Learning to See – Ratnavathy

The Eyes of Your Mind  — Ratnavathy


It’s a bright, shiny Monday morning, the last week of your teaching term. You’re standing in the middle of your classroom, amidst a group of learners deeply engaged in the task that you’ve set forth. And utter bliss slowly spreads over you. This, you feel, is the “best-practice” classroom for a teacher.

Now, let’s take a reality check. How many of us have truly felt this way each time around? More often than not, we’re faced with issues that can completely drain us mentally and emotionally. As much as we try to view them as opportunities for continuous learning, there are times that we completely succumb. We’re humans after all, aren’t we? Then, the question is, as teachers how are we going to adapt to meet the challenges that we face with our learners?

You see, the truth is, situations and individuals are often beyond our control. Nevertheless, there is one thing that’s within our reach. It’s how WE react to the challenges that we’re faced with. Can this really be done? But, of course! By using the power of learning how to see.

Turning the tables around – Contradicting your thoughts by your actions

In my journey of teaching and learning, I’ve met learners of diverse cultures, physicality and demeanor. I’d like to share this particular incident with you. It was a new term and I was waiting excitedly in my classroom, chatting with my learners and getting to know them. As I turned towards the window, I saw someone walking pass my class. Obviously, he was a new student. But what really shook me was the ghoulishly dark, sub-cultural fashion statement he was making. Pale features, very dark eye make up, spiked leather jacket and wristband, skull-faced necklace and the darkest lipstick I’ve seen on a man. And that cold, cold stare. I found myself praying under my breath “not here, not here…” And….you guessed right. The next thing I knew, he was knocking on the door and peering into my classroom with a registration slip. What did I do then? For some reason, my actions completely contradicted my thoughts. I gave him the brightest smile and warmest greeting, ushering him in like he was any other learner. Throughout the term, I treated him kindly, praising him when required, encouraging him to do better. And how did he respond? He never failed to greet me each morning with a smile, completed his homework on time, studied hard and was the most polite and participative learner of that term. That was one of my most memorable terms as a teacher. I learned a very meaningful lesson, that as a teacher I need to learn how to reconsider the dogmatism of my own beliefs by looking beyond what meets the eye. I told myself to never judge a learner by the way they portray themselves.

Seeing with the eye of your mind

I once had a learner with a terrible rebellious streak. Every past teacher warned me about him and wished me luck. And boy, was he one rebellious lad. He was always late to class, never did his homework, hated working in groups, and worst of all, he was extremely impolite The worst situation happened when I once told him “Please be quiet” to which he replied, “No, you shut up”. I was completely stumped for words. But one day it changed. And how so magical it was. I was in the midst of class when I got the news that one of my closest family members had passed away. I did the most unprofessional thing. I just stopped short and completely broke down. My learners were too surprised to react. The whole class just stared at me. The only person who jumped up and walked towards me was this boy. He held my hand and said, “Teacher Ratna, please don’t cry. Can I get you a cup of coffee? I know how it feels.” That came as a surprise to me.

A few days later he told me that he came from a war-torn country, which is constantly enduring political reform, his mother was gravely ill in the hospital and his brother was in the military service. From that incident, he toned down and turned over a new leaf. And he keeps in touch even to this day. These are what I consider “moments of awakening” for a teacher. It is sometimes a negative situation that opens our “inner” eyes. As teachers, we need to learn and train ourselves to use our inner eye to see things, or rather, see through things. And this can only be done with practice and by being open to growing alongside our students.

A wise master once said “We are three people in one; who others think we are; who we think we are; who we really are”. Perhaps, as teachers, we’d need to tap into the innermost self of the learner. But, for us to be able to do that, we first have to understand and accept who we really are! By learning how to see within us, we learn how to peer within our learners. And this is how can truly “learn how to see”.

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Published by

Ratnavathy Ragunathan

Ratnavathy Ragunathan is an EFL teacher at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She’s taught both academic and general English for the past 7 years, having worked with YLs, teenagers and adults of different nationalities. Her interests primarily lie in designing collaborative language activities where learning can be both fun and engaging. She considers her jobless days in Korea as her most fulfilling ones professionally, having become an ITDI mentor, starting up her own ELT blog and participating, presenting and conducting workshops in both online and face-to-face ELT conferences. She believes that teaching and learning is a lifelong journey and is continuously striving to become better teacher.

