The business of teaching

Girija Uday Kumar

I don’t know if one usually becomes a teacher for the love of teaching. I know I didn’t. My own foray into the world of the “noble profession” was prompted more by the attraction of the short ten month course (then!) than any thought of “nobility”. Fortunately, the college I enrolled in was a premier one catering to the needs of secondary school teaching. That was decades ago.

Armed with a professional degree, I stepped into the atmosphere of schools, teachers, principals, students, bells, hierarchy and regimentation becoming instantly aware of the clamping down on any “ideas” that looked suspiciously different. You were thrust willy-nilly into any class you were allotted and were expected to “handle” it. You were supposed to know how to engage students.
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The aims, objectives, methods and philosophies you are fed on during the course you attended and wrote your exams in go right out of the window as there is no practical use for them in the daily ritual of teaching and nobody is willing to add these topics to the agenda for discussion in the staff room. In fact the organization moves so smoothly and the processes in place so rigid that you wonder if there is any possibility for change.

Sadly, this is the scenario in most schools. Notebooks with pages and pages of neatly written questions and answers are a parent’s and of course a teacher’s delight. It is tangible proof that lessons are being taught “properly”; a record to be maintained with the teacher’s corrections in red validating the student’s work. It is also the place where the teacher can be pulled up for negligence or commended for thoroughness.

The pressure that is most felt is that of completing the syllabus. If you are handling the tenth class, there is nothing much you can do but conform or you might have the management, the parents and the students themselves at your back.

On the other hand if you are fortunate enough to be given any other level to teach, there is no harm in trying a little experimentation, within the parameters allowed. These parameters include some universal ones: the change or changes affected by you must be built around the core points to be taught in the lessons; they must not confuse the students; they must not take up more time than the actual concepts to be taught; they must help the student enjoy the subject and create an urge in her/him to explore beyond the requirement of the syllabus and of course they must not be expensive.

The innovation should make the student analyze events, think out possible solutions, empathize, debate issues, respect a difference of opinion, discuss methods, collaborate to innovate, improve vocabulary and gain the courage and confidence to get up and speak about her/his convictions without fear of ridicule. This in fact would lead to liberalmindedness– the hallmark of education.

Many a time we tend to forget that school is a microcosm of the world outside that the child experiences. If it is a harsh environment that curbs the natural exuberance of children it will only have a negative fall-out. On the other hand, a nurturing environment itself creates nurturing, caring individuals and equips them with the skills needed to make a place for themselves through right choices. It helps them decide for themselves the world they want and take responsibility for it. This can only be achieved by teachers who are open to ideas, innovations, and change – a great opportunity to make a difference.

The author has been a biology teacher for three decades and also has the experience of working with NGOs to improve the quality of education in government schools. She can be reached at [email protected].

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