Teacher-Centered Teachers in the Information Age (Part II)

PA180594I’m glad I have very good friends in Almaty and that I love fall weather.  No new information to anyone who knows me in this Information Age.  This photo was taken out of my east balcony which shows the naked birch tree, the imposing Kok Tobe tower behind it.  Of course, fall semester is half way through and soon we will start to see the white snow on the hills with the pine trees in the foreground.  I love the peace and quiet I have in my flat up the mountain from where we used to live. 

Yes, my university colleagues and other friends in Almaty are a good thing because I am also surrounded by Soviet trained teacher-centered teachers who cannot see beyond their own training from years ago.  What I can surmise is that they were told to only teach out of a certain pre-approved Moscow published textbook or else.  And I do mean “or else!”

I’ve written this before and the younger teachers joke about it now but in the old Soviet days “initiative was punitive.”  That was understood by all who went outside the box and did their own innovative lessons besides what was set down in stone.  I had a laugh with Yulia who said that it a joke that all teachers were to lock-step together to the canteen, order the same food and lockstep out again.  Uniformity and conformity was the name of the game.

So it seems to still exist in our “western” style university.  When I sat in on a team meeting of our writing teachers, I witnessed the same thing only I was being pounded on by one of the more Soviet minded teachers.  Apparently the syllabus, that was pre-approved but changed on us yet again, was set in stone and that I was drawing outside the lines.  I had gotten the okay from our Director to use my own syllabus keeping in mind the set percentages for in-class writing, quizzes, mid-term, final project, etc.  But that wasn’t good enough for this particular individual.  According to her, we have inconsistency in the final product if teachers do their own thing and teach their own way.  Aren’t we here to teach writing and all our students are their own individuals and will have a final product with their own stamp or style? (within the limits of APA formatting, of course)

Wow, then at the end this meeting, the same “teacher-centered” teacher asked for the latest syllabus so she could be tracking with the team leader but earlier in front of everyone she had said I was wrong in how I was going about my lessons.  ?!? This is the first semester that I have felt free enough to have given my students the Kolbs learning styles inventory, the temperament sorter, the multiple intelligence test for fear of what others in the group would say.  I’ll be giving a talk about my results on November 19th to my teaching colleagues.  I’ve been asked by one of the deputy directors to give a talk on the differences between teacher centered teaching and student-centered teaching.  Also, I’ve been asked to give a refresher course about Citation Builder and Thesis Statement Builder as a kind of professional development seminar. 

My point that I want to make to my teacher-centered colleagues is that I am here for the students. (certainly I am NOT here for the money while this is the best job for any teacher in Kazakhstan to be teaching at our university) For me, the students become my focus, it goes back to what I wrote yesterday, we as teachers can’t possibly know everything. 

However, what I detect from the insecure Soviet trained teachers who say I’m teaching the wrong way is that they realize they don’t know everything that they should about the computer while their students DO know more than them.  We are living in the Information Age and the Soviet-trained teachers can’t hold on to their out-moded pedagogy much longer.  Even though this is Kazakhstan, we are teaching at a western-styled university that expects writing in English to be a normal part of learning and assessing. 

I could go on and on about examples of teacher-centered vs. learner centered.  For now, I just like gazing out at the beautiful autumn colors.

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