18 thoughts on “Learning to See – Ratnavathy”

  1. Ratna, I enjoyed reading your article as it brought back the bitter sweet memories of my teaching career in Norway where I too learnt to see with my mind and also my heart each individual student’s personality an motivation to learn. It was interesting and very humbling in many ways!
    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Dear Minie,

    You’re most welcome, and so glad that you liked my article:).

    I’ve got a lot to learn from you, as I’ve always told you! I’m very delighted to have met you as well…..

    *Hugs back to you**

  3. Hi Ratnavathy,

    What great stories that I think so many of us can relate to. Since teaching in Korea I’ve seen how students and even whole classes are branded as ‘trouble makers’ and ‘rebellious’. I think this just exacerbates their behaviour when we should be finding ways to engage and motivate them and as you say to ‘see through things’.

    Thanks for sharing,


    1. Dear Gemma,

      You’re most welcome!
      Sometimes as teachers, I think we’re blinded by our emotions when a particular learner-related incident occurs. We react in a certain way that is surely a reflection of our emotions. But it really doesn’t help the situation, does it?

      What you’ve said is so so right. We need to find ways to engage and motivate learners. Enthusiasm, motivation and passion is contagious, you see. Our learners would definitely be able to feel that from us, I can assure you…

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Gemma.


  4. Ratna,

    A fantastic dive into oneself and our perceptions. I think looking at oneself is far too unique a practice in our world and am so glad you have brought to light the incredible power it can have.

    Thank you much for sharing,


    1. John,
      Thank you very much for such a nice comment.

      I am honestly thrilled!
      When I wrote this article, I must admit that I was feeling a little intimidated being amongst people who’ve made a mark in the ELT world. Little did I know that my very own personal experiences that have made a mark in my heart would do the same among so many other educators!

      I guess as humans, it’s very natural of not to be perceptive about ourselves. Sometimes it may be dignity, or perhaps even the need to be ‘perfect and flawless’. But there would always be that one incident that would completely change the way we look at ourselves and everything around us.

      In fact, Howard Gardner, the man behind the theory of multiple intelligence has actually classified the ability to look within oneself as a form of intelligence – ‘intrapersonal intelligence’. I guess we need to just develop this in ourselves both as a teacher and as an individual!

      By the way, I constantly read your blog, and I really admire how honest you are about things that happen in the classroom, and how you always strive to take it in a positive stride. Good on you, John! Keep up the great ‘reflective’ work! 🙂


  5. Dear Gemma,

    You’re most welcome!
    Sometimes as teachers, I think we’re blinded by our emotions when a particular learner-related incident occurs. We react in a certain way that is surely a reflection of our emotions. But it really doesn’t help the situation, does it?

    What you’ve said is so so right. We need to find ways to engage and motivate learners. Enthusiasm, motivation and passion is contagious, you see. Our learners would definitely be able to feel that from us, I can assure you…

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Gemma.


  6. Dear Ratna,

    You have kind of turned the idea of learning to see on its head! Very touching stories. What you did was ignore what you saw, moved beyond your ideas of how a student should dress or behave or look. You treated each student equally, moving beyond your impressions.

    As you know there are a lot of studies about how people’s first impressions influence how they act towards others. Once people think that another person perceives them negatively, they act the way they think they are perceived.

    The movie “Twelve angry men” illustrates how our initial impressions are very dangerous as they are based on our ideas of how “good” and “bad” people look. Many studies of trails show that being blond is better than having dark hair if you want to be found not guilty! Eye color also influences how juries vote!.

    As I said, very touching stories. Thanks loads.


    1. Dear John,

      Firstly, I’m so very excited to receive a comment from someone as experienced as yourself! Thank YOU very very much for reading my article. It really means a lot to me.

      Yes, I’ve read studies of how first impressions count. In fact, this is something that I’m still working on as a teacher and as a person. I sometimes find myself making judgements in my head the first time I meet someone. But, I’m fortunate to have life teaching me the most amazing lessons very frequently. I experience situations that remind me on how wrong I can be to judge someone from their first look, how I need sometimes need to give learners a chance and treat them much better than what I perceive of them til this very day!

