Paulo Freire once said : ‘“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
For many years, I have been teaching students who feel very well ‘adjusted’ in conformity’ ! What is more, I have also been involved with exam preparation which means that most of the time I train students to meet a particular goal. Both of these are great challenges. I try to teach these students how to abandon their ‘comfort zone’ at a very ‘sensitive’ period of time that most students identify as ‘cramming’. Most of them believe that taking a language exam means just practicing on tests, over and over again. Instead I focus my teaching on how to make them think critically, to teach them the importance of it, to teach them the complexity of language and how to respect it. To respect it so much so that they will be willing to dedicate time and effort in it. This is the first and main reason why I teach.
Learning a language is like observing a transformation take place. Observing entails analyzing, posing questions, it means reflection and achieving hopefully a deeper understanding. Learning to think critically is priceless equipment for my students’ whole life (and not only) exactly because, as Freire says, it can help us understand and then possibly transform our own world. It is a cognitive as well as a social skill.
Jack Mezirow (Learning as transformation: Critical Perspectives on a theory in Progress,) believes that most of the time, when we learn new information, it fits into the existing patterns or pathways in our brains. It fits with what we already know. BUT, If you experience something that causes you to question what this concept is and how it is created, that could be the trigger for a transformative learning experience.
Another reason why I teach, therefore, is because I particularly enjoy the process my students have to go through in order to learn. In several stages of this process, they need to unlearn in order for them to relearn and make sense of a new experience. While this might cause an initial discomfort, it gives them a lot of satisfaction in the end. It is an achievement after all!
Most of all, I teach because I believe that teaching is a transformative process not only for my students but for me as well. I teach them the meaning of collaboration because they have to learn from each other’s experiences. Especially with Greek students, teaching them the idea of ‘collaboration’ is a great challenge on its own, since they tend to follow a more individualistic pattern in the way they are used to studying.
Nevertheless and fortunately though, THEY teach me as much as I teach them. They teach me new ways of thinking, new perspectives, new views of the world and I deeply appreciate them for this.