A to Z – The toddler and the Educator
Rachana Misra, educationist
Teachers have often come to me during the time of the year when toddlers are being admitted to school and asked what it is that they are supposed to look for, how do they do it and why should it be done in the face of opposition to interactions and interviews from parents and psychologists. My answer is simply that we need to understand the child whose development we are going to greatly influence. We must be prepared to provide the best of support and the best of the opportunities for learning to each child who is placed in our care. To do so, we have to know the strengths and weaknesses that we need to work upon and therein lies the need to interact with the child and the parents.
In a school running a regular school programme, educators have to be especially careful while admitting those children into the school who may be somewhat different from the norm. This includes children who may be special with mental, physical, behavioural or psychological deficiencies. Though inclusive education is an excellent idea, the educators have to be trained for it and sensitized not only to the needs of the child with special needs in question, but also to all the other normal children in class when special children form part of the class.
Whenever a child is to be admitted, a teacher must have an opportunity to look at him/her, and based on observation and/or interaction, first of all, identify physical deficiency or condition. I had a case once when a child was admitted, and during interaction wore full-sleeved shirt, full pants, shoes and socks, and shirt buttoned up to his neck even on the rather warm day. Though this seemed a little odd, I did not pay much attention to it in spite of noting what looked like multiple scabs and scratches on his face and hands. A few days later, his teacher brought him to me and showed me that he had a genetic skin condition, which though not contagious, was quite repulsive to others around him as his skin kept flaking off. Other kids wouldn’t go near him and many of the teachers were equally unkind. So, though the parents got him admitted, they had set him up for constant ridicule and rejection. Had we known earlier, perhaps we could have sensitized the children and the teachers to accept the child. Ultimately, the child stopped coming to school.
You can hardly judge a child in a 10 minute interaction as far as behavior and mental competency are concerned. So, just go with your instinct. Any educator who has dealt with children on a regular basis for a year or two can sense whether there is anything amiss or abnormal with regard to cognition, behavior or psychology of the child. One has to remember to make allowances for individual nature, idiosyncrasies, even the child’s mood, and make allowances for boredom, lethargy, sleepiness, crankiness, physical discomfort (wet diaper or underclothes, hunger, aches and pains) and newness of environment. A child who has suffered a recent injury, illness, loss, parental separation, or witnessed conflict or physical or verbal abuse will not be his normal self. It is not a good idea to separate a toddler from his parent for interaction or observation. The educator’s job is therefore one which requires an exceptional amount of sensitivity and knowledge. She has to draw on resources which may not be classified as being very scientific at times such as instinct, empathy, patience, and ability to discern and perceive nuances. She has to be fine-tuned to a task that requires a very keen perception and a very sensitized and sensitive heart.
An idea of family background, siblings and parents’ attitudes are also important factors because a child is greatly influenced by his environment and by significant adults and individuals in his surroundings. You must be able to sense any conflict, abnormal behavior or unwarranted attitudes in parents during interactions. This prepares the teacher to handle the child with more understanding and sensitivity later on. This was originally the basis of the practice of ‘parental interaction/interview’ during admission of children to nursery and other classes. Of course, now neither do parents understand this need, nor educators remember that this was the original rationale.
There are certain conditions and learning disorders that may affect children. Educators should be aware of these so that proper support can be provided to the kids. The most common ones include physical deformities, sensory deficiency, Down’s Syndrome, Asperger’s spectrum disorder, autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and dyslexia.
Depending on the quantum of manifestation of symptoms, children may or may not be suitable for inclusive education. For example, it may be possible to include a child with a milder form of ADHD or Autism, dyslexia, auditory or visual deficiency, speech disorders etc. into a regular study programme, but the teacher still has to be trained to handle the class as a whole. If the teachers are not trained for inclusive education, all children in the class suffer. Rather than doing a good deed, the teacher would end up doing irreparable damage to all the kids.
The earliest exposure of a child to the process for admission to school is a critical factor in chalking out a strategy for his overall development. It helps in the identification of traits and characteristics that lay the foundation of personality, character and learning preferences. Parents as well as educators should collaborate in the process so that we can actually devise methods that are child-centric and focus on wholesome development. The process should ideally involve multiple sessions spread over a few days so that educators get ample opportunity to observe and understand the child. An effective and feasible way is to organize a social gathering of the parents and the toddlers in small groups and have the teachers mingle with them to observe and gain insights into parental and child behavior as well as the developmental level of the child.
It is clear that in order to bring a change in the education system and methods, well-prepared educators are needed. The need for creating quality teachers is one that should no longer be ignored. A course like B.Ed that prescribes a one-size-fit-all approach must be revamped immediately. Specialized courses dealing with children of differing age-groups need to be launched to cater to that particular section of children effectively. Standardized requirements other than minimum educational ones should be laid down to choose people who are fit to be teachers. Potential teachers should be assessed for emotional intelligence, creativity, flexibility, learning ability and adaptability among other traits. In fact, the criteria should be made more rigorous to select those who can do justice to teaching, and then train them. Also, trainings and workshops should be incorporated as part and parcel of the teaching profession; not once-a-year in-house trainings (lectures mostly), but a continuous schedule of trainings through which educators may hone their skills, develop themselves professionally and personally, gain knowledge on latest pedagogy and research results, and share experiences on implementation and application of methods and techniques resulting in new insights into child development.
Only if we do this will teaching gain the respect it deserves and educators be able to call themselves professional in the true sense. Lastly, to attract the best talent, monetary benefits and perks should be made more attractive.
Of course, one expects the government to take the lead, among other things, by substantially increasing the funds allotted for development and education. However, other institutes of education, especially management institutes, should evolve courses that will prepare professionals to meet the challenge of creating a new breed of students who are intelligent, resourceful, knowledgeable, comfortable with themselves as individuals, are grounded in reality, are well-equipped with life skills and human values, are well-trained in critical and creative thinking skills, and who will take the country to new heights.
Any institute willing to take up the challenge that will begin a revolution of a new kind?