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Difficult teachers


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#46 elemimele

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 21:39

I think most (good) parents keep an eye on who's teaching their kids (and how), particularly when they're very young. Most of us probably also understand that different kids suit different personalities of teachers; sometimes a teacher my be a bad match to our child, but not a bad teacher fundamentally.

 

Anger with kids: it's a weird one, different kids have different resistances. I remember following a mum round the Co-op one day. She had about 4 children with her, and kept up a continuous low-level complaint, apparently without drawing breath: "Josh-stop-doing-that-Kym-can't-you-look-where-you're-going-Darren-stop-pushing-Josh-Josh-you-too-Crystal-leave-that-alone-Josh-don't-pester-Crystal-Darren-I've-told-you-before". None of this was making any impression on any of the children at all. They clearly lived their entire lives in a sort of drizzle of parental disapproval that they roundly ignored. At one point a child did do something wrong, and the mother briefly had a big yell, which they noticed, and then it all went back to low-level-general-complaint-spraying again. Clearly in that family, you'd have to yell if you wanted to register any disapproval. Other more sensitive children, transplanted into that general complaint-harassment, would have been in floods of tears after a minute. I suppose it's what we're used to. My own kid spends a week in self-castigation and panic if he thinks he's done something wrong, which is difficult, because obviously it's counter-productive to tell him he didn't do anything wrong if he did (and sometimes it's hard to get the inside story and find out what happened, without a Grand Inquisition, making a very big thing of a very tiny event), but it's necessary in some way to persuade him that it's not the end of the world, and it's ok that sometimes we do something wrong, apologise, and move forwards. I wish life were simple...


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#47 BadStrad

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 22:18

As elemimele says, different kids have different tolerances and experiences,and so reactions will differ. An old friend is a primary school teacher. She discovered that raising her voice had no effect on the kids. Shouting was their family norm. She lowered her voice, spoke very quietly just to see if that would work and some of the kids burst into tears. They were much more frightened of the quiet voice than the shouting. This was not so long ago.
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#48 Pianopiano

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 04:39

It's only music.

And for some people music is their life. While you may not value it (or so your comment suggests) for others it is everything and being yelled at means nothing compared to that.

I didn't say I didn't value music. I was saying how can you justify making a child cry over learning to play a musical instrument. Would you teach a child to read and write by screaming at them? That sort of behaviour you wouldn't complain about in the army. But in a living room with a piano, that's unnecessary.
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#49 mel2

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 09:59

Yelling at or otherwise threatening a child is likely to be counterproductive. One is not likely to be able to concentrate in a state of dread.
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#50 HelenVJ

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 10:09

Yelling at or otherwise threatening a child is likely to be counterproductive. One is not likely to be able to concentrate in a state of dread.

Yes, that seems self-evident. But then look at the amazing dancers and gymnasts - yes, and musicians - produced under the harsh regimes prevalent in much of Eastern Europe, notably Russia and former Soviet bloc countries, as well as China. Teachers that would get suspended here for child abuse  are given decorations in Russia. There was a documentary about a Russian rhythmic gymnast not so long ago - I think her name was Margarita, or similar? - who was subjected to the most appalling verbal abuse by a couple of dragons - it was like Whiplash ( movie) but real. She won an Olympic Gold Medal, but at what cost? 


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#51 elemimele

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 11:39

oooh, a lot of fun questions.

(1) Is beauty invalid if it was made by unbeautiful means? I think so. If you can only make a beautiful dance by beating the dancer, then I cannot watch and enjoy the dance, because it is intimately tied up with something that is wrong; it is contaminated, and no longer beautiful.

This is different to when something beautiful is made by a person who was in some other way bad, but whose badness is unconnected to the good they did. Eric Gill was a great artist with appalling moral behaviour, but his great art doesn't depend on his behaviour, so we can still enjoy the art, while understanding that he was a very, very flawed man.

(2) But ignoring the ethics, can pain produce beauty anyway? I don't think it does so in the longer term. From personal experience, when I look at friends from cultures where music teaching is far more pressurised from an early age, I see a lot of people who reached a very high degree of performance skill, but who haven't picked up their instrument in several decades. Cultures that see the very highest technical attainment as the ultimate aim give their pupils no reason to keep playing if they find they're not at the very top of the profession. These cultures don't make a healthy amateur music scene, so they lose out on one of the best ways that music can contribute to society (though, on the plus side, they do produce some real stars at the top).

(3) And here is a 1960's-and-before thing: if sometimes learning requires unpleasant, hard work, is unpleasant hard work always a learning experience? No. This is the medicine fallacy: it tastes nasty so it must be good for you. It's easy to hoodwink yourself into believing that you're acquiring skills denied to lesser mortals, and becoming somehow heroically capable, because you adopt a punishing routine at the feet of a terrifying teacher who themselves passed bare-foot through volcanoes. But many activities give diminishing returns (doing something for two hours might not benefit you more than doing it for five minutes); some activities aren't very helpful anyway; and nearly all activities are more beneficial if you know why you're doing them, and do them when you recognise that they're a remedy to a problem with which you're fighting. Without the brain actively and enthusiastically steering, the body will very often practise going in the wrong direction.