      It’s never been easy, but it’s a journey. And the toughest of journeys are usually the most fulfilling ones!

      Thank you so very much again. I wish I had a teacher like you when I was a kid in school. I think I’d be so much more ahead in my life than I am right now!


      Thanks for inspiring me.


  7. Wonderful stories, Ratna. They just prove what we all keep saying – there’s a real person behind the mask. It reminds me decades ago when I was living in the same building as a couple of aggressive-looking punks. They went everywhere together. I must look like I’d been kidnapped whenever I was with them! But, I swear, they were the sweetest thing you could ever find in the streets of London!

    1. Dear Chiew Pang,

      You’re absolutely right! and usually the more dangerous the mask seems, the more sensitive a person can be……

      And it must’ve been quite an experience being seen with your special friends in London more than the experience of being with them itself!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the experiences that I shared…:)


    1. Hello Naomi,

      I’m truly thrilled to hear from you. I’ve just read your profile and what you do is indeed, amazing! I used to wonder how talented a teacher has to be to actually teach learners who have speech of hearing disability. It must take lots of talent, determination, passion, patience and courage. I’d love to meet you sometime in the future!

      It’s interesting that you work in Israel. I had many learners coming from the Middle east as well during my time in Malaysia.

      Thanks so much for commenting. I really appreciate it!


  8. Dearest Ratna,

    We learn so much from stories, don’t we? They happen everyday, and it isn’t until we look back that we realize the impact that those moments had on us and on how we move forward into this world. At the time, those moments may feel incredibly uncomfortable, but they have such wisdom.

    I really connected to the story you shared about your family member. Just this past weekend, we were discussing the idea of what constituted “too much information” when it came to sharing ourselves with our students. We didn’t come to any conclusions about what teachers “should” do when they face a similar situation to the one you described. We were left with questions. Is it professional to show your feelings in class? Should we just suck it up? Is it better for students to see we’re human?

    It’s clear from your story that when teachers show their human-ness, magical things can happen. We may just get through to that student who doesn’t have the ability or strength to share something very sad or difficult for them. By shedding an honest tear, we may let them see they can do it too. It seems you gave this boy strength and the connection he needed. What a beautiful thing.

    And now, by sharing your story, you also open our hearts.

    Thank you Ratna.


  9. Dearest Josette,

    Thank you very much for leaving such a heartfelt comment here. I truly hear you and am smiling to myself!

    You’re so right when you say that we learn so much from stories that happen in our classroom. As humbling as the stories can be, its’ all a wonderful learning experience to help us grow as an individual. I’ve always been the sort of teacher who wants to be as professional as possible in the classroom, usually wanting to keep my personal life rather private. But the particular experience about my family member truly opened my eyes and realigned my perspectives that sometimes we do need to show our human-ness in class; that this is the only possibility for learners to connect with us.

    It’s wonderful hearing from you, Josette !

    There’s no possible way to describe how I feel to be able to share my experiences and inspire many other fellow teacher friends…

    Warm regards,

  10. What a gem of a post. I love it and can very much relate. I totally and wholeheartedly agree with you Ratna; I think it’s a gift to be able to perceive others past the erroneous image they display to others.
    The more the years pass by the more I learn about myself as a teacher and a human being as well or I’d rather say students teach me about myself. Sometimes I’m scared about the growing bond I feel when I’m with my students; it just means that teaching has become my life and since it did I get hurt, terribly hurt when things don’t work out the way I wish them to do. In my context, “the ghoulishly dark” entity as you describe in your post is not a student but rather the System and those who incarnate it. I’d rather stop here.

    Enjoy your teaching and continue to be the empathetic and wise teacher that you are and thanks again for the wonderful post.


  11. Dear Rima,

    You know Rima, the growing bond that grows between yourself and your students is a clear indication that you’re, indeed, a human first before a teacher. And sometimes learners connect better with the “humanness” within us rather than the “teacherness” that we portray.This is what I realized in my classroom.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed reading and connected well with my post.:) And thank you very much for your positive thoughts and words.

    take care!


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