I was really impressed with the response I got from 40 women faculty this week at Women’s Christian College during my Student Centered Teaching training. Almost all disciplines at the college were represented and participation was high, enthusiastic, creative and engaged. They were hungry and open to new ideas for teaching, new ways of both delivering information and helping students to digest, analyze, and demonstrate their learning. We covered and discussed all sorts of topics affecting both teachers and students: caste, socio-economic status, respect in the classroom, managing noise during group work, and the several barriers teachers face in terms of class size, classroom set-up, the inherited British exam systems, and lack of preparation among many students, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds and Tamil-language secondary education. Should Tamil be allowed in the classroom, or should English be required in order to “uplift” students and prepare them for the global world?
All these conversations took amidst amidst multiple hands-on activities, where teachers were practicing classroom methods to apply in their own departments. I think they realized during these two days how much students can learn without a lot of lecture and through discussion, listening, application and dialogue.
At the end of our two-day training, the faculty reported very positive results and plans. I asked them to write up recommendations for the college administration and department heads to move this approach to learning forward, and to prepare tips for faculty as well. And to my great surprise, 16 women wanted to sign up for my March Train the Trainers Program. I was going to offer 10 slots per college for that program, but the enthusiasm was so high at this college that I agreed to provide a special training just for this group. These women will be making a commitment, within their already busy schedules, to launch internal training within their departments after they become trainers themselves. Wow! I have not received this level of enthusiasm yet at other colleges.
I do think that my background growing up in India and my Tamil language skills, which I used periodically during the training, really helped these faculty embrace me as a teacher. They also seemed to find me credible as an American, asking them to apply some very different approaches to the traditional approaches here, because I did understand the differences in history and culture. It was very joyful and fun for me to feel the strong rapport and connections with these lovely women.