In my previous post, I mentioned that I had completed a four-semester course in prevention of drug abuse at schools. One of the things that has stuck with me is that it’s very hard to notice the absence of something. For instance, if a student suddenly starts misbehaving, your attention is immediately drawn to it. You may find out that the student’s misbehaviour has deeper roots and you start acting in one way or another. You may try to talk to the student, give them advice, point them to a specialist, etc. However, in a group of boisterous teenagers, you may fail to notice that one of them is quieter than usual. In other words, the absence of misbehaviour of one particular student is harder to clock. If you think about it, this absence may, in the end, indicate something much more serious than if the majority of the class are mere troublemakers.
I realize I myself tend to overlook something in class just because I’m forced to focus on the salient aspects of what’s happening there. Somebody’s missing homework immediately captures my attention. Then, in an attempt to fix a thing which is deemed unacceptable, I may easily miss something equally undesirable going on right under my nose (for example that the rest of the class have their homework just because they copied it from one another during the break).
Even in a communicative language classroom, it’s likely that at some point, you’ll create an environment in which you’ll miss important things. For example, during a mingling activity, you may be under the impression that everything’s perfect. The kids chat and laugh and thus you believe they are learning. Running dictations are certainly fun but do all students benefit from them? What about slower or introverted kids? However, this doesn’t only apply to language teaching. My ten-year-old son once told me that it distracts him a lot when his classmates shout ‘finished’ one by one when they solve a math problem. He needs more time and the fact that the others start shouting prevents him from concentrating. Does his teacher notice this? My other son told me that in PE lessons, he used to be the one to be picked last by the team captains. He gradually got used to it. Did the teacher?
Another thing I learned during the course was that even the nicest kids can be the worst bullies. What’s more, even the worst forms of bullying can easily go undetected because the whole group has already accepted and complies to the norms of the bullies so to an outsider, everything may appear in order at first sight. It’only when you go deeper and start looking for things which are out of your sight, i.e. which are absent, that you realize something’s not quite right.
Ironically, we, teachers, are sometimes as cruel as the kids – without even realizing it. When dividing the class into two teams, it’s us who ask two students to pick their team members and we do it again and again even though we know the same kids will be ‘picked’ last. We prevent kids from concentrating in the name of communicativeness. We fail to notice things because, for some reason, they are not salient to our mind. Or is it because it’s sometimes convenient and more comfortable for us to leave things as they are?