Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tricks of the trade of teaching



The Art Of Teaching
This week we invited a guest writer, who has been kind enough to share his views and experience about teaching.  
About the author: Dr Pranay Swain(pranay.swain@gmail.com) teaches Sociology at National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER), Bhubaneswar. Post receiving a doctorate in Humanities and Social Science from IIT-Kanpur, Dr Swain worked in different capacities with  organizations like UNDP, Org-Quest (Dhaka), Microsoft Consumer Research Extension Team at Cross-tab (Bangalore), Indian Institute of Management (Calcutta) and Unicef (Bhubaneswar). Cutting across different areas of interests Dr Swain is back doing what he loves the most-research and teaching.



The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. (William Arthur Ward)

I read this Japanese proverb somewhere- better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher. Reckon, nothing can be a louder than this. 



Before one starts some work-be it teaching, one should always ask oneself three questions - why is s/he doing it?, what the results might be? and will s/he be successful? Only when one thinks deeply and finds satisfactory answers to these questions, is it time to go full-throttle.

And then it does not really matter whether you are teaching poetry or accounting or rocket science.With information revolution even rocket science is no rocket science these days. Things have become available, accessible and amendable like never before. In the larger context, I would always hesitate to imagine that the job of a teacher is to teach (?). At best, it would be to facilitate learning in whatever environment one is doing what s/he is doing. And, to facilitate effectively one does not really need to swallow the traits like intellectual curiosity, subject knowledge, planning, awareness, maturity, vision, enthusiasm, etc. Beyond a point these are not so great virtues to possess. What helps in a typical classroom situation is- attitude. By attitude I would mean- knowing what to do with all those traits.
One MUST shed the ‘i-know-it-all’ attitude and speak the language that would connect with most of the guys. I strongly feel that it is not infra-dig to drop yourself few rungs if you have to (if you are a real big guy in your subject area). The point that I am driving home here is- if you cannot make guys understand or cannot keep them engaged, then there is absolutely no point. Well, the top 10% of any class who are notch above the majority would always pick things as you want them to. But, if you cannot easily connect with the back-benchers, then you are a bad teacher! Sorry for being little harsh here to have you pegged so.As Bob Talbert puts it- Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more.

I may not have collected years of teaching to bullet them in my CV. But I must say I was a quicker off the block (in terms of learning the finer nuances from the classroom itself) than most of my students. Besides, ones that I never forgot in a hurry as a student actually helped me immensely. We were quicker than a blink to bitch about our teachers who failed to create interest in classrooms. And, those do-not’s remained to be eliminated when the table was turned to me. For every student with a spark of brilliance, there are about ten with ignition trouble. Goes without saying that a facilitator that a teacher is, should focus entirely on the such ignition problem.Here a teacher’s being what s/he assumes is of utmost significance. Marva Collins would put it this way,  “I am a teacher. A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water, I do not part the sea. I just love children.”



We always hated sitting for long hours in class-rooms. Watching a marathon is more tiring than actually running it. That’s the very reason I would put my money on a KISS (keep is short and simple) rule. Short because no one has patience to wait to appreciate you and simple because no one could care less to dig deeper to discover sense in what you say.
Once a friend told me, inside every C+ student is a B- student trying to get out....Now, this is what I call a teacher’s primary responsibility. One has to run that extra mile proactively so that those who need hand-holding get one at the right time. A mismatch of skill and responsibility is the last thing that one would buy.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula here.  It would be as futile as ‘futile’ itself to sit down to dig out the subtle qualities of a ‘good teacher’. My two cents would revolve around couple of things; one- be what you are and two- be what the situation demands you to be. Simple as that- to be or not to be is entirely one’s own call.

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