Reach a Child, Teach a Child
Dr. Irma Ghosn pens handbook to help teachers create happy classrooms.
Dr. Irma-Kaarina Ghosn, associate professor at the School of Arts and Sciences and director of the Institute for Peace and Justice Education, has recently published a book for teachers. The handbook, Reach a Child—Teach a Child: Creating caring, child-friendly and engaging learning environments, is the result of a two-year teacher development project involving 30 teachers from schools in North Lebanon. LAU sat down with Ghosn to learn more.
Why did you write this handbook?
Dr. Ghosn: The idea came in the wake of unpublished research and a report by Save the Children Sweden about corporal punishment in Lebanese schools. The underlying premise of the handbook is that the basic human dignity of children must be respected at all times, including when they misbehave. Teachers need the skills to prepare learning environments in ways that engage children and minimize disruptions and misbehavior, and that respect the human dignity and rights of the child.
What did the project involve?
Dr. Ghosn: Some 30 teachers from 10 schools in North Lebanon were selected to attend workshops on classroom management, positive approaches to discipline, how the brain learns, etc. They returned to their schools to try and implement the new ideas, then came back to LAU for debriefing sessions to share their experiences.
How child-friendly are Lebanese schools?
Dr. Ghosn: Schools here come in all colors. There are exemplary schools with well-equipped classrooms, well-stocked libraries, safe playgrounds, and qualified and committed teachers. Then there are disadvantaged schools in poor areas with crowded, unheated classrooms with nothing but a chalkboard, bare playgrounds with a single basketball hoop and underpaid, overworked teachers with no formal training. There is a wide range of schools in between those two extremes.
Even though corporal punishment is illegal, your book mentions that it persists. Did the teachers you work with use corporal punishment themselves or witness it?
Dr. Ghosn: The teachers who participated did not use corporal punishment but admitted ‘yelling’ and ‘shouting’ at students. Some had also witnessed corporal punishment by other teachers. We introduced them to simple techniques to deal with disruptive behaviors that have been successful elsewhere. In many cases, behavior problems occur because of the lack of careful planning of classroom management strategies or the teaching itself.
How supported do teachers in Lebanon feel?
Dr. Ghosn: Teachers here generally have a relatively heavy teaching load. Many do not have any planning hours during the day. In many primary schools, teachers move from class to class every hour, as opposed to having their own classroom. This means that they must carry any material they wish to use, which limits what kinds of activities are possible. In contrast, the best private schools give primary school teachers ‘homerooms’, their own classrooms, where they can teach most subjects. Teachers also feel pressured to ‘cover the book’ rather than work from key concepts. In the project, we tried to emphasize that the techniques we taught did not require take extra time but could still change the way things were done.