Let’s keep it simple

Soren Wagesh

When I reached class six, the school I went to decided that we needed more practice with numbers and theorems and therefore allotted two extra classes for the teaching of mathematics every alternate day. For me this was a nightmare come true for I considered mathematics a punishment on young minds. But by the end of the year I realised, to my great surprise, that the extra math classes were the ones most memorable, fun and lively! I so enjoyed my math classes that I even managed to score an 80 per cent in my final exams. The highest I ever scored in the subject. And the reason for that was Mr. Clifford Dragwidge – our math teacher in class six.

All of us addressed him as Cliffy. He liked being called by his nickname. That was a revelation to young students like us. While all our other teachers expected us to refer to them as Mrs. So and So or Mr. So and So, here was this teacher asking us to call him Cliffy. We realised he wanted to be a friend.

During those extra math classes, Cliffy was more of a storyteller than a math teacher. He taught us the subject through his stories. Although math continues to be in my ‘I don’t like’ list for that one year it became my favourite subject. And all these years later, the teacher I still remember and look up to is my Math teacher – Clifford Dragwidge.

Cliffy Sir, why did you and not anyone else tell stories at school, even though you were a ‘Mathematics Teacher’? Doesn’t seem to go together!
Mathematics being as boring as it is, the regular middle school student requires an extraordinarily imaginative mind to get the ideas and concepts across. Our unformed minds as children are like receptacles waiting to imbibe and soak in ideas, knowledge. In order to make sure that students remember the most of what is taught to them and more importantly that they are able to understand the relevance of what is being taught, story telling becomes an interesting medium to develop a youngster’s mind. Unfortunately the majority of our teachers in primary and secondary schools today lack this ability and instead find it easier to rely on a tried and tested format rather than going out of the way to make teaching a little more interesting. At the end, it’s all about the imagination you have. And moreover, I knew that the boys liked listening to stories than just morbidly browsing through text books and mathematical exercises. It helped me a lot when I taught Mathematics.

How many schools have you taught at so far?
St. Vincent’s High School, Asansol in West Bengal; Regina Mundi High School, Chicalim, Goa and St. Mary’s, Mount Abu in Rajasthan.

What do you think is the biggest difficulty faced by children at school?
Well… what I have experienced so far as a teacher is that, children are not allowed to talk in schools. This lacuna in the process of upbringing can be extremely detrimental to a child’s outlook. If a child doesn’t talk, he/she is not allowed the right of self-expression.

What do you think about corporal punishment? How far is it justified?
Corporal punishment must have been instituted to compensate for the inability to pay teachers enough to keep them from getting frustrated. On a more serious note though, through corporal punishment, you aren’t telling the child right from wrong. What you are actually telling him is how size determines right. You are telling him that one can get things done by bullying, pressurising and showing physical might.

Do you think all children are equally gifted? There surely must be cases where teachers have to employ special efforts toward a particular student. How does one deal with that?
Of course! No two kids are equally gifted. And therein lies the joy of social learning. Even the Gurukuls started with the same premise. A child can easily learn at home too, however what he would miss out on is the experience of learning about 50 other people and this in our country can mean 50 other cultures. It also helps the child understand how differently talented each of their kind is. As far as special efforts go, I believe each child deserves special efforts. Let the child talk and let us respond accordingly. This in itself would ensure a different approach to each child because each child asks differently and in his questions you can see how he/she thinks. However, when as a teacher, you are the initiator of all conversation, and also the end-all, there is a problem.

What about sports, games, fun?
The fact that you had to ask this question reflects the sad state of affairs. We’ve been talking about a child learning, all this while. What makes us think that the above three aren’t part of the deal? I’m sorry I failed to specify, however all my previous comments apply to these too.

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