Evolution of the teaching philosophy: a teacher’s perspective

Vimala Nandakumar

The first perspective of a teacher-learner
The teaching philosophy of a teacher evolves with her experience, her interactions with students, other teachers, principals, school management, parents and the perspective of the society at large.

I began my teaching career in 1977. Just out of university, raw and inexperienced, teaching for me meant transferring knowledge from textbooks to the students’ notebooks. For me, a perfectly silent class was mandatory before I began teaching, completely ignoring the fact that most students were hardly interested in the subject. Later, with the knowledge that I gained in the B.Ed. course, and my experience in dealing with teenagers I realized that their being involved in doing maths (I am a math teacher) in a noisy situation was much better than forcing them to remain quiet in an uninterested environment.

All this was through self-discovery.

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Student spectrum
Over the years, my approach had to change because mathematics is a skill – an art – and not a subject to be taught. I have had extremely bright students who could comfortably go beyond the syllabus. I was also assigned students who were at the other end of the spectrum. To get them interested in what was being taught was a herculean task! There is so much talk on “differentiated learning and teaching” these days. I gave various types of assignments to students according to their abilities which meant extra effort for me in that pre-internet era. My students remember me even now for the excitement I brought into the classroom by way of group work or talks by students. If I did a substandard job I would get a thumbs down from the students and I would be dissatisfied with my performance on that day! I realized that a teacher’s job continuously threw challenges at her (if she did not want to fit into the “also ran” category). Being a teacher in school was to me like giving a live performance in an auditorium filled with people who were either connoisseurs or those sans interest.

Driven completely by passion for teaching and wanting to be the best teacher in my subject I pushed myself to learn different methods of teaching it.

A good teacher can never be satisfied with a one-dimensional role of a mere tutor. She needs to be much more – mentor, guide and friend all the time. As I was mastering the skills of becoming a good teacher, my interest in organizing competitions and events and starting a math club gave me immense professional satisfaction and boosted my creative instincts.

Teacher’s role in the personality development of students
Then came a sequence of changes in my role – promotion as a coordinator, then as a principal of schools and a consultant to an educational institution. I endeavoured to accord precedence to personality development of the students over academic excellence.

There is so much pressure on the students to score marks in exams that they get tempted to resort to malpractices. Quality education should be provided to students so that they do not have to resort to malpractices.

Understanding the students
Different students from different backgrounds have been part of my teaching career. In one school catering to the working class, where I spent more than half my teaching years, I came across extra brilliant students (and their parents) who would not accept anything less than 98 per cent in their report cards. It was evident that the students hardly were taught, at home, to acquire social etiquettes or sharing with and caring for others. In short, most of them were rude and very few teachers gained their respect.

On the other hand, the students of the same school, from poor background, who performed poorly in academics faced apathy at the hands of some teachers. As a teacher of both types of students I tried to be understanding and bring out the best in them.

In my tenure overseas, I had the opportunity of teaching some extremely rich children. Learning was their last priority. These students lived luxurious lives and hardly cared for the teachers and the principal. They all seemed to believe that even one complaint could get the teachers and the principal fired from their jobs as the school belonged to their community.

This worked because the teachers and the principal continuously lived in the fear of losing their jobs. No one ever thought of challenging the students. However, some of us teachers (only a handful), would not take misbehaviour lying down. We spoke in firm no-nonsense tones that we were prepared to go back to India but would not take misbehaviour from them. The students did take their time but relented and eventually we gained their respect. Sometimes teachers’ dignity can be undermined not only by the students but also by the principal (who was once a teacher), the school management, the parents and the society at large! It was evident to me, as a teacher that it is the teacher who has to maintain the dignity of the profession.

Focus only on students
In the “each for himself” run, often the principals and the management overlook, if not ignore, the interest of the students. When my turn came to become the principal of an international school, I had the advantage of making decisions that were in the best interests of the students and parents.

As principal of an international school I managed to bring many changes into the school system. Honest and sincere workers got recognition. The pressure to score marks went into the background and personality traits started getting their due. Parents stopped interfering with the school’s functioning and let the school play its role in shaping their children’s personalities. All this meant taking a tough stance, sticking to rules, endless talks and workshops with parents, earning the trust of parents by being fair to their wards and bringing out the best in the students. There was a remarkable change in the school bullies who softened, good students took significant roles in the running of the school and average students were made to feel important as academics and co-curricular activities were given equal importance. Thus each student could find his own slot and shine.

