Individual people's lives are becoming increasingly complicated and demanding. In this ever-changing world teachers and students are equally affected and the role of the teacher cannot be constrained only to the delivery of language lessons.
Teaching a language, and especially English which is the language of the whole world, has always been a quite demanding task. Language teachers always seek new methods and means of teaching and are always cautious of how to teach a language without insulting some other culture. This by itself is a very challenging task and one that increases the workload of a teacher. But in our times, this is not enough. We live in times of crises. There is a moral crisis, a financial crisis, family crisis where most children grow up in single parent families, employment crisis and so on. We, teachers, cannot and should not ignore this reality because this is the reality that our students bring into our classrooms. Our students are influenced by this situation and a lot of times disruptive behaviours are caused by what a child has on their minds. A teacher's role has never been simply to deliver lessons. Give the knowledge, teach from 9-5 and then go home and enjoy the rest of the day. We are the profession that works almost around the clock, if of course we want to be responsible teachers. We correct, we grade, we deliver lessons, we prepare lessons, we study new methods and scientific articles to stay up-to-date and we deal with the most important people in the world, children. We are the people who are responsible not only to transmit knowledge but also to shape characters.
Since the times of ancient Greece a teacher was not only a transmitter of knowledge but also an educator. They provided their students with the principles of how to live their lives, with role models, with values but also they were there for their students whenever they were sad, lost, confused, angry. Teachers should continue doing exactly that, be there for their students and listen and help them if possible with their problems. Be supportive and caring. This should be done in a very respectful and discreet manner and not in a way that is going to make students feel like they are talking to an omnipotent authority that is going to order them what to do.
The first thing we have to do is observe. We have to notice any change in the behaviour of a student. We have to find the real reasons why for example a good student suddenly does not do well anymore. One of the safest ways to do something like that is to have a private discussion with the student but not in an interrogating way. We have to show that we are genuinely worried about the change in the student's behaviour. Start having a conversation in a friendly manner and if the student opens up to us and tells us what worries them we should discuss the issue further. Recently I had such a student with whom I discussed the issue of his performance. I explained to him that it was not a matter of grades but mainly the fact that it worried me that he seemed more indifferent to lessons now. His answer was that his parents took a divorce and he could not deal with this. I told him that he has my full understanding and that this is a very sad thing to happen but that his parents still care for him and that it would be sad to let this define his life. I explained to him that he has choices about what he wants to do with his life and I made a kind of secret deal with him that I would expect for a period of time less homework from him than the others. I have to tell you that this student a week later did all his homework and in one essay he wrote a thank you note and that he is happy that someone cares.
Another important way to be there for our students is to create a safe, supportive and encouraging environment in our classrooms. Students should feel safe in our classes. They should feel that whatever worries them in their real lives cannot touch them inside the walls of our classroom. This happens only with love. Show to our students that we care. If most of them are not alright, be flexible and change the lesson plan we prepared. Also, we can ask them to write anonymous letters. I asked a class of mine the other day to write a letter to the person who bullied them, inside or outside school, and then I asked them whether they would like me to read them in front of the class in the next lesson and discuss them. Almost all said yes and we had a lesson where students of an intermediate level discussed serious issues in English and also after the lesson they seemed liberated. Furthermore, a strong bond was created among them and me because we were a team now.
Being a teacher is not an easy job to do. Being a teacher who cares is even more difficult. Taking the responsibility to be there for your students and see them not as objects that are ignorant and have to be filled with knowledge, but as people who are going to be tomorrow's citizens and maybe change the world is a daunting task but one definitely worth the trouble. In our difficult, complicated and isolated times, we, the teachers, should make the difference and use the language for exactly the purpose it was created, i.e meaningful communication.