Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teaching – a tasking job

I had always lived under the impression that teaching was very easy thing to do as long as you had clear concepts and knew the in and outs of the subject you were teaching. Boy, was I in for a surprise when I started teaching!

Having experienced a bunch of horrible teachers during my O level years, I had resolved that, one day, I would become a teacher (no - a good teacher) and show all those teachers that it was possible to become a good teacher provided you worked hard and were dedicated enough.

However, before I elaborate on what I learned during my teaching ‘adventure’- which is no less turbulent than a wild roller coaster ride - I just want to clarify that the teachers who I refer to as ‘horrible’ were indeed quite horrible, and made no effort to be otherwise. The students were eager to learn and not rowdy. There was absolutely no barrier to the teaching process – except, perhaps, the unwillingness of the educator. I remember how many of my teachers wasted time in idle talk - some even singing songs in class and asking for student volunteers to recite naat. My Physics teacher was more eager to show us pictures of himself with a famous Cricket player instead of teaching us the three laws of Newton. Our Pakistan studies teacher was more interested in discussing her life and ours - rather than the struggles it took to make Pakistan. We learned about those struggles during our own ‘little protests’ to get good teachers.

The French Revolution was on. We drove a lot of teachers out of school by our protests. Many met Madame Guillotine. Others were driven out by… well, let me just safely say, by 'other means’. Our headmistress had no solutions to offer, and explained how they could not arrange good teachers because our school was in “the middle of nowhere”. Tuitions were the temporary solution for us desperate students at that time. It was then, that becoming a teacher ended up on my ‘things-to-do-when-I grow-up’ list. All those grueling hours spent with good teachers at tuitions made me realize how important it is to have good teachers. A good teacher can make even the boring mechanics of D.C motor as fun and entertaining as watching an action-packed movie, like Speed or Predator.

Self-study is surely great and does help you overcome any lacking at school but it can only take you so far. At the end of the day, what your teacher taught you is more likely to come back to you in those tense exam moments - and also help later in life. 'Studying is vector quantity, it should have both magnitude and direction' my tuition sir used to say. That saying has helped me out in many a walks of life, particularly when I'm going through my fat medical books, with their itty-bitty font size.

Anyhow, no amount of learning and preparation could have prepared me for the teaching experience. One day the doorbell rang during the summers and I got my self an eager student. When I started teaching her, all the things my teachers had ever said in class came back to me in a rush. It was déjà vu, multiplied a thousand times over. Scary was the word.

“The problem is that you people don’t listen when I’m teaching.”

“Do you think it’s easy for us teach continuously for six periods?”

“Pay attention.”

“Keep quiet and pay attention.”

A boarding the teacher express, I discovered that clear concepts and hard work - alone - were not enough to make a good teacher out of you. There was a whole lot of patience needed, along with military-style tactics. Yes, tactics. Tactics to keep your student captivated as he/she would be to the television screen. As Gail Godwin has very rightly and astutely pointed out, "Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater."

As a teacher, you have to drill concepts into the other person’s head, who – much to your infuriation and indignation - is usually lost in his/her own thoughts most of the time. Repeating a statement three to four times becomes a norm and you often spend hours explaining something only to be met by a vacant, confused expression. Learn to live with and love that expression. Something as difficult as ‘every reaction has an equal but opposite reaction’ is easier to absorb than the definition of force. Also, anything you say and do may be held against you in a court of law.

There are few teachers who have the ability to captivate their student audience to the extent that they have their utmost attention - and affection. And that, too, without working too hard. They simply develop a relationship with their students like that of a well oiled machine whose cogs fit perfectly. Friction is brought to a zero. Output becomes maximum. Curiosity replaces ‘not-interested!’. Inspiration replaces ‘brain-expired’. And finally, wisdom replaces boredom. I envy those teachers and hope to become like them one day.

I wish the best of luck to the next person who thinks of a boarding the train to teacher town. I also brandish a flag of warning… the journey there is full of déjàvues and a’int no less than a ride on the knight bus! I also commend student teachers who start teaching people during their own student years. It takes effort and commitment. Hats off to those brave ones!

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher

demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~ William Arthur Ward


Sammy said...

Good post yet again.

Thing is a teacher has to be charming and have a way with words for the first impact and then lure the student(s) in with real/ current/ relevant examples for whatever needs explaining. It's a very learn-on-the-job kind of profession and you're right about patience... there's always going to be a kid who'll demand new tactics from you, there will always be one who'll grab your attention with her curiosity putting a few mediocre ones at stake. As long as the teacher's ready to accept it as a challenge every day, every year s/he can hope to become an inspiring teacher one day.

Asma said...

well giving tutions to my neighbouring kids was easy for me :D and the kids also seem to enjoy studying..but i had horrible teachers in university and i ended up being not so confident and confused..and i have no idea what i learned in 4 years of my uni :( sadly true a teacher can make or break your personality..

Isfand said...

Asma talking about giving tutions to her neighbouring kids reminded me about this ispiring video I've seen some months ago.

Cookie said...

@sammy: Thanks :) And I must say, very fancy reply. "there will always be one who'll grab your attention with her curiosity putting a few mediocre ones at stake." Cool. You really need to open up a blog now!!! It will also help you journal-ize your upcoming 'thing':)

Cookie said...

@Asma: Great to hear of your teacher success story!Some people do have that natural knack for teaching :)

And it seems everyone has had their share of horrible teachers at one point in time or another.Yes, they can totally bring your personality down...crush your self-confidence by strangling your ambitions and love for a that subject. Arriving late in class, teaching one all the wrong concepts and then having the audacity of saying things like: 'Hey, I taught you guys everything. And you still don't know anything!'