“We have to educate the public about what is teaching : a lot of work and stress. It’s hard to realise how much we work.”

Indrani

Meet Indrani, English teacher, The Gateway School (India).

Hello Indrani, can you introduce yourself ?

I’ve been a special educator for 30 years. I got my basic training in India, in Mumbai. When I started working, I realised I didn’t know enough and I needed further education so I went to the States and I got my bachelor in special education. I’ve always been a special educator even though I might have stepped out of this little bubble, and worked with teachers in the mainstream. I’d rather do inclusion and collaborate and never thought of changing because I like the problem-solving part of “special ed” and dealing with individuals to see the growth.

How do we get the public to consider teachers ?

We often consider teaching as being something easy, it is not easy ! We need to educate the public about what is involved in teaching. It’s not about opening a textbook and reading it ! It involves planning, it involves being able to manage a group of people, to engage it. There is no easy way to answer to your question. People would see me and tell : “You have so much stress at work !” My dad would never understand why I had to go back to the US two weeks before school started. So I think what it is going to take is : first of all, the people in the field should take it seriously, making this career choice for good reasons, not for public holiday, not because it seems easy. Then we need to have some public relation to educate people about our job and it’s reality.

What do you think about teacher and research ?

In the US, last 10–12 years, they’ve been looking at evidence bases : what are the evidences ? What are the researches on this topic ? And now when people go to get their masters in the US, they get that. Teachers here in Gateway do a lot of research, we even have a book club between us to share some readings. Indira (The Gateway School’s founder, who created this school thinking about her child with learning challenges) came from the US so we are US-oriented but we look a lot abroad to find best practices and adapt them to our school. We have to be in touch with studies and new datas. I had a superintendent who read constantly, she was reading professional books, to stay ahead of the game.

What was your best moment in Gateway?

There was that child that came into the school, the first year I had him here, he would not let me finish my sentences, he was constantly interrupting, he would read half a sentence and ask “what is the meaning?”. But I’ve seen a lot of progress. And it was not only my job and that’s important. I deeply believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and for this child it took a lot of collaborative work with the parents, others professionals to see progress . He walked a long way, his understanding had increased, he became a lot more confident — maybe too much ? — , he’s an active reader now. But it take time and sometimes you may not see the results of what you did.

Can you illustrate teaching with an image?

I think I would say a puzzle because, you know, we are not producing widget. It’s not an assembly line, nor can we apply a business model on education. So that puzzle is a child and, as a teacher, we try to put the pieces together to develop the whole child. I may be a language teacher but I’m also looking at others areas, with literature it is easy because we speak about values and character when we discuss about a book so I get to introduce some social and emotional skills. But like a puzzle, teaching it not straight forward, there is a lot of variables. We don’t have any models, we need to be creative, to think out of the box.

Some tools to teach langage ?

In the writing classes, I follow the Writing Workshop : it is a method of writing instruction developed by Donald Graves, Donald Murray and other teachers / researchers to encourage students to become lifelong writers. It combines mini-lessons taught to the class or to a small group on some specific skill or writing strategy (using dialog to show an action, creating imagery through words…), and a long time devoted to practice and conferencing (see next point). Students are following a writing process that traditionally operates in 5 steps : prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. The purpose is to move from a focus on written products to writing processes.

During those workshop, I encourage and give place to peer conferencing : a child comes to help another model his story through discussion and feedbacks. I also teach them how to give proper feedbacks.

Also, but that’s a bit different, when I was in the US, I used to work on Response To Intervention that is a very common program now. It is a three tier approach to identify and support students with learning and behavior needs:

  • Tier 1 High-Quality Classroom Instruction, Screening, and Group Interventions : students are given high quality instruction and are frequently screened to identify needs.
  • Tier 2 Targeted Interventions: these services and interventions are provided in small-group settings in addition to instruction in the general curriculum.
  • Tier 3 Intensive Interventions and Comprehensive Evaluation : students receive individualized, intensive interventions that target the students’ skill deficits.