HOW UNPREPARED I WAS WHEN I BEGAN TEACHING

How unprepared I was when I began teaching! Soon I understood there is no better way to learn how to teach than through teaching. I don’t claim to be a great teacher but I got the opportunity to interact with the brightest minds. In one sense I am successful, as I have received more from my students than I could give them. I have known that the learning curve is infinite. I have understood that the knowledge of ‘what is’ is necessary but more important is to understand ‘what it should be.’ I am fortunate that I got reasonably good education, and I wish to use it judiciously. ‘Extended’ education has broadened my vision. I have learnt that aesthetic development of the senses is as important as the intellectual.

I did my schooling in a corporation school. Before you draw any conclusion let me tell you that it was one of the best primary schools in Kanpur. My school had swimming pool, horse riding facility, etc. I still remember my school function, and my non-speaking role in Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. That was the only time I have performed on the stage. Even corporation schools can be good. I still very fondly remember our school’s headmistress. She was incidentally our city municipal commissioner’s wife. You might argue that she could not have managed the school so well if she was not the commissioner’s wife. It could be a possibility, but the commitment and dedication with which she ran the school was entirely her own. I am happy and proud that I was once a student of this school. I feel sad when I see the school now, for it has lost most of its glory. Dislike for an authoritarian learning system is now an accepted fact. I was very much surprised when I learnt that Einstein was not liked by his teachers; the reason, his independence. It is very unfortunate that in many schools this situation still prevails. Rabindranath Tagore did not believe in formal schooling. He felt “we rob the child of his earth to teach him geography….his hunger is for epic, but he is supplied with chronicles of facts and dates…” He had faith in personalized education. But how many of us can afford the luxury of personalized education?

I support the view that academic credentials are not sufficient to become a successful teacher.  A great teacher not only gives knowledge and information to the students, but also gives emotional and moral moorings. It is not surprising that the qualities students like most in teachers are their flexibility in approach, deep sense of understanding of student psyche, communication skills for interaction with all categories and calibres of students, and above all, a sense of humour to liven up the class room.

The quality of teacher-student relationship depends on how well responsibilities are understood and undertaken by both the sides. This relationship cannot sustain unless a student has respect for his teacher and the teacher a close rapport with the students. We have to remember that respect does not come attached with the teaching profession. It has to be earned. One has to take genuine interest in his students. I tried to understand the problems of my students; be the problems were due to parental or peer pressure, low self-esteem, money worries, etc.

In order to keep pace with time some changes are inevitable. But we also know that human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein, it rejects it. But the body cannot afford to reject the strange protein if it is required for survival. In such a situation, whether it likes it or not, it learns to live with the strangers. There is no way, other than to evolve, and follow new rules of the game.

The world is shrinking. There is knowledge explosion. In this ‘shrinking’ and ‘techno bulged’ world the difference between a trained worker and a merely enthusiastic worker is clearly evident. Although the primary role of a teacher will not change, classrooms will be more interactive. Students will have more course and career options. Teachers will be needed to adapt to new technologies. They will also have to deal with students who presumably know or want to know ‘where they are supposed to be going.’ Increasingly we have to get used to and cope with less secure environment, students exposed to higher academic pressures, job competitions, consumerism, etc. Due to varied requirements of the profession, a teacher may have to gain experience in field or type of work he is not trained in. Many mid-career scientists are going back to classrooms to equip themselves with new technologies in related as well as alien areas.

Schools are undergoing major structural changes. They are making learning environment more interactive, and that includes modern teaching methodologies, state of the art physical infrastructure, innovative programmes etc. Regardless of how innovative its teaching methodologies are, or how much state-of the-art its infrastructure is, schools are primarily known by the quality of its students and the capabilities of its teachers. Students are partners as well as major beneficiaries of the learning process; in some situations they offer useful insights. If we encourage their participation in the developmental process, we can help inculcate a sense of belonging and create an environment that encourages the development of independent thinking mind.

