A good teacher

Do you remember having a good teacher? Or a particularly bad one? Reflect on your memory, what was about it about this teacher that makes them stand out for you?

As soon as the prompt appeared for this week’s reflection on the What Future for Education course, the image of Nalini madam from NHPS immediately popped into my mind. So, I had to use her to reflect further; was she the good one? Was she the bad one? What made her stand out from the other teachers I’ve had over the years?

Nalini madam taught us Computer Science from Grade 8 until 10. She was also the head of the Computer Science department, which was a post of great reverence back in the late 90s, when the tech world was beginning to flourish in India. She was in her late 50s, wore a pixie cut, had natural streaks of grey, black and white (even before the salt n pepper trend caught on), and always wore sleeveless blouses to match her crisp sarees. Her reputation preceded her and we knew about her being a cleanliness freak even before we hit Grade 8. A number of my classmates had been left in tears after a powerful dressing down from for not washing their hands after a restroom break or letting that nose drip over in class.

She was always good to me and is one of the few teachers through my life whom I’ve been friends with. We had fun trips to her home, where she made lemongrass tea for us, from grass picked fresh from her garden. I think her genial behavior was a reflection of the kind of student that I was back then – did well in her subject, often aced her tests and quizzes, was respectful of her for her age, and was obsessive about cleanliness in my own weird way. In all honesty, I was an avid people-pleaser back then and would do wheelies if you asked me to, just to get on your good books. In the end, she and I were in good terms always.

But when I think of her as a teacher objectively, she was not great at teaching. She was often unapproachable to most children; no one dared to go to her after class to clarify their doubts. She was extremely short-tempered and often used fear tactics to get her class to behave. Her teaching methods were mostly lecture-based and there was little to instill curiosity in the subject except for its innate nature of being novel during those times.

I feel that this difference in images of one person as a teacher is what made her stand out among all others. Most teachers were universally genial or strict. She was one that very evidently had different behaviors and left different students with different opinions.

How does this image of a teacher relate to other images you have of a “good” teacher?

With that evalution, I think there are a few attributes that come to mind when I think of a good teacher

  • She should be approachable – available for the students
  • A friendly teacher enables students to relate to her better, and overcome the fear of authority
  • Should employ teaching methods that allow students to think
  • Should trigger discussions and debates in class; should never be the first one to give the answer out
  • She should be a lifelong learner – the know-it-all never motivates children to learning.

Aunty, There’s a bad word in the dictation

Day over day, I am surprised by children and their intelligence. Especially when working with the little ones, the ten year olds; I always walk in assuming they know a certain something and nothing more. And then they go out and surprise me.

The following happened today.

VSing, after correcting his partner’s dictation answers: Aunty, That’s a bad word in her dictation answers.

S: How can that be? We aren’t doing bad words here, are we?

VSing, moving closer and whispering his softest: Aunty, You asked us to spell ‘prone’. She’s written ‘porn’.

I do not remember when I first learnt that word, or when I truly understood the meaning of it. But, I am definitely sure it wasn’t in 5th grade, when I was ten.

It got us talking in the staff room about how children these days have too many sources for information, resulting in their innocence being snatched away earlier than normal. I can imagine a situation where this child read the word in a book that he was reading, or heard it in a movie/series that he was watching, and got curious about what it meant. A truly progressive family would have parents that are approachable enough for this child to ask them about it. In which case, he wouldn’t have associated the term ‘bad word’ with it. Which makes me think that the child resorted to other means of identifying the meaning of the word – the mighty dictionary, or better yet, a more knowledgeable sibling or friend.

And that second alternative worries me.

What worries me more is my acting casual about his observation, and moving on to the next ‘good’ word in the dictation. Should I have used that time to address the taboo associated with the word? But would it have been too early for these young minds? As teachers, we always talk about how the best time to give children sex education is when it comes up naturally in the class discussions. Was today one of those natural ways? Did I miss an opportunity to tell them about sex in the right way?

Day 1: Exciting experiences

A new year begins and a batch of bright-eyed 10 year olds move from grade 4 to 5. As their anchor teacher for the year ahead, I’m hopeful of a lot of learning and many many experiences. While the last week of planning and preparation was meant to ready me for this first–time experience, I don’t think it came even close. Because nothing can prepare you for the noise and the chatter and the sheer energy you feel in the room. For every question that you put out, every one of them has a response and some more than two.

