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Unlearn Old Habits And Replace With Effective Ones, Part II

Final Article in the Series by Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant  Part I of this article focused on old, comfortable but harmful, habits deeply grounded in Belize’s Education systems/schools that others, not teachers/students, should unlearn and replace. Part II focuses specifically on “learning” in our schools today in 21st Century Belize, and highlights areas where students and teachers/educators should unlearn and replace old habits.

Teachers have the most important roles in Education! They are the crucial/frontline persons responsible for creating “working” classrooms in schools. Students are the classrooms! Learning is totally dependent on, and cannot take place without, active student participation. Therefore, above all, that old “comfortable” habit (for way too many teachers today) of having students sit still, remain quiet, and listen all day to a teacher MUST be unlearned and replaced. The more effective and productive habit that can sustain student motivation each day: active student participation in each class!

Per Chinese wisdom (“journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”) let us take those first few steps on a difficult, but very necessary, journey to reinvent, reform, and strengthen our school systems in Belize. Let’s make every effort to lower today’s very high dropout rate among students, especially young males, who are “bored out of their minds” in school everyday. Let’s actively help each school, each educator, to better serve our youth and our nation! Our very first, small but important, steps will signal to our young people, and to the world, that yes, schools in Belize today can,

*effectively respond to the rapidly changing world around us today

*successfully educate youth to live and “fit” in 21st Century Belize

Students: Above all else, know that you are not being forced to go to school everyday, against your will. Your attending school everyday (even if you don’t like it) is “your” investment in your future! Despite who/what you may not like at school (teachers and/or classmates), only you will ever have the power to learn for yourself; no one else can ever learn for you. Learning is a deeply personal thing! Learning is NOT about tests and grades it’s about what you choose to do with your drive to learn! Did you know that the human drive to learn is just as strong as the human sex drive? Famous people throughout history, who pursued “non-stop” their drives to learn, lived among ancient civilizations (Egyptians, Assyrians, Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas) as well as in the modern world. Thanks to them we now communicate with the whole world at the touch of a button, transplant parts of our bodies to other persons, and live longer; the list gets longer everyday. I remain confident that we’ll have Belizeans in that list in the 21st Century!

Administrators: Stop looking for and trying to create “good” students in schools today. There are no good or bad students! Rather than looking for, or trying to create, a “good” student, let us accept each and every student for who he/she is. Based on my work for the last two years in Belize as a professional Guidance Counselor, I can safely say that most of the negative behavior (displayed by 500 + high school students with whom I have worked) stems from the fact that many of them do not feel accepted “as they are”. Each time they “explode” in the classroom, it’s a loud reminder to educators: “Fine! Don’t accept me for who I am! What makes you think I will allow you or anyone to change me? Don’t even try!”

Teachers: 21st Century students will not/cannot sit still, remain quiet, and listen to you all day. That comfortable requirement or habit that worked for educators in Colonial days of yore will not work today! There is way too much competition all around us, to even “hope” that young people will sit quietly and listen to us all day. Today our children are far more active and “on the move” than we (parents and grandparents) could possibly ever have been, as students in school. Why? 21st Century Advanced Technology provides students today with exposure from early in life to: computers (very intensely realistic/violent video games, unlimited email sending/receiving, interactive websites, i.e. Facebook, and unlimited cyberspace), radio and television stations that stay on air 24/7, fancy but “tiny” cell phones that accompany us everywhere, and much more. Young people today have access to super advanced technology gadgets that allow “instant” communication with the world! Sitting still and remaining quiet all day, passively listening to teachers will not/cannot motivate students at Secondary or Primary level. In order for us to motivate students to want to learn and remain engaged in the classrooms today, we must use 21st Century motivation techniques, not ancient 19th and 20th Century tactics!

Belizean Universities and/or Teacher Training Institutions: Establish and offer to existing and new teachers more creative and successful ways to work productively in 21st Century classrooms. Update your programs constantly; and do not continue to comfortably rely on what previously worked for teachers! Expose each new and returning teacher to creative ways how teachers can meet “head on” and overcome the many challenges that they constantly face in the classroom, everyday in this Age of Technology. Keep training all Educators in Belize how to find creative ways to overcome the many negative influences with which our young students are bombarded everyday, “inside and outside” the classroom. We cannot and must not rely on what worked for educators 25 years ago! Why continue to rely on “others” (government and police) to pick up where teachers choose to comfortably “sign off” in classrooms or schools? Let’s remain determined to win this losing battle against uncontrollable violence and crime in our country and ensure that educators (“front lines”) win everyday in each single classroom.

Educators: Stop focusing all our energies on WHAT (content) we teach young students today; rather, let’s focus most of our energies on HOW (process) we teach. It is admirable that schools in Belize today have introduced to students many new areas (content) of knowledge, especially computer technology. However (no offense intended for any teacher) the old proverb “it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks” immediately comes to mind each time I speak with high school students who are “failing” Computer Technology classes. It is ironic that many of these students who know far more than I do about computers (with which I have productively been working since 1980) are the ones who are unable to pass IT tests that their teachers give in class. How are we introducing/teaching computer technology today to young students? The focus should NOT be solely on “passing” teachers’ tests, but on teaching/showing young students how to effectively and productively use today’s ever advancing and changing computer technology.
Leaders in Education: Keep in mind that designing/ mapping new and improved school systems is a thousand times easier than implementing new and improved methods of successfully working with students everyday. Recently there have been many impressive speeches (radio, T.V., newspapers) of new plans/great things to come in our Education Systems in Belize. I pray that all the energies in those speeches will also be available/used during the implementation process. Moreover, let us continuously expose teachers and students, at all levels, to unfamiliar places and experiences, so they will always feel prepared to face “daily” new challenges in this new Age.

What is OUT: Expecting/allowing teachers to do the same thing, over and over in the classroom, just because it worked in the past for other teachers!

What is IN: Seeing Belizean leaders, educators and politicians working everyday, side by side, to understand and care about the different communities in which our many young students live and draw on for support. Seeing educators/teachers each day “accept” each student “as is” in a first attempt to “motivate” him/her to want to learn. Presenting modern techniques and new content will never be enough to educate young students.

In advance, I thank the person who “continues” where I now leave off. Best wishes to all educators and students for continued successes in Education!

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