Interpreting the Role of Teachers in Building Safe and Inclusive Learning Spaces for Children

A teacher or educator is someone who helps others to gain knowledge and various skills. And teachers or educators are an essential element of the classroom setup. They are an important part of a student’s life

“There was a teacher in the Dadar school who took a special liking to me, and who helped foster in me an interest in reading and in bodes outside the textbooks prescribed for class-room study. I owe an infinite debt of gratitude to him because my love of reading began from the time when this teacher opened to my eyes the long, unending vistas of beauty and wisdom that lie within the covers of books written by the great authors of the past.”
TThis has been quoted from Justice M. C. Chagla’s autobiography ‘Roses in December’. These lines highlight the role of a teacher in a student’s life.

This is just one of the examples of how education and specifically a teacher changed the life of a child. Education plays an important role in a person’s life. It can be a source of social mobility for the underprivileged or groups which have been oppressed or it can be source to consolidate one’s position and prestige. With the coming up of Right to Education and increasing necessity of quality education to adapt to the changing globalized world, the role of teachers is becoming more essential. This is evident in the National Education Policy 2020, which has become stricter regarding the selection of teachers or educators. Classrooms are no longer what they were a few years ago. There have been active efforts to build inclusive classrooms. Inclusive classrooms can be defined as a classroom where all students feel supported intellectually and academically and feel a sense of belonging despite of their background, learning preferences or identity.

1. For children with neurodevelopmental disorders-

As neurodevelopmental disorders appear generally when a child enters school or is in their early stage of schooling, primary teachers need to be aware of the various neurodevelopmental disorders and ways to deal with them.
Some common neurodevelopmental disorders include Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual Disability and Specific Learning Disorder.
These disorders become an obstacle in the personal, social and academic functioning if not treated properly. They may also lead to more serious and chronic disorders as the child turns an adult.
The first step is to identify the children who may show symptoms of these disorders. Teachers need to be aware of the symptoms which may include not following instructions, easily distracted, not finishing assignments, quickly losing interest, fidgeting, difficulty in resisting temptations in case of ADHD.
If they find children who have these symptoms, they should inform the parents and higher authorities. After this, the school counsellor can officially diagnose the child. In case the parents, are not ready to accept the teacher ask the counsellor to have sessions with the parents or themselves make the parents aware about the disorder and the need for diagnosis and treatment.
Once the child has been officially diagnosed, the teacher can work with the counsellor/ psychologist to work out an effective plan in order to handle the child.
For example- If the child struggles with being unable to sit still for a long duration of time and keeps moving, an attendant can be attached to the child to take them to walk in the corridor, just before a period.
The teacher also plays a key role in sensitizing other children towards that child. The teacher does not need to mention that that particular child is special or different, rather just inform others that everyone is unique and everyone has their own way of learning and behaving. For that particular child it may be…. And that everyone needs to help make that child feel comfortable because the same would be done for them.
In case of learning disability, extra classes may be provided to the child to help them cope up. Tasks can be broken down into smaller parts, so it is easier for them to complete. The child may be provided with extra writing time for an exam or provided a separate room if they are not able to concentrate in a normal setting.
Teachers should keep track of the attendance of the students. In case of irregularities, they may ask the child. If it keeps up, they may follow up with the parents.
It may not always be possible, but the they can try to notice if there are any changes in the behavior of a child. In case there are, they may inquire with the child or suggest them to talk to the school counsellor.

2. Accompanying different types of learners-

According to the theory of multiple intelligences by Howard Gardener, there are 8 types of intelligences which are independent of each other. Following are the ways to accompany each type of intelligence-
• Logical Mathematical- Encourage making mind-maps and flowcharts. Helping them make a rough draft/ outline consisting of a series of questions and answers to better understand topics and write essays etc.
• Linguistic- Encouraging discussion, word puzzles. They can also be asked to write poems or limericks in order to make their point in an essay.
• Spatial- Showing images, illustration and flowcharts along with the content may make it easier for spatial learners to understand and remember. They can also be allowed to doodle when the teacher is teaching, if it helps them to focus.
• Naturalistic- Teachers can focus on environmental topics. Visits to places like zoo, museum etc can be planned.
• Bodily-Kinesthetic- Allowing students to go out of the classroom or giving 2-3 minutes for students to walk/move in the classroom may help. Acknowledging andallowing them to give adequate attention to plays, sports, dance etc.
• Interpersonal- Encouraging children to take part in group discussions. In case of assignments, allowing children to discuss with their partner.
• Intrapersonal- Giving time to children to think and introspect. Encouraging journaling and self-assessment may be helpful to them.
• Musical- They can be asked to write and compose a song related to a topic in association with a person with high linguistic ability as an activity to understand a topic well.
Also, a problem that may arise is that of students who are introverts and extravertsaccording to Carl Jung’s theory, may require different techniques to be accommodated.
Group activity may be a burden to introverts, but may not be that for extraverts. To accommodate these students, the teacher can give a choice between group activity or individual activity. Group activity can be made compulsory 2-3 times a year, but otherwise, choice can be given to students.
Some students may hesitate in asking their doubts in front of the entire class, so doubt forms can be created online so it is easier for them to ask help. And when the doubts are answered, the teacher may not take the name of the student, so the student feels more comfortable.
In case of online classes, the teacher can ask students to answer both by speaking or by using the chat. This may help students to engage more in classes.
To aid different learning styles according to the VARK systemwhich include visual, auditory, kinesthetic and reading/ writing, various types of teaching aid can be used. Each student has a mix of various styles. The teacher can ask the students to take a written quiz which may include identifying pictures or completing flowcharts. The teacher may ask students to find relevant images or videos or audios related to the topic and share with the class. The students can also be asked to volunteer to make models which require minimal effort. For e.g.- To teach stratigraphy of a site, the teacher may ask volunteers to make a clay model showing different layer.
In case of students who have high intelligenceor are gifted, giving them extra activities or engaging them in other tasks is necessary in order to keep them stimulated.
In case of students who may be very good at a certain area like sports, they should be allowed to miss classes when necessary and be given adequate time to cope up.
As each child has a unique combination of all these categorizations, the teachers will have to try to inculcate as many as possible in her teaching pattern to accommodate as many students as possible, however there will always be times when students may not understand. By having clear communication with students, this can be solved.

