“Miss! I don’t understand how to do this. Please help me working on this problem.”
If you are a math teacher, I bet that you’ve ever heard such a statement in your class. Even more, we know like inherently, in any math class, it’s a common statement to hear. Students ask for help from their math teacher, requesting the teacher to directly guide them finishing the problems they are assigned to because they feel that it is very hard to solve the problem.
As a teacher or parent, we often get questions from our students or children to help them solve their problems (or problems assigned to them). Like a good teacher or parent, we “feel” the obligation to nicely help them solve the problems. That feels like a good thing, doesn’t it? We feel that we are useful or meaningful because our students or kids “need” us to help them, and we feel somewhat valued because of that. As it turns out, it could cause a big problem in the future!
A didactic contract is the name of that condition. A didactic contract is a non-verbal agreement between teachers and students (or parents and kids) whereas when a student asks for help, we feel the obligation to take care and help the student by leading them via step-by-step guidance. It is a contract that we all know and understand and (unfortunately) adhere to, but we just don’t know that there is such a name for it. We often, at least for me, fall to the trap of this contract.
Unfortunately, a didactic contract is frequently followed and obeyed in math classes. As mentioned earlier, this happens frequently because teachers feel the intention to help. Kids are kids, when they face a problem, it is a natural tendency for them to ask for help. It should be the job of the teachers or parents to NOT help them.
Here, I am reminded and realize that helping someone does not necessarily mean actively help or guide them or intervene in the situation. Helping someone could literally be done by not helping them. Or, if that seems too harsh, helping someone could also be done by letting someone does what he or she needs to do and figure things out by themselves. This, I think, is very true. For us who really understand about life, we know that we would learn if we are given the time and space to try and try and try again.
Just like a butterfly. If we try to help a butterfly to get out of the cocoon, we attempt a homicide to the butterfly. The same is true for many cases in education and leadership. There are times when we need to refrain ourselves from helping and directly leading the way, though those actions sound good. Why? Because, if we help them, it might look great now, but not in the future. We teach them to rely so much on us while what we need to do is teach them to think and work independently and collaborate with others but not us.
Education and leadership are just like life. Teaching mathematics is just like teaching about life, and this didactic contract is a strong reminder for all of us. Stop helping our kids or students so much. Let them suffer (literally!). Let them think. Let them struggle and feel the frustration of not being able to easily solve the problems they have. Let them discuss with their classmates or colleagues. Though hard, and they might hate us for doing that, they will truly learn. Sooner or later, they will realize also the significance of that treatment.
Starting from now, let’s stop helping our students or kids or followers, intentionally. However, also keep in mind that we also need to have that wisdom to know when we really need to step in and help them.
Note: as usual, I share with you here a video of my discussion on the didactic contract via my YouTube channel video (in Bahasa Indonesia).