Voices from students

Icy ran a teachers’ seminar this morning. As is the usual practice these days, the seminar featured teachers as guest speakers. But there was one thing unusual about the seminar: some of the guest speakers were students.

It turned out that for many of the attendees, the sharing by the students was the most interesting part of the event. The audience paid a good deal of attention to the students, were amused with their thoughts and ideas, and impressed with their courage to speak to over 100 attentive teachers.

It was a very encouraging scene. We are used to seeing teachers lecturing away at their students. Seldom do we see students speaking to a large gathering of teachers. But why not? We educators often gather together to talk about our innovations and experiences in teaching. These are certainly laudable activities. I often wish that people in other sectors of society had the chance to see how already stressed-out teachers give up their weekends and holidays to attend professional development events, out of a desire to become better teachers. So, yes, we do benefit from finding out about our peers’ experiences in curriculum innovations. But why do we often forget about the experiences of the students, whom we are trying to benefit with our curriculum efforts? Why do we forget to include their voices in our professional development events?

There are at least two other advantages that I can think of in including students’ voices in these teachers’ seminars. First, the students’ voices  remind us, in a very concrete way, why we are innovating and whom we are innovating for. The students are not simply nameless ‘subjects’ of a grand educational study or unknown guinea pigs of a trendy educational experiment. They are real learners whom we are trying to serve and whose interests we must protect. Second, it is invaluable training for the students: the opportunity to speak to a gathering of authority figures.

So when the seminar was over, I got hold of Enoch and Justin, two of the sharing students, and gave them a pat on the back by saying: “Great job! When I was like you in Secondary Two, I hardly had the courage as you have today in speaking to over 100 teachers. The only thing I knew how to do was to run away from teachers.” 

And it is true.

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