3. Being Sensitive

Other than adopting specialized styles to help students, the teachers can in general be more realistic and sensitivetowards the students. The teachers can accept their own mistakes and limitations to help students know that making mistakes is okay, but accepting and moving on is more important. For e.g.- If a teacher does not know the answer to a certain doubt, she can be open about it and tell the students that she will find out the answer and tell them.
The teacher can lead by example, by sharing some real-life anecdotes in order to relate more with students. This will help the students see the teacher as a realistic ole model and not as a person who does not make any mistakes.
Often times, teacher don’t allow students to go the washroom or to the clinic. This behavior reduces the trust that the child has in the teacher. This can also be seen as a violation of basic rights of the child. Only in extreme situations should a teacher not allow a child to go to the washroom or to the clinic.
The teachers can be open regarding topics like sex education, substance abuse etc., by using the correct terminology and encouraging and answering any queries regarding the same. This will increase the confidence the students have in teachers and make it easier for them to approach teachers in case of any queries or doubts.
Acknowledging stereotypesand insensitive comments which exist like girls are more talkative than boys etc. and actively trying to help the students relearn and be more sensitive.
Teachers should focus not only on marks and completing the syllabus, but also in helping students build relationships with classmates and teachers. There should focus on also building the emotional intelligence (EQ) of the students by making them aware of the different coping strategies to process their emotion.
Educators’ can try to sensitize students towards various social groups like the tribals or scheduled castes or the LGBTQ community. For e.g.- If a child is heard using a casteist abuse, the teacher can tell the child about the history of the word and how it came into being as an abuse. This may help the child understand as in many cases the children are unaware of the actual meaning of certain words.
Teachers can also provide the students an opportunity to interact with their seniors or alumni as students can relate more with their seniors as they face a similar set of problems.
Teachers can also ask the students their pronouns, use the preferred pronouns of the students and encourage others to do the same. This will make it a safer space for students.
While talking to parents during parent-teacher interactions, the teachers can try to understand the attitude of the parents and the situation at home in order to better understand a child.
Educators can acknowledge the feelingsof a child in case they come to them for help and give realistic solutions. They can ask them to share more information, if possible,in order to completely understand the situation or refer them to someone they think who can help the child.

4. Being Good at your subject-

An important way that teachers can gain the trust of their students, is by being good at the subject they teach.
The teachers can use Bloom’s taxonomy to ensure that students are able to understand the topic well.
Teachers should not discourage students for asking doubts, however simple they may be. They should also not scold students excessively, but in case they do, they should later explain to the students the reason behind their behavior.
Teachers can provide students with extra sites and resources in case they wish to learn more about the topic. They can also encourage students to themselves share any related information that they find interesting.
Educators can also try to use methods which help in easily remembering stuff like mnemonics or comparison to real life situations.
The teachers should try to be accessible so students can easily connect with them.
Teachers should also appreciate students every now and then as a form of positive reinforcement, which will further motivate students to study.
Educators can also help students by providing them with information regarding competitions and internships which may help them in building their profile for their college. They can also suggest colleges and programmes which may be of interest to the students.
In case the students are not in the mood to study, the teacher can once in a while give them a free period or allow them to complete their work.
They also need to acknowledge that the child also has other subjects to study and other activities to participate in. There is a need to have a realistic and applicable plan for assignments and tests.
Having realistic expectations regarding both the behavior a performance of a child will help in building the connection between the teacher and the student.
Also, it is not only the job of the educators but also the school management to support the teachers by enduring good infrastructure, healthy child teacher ratio etc. among other things.

Teachers can take various steps to make classrooms more engaging and inclusive for children using various strategies and applying several theories. However, the support of the students, parents and school management is required to fulfill the aspiration for holistic quality education.

Khyatika Shah

Second Runner's Up - The Social Network