The 10 year olds are ruthless. They watch every move you make and remember ever breath you take. And make sure to point out at your face if you’ve over stepped one line. They are also the sweetest. They yell for you and wave at you from the bus. They want to know what your mother tongue is so they can blackmail you in it. At the end of the day, I think they all want to see you happy

  • Boys and girls. As we shuffle them up to sit with kids of the opposite gender, they squirm and twist, still thinking that boys are ewww.
  • Write. They want to write, write, write. Even if it’s simple copying the timetable for the next day, they’re so excited. And that’s why they love their diaries.
  • RTE. There is a very obvious difference between the regular kids and those who’ve joined through SSA. No other boy of this age would wear a pink colored socks, or girl dress in knee high basketball jerseys. These children are definitely going to be in my purview all year, to see how far they travel.

My brother told me that the middle school boys washroom is haunted, aunty. Is it?”

“I don’t have a brother or sister. But my mother is a topper. And she told me that if I come home and revise everyday, then I will also be a topper.”

“Aunty, is middle school as boring as today was?”

“What are the breakable rules at school, aunty?” 

Day 139: 2017 Highs – EduMan

It’s 2018. 2017 has gone by, and the cyberspace is overflowing with messages of hopes for the upcoming year, reviews of the year that went by and promises for the new year. Here’s my year in review but focused on the major highs and the lows.

EduMan

I knew the man had material to impress way back in 2010-2011 itself, when I had reached out to him for TFI. There was something about him, the energy and the passion that came with his discussions, that was admirable at the least. I should put it out there that it must be those discussions with him while firming up the application for TFI that established my interest in the education sector deeply. So, if it works out, he is on my Vote of Thanks for sure. Even it spirals down, I’m sure he will get a positive mention.

EduMan carries a certain calmness and simplicity about him that is inspiring. For someone like me that is always trying to make her words keep up with her thoughts, I believe that his personality is one to emulate. Over the period of the internship, I saw him as a great leader, a visionary thinker, an avid reader, an inspirational academic, and a great companion.

  • He has taught me to weave the professional and the personal seamlessly so that they are not absolutely discrete and yet do not overstep their roles. This is something I’m still struggling to master in my own life. The man has a smooth way of treading into the professional aspects amidst a personal interaction, and still keeping the conversation contextual.
  • He has also made me extremely conscious about acknowledging and employing skills that people have. After that month with him, I realized how little I share praise for a person’s good deeds. EduMan does not hesitate to endorse quality work or inputs as he sees it, and I think in today’s cynical world, we need more such minds. We need more people celebrating more, even the littlest, successes. With enough positivism, the world might just become a happy place after all.
  • The final learning from my watching EduMan work more closely was how insufficient my network truly was. He was a collector, of people. He had surrounded himself with people that could motivate, teach and help him so that he was protected from any situation that life might throw his way.

He is the first to officially pay me for my editing duties – all based on a silly college editorial team that we were a part of ten years back. He brought to me people and experiences that have enriched my life so far. He has taught me to smile and to goof through it all.

I’m excited for the year ahead and the work that will come our way.

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Day 135: Wrapping up the year

Teaching Sharing

The last working day of the year ended in style: I got to teach a two-hour lecture and wrap up the session. There was a slight pressure when I found out that ChaCha, SrA and the SoulSurfer would be sitting in too. But most of those become trivial when you start teaching. It was more fun because I got to teach some technology, stuff from the life of 10 years. It reminded me again about how important it is to be content-strong. A few quick learnings from the session:

  • It’s always important to relate to the class and set up a tone of comfort before you get into teaching
  • There will always be those that are disinterested; forcing them to participate won’t help anybody
  • The front-benchers are your best friends – keep them happy
  • It’s always nice to know the names of the class
  • Some teachers make every topic/lesson boring, purely by bringing in exercises, evaluation and assessments into the picture – don’t be that person.

Overall, it was a good way to end the session before we broke for the semester. 

Mado turns a year older

Mado’s big day started my kinda way – with some authentic breakfast at MTR. It was fun to know that I had introduced all three to the beauty of some quality adult time. The food was amazing as always, the ride up was fun too, and the conversation was passable.

