David Schalm tells us why teachers are impacting the world in a far greater way than they may ever know.
When we speak to David Schalm, a humanities teacher at the International School of Hyderabad, his passion for teaching history clearly comes through.
I have taught a variety of subjects over the years, but one of the reasons I became a history teacher is that I just didn’t like the way history was taught when I was growing up. I thought there was a better way to do it.
David’s workspace has drawings of historical figures like Gandhi and Hitler, and when we ask him about this, he tells us proudly that they were created by his students. “In the introduction to Pre TOK, I had to do an argument of individuals versus events as being more important in changing world view,” he says. “One of my students is a talented artist and he happened to draw two meaningful individuals as part of his argument for his presentation.”
David has more than 10 years of experience as a teacher and has worked as an IB history teacher at both the standard level and higher level. He started his career in New Orleans, before moving to Hyderabad where he has been teaching for the last five years. He has worked with the Common Ground Collaborative with his 6th, 7th and 8th grade humanities students, with a focus on enquiry based project learning.
With his mother being a teacher and a pastor father, David grew up in an environment that was kind of already built up in a way and teaching came naturally to him. According to him, learning happens anywhere and anytime, and not necessarily within the walls of a classroom.
“I have never passed an opportunity to learn, regardless of the subject matter, who I am talking to or where I am in the world,” he says. “There is so much cumulative knowledge and so many perspectives to understand. The opportunity to learn is always there, and I have always tried to take advantage of it by learning whatever I can and to also make connections between various things.”
David insists that this inter-connected view of the world has made him a teacher who doesn’t restrict knowledge to the subject he is teaching. “I want my students to learn for the sake of learning and to make connections between what might seemingly be topics that don’t have a connection,” he says.
Challenges in the classroom
David says, teaching has become bogged down by its own excesses. Gone are the days when one could simply explore a topic and try to understand it for its own sake.
Teaching has become over complicated and over analysed in the way we try and always break it down. We focus on so many aspects of how to teach, grade, or the standards that we have to meet.
One of the ways David addresses this challenge is to call it our classroom instead of my classroom. This gives students advocacy and a voice. They have control of their own learning and they can find ways to get an education without thinking that it is a task beyond their reach. “I want students to be comfortable enough to say, hey Mr Schalm the way we have been dealing with this topic isn’t quite working out for me,” he says. “I can then help personalize it for them, make changes, talk to them and find out what is holding them back from this particular approach to learning.”
Little ways to build student advocacy
David makes a very important point when it comes to impacting student learning – a teacher’s constant struggle to encourage students to look beyond the grades.
“The most important thing for me is to find ways to get the students to stop asking whether something is graded or whether there is going to be a test”.
Here is when things get interesting. There is no way that every subject a student learns will interest them but when a teacher finds ways for students to personalize it for themselves and to find a connection, then the teacher is allowing the students to make decisions and become advocates.
David gives us an example of how he could do this in a classroom. “It might be as simple as starting off a topic with KWL – know, want to know, learnt,” he says. “We then say, here is the topic. What do we already know about it? We can present them with some opening ideas to gather interest. Let’s not worry about what you should know or already know about this topic. Let us worry more about what you want to know.”
David insists that intuitive platforms like Callido really pluralize learning for students and build their skills. “When we introduced a new concept or skill, we could always turn to Callido to get students to dig a little deeper in a concise manner,” he says. “This doesn’t happen as much when we put material together ourselves.” The result? By the time the class took the baseline Caliber assessment (an ATL skills diagnostic) and received the results for students, to the time they took the endline Caliber assessment, even their highest performing students showed massive growth in their skill levels, in terms of the work they were submitting.
The brave new world of digital learning
Should teachers and educators know how to work with digital learning resources in school? David maintains that at this time and juncture, it is vital. We live in a digital world and have access to a lot of information. This has led to a turning point for educators – no longer are they the arbiters of knowledge and information.
It has really starting to become a new kind of world when we have to guide students and give them the skills and knowledge on how to analyse and interpret all this data. How can they sift through this data and recognize what is going to be a valid source of information? This is part of a teacher’s job. They need to understand these technologies and use digital tool belts if they want to keep going.
However, his most important advice for teachers is to persevere. “You will face roadblocks, you will have to adapt and find ways of working within the system you are part of, but it is always possible to find ways to get students back to learn for the sheer joy of learning,” he says.
He adds, “I always tell my kids to stop worrying about grades and focus on learning. The grades come automatically! This is the most important part of my work as a teacher. It means that regardless of what school I am in or where I am teaching, this will always be my number one goal.”
At Callido, we believe that teaching is not just a job, but it is a life journey. Our series on spotlighting the skills champions captures the journey of various educators from across the world towards skills development in their classrooms. To read more about the journey of other inspiring teachers and educators, log onto https://blog.callidolearning.com