A peep into the past

As we got to reminiscing about the 20 years that Teacher Plus had been in existence, we decided to add to our stock of memories by asking past editors and those involved in creating the magazine to share with us pages from their Teacher Plus scrapbooks. Here is a collection of their thoughts….

Teacher Plus: Who Teaches, Who Learns

A magazine for teachers always begins with one or more notions of teachers. When we as publisher’s editors thought of Teacher Plus, our interest in reaching out to teachers somewhat overtook the importance of working this out at the outset. Today, we would have set out what would be called a teacher/reader profile. The fact is that teacher-groups in schools defy easy categorising, and rightly so. Needs differ, teaching contexts vary widely, and a large number of men and women move into teaching without greatly wanting to do so. The regret that people place behind this last fact is misplaced. (We are not critical in the same way of reluctant computer operators or civil engineers who do not like what they do.) Teachers are also required to work at a high tempo and have very little leisure. All this complexity makes planning a magazine for teachers an interesting challenge, but we didn’t see this richness at the time, at least not consciously.

Twenty years ago, as we planned TP, we started with, I think, a simplistic idea of a teacher who looks for ways to improve her teaching, who has time to read and to write to share his own ideas. We had keenness on our side, ideas and abundant energy, and had to fit these into a very small budget. We visualised a typical, magazine-interested person. We wanted to write for teachers, and we wanted them to write for other teachers, and of course for us, meaning that their ideas would give us insights into our books. We also hoped that teachers would see TP as an opportunity for them to express their opinions.

The leading and inspired planners of TP were Lakshmi and Rema. Some of the tasks before us were these – how could we make TP interesting and entertaining, with a lightness of touch? In what way could we balance information about good teaching with hands-on ideas and activities? How could we create a network of teachers who would continue to keep in touch with one another? How well we achieved these purposes is for readers of TP to judge, but the effort continues. The subscriber list shows us a block of loyal readers, and if a school subscription is multiplied by at least three teacher-users, that takes us far. Our list of teacher-writers has also grown and we could not have done without the support of those who write for us regularly.

Meanwhile, twenty years ago, we puffed and panted over each issue, often wondering – as we saw the heaps finally ready to paste and post – if we should consider a quarterly. Printing fall-out, four-colour posters was always an achievement. It meant appealing to a printer to print them for the same price as the other pages in the magazine. It almost always meant making narrow eyes at senior colleagues at a time when TP could not support the cost of these special features. Getting a postal concession was a great achievement, I remember, and we celebrated.

It occurs to me that it is relatively easier to start something than to continue, sustain and enrich it. We owe so much to so many.

Usha Aroor
Editor from 1989-90

Some musings on the beginnings

After a few years of conducting workshops for teachers and going to far-flung places like Dhanbad and Nagaland, far from the normal beat of both sales personnel and publishers, the feeling grew in the Educational Resources Division of OL (Orient Longman as it was then known, now Orient Blackswan) that it was imperative we do something more for teachers. Something that would bring them together as professionals, to share experiences, provide a forum for discussions and offer them resources – new teaching ideas and projects. There was much discussion about what we could and should do. What took shape was the idea of a teacher’s magazine. I can tell you it was discussed ad nauseam in-house and there were many sceptics with questions such as: Will teachers see us as independent players with a genuine concern for their situations and not just wanting to sell our books? How would we distribute the magazine? How would we fund the issues? How frequent should they be – a bi-monthly or a quarterly? Can we afford a full-colour production? How could we attract advertisers? The questions went on …

In-house there was an inspired core group of staff that continued with the detailed planning… there were Lakshmi Rao, Manognya Reddy, Arvind Lokhare and myself. We decided Teacher Plus (as it was christened) had to appeal to a wide cross-section of teachers providing hands-on material for teachers of maths and science, language and arts and crafts. I think it was our enthusiasm rather than the financial outlay, which persuaded the then Chairman of Orient Longman, the late Raja Rameshwar Rao, to give the project its blessings.

One of the things that had emerged from the workshops was the lack of good reference material available to primary school teachers. How would they create interesting projects and activities for their classes without access (in those days) to even a good library – thus emerged the idea that the middle spread of the magazine would be a colour poster that could be put up in classrooms. On the back of the poster would be the related activities and teacher information. We also realised after the discussions with Girish Mondkar that with the budget allocated we would not be able to afford it. So, we went to interested commercial firms and organisations to sponsor the middle spread. We contacted a mailhouse and grappled with a database of our teacher contacts – at first it was anyone who had come to an Orient Longman workshop anywhere in the country. The first few issues were to be free to all teachers.

Quickly we realised that all of us in-house were in book publishing mode – we had no idea of the intricacies of magazine publishing. So began our search for someone in Hyderabad with that expertise. One of the best things that happened was my meeting with Usha Raman and her coming on board as the (incognito) editor and with her expertise we were well on our way to designing mastheads and features and the layout. I am so pleased that Usha is still associated with the magazine and that she now writes the editorial!

We scoured our contacts and pleaded and cajoled them for the first articles and it seems that Teacher Plus has not had a dearth of contributions from interested teachers since those first issues of the magazine. The first issue went out in July 1989.

Well done Teacher Plus! It is heart warming to know that you are now almost a glossy magazine coming out monthly. Who knows this year might see the first digital version of the magazine being e-mailed to teachers rather than reaching them by snail mail.