I had a strange old-woman moment, when I had the birthday cake sitting at home, in the fridge, and completely forgot to bring it along. In the end, things work out for the best, since MTR would have been a weird location to cut a cake. I was all the more confident of that decision when we eventually cut the cake at home in the evening – very sloppy, tasteless cake. Strange!

Sorries

ChaCha and I were chatting up after Mados little birthday party and we noticed how these boys were all too quick to pull out the white flags and say their sorry. Did it mean that they really understood the point and realized their folly, or did they just want to end the discussion, results nonetheless?

I understand the reasoning might just be to pick your battles, and lose a few fights to win the larger battle. But is that what all relationships end up being – a series of compromises? And if you were the one bringing out the white flag every single instance, would it become more difficult with each passing instance? And what if I fought every fight like it were the battle? Wouldn’t that be tasking, a huge strain on the relationship itself?

Pics4mswiss: looking over the red thatched roofs of Old City Bern

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Day 131: Class Bully

B for Bala. B for Boss. B for Bully.

My class teacher chanted, laughing at her exquisite sense of humor. I have to give the lady the credit for at least being man enough to say it in front of me. I heard today that it’s the general term that teachers use to refer to me when I’m not around – bully.

I don’t know what bothers me more – the fact that the very teachers teaching us about professionalism, and the negatives of labeling children, are the ones that are guilty of breaking that moral code; or that none of my classmates have stood up against the teachers’ “joke” every time they made it. It specifically botheres me because I feel strongly against bullying and bossing around and being called that when you’re not is hurtful.

I am definitely guilty of voicing my discomfort when I feel it in class. I’ve said this before; I did not quit my career of  ten years to put up with sloppy syllabi and teachers that don’t plan their lessons. I am also guilty of being the first to respond to teachers in class, because the other two have either spaced out or do not have an opinion on the matter of discussion. And if my expressing my opinions about things that I’m passionate about warrant a tag on my head, then guilty as charged. Put me on the chopping block.

Pics4mswiss: colors of a day that ended well.  

Day 125: Valley and Flights 

Valley

A week and a half in the Valley School, and my mind was more rejuvenated than a long time. I had walked in with a conflicted heart and a dark cloud hanging over my head. But I also had an open mind and that brought in such experiences with it, that I was changed.

  • The most important standout from the experience was how interested people were in sharing their life. There was a willingness to open up and let another in, something that is becoming very difficult to find in the modern world. They wanted you to live their life, walk their path and see how life was.
  • The second highlight was the quality of conversation. Not once did anyone ask my why I hadn’t married yet, why I chose a career I didn’t like or who my newest boyfriend was. They knew that they all lived in glasshouses and any judgment sent out would return their way eventually. Instead, they spent their times talking about the life, the universe, meaning to life and things that mattered.
  • They were content in their lives and unmoved by the trivialities that come with modern affiliations. They did not have the newest fancy smart phone and so they did not spend their together-times staring into each other’s phones or wondering why the wifi speed was so poor. Something bigger mattered and they knew.
  • The relationship that the students shared with their teachers was inspirational. They called them uncles and aunts, hugged them around in class, and openly spoke to them about period pains and worries. There was a stark absence of fear for the role of the teacher. And teachers walked with a mindset that they were co-learners too. This made them awfully powerful, with a direct connect to young minds.
  • “Are you trying to kill us, uncle vipul? “, yelled a 6year old, as Vipul opened his laptop in class. Technology was a necessity and nothing more. It did not take up such a dominant part of their lives that they forgot to smell the rain, hear the birds, or be sensitive to each other.
  • A study center discussion that explored the difference between the mind and the brain sent me on an unknown path, one where I had no footing. I still felt comfortable enough to try out the discussions and I was stunned. Mind is what thinks not merely based on facts in front of us, but based on all past experiences, heartbreaks and successes. So, it automatically becomes a source for conflict. If we could think, but without all those added baggage, then imagine how powerful our brain would really be.
  • Another intriguing conversation was with Saqhib, where he shook my foundation about alternative schooling. By calling yourself alternative, you are automatically boxing yourself into a system, simply by trying to opposing to the mainstream. That invariably means there’s very little you can do differently, because you have a level of comparison in the form of another schooling system. What we should truly try is to be different in all forms, not bound by norms.
  • The highlight of the whole time was how ready the whole school, from the principal to every other teacher was, in inviting me to join their team. Very rarely do we see a case where an institute invites you to join in, only to learn from them, and contribute back. No resumes, no portfolios, no past experiences. Just an open mind.

