Beyond classes

Action: The drama team at SMK Jalan Bukit rehearsing their play named “Image”.2 We’re part of the team: The drama group from SMK Jalan Bukit..

Action: The drama team at SMK Jalan Bukit rehearsing their play named “Image”.2 We’re part of the team: The drama group from SMK Jalan Bukit..

Learning does not only take place within a classroom as students develop during extra-curricular activities too.

MOST teachers will readily agree that a significant part of students’ character development happens outside the usual classroom setting and during extra-curricular activities.

It is during activities such as camps, debates, drama, games and competitions that many important skills and qualities like leadership, team-work and perseverance, are actually developed and honed.

To those of us who are more deeply invested into this, there is a definite and unique sense of fulfilment that comes with being part of these various stages of our students’ growth. We feel proud when we see our students become more confident, articulate, independent and capable. Beyond the school’s official records, we who have been there with our students have our own mental records of their progress — from the time they first came to us, nervous and a little uncertain, to the time they are able to stand with confidence and self-assurance on a stage. They are able to perform in front of a packed audience or ready to take command of troops of students under their leadership. It warms our hearts in a way no academic transcript ever can do, perhaps because here we are closer to life itself and get a better view of the kind of people they will become in the future.

And yet there are times when this same situation that fills us with so much of joy also causes disappointments and discontent. It is both sad and frustrating when parents and sometimes even teachers fail to give the vital support that is needed to make a particular co-curriculum project succeed. Teachers sometimes have to deal with the feeling of frustration and helplessness when students who show so much promise or are exceptionally talented, are not allowed by their parents to take part in activities or competitions for the reason that it “interferes with their school studies”.

Showing potential

It is difficult not to bite our tongue at times like this or even feel a sense of righteous indignation when we hear about school leavers who fail to impress potential employers during interviews or are unable to project themselves well despite having a list of academic credentials. It is highly probable that the crucial life skills which may have been inculcated in school through activities outside the classroom, never even had a chance to take root in their entire schooling life.

Although it is quite understandable that not everyone in school may share the same enthusiasm or passion for a certain student activity, it does rankle when your students’ extra-curricular efforts or achievements are passed off lightly or downplayed by other teachers who have little knowledge of the effort and commitment that has made them come this far.

The most discouraging comments however would usually be from those who consider that anything outside the subject curriculum or that is not associated with the examination is a “waste of time”. Unfortunately, these kind of vibes are sometimes picked up by students themselves and contributes to their reluctance to be anything more than just a nominal member of a school society or club. Teachers who have to award marks for students’ co- or extra-curricular involvement know this all too well but may have to comply with the various “methods” the school administrators sometimes use to ensure that on record at least, students’ involvement in these activities are noted as ‘satisfactory’.

Another challenge that teachers who train their students for performances or competitions also face sometimes is what to say to students who feel that they have not been appreciated or who are not satisfied with the judges’ decision. This is even more difficult when you yourself feel the same way.

Recently a young person who represented her school in a competition asked me a question which I had to struggle with a bit before answering.

“Teacher, how do we accept the judges’ decision when we know that it is not fair?”

I could understand where she was coming from. The frustration and disappointment were keen, and together with it was the conviction that somehow the judges who had been appointed had gotten it wrong. We wish so much for the sake of our students that they receive fair judgement and due appreciation for all their effort. But at times it is almost impossible for judges to be completely objective.

I have often wondered at this. We always tell our students to be good sports, to accept defeat gracefully, to know that true winning is about taking part and not about what the documented results say. We try to console them saying they did their best but deep inside at times it does rankle when you know that there is simply nothing you can do despite what you feel or believe. The only answer we can give at times, as cold as it may be, is that this is the way it is at times. In life it is not always the best who wins the medals. A poor answer perhaps, and not very comforting but still we reckon that is the best we can do to prepare our students for the real world.

A good example

And because students’ perceptions of the real world and situations are very often influenced by their teachers, it becomes all the more important that our own perspectives are rational, impartial and informed.

This was brought home to me recently when I witnessed a student drama performance which implied that a major tragedy which in reality had actually been a deliberate act of terrorism and which had killed thousands of innocent people including children, was caused by divine wrath against one single character’s defiance of God. I wondered at how this was even allowed to be staged by school students and the kind of thinking or lack of thinking that was behind it.

What was even more frightening perhaps is that the implications of this was lost on many in the teaching circle. Also there was the disturbing question about whether other major world events or tragedies are represented fairly and intelligently by teachers to their students. While it is certainly true that a lot of our students’ attitudes towards life issues are shaped during the teaching–learning sessions in the classrooms, it would be good to remember that activities outside the classroom are powerful tools to educate our students about the world, society and most of all about themselves.

dr mallika vasugi , teacher talk