What are my strengths, Akka?

Today, as part of preparation for the upcoming board exams, I made my class 9 and 10 students go through the motions of goal setting. We spent an hour, each class, figuring out our monthly goals between now and June 2017 when we will appear for the all-too-dreaded (by me) board exams. How often do you want to do past papers, I asked them, expecting a once-in-a-month response. Every week, Akka, they all chorused, surprising me once again with their yearning to give it their all. I suspect I will blog excessively about the trials and tribulations of trying to mimic an Edexcel question paper in the near future, but crossing that bridge later…

Coming back to today’s class. Goals, I told them. Out of fifty each for reading and writing with only two very simple rules. They weren’t allowed to set goals below what they had already achieved last term, and over the long term, the goals had to show some kind of upward curve. At what rate, to what extent, the details were up to them. I wanted realistic goals that they would commit to, something tangible for them to work towards when I stick the question paper in their faces next Monday. They nodded gravely and pulled out scales because what kind of tabular column could be made without neat presentation? (Yes, I was very proud).

But the surprise of the day came at stage two of this introspective process. After our goals were in place, I asked them to draw up a quick SWOT analysis for me, explaining that one axis mapped the positive-negative spectrum while the other mapped the internal-external spectrum. I told them they could write about anything as long as it had some basic connection, however tenuous, to their preparation for the ESL board, since that was the core purpose of the exercise. After a few minutes explaining what the O and T were and processing it, a couple of hands hit the air with coincidentally the same doubt. Is a teacher who is stricter than IGCSE an opportunity, Akka? I told them they could figure out whether it was O or T!

Yet through this exercise what struck me the most was this. The kids in front of me were committed (most of the time), honest (most of the time) and trained in a school of education that prioritized experience and exposure over most other things, much like my own high school. Whether for lack of introspection or lack of vocabulary, I do not know, but time and again I was faced with the question – Akka, what are my strengths? Or worse still, statements of utmost confidence – Akka, I don’t have strengths. I have filled in everything else.

With a few more minutes, a little more cajoling, and a lot more convincing that everyone has strengths, the column was sprinkled with something or the other. Yet, the teacher in me was more than slightly shaken. Was I reading too much into this by assuming it reflected self-confidence? Was I using adult lenses to judge childish innocence? Or was I just handed a teaching moment on a platter, one that might set them thinking about their own good-at and not-so-good-at lists? I wish there was a black and white to situations like this. Instead, I occupied myself with erasing the whiteboard clean, each swipe of my arm carrying with it a little stroke of my own handwriting spelling out what S-W-O-T means.

Things to think about all around.

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