Overall, I came back positive, both mentally and emotionally, ready to take on the next semester head on.

Flights

The flight out to Switzerland, the multipart journey, started off with a rocky start. Met H and HMan at the airport and the fissures were very evident. It is scary to think of how much one would change by simply being in close proximity with another all their life. We seek relationships to comfort us in times of need and despair. But what if those relationships are the reason for the despair?

The trip from Bangalore to Amsterdam to Geneva was hilarious, with the kids trailing around, completely distracted by the glitz and whatnot. It was kind of all too powerful, knowing the ways of traveling, especially international, while the others struggled reading boards and signs. I was constantly conflicted between helping them out and letting them be. I wouldn’t have enjoyed being told every step of the way. I see myself as the teacher that would let someone try for their own before I step in.

And so, I sat around and played the silent observer.

The flight in to Amsterdam brought a strange new companion to chat along. Punjabi was a good person to talk to, knowing when to not push it and when to bring in his views. We had a good talk about road tripping to Ladakh, about the power and the need to go on solo trips, and about Engineers becoming Management consultants. For a Punjabi living in Bangalore, he seemed aware of the differences in cultures and was filled with the desire to try life out.

For all the writing I wanted to do on the plane, it was a rested time, where I managed to get sufficient sleep. It also reinforced my principle that being nice brings it back to you. The airhostess was awfully nice, bringing me refills even when I didn’t ask for it. Punjabi enjoyed the benefits of my niceness too. The warmness felt evident when he invited me over to walk along to our next stop as well.

Pics4mSwiss: When you have a fond heart, hearts smile back at you from the sky. 

Day 102: If she does not want to take class, you accept it and move on

I showed up at Uni today, after sucking it up in traffic for one and a half hour, and I find out that the class teacher, the teacher for hour 1 is absent. I understand everybody has emergencies, and every teacher needs her time off. But I what I do not understand is how your professionalism as a teacher lets you not show up to class, and not make alternate arrangements for your class.

When A spoke to the HOD (wink wink, the model citizen), he bombarded her with comments about how if teachers did not want to come to college, then students just had to suck it out and take a free hour off. Students didn’t have a right to attendance, he made it sound like. He did not let her respond to any of his comments, and just bombarded her with his outdated theories.

We spoke to JK later on, and she reminded us about her M. Ed days in Bangalore University, and how students had no right to question for attendance. Even if the teacher was in the office, but did not feel like taking the class, we could do nothing, she said. She asked us to suck it up, and ask teachers that we knew to see if they could adjust their classes with us. And if they couldn’t, to suck it up and have a break.

Unfortunately, I do not approve of or agree with their logic at all. Every student makes an effort to make it to class every day, mental, physical and emotional effort. I drive 20 kms every day to get to Uni, and another 20 kms to get back home. I take all that pain to learn something new from esteemed professors who have the knowledge and the expertise. If I had to stay at home and learn on my own, I could have taken up a correspondence course and not a full-time one. And if I am not ‘getting taught’ after my 20 kms long struggle, the least that I should get is attendance for the hour that I showed up. That is the least that anyone can do to respect my time, and everybody needs respect.

Don’t get me wrong. If there was a process that I could change, I would start by taking off the one which requires 85% attendance in the first place. But, if that is set in stone, and this very same teacher had the nerve to send me an email that read ‘strict disciplinary action will be taken if you miss classes unnecessarily‘ after I sent an OOO email for being sick, then the teachers should take enough care to make sure they aren’t faulting from their end.

“You spent 1.5 hours in traffic and you didn’t take me along. Saadd!! You know how much I love the driving? But, yeah, standing in traffic is not a lot of fun, and I hate that too.”      ~ Scotch

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Day 91: You can’t win here and there 

Winning, one mark at a time

I came back from the 2 weeks of Radio Namaste to feel extremely targeted and marginalized in class, specifically by GD and SrA. An internal assignment, for which I’d asked GD repeatedly for her mode of evaluation and submissions expected, suddenly had a report to be submitted on the school visits. When I told her about the school visits I had to miss because of the project, she said it was only fair for me to lose marks, because “you can’t win here and there”!

