examples that would be relevant to the girls and their context. When I realized this, I took a step back. I told the girls about my struggle with the topic and that I will discuss it during the next classes after researching more about it. 

Students completing a collaborative exercise on Google Calendar. Source: Yuwa India Trust
Students completing a collaborative exercise on Google Calendar. Source: Yuwa India Trust

Give control to students

My class had students from 8th to 12th standard and their skill levels were varying across the topic. This created difficulty when conducting the session as some students were already advanced and others were beginners. After a few sessions, I decided to do an experiment. I created pairs of senior and junior students, where the skilled seniors would coach their junior on the basics of Word. This was really enriching experience for all of us. The seniors felt a sense of responsibility and a chance to revisit the tool while the juniors learned the tool. I, on the other hand, could oversee the process and felt at ease to let go of the control. 

What did Yuwa teachers learnt from teaching?

  1. Patience: Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses; everyone figures things out at a different pace. Being patient goes a long way in building relationships with students.
  2. Focus: Be intentional and precise about what you want to teach students throughout the term.
  3. Consistency: When teachers are consistent, it reflects in students’ responses within the classroom.
  4. Informal communication: Keeping in touch with students outside of class helps in connecting with students within the class.
  5. Adaptability: Being able to recognize that today might not be the best day for something that you’ve planned; always have a Plan-B based on moods.
  6. Creativity: There can be so many ways to put across a point.
  7. Time management: OMG! The work of a teacher does not end at school.
  8. Bonding: Being a friend to the students is maybe even more important than the syllabus you actually teach them.

There is a reason why teaching is called a noble profession. Working with Yuwa, I got a glimpse of how profound impact can be made in the lives of children with quality and dedicated education. It has only strengthened my belief that education is the key to a vibrant, happy and equitable society.

After finishing her undergraduate in architecture, Vaishali worked in a non-profit trust that specializes in designing and building dignified housing for the urban and rural poor. She created a development plan for rehabilitating a village destroyed by a 100-year flood through a collective decision-making approach, making her realize the importance of dialogue between various stakeholders and the value of everyone’s contributions. She then served as a fellow at the Charles Correa Foundation in Goa, where she developed a system of unified signages for the historic downtown of Panaji. In initiating the signage plan, she realized the value of taking a
multi-disciplinary approach and how the application of that wide-reaching knowledge ultimately comes down to effective communication and organization. Mastering the strategies for maintaining and improving communication channels with larger scale projects became her primary motivation when she applied for graduate program in the Netherlands. She then worked on multiple European Union funded projects at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Science, consulting on inclusive strategies for societal and environmental challenges. She also designed and facilitated over ten sustainability and social justice focused events, webinars, and workshops with policy makers, government officials, and social entrepreneurs.

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