Rema Gnanadickam
Asst Editor from 1989-90

Continuing to inspire teaching

In this world of growing competitiveness, school education by no means remains untouched. Teachers in our schools are faced with the reality of swelling crowds in classrooms, pressures to ‘produce outstanding results’ in annual and Board examinations, the need to organise extra-curricular activities in school and assist in administrative work. To deal successfully with all of these and deliver meaningful and effective teaching in classrooms, rarely do teachers have the facility of in-service training or updating of their skills or subject knowledge on an ongoing basis. This creates stress, which affects their performance in the classroom. Teacher Plus in its span of 20 years has endeavoured to provide that support to school teachers across the country.

As part of Teacher Plus in its early days, it was a lot of thrill and excitement to plan, execute and deliver each issue (then a bi-monthly) with a small team and a modest budget to the teaching community. We hoped that the topics and ideas addressed in TP were the ones teachers looked for and that at the end of the day, the magazine could bring about inspired teaching in classrooms. The letters from readers in small towns and metros gave us the confidence and assurance.

When I left TP in the able hands of Lakshmi Rameshwar Rao, Usha Raman and Sheel, I knew they would take TP to great heights. It gives me great pleasure to see that TP has blossomed so well and makes me proud to think I was part of the magazine as it evolved. I wish to thank the present TP team for giving me the opportunity to reminisce about my days at TP.

Congratulations to the current team of TP for its remarkable success.

Deepa Chattopadhyay
Editor from 1990-2002

Passing over

July 2001: I had just got a job on Teacher Plus, and was very excited. Here were the voices of schoolteachers who worked within a far from ideal education system, and came up with wonderful ideas for teaching-learning. Their experiences within the conventional, formal education system provided lessons for other teachers. There were also teachers and administrators whose suggestions, if executed in the classroom and the school, could impact learning tremendously. Here, for an erstwhile teacher, was meaningful interaction with other teachers, and to be able to help present their ideas to their fraternity gave me immense satisfaction.

The other high point was the range of articles – they went right across school, and also covered other issues that were relevant to school. Anyone who read the magazine, whether parent or teacher or school administrator, would invariably find something to think about – a change for the better would surely follow. My understanding of and interest in education grew by leaps and bounds.

There were problems, though. Publishing, like any other industry, worked (and works) on profits – and here was this tabloid that was an out-and-out loss maker. A question mark hung in the air every time a new issue was released: would the subscription base go up enough to make it sustainable? Sadly, it never did – what kept the magazine going was the then owner Orient Longman (now Orient Blackswan), and the firm belief, on the part of everyone working on it, that Teacher Plus made a difference.

In 2004, the mostly black-and-white bimonthly moved to colour. Later, financial support from Wipro Applying Though In Schools (WATIS) enabled better production quality, and Teacher Plus’s makeover to a full-colour monthly magazine followed shortly after it was taken over by Spark-India in 2007.

Teacher Plus remains one of the voices of teachers, NGOs, and others interested in education. Yet, many, many schools and teachers continue to work with ideas no longer effective, or remain impassive. Isn’t it time we recognise ourselves as professionals, and deliver our best?

Editorial team, 2002-Present

Of teachers, magazines and other media…

We were in this small school some 100 km from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, engaged in a discussion with the mathematics teacher on fractions. He was excitedly demonstrating how he taught fractions to children. He elaborated on this method of using the figure of a chapathi, cutting it into 4 equal pieces to demonstrate the idea of a quarter (1/4) to children. In course of the ensuing debate we came upon improper fractions and the conversation stumbled. It was not possible to explain 7/4 using the idea of ‘parts of a whole’. To explain 7/4 we would have to imagine 7 chapathis being shared by 4 children. And this is completely different from sharing one chapathi among 4 children.

I was aware of the implications of using two fundamentally disparate notions to explain the same concept having engaged in this discussion in some seminar I had gone to a year ago. In a school in Udaipur, the mathematics teacher has worked with this and other similar issues and developed various methods to build a child’s understanding of abstract concepts in mathematics using real, concrete examples.

The teachers in that Thanjavur school are sincere, dedicated individuals keen on bringing ‘good quality’ education to their children. They learn from their own experiences and evolve teaching methods. This is valuable and at least in contexts like teaching children, there is immense value in reinventing the wheel.

But it is also essential for teachers to be able to tap into an existing knowledge base like the Udaipur school. That would help them further explore other possibilities; even just as a trigger to think, to create and to invent. A classroom needs as many inputs and sources as possible to constantly refresh and enrich the teaching-learning engagement.

Lakhs of teachers across the country are engaged in the teaching learning process and are constantly struggling, innovating and creating knowledge. There is a need for teachers to engage with each other, to share, to question, to elicit information and exchange ideas and thoughts. It is essential to build a collective platform that can bring this knowledge together.

Teacher Plus was not envisioned as a magazine for one-way communication to the teacher, but as a carrier of knowledge to and from teachers. What started in tabloid format with a small subscriber base in 1989 has steadily evolved and grown into the form it is in now. Teacher Plus has constantly reinvented and rejuvenated itself to keep itself contemporary and that is the most crucial element in an endeavour like this.

The effort to energise our schools with the spirit of inquiry, of experimentation, of constant discovery is not an easy task. Twenty years since Teacher Plus’ inception – when it was way ahead of its time – the world has dramatically changed.

Today improvement in the quality of education and the need for reform in schools are topical issues every school in the country is engaging with. Communication has taken myriad forms in the age of the internet. Access to dependable information and a place to share one’s own perspectives has never been more crucial.

Teacher Plus’ efforts have been commendable in constantly being in touch with the reader while keeping the content contemporary. Going forward Teacher Plus will need to continue expanding its reach to tap into the collective knowledge of the teaching community while straddling multiple means of communication with them – be it a teacher in that remote village in Tamil Nadu or the elite schools in metropolitan Bangalore.

Prakash Iyer
Wipro Applying Thought in Schools

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