She kept repeating about how timely submission would have 1 mark out of the 20, the 20 that would eventually get halved for the final semester marks anyway. She took extra effort to create fake attendance sheets, simply to mark me absent in these. It was almost like she received some sadistic pleasure out of marking me out.

And SrA was the diligent little puppet that followed all these mindless instructions.

Evaluating the right way

I’ve ranted many times before about how poor the current evaluation systems are. Here is a teacher who makes it seem like even half a mark in an internal assignment is something worth fighting for, or worrying yourself about. She flaunts that 1 mark as a prized carrot that students should compete for. And it makes me wonder what the significance of that 1 mark really is. Are we saying that by getting that 1 mark more than me, SrA is more knowledgeable in that area that I am by 1 count?

An interesting perspective about evaluating that I realized through this episode was the excluding environment that it created. Through simple, random numbers assigned to students, we are bucketing them into simple, random strata that make logical sense nowhere but in our own heads. We make one group feel special and extra important, for doing exactly as we wanted them to, and shun the other group because they colored outside the lines.

What surprised me was how much this episode actually mattered to me. It affected me in ways that I did not anticipate, and that caught me off guard.

Support from outside

As I sat, disgusted by the pettiness, Marathoner walked in and almost knew instantly that something was amiss. He knew them all because he had gone through the same rubbish two years back, and was at their mercy for his M. Phil. He made me realize that the learning I had from the two weeks at Radio Namaste were much more than what any of these teachers had provided in the last year. He pointed out how little these marks mattered in the grander scheme of things. Sense!

On the drive back home, the conversation continued with Sarkar. She made me realize the whole world was hypocritical and there’s very little we’d be able to do about it. She told me that the only ones who mattered were your family – mom, dad, husband, wife and children. If you had to waste effort changing their principles and opinions, these were the only few who were worth your energy. All others were mere variables in your life’s equation. Sense indeed!

That is some serious deep stuff, bro! I see the halo of enlightenment around your head. ” Scotch 

Day 24: Of stereotypes and men

Spent a good few hours with Mr. Pk today, interviewing students for the student council. The gentleman heads the media studies department in the college and has a certain calming charisma to him. A has a big school girl on him, but that’s no major news. Who wouldn’t fall for the salt and pepper hair, a smile to die for and those teenage boy-like eye lashes? My previous conversations with him made me realize that he was different, very different, from the head of my department. The head of my department reacted to the Bangalore New Year molestation news by mocking the girl’s clothes and blaming it all on the way she dressed. Enough information to judge his character.

PK was very sober throughout our interviews. Not uppity enough to be tight lipped, cracked a joke or two, drank water from our bottles and shared sandwiches with the students. He was definitely reachable, unlike a lot of professors that walk two feet above the ground, on their own little pedestal.

What impressed me about the man was not his buying us food or cracking jokes. The first was when he was visibly hurt when this student brought us all snacks and drinks in a plastic poly bag. He reprimanded himself for not reminding the student to not bring plastic, and for not giving him his bag to bring back food. I have seen few in mainstream academia from PK’s generation who are really worried about saving the planet.

The second thing that left a much deeper impression was his chiding a student for stereotyping men. She was presenting her case about some bad teachers in her department and kept referring to the unnamed offender in the contexts of the masculine gender. Pk gently asked her if the particular teacher was a male teacher, and the student clarified that it was a general observation. He immediately asked her to switch to the neutral gender or the dual reference to both. He clarified his stand by stating how stereotypes are formed and how we should be conscious to not further it.

It got me thinking about stereotypes that are forced on men and how the education sector is always abundant with its own bag full. In a profession that’s largely dominated by women, the few men would seem marginalized. Most staff room conversations would center around the meals to be cooked and the fevers to be handled. While men should worry about the above aspects too, there would rarely be cricket and football talk in a staff room, would there? Men are automatically rejected by some schools, and for some age groups, because of their insensitivity. Images of male teachers always seem complete only when a large cane and a frown are added in. Did I just stereotype men again?

Enough talk about men and women and stereotypes. Can we go out now, please?” Scotch 

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GRAAwl!!