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#52 AdLibitum

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 20:21

What a great post, elemimele.

I'd just say that I don't think pain can produce beauty; that is, I don't think that it can lead to something as beautiful as would be produced by the same person if they were not subjected to that kind of "teaching" and pain. In fact, what underlies this tough teaching approach people describe above is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way we learn: because we learn by making mistakes! Whereas the traditional expectation is that you have to Get It Right The First Time or you have no talent/are lazy/not working hard enough. But this is not how the brain learns. I suspect many people who "learned" something the traditional way think they have no talent or are not clever enough for that something, only because they were made to feel they were no good at that something when they were learning it. Of course you're not good at something when you are learning it, that's the whole point!

I admit this is a pet topic (and a pet peeve) of mine, as I've been training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner and the Feldenkrais method is all about learning: if you're not able to do something, the solution is not to try harder, especially not to try harder doing the same thing. The solution may well be to stop trying and take a rest, during which your brain will figure something out. And/or experiment! Try lots of different things, you may eventually figure out a completely different way of doing whatever you were trying to do. And in that process, the best kind of teaching is suggesting "try this to see what happens", not "do this so that you do it correctly". I could go on, but I guess I've been on my soapbox long enough!
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#53 Banjogirl

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 22:38

I'm not in favour of hitting children or shouting at them or anything like that. Those things won't help them learn. But different people can need very different types of teaching, as can the same people at different stages of their life.

The ideals behind my mad primary school, where we were taught very little, was that the older or more able children would help the younger and less able. We would find things out for ourselves. None of the helping went on ever, but we certainly found things out for ourselves, some of which were things like how to avoid doing anything productive for a whole day or a week or a term. It wasn't actually a terrible school. We did learn some things and we were very creative and good at problem solving. But we lacked basic skills to build on, and we wasted time reinventing the wheel. Instruction, training, learning how to learn, just being told stuff, are all vital for eduction. There's certainly a place for letting people try to work things out for themselves but it's not enough, and it only works in certain circumstances. My heart sinks when I see people promoting the sort of 'education' that went on in my primary school. It's a lovely idea but it's simply not realistic, can be damaging, a waste of time and very frustrating. I adored getting exercise books when I went to secondary school, and actually being taught things!
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#54 AdLibitum

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Posted 09 February 2020 - 19:33

That must have been very frustrating. And not a very efficient way to learn. I probably wasn't clear in my previous post - a student needs direction and instructions, but not orders. That is, not "do X now, perfectly!", but "how would you get from Y to X, trying A, B, or C?". It's the difference between being taught a formula in physics "because here is this formula" and being taught to derive the same formula. In the latter case, the student has a far better chance of understanding the formula and applying it correctly. And a far better chance of becoming interested, and of realising that understanding the subject is well within their capabilities.
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#55 Banjogirl

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Posted 09 February 2020 - 21:32

I think my rather extreme experience has coloured my views somewhat! But I do really love being told things by people with knowledge and passion.

Something that really annoys me is when, in a training, the trainer will ask the class what they think the answer to something is that they couldn't possibly know. At best it's a waste of time and at worst it makes it harder to remember what the actual answer was. I have no interest in what my ignorant peers think the answer might be, I want to know what the actual answer is!

I totally get where you're coming from though.
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#56 elemimele

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Posted 09 February 2020 - 22:46

... sometimes, in my own subject, I get students to think about what the answer to a question might be, not because I expect any of them to get the "right" answer, but because I want them to appreciate that it's not actually very clear what the right answer should be - and I want them to start to notice the sorts of factors that might influence the choice of a good answer. I do this usually in places where I need to teach them what current practice happens to be, but with the proviso that we're in a fuzzy zone where what we do has more to do with habit than logic, where everything will be compromise, because the perfect answer is inaccessible.

I don't think this is necessarily a lack of structure. In fact you can't let your students loose in a situation like this  unless you've got a fairly clear idea where they're going to go, and you know what you're going to say about it. I think you're right, Banjogirl, when you talk about circumstances. It's the teacher's job to set up the circumstances, and make sure the students have the basic tools and background, so they will come up with ideas that are, in some way, helpful.

I don't think structure/non-structure is the same thing as shouty/calm, although the traditional shouty teacher would also probably be a structured teacher who taught from a book. It's possible to be shouty and chaotic, or calm, polite and structured.

There's also a sort of weird half-way stage. The school where my own kid did reception had (has?) a free-for-all approach in the reception year (though not in later years), but was based around the idea that the teachers would be doing something structured and interesting, so that kids would come over out of natural curiosity, and find themselves working alongside the teacher - until perhaps they'd drift off having reached a natural end-point. I'm not sure it works for all kids - it can lead to quite a noisy and chaotic environment because there may be only 6 kids round a teacher while 24 are engaged in various sorts of play. But I can see that it works for quite a lot of kids. But this is reception - a very specialised and unusual environment - I wouldn't want to teach GCSE chemistry that way.


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