Lessons from dancing

My friend, Audrey from South Carolina, seems to have this unshakeable belief about dancing and Africans. To her, dancing is in the genes of an African. Nobody can let her believe otherwise. Audrey has managed to convince herself, my roommates and perhaps, myself, that dancing is one of the evolved traits, characteristic of African descendants.

You see, Audrey has spent quite a substantial amount of money on herself, with the aim of being a good dancer. She has been in salsa classes since she was 2, joined a hip-hop dancing crew in high school and took African studies with emphasis on African dance as an undergrad. She goes to the YMCA to dance every second and last Saturday of the month and dances to every beat she hears, no matter the place, to the embarrassment of the people around.

However, no matter how often and hard Audrey tries to dance, she always comes across as clumsy and trying too hard. Once, she hit her foot against a table while trying out a simple dance move and had to see the doctor to ease her pain. A mutual friend of Audrey and I, recently confided in me about how uncomfortable she feels whenever she sees Audrey dancing at the YMCA.

One day, while dancing with Audrey, she threw her hands in the air despairingly, while muttering that I was so good at dancing because I was African. Like Audrey, I too, love to dance. I dance whenever I can, in the shower, in the kitchen and usually, in the living room with my friends and roommates cheering me on. But, there is a little difference between Audrey and I… people love to see me dance. My roommates think that unlike Audrey, I move with the rhythm of the song, I do not strive to dance, I just go with the flow and dance. I am my authentic self when I dance and that’s why people love to see me dance.

I so wish I had that kind of flair for teaching as I have for dancing. When it comes to teaching, I am a 100% Audrey. I love to teach and I want to be a teacher after school, but I come across as trying too hard and perhaps, clumsy. I cannot place a finger on the rhythm of my students and go with the flow. I always overthink and end up in pain, just like Audrey. Had it not been for the fact that most of my teachers, growing up in Africa, were amazing, I would be tempted to throw my hands in the air like Audrey, and say lamely that I am bad at teaching because I am African.

I know that teaching is not a genetic trait but when I see some people teach with very natural flairs, I begin to question my quest to be a good teacher and wonder if I have the teaching genetic traits…..

Forget memorization, let’s make it memorable!

When you see a traffic light                                                                                                                                                           There is something you should know                                                                                                                                           Red means stop                                                                                                                                                                                     Yellow means get ready                                                                                                                                                                     Green means go, go, go and go

When I was in nursery, this is the rhyme I was taught. Considering the fact that we had no traffic lights in our town, this might have sounded ridiculous to our parents who could not stop us from reciting it back at home. When I turned 17 years and went to the city and saw the traffic light for the first time, I knew exactly what to do. Of course, I didn’t recite the poem out loud but you bet I recited it all the same. I wasn’t ready to let anyone know I was fresh in the city…Funny enough, when I came to the states where traffic lights are within 100 meters of each other (I hate the main street), I still do recite the poem whenever I get to one…just so you know why my lips are moving when you stop by my car in traffic.

In primary school, there were some subjects that everyone was bound to make an A in. Everyone got an A not because the classes were easy, we did well because the classes involved some form of activity. For Math for instance, every child will go around after school to collect Coca Cola bottle caps. We went in search of these bottle caps in groups and always had fun seeing who will get the most caps. After we have brought them all to the teacher, the teacher distributed the caps as evenly as possible among the students. These are what we used to learn our Addition and Subtraction problems. For instance if we were asked to solve ’13 +12’, we would just count 13 caps to one side, count 12 to another, and then add the two sets of caps to get an answer.

Moving on, I know for sure I’m not the only one who forgot an answer to a question in the examination room only to remember right after submission, sometimes, right outside the door. Whenever I got that happen to me, I will ask myself how I learned that particular thing or how I was taught. I realized that those questions are the ones that I never discussed with my friends. Prior to examinations, my friends and I formed study groups where we discussed questions and their answers. There was no way I missed any of those questions, I always got them right. But those I didn’t discuss, although I had learned them, were always hard to remember.

The point I am trying to make is, the normal straight forward lectures do not always produce the best results. It takes rather unconventional and creative ways to keep students interested in boring lectures. It also takes a lot of interaction between students and peers, and among peers in order to get information across to leaners. The onus lies on both teachers and students to make learning fun….

My Grandmother’s Recipe

Once in primary school, I got into a fight with an older kid in another class who was trying to bully my friend. Considering the fact that in my adult life, I am only 5.4 inches tall and weigh 125 pounds, much of this height and weight I gained only in the last 3 years, it wasn’t a particularly great idea to stand up to this tall kid. A little blow on the mouth was all it took to shut me up. I went home with one of my front teeth threatening to fall off any minute. My grandmother who is a strong believer in the potency of salt (she uses salt to treat all kinds of illnesses, from malaria to skin diseases to plain old cough), gave me a solution, highly concentrated with salt. My task was to fill my mouth with as much of this solution as it can contain for about fifteen minutes, spit it out and then fill my mouth again with another batch. After this, my grandmother moistened a ball of cotton wool with salt solution and then placed it on the root of the trembling tooth and asked me to hold it in place firmly with my lip. Her aim was to firm the root of the tooth so it does not fall out.

Assessment in the school system to me is like this: to check if the salt solution and cotton wool were doing their job of firming my tooth, I will take the cotton wool out and then wiggle my weak tooth to see if there was any sign of it firming up, every fifteen minutes. My grandmother kept cautioning me to stop doing that but I failed to listen until finally, the tooth fell out. Although my initial objective was to just ‘assess’ my tooth, I did more harm than good. A teacher engaged in an online debate on the importance of assessment used a different analogy of a plant being repeatedly ripped out of the soil to examine its growing status. Her argument was that, there are better ways of assessing students other than a standardized test.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that as educationists, our curriculum should be wide enough to cater for all kinds of students. As diverse as our thought processes are as humans, we should try to accommodate each other’s lines of reasoning. Having a specific rigid grading rubric where a student gets less marks depending on his or her deviation from the supposedly right answer, is not correct. Insisting that one travels a straight line in other to get to a particular destination, can be interpreted in so many ways by different students (just like this plot shows, this is for my engineer friends :)).

If teachers do their jobs well, I am of the view that there is no need for assessing the performance of the students after a lesson. If my grandmother had told me that the reason why she asked me to keep the cotton wool firmly in place with my lip was to prevent my teeth from moving and therefore allow it to be firm, I don’t think I would have found wisdom in the need to assess the firming process. If we do our jobs well, the result will definitely be positive, no need for assessment. Every teacher ought to be like my grandmother, she believes the process, and so she finds no need for assessment.