Kirsten my "waiter" son.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010



I started my career as a teacher way back in 1992 when I was a spinster, fresh out of SXIE, Mumbai. Being an idealistic teacher, I strove to make significant dents in the profession. I found very few takers, with my colleagues rebelling as well as the parents of my wards. Learning took a back seat as we all worked hard to complete portions and ‘look good’ in the eyes of the management and the Education Dept who paid us our salaries.
We had to shepherd large flocks, sometimes as overwhelming as 74 children in one class. It was a Herculean task, one we were never trained for. Class control was my Achilles’ heel, and it ate into the precious time that should have been rightfully spent on set induction, content matter and application. We could never go beyond knowledge, comprehension was once in a blue moon, application had been thrown out of the dust-covered window long ago so new ideas just couldn’t see the ‘light’ of day.
Know what education means? It means to, yes, you’re right, ‘bring out the best’. Whose best are we referring to- the students, the teachers or the Education Department? Naturally, it is the student. Take a typical student who gets up early morning, grumbles as he brushes his teeth, then eats his meagre breakfast in a tearing hurry, one eye on the clock. He grabs that sack of books and rushes off to school so he can reach there before a disapproving principal intercepts him and give him a late remark in his calendar. Pressure to perform! In the classroom, he is pressurized to perform for the teacher, to give correct answers, to submit completed books, to get high scores in tests besides performing at debates, elocutions, etc. If he shows interest in sports, he is pressurized to compete against faster athletes, stronger discus throwers and swifter swimmers. All in all, one wonders when that whistle will blow and our hapless student will find relief in reading a book just for the pleasure of knowing something he is curious about or standing up before an audience to enlighten them on a topic he has researched with great enthusiasm.
Does the student want go to school at all, I dare to ask? He would probably say No. But then what else? Is there an option for him? Would he have the discipline to educate himself at home? The answer is a Maybe! So what is the student to do? How can school-going be a pleasant experience for the hapless child? I believe this is where the parent steps in, not tutors or coaching classes. When you sit down with your child, two things happen. The HW gets done, but also, more importantly, you bond with your child. and sometimes he teaches you things you never knew. I am a Science teacher, but I’ll admit I am nil at Geography, and History bores me to tears. But when I sit down and browse through the Atlas or explain to my son how Gandhi fought the British, I land up doing more research for my son then is needed for the assignment.
Learning is an experience, not a means to a piece of paper that will ensure a good job or the best marriage partner. So the attitude to it should be one of fun and active interaction. Very often, our schools do not reflect this ideal. Look into any classroom across the wide spectrum of our nation and what do you see? A stiff teacher in front of a blackboard, talking to a bunch of students who are either dreaming, playing pranks silently or who are sitting with bored expressions on their faces. The only time you will see any sign of life is when the teacher give them notes to copy. Then there is a feverish race to be first to finish in order to earn that pat on the back or a positive remark in the calendar. The ‘good’ students look with scoff at the teacher who keeps making glaringly silly mistakes, the ‘bad’ want her to get to the notebook completion part and the ‘ugly’ just want to go to the toilet once again.
So how can a teacher get a child to learn happily? Encourage your student to read: most schools allow a weekly loan of books and some even allow students to sit back after school to research. Carry books with colourful pictures from the library for each lecture and allow them to touch the books and glance through them.
Get them to be teachers for a change. I would select a topic from one of my lessons and assign different sections to the students, dividing the entire class into groups. They had to prepare a chart and a model, and then do a presentation in class. Those who were good at art did the charts, those with mechanical skills attempted the models, while those with a gift for public speaking did the presentation.
Generally, the week before any exam is famously known as Revision Week. It is that time of the year that teachers dread the most because one has to make sure that the students don’t think its Picnic time. I would keep my students entertained those days with quizzes with points for correct answers. They were teamed according to the row that they sat in. The rule was that everyone in that row had to answer a question once before I’d allow any of them to answer a second question. This ensured that all participated.
My philosophy is that learning can take place anywhere and through the most unusual means. Once, I was with my students at the annual school picnic when I spotted a vividly-hued flower. I sat my boys down and gave them a lesson on ‘Parts of a Flower’. Several boys picked similar flowers and did their ‘practicals’ right there in the park. Had I done the same lesson in a laboratory/classroom, I wonder if I would have got the same reaction?
A first-hand experience sure beats any book knowledge. In our B.Ed days, we once had a demo on snakes. I gingerly touched the body of a snake for the first time, realizing that I had a morbid fear for them but wanted to marvel at its sleek beauty. Stress is the number one factor that works against free thinking. How can a student, who is trained to write an answer exactly word to word from the text in a language he has poor mastery over, be ever expected to use the information he has got through his research on the Internet, to answer an exam? Regular assignments coupled with vivas on the salient features to ensure that the matter is not a Copy-Paste version from an Internet site are more conducive to learning. Presentations of such assignments in the form of charts or a reading in class will help the other students to learn too. In fact, exhibitions are held for this very purpose.
I still dream of a school with the ideal number of 20 students per class, where a teacher is an educator in the true sense of the word. In my dream school, there will be a helper in each class to aid the teacher, sufficient finances so innovative methods and tools can be used to educate, a progressive management that puts its students first, a PTA that is a salve, not a slave to the system and an Education Department with no political ambitions. The teacher would know each of her students not only by name and face but also by talent. She would interact with their families, visit them at home and invite them to hers. She would communicate with them via presentations in class and via the net from home. Her phone would be their helpline 24*7. She would lend them her shoulder to cry on and her limited wisdom to rely on.
Dear Teachers, every student you touch with your love leaves school a little blessed. If you focus on striving for excellence and ‘bringing out the best’, success is bound to follow. Make that difference, make it now!

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