Having played various roles in many schools with different kinds of students, I came to the conclusion that students need to be the focus of any school. I expressed my anguish and also offered solutions to various problems that plague schools in my book, What ails our schools?

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Implementing a teacher’s philosophy
Not satisfied with that alone, I decided to start an NGO. I wanted to give students who were denied quality education a space to learn and provide a platform for passionate teachers and an atmosphere of freedom to innovate methods to create interest in students. Girls from the underprivileged society came to my mind. Girls are denied education after the school level. Some of them are married off or made to sit at home to look after their siblings. In 2015, I established an NGO, Shaktii: An after-school programme for under-privileged girls. To motivate the parents to send their daughters to Shaktii, we offered scholarships, computer training, classes with special emphasis on English, mathematics, science and social studies combined with art, craft and music, absolutely free of cost. Despite this, very few parents sent their daughters to our centre! Initially they were sceptical about our intentions and worried if there was any hidden agenda. A handful of girls joined the Shaktii programme in the first year, 2015-16. As our reputation of providing quality education to the girls grew, the number increased. Our centre’s focus was, is and will always be the girls – their academic progress plus personality development.

The profile of the parents – tailors, autorickshaw drivers and paanipuri vendors – hardly was an obstacle to the learning of the girls. The hard-working nature and sincerity of the girls and their complete trust in us has made a huge difference to both them and us. The best part of the whole story is that my former students have made big donations to Shaktii.

vimala-3 Children are wonderful everywhere
Based on my teaching career of four decades I can say this: children are wonderful everywhere – whether in Mumbai or Mundra, Jakarta or Navi Mumbai; whether from rich, middle or underprivileged class. They teach us many valuable lessons. They are the best judges and are large-hearted. The graciousness and fondness they show can hardly be matched by us teachers. Students are fabulous in the way they articulate. They are guided by true feelings and are seldom biased.

Conclusion
The teaching profession should attract the best talent. Only persons who are passionate about teaching should opt for this profession. A teacher’s job is not time-bound. No one can predict when her/his influence on the student begins or ends.

A teacher should always be a keen learner, ready to unlearn, enthusiastic and evolve according to the demands of the times. She/he should be innovative and light up the mood of the students by invoking curiosity and love for the subject. She/he should be a motivator, inspirer and have compassion for students. This may seem a tall order.

It is possible for schools to attract such extraordinary teachers if the teachers’ status in society is elevated as also their salaries. This topic opens another avenue for discussion and is out of the scope of this article.

Finally, a teacher should never ever give-up on any student.

Here are a few aspects of personality development of students that a school should address:

  1. Group work often gets ignored, as at a young age itself children have issues getting along with peers and are intolerant towards the other’s idea or opinion.
  2. Being punctual is not considered necessary. When teachers and principals are not punctual, students take the cue. These days children are bold enough to point fingers at the authorities.
  3. Children are very sensitive. Any partiality shown to the wards of teachers or principals or trustees or PTA members are noticed by the students. If the other students bring any genuine complaints to the notice of the authorities, their voices get stifled or they get victimized.
  4. One glance at many school premises will reveal that littering is common. School authorities and teachers should eliminate this disgusting practice!
  5. Copying in exams, resorting to unethical practices and telling lies (some parents are guilty of this) to the school authorities is common.
  6. Consideration for others or being sensitive to other’s feelings should be addressed in schools. The teacher should lead by example. Humiliation of children in assemblies is a big let-down for the students concerned. They secretly suffer.

The author is a post-graduate in mathematics from Bangalore University. With experience in teaching mathematics spanning four decades she has headed many schools in Mumbai and Jakarta. She has written articles for newspapers addressing social issues and particularly those impacting schools and students. She was a Consultant to the Aga Khan Education Service She has established an NGO, “Shakti Girl’s Education Trust” of which she is the Chairperson. She can be reached at vimalanandakumar4@gmail.com.

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