The education system should have an inbuilt mechanism to recognize the good, assist the struggling and get rid of the incompetent. The traditional examination system needs to change. The teachers will be assessed by their peers and also evaluated by their students. I have the experience of performance evaluation by my students. All I can say is that it has helped me understand my students better, also prompted me to reach out to meet their expectations, and importantly, contributed to see myself evolve as an understanding teacher.

Of course teaching profession will have to provide incentives and motivations. I would like to wish that the teachers are provided with the best possible and most workable system that would allow them to prepare the foundation of the student for facing the world and the life with confidence and fortitude. We have to recognize that training is expensive to impart as well as to receive. There is and will be confusion due to the mushrooming of the so-called teaching shops. In due course some of them will disappear, and only quality institutions will survive. I expect alumni will have a greater role in the development of their alma mater.

Some of today’s students will be tomorrow’s teachers. Einstein put it so nicely “Bear in mind that the wonderful things  you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by the enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honour it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children.” I cannot agree more with what Mortimer Adler said many years ago: “For many centuries, education was regarded as the elevation of a mind by its betters. If we are honest, most of us living teachers should be willing to admit that, apart from the advantages which age bestows, we are not much better than our students in intellectual calibre or attainment. If elevation is to take place, better minds than ours will have to do the teaching. That is why, for many centuries, education was thought to be produced by contact with the great minds of past and present”.

More than the mind it is the heart that makes a teacher. It is a way to be with the students. A teacher knows about his students as much as she/he knows about her/his subjects. Teaching is truly an inward human activity. It is not merely an intellectual, or emotional, or spiritual pursuit. A mere intellectual teacher is a cold abstraction of facts. A mere emotional teacher is a narcissist. A mere spiritual teacher doesn’t have any anchor to the real world. A combination of the three, when interwoven into the fabric of the self, makes a teacher. Teaching is not a mere technique; it requires identity and integrity. Just think of a craft teacher. She knows her job. She is aware of the details of her craft. She respects the material she uses. She can connect ideas and can give a product of the desired finesse, and can convey it to the students with generosity. Teaching opens the heart. Don’t be disheartened if students can’t see the big picture, instead they care about short-term outcomes. It is the teachers that are training students to ask only short-term questions, where there is immediate pay-off. As a teacher we have to make the students aware of their inner reality. Students want to see the big picture. A teacher can help them to see the big picture. A good teacher invokes in her/his students a capacity for connectedness. Methods don’t dictate connectedness, heart can. Heart is where intellect, emotion and spirit converge. A good connectedness among a teacher and students helps in resolving unresolved questions. No teacher knows all, and to accept this fact, teachers need a different kind of maturity. Shadows and limits are as much a part of teacher, as strengths and potentials are.

Teaching is not merely an image building exercise. If I am ever asked, what is the most flattering description of a teacher — a Hero, or a Role Model — I would go for Hero. A role model impacts our life for a shorter period. Once his role is over, he disappears from the scene. Hero remains with us for a long time. We know that drawing is different from tracing. When we draw, we encounter discontinuities. These discontinuities disappear when we trace. But many of us like to live with few discontinuities. A teacher tells us that discontinuities are normal. Discontinuities help us to form the driving force that takes us to our destination.

Only a good teacher has the authority to teach. Authority is not power. It is the capacity to stand on the ground when faced with the challenges of the classroom. Authority comes from a teacher’s inner self. A teacher is a friend. He gives a feeling of trust. A teacher turns a mirror into a window.

It gives me great satisfaction that I am a teacher. I have understood that classroom is not a room full of strangers. I have known that teacher’s obligations to his student extend well beyond the classroom and formal schooling. “One repays a  teacher badly, if one remains only a pupil.” In keeping with the spirit of the time, I am happy that my students are now my guides. I am a teacher. For me the most joyous moments are when I am in the classroom. I feel good when I explore uncharted territories with my students. I feel good that my students are now my teachers.

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