Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teaching to teach...

A session spent teaching a junior recently reminded me of my passion- for teaching ! After the last 21 years spent in academics, I know by now that my only chance of job-satisfaction lies somewhere close to academics :). I realized something - all through my student life, I had known I would be a teacher. I had seen myself in the teachers shoes, standing right where he was, holding what power and knowledge he had, and imagined "How would I teach this if it were me ? Would I be better than him? What would I give importance to if I were in his shoes?".

And I learnt another very important fact. One that 90% of us never realized in student life. IT ISNT EASY TO BE A TEACHER, LET ALONE A GOOD ONE !

Here's the deal.When you teach, you aim multidimensionally. You aim to

- Impart the idea about the topic to the student,
- Not making yourself too boring and repetitive,
- Making sure the student develops a passion/interest for the topic by giving real-life examples,
but you want to
- Make sure the student practises/implements what he learnt. For eg., that ever irritating word called 'problems' :P,
then again you have to
- Reach out to all sections of the class - help the weaker ones survive, help the intelligent ones aim for greater heights in the topic

And all this through one hour of classroom teaching ? Seriously, its just not enough ! So what do you do when you have no time in the classroom? Prioritize and prepare outside your classroom. You prioritize what it is you aim for through your course. You do this by

- Proper course design - deciding what should be taught : Make the course relevant and useful to the students.
- Preparing the teaching presentation/lecture well beforehand : Not making it boring, at the same time making sure the information reaches the students.
- Being ready to take questions and answer them : This involves reading heavily and understanding the topic yourself beforehand.
- Preparing good tutorial/problems and handouts : Cos you might know what the relevant material is, and sometimes putting it together yourself might help the students (spoonfeeding ? :P I wonder).
- Setting a good question paper that tests everything in a balanced way : Not too easy, cos you want to appreciate the understanding of the ones who really learnt the topic. Not too hard, cos you dont want to grill the students, just test their knowledge.
- Correcting and examining the students : Not just the papers, but minute things like assignments, classroom participation etc. Extend this to a class of 60 students, and you realize that a teacher would require superhuman memory to do this !

And all the above 6 require the most valuable of all resources: TIME ! Observe that in order to make 1 hour of classroom teaching effective, you needed to do such a lot! One hour of complete sincere effectively delivered classroom teaching requires atleast 4-5 hours of outside classroom preparation for the teacher. And this is for one who is assumed to have a good understanding of the topic already !

Now do you understand how much of sweat your teacher actually went through to give you that one lecture you bunked effortlessly ? :P When I realize this, I cant help but bow down to some of my teachers for the amount of effort they put in to deliver an effective course.

So I set about Project Teacher.Teaching myself to teach.I remembered my teachers (the good ones). Which ones possessed qualities I wanted to imbibe in myself? How did they prepare their material ? Who was effective in making me finally learn ? Jeevamma ma'am (DSP, EEE NITC) came foremost to my mind, followed (closely) by KSK, SreeRamkumar Sir, and many more.I may be jumping 10 years too far already :), but I began imagining.Prioritizing. Deciding what sort of a teacher I would be and what I would not be. And to end this record of my thoughts, here is what I finally decided in a few hours what to do for the next 40 years of my life. Irony ? :P

Priority ONE: NOT to be labelled a cliched Boring teacher ! So? HUMOUR :). I am going to crack every single PJ on earth I can find with respect to the lecture :P. Forget the time involved. The talent of PJ-Cracking is for using, so my dear students, beware, here I come with a really new poverty level of jokes :P. Another way for this is to make sure I have really catchy slides and presentations :).

Priority TWO: I want the lecture to INSPIRE.How many hundred times have you got out of a lecture wondering why the heck did I learn this shit? If that should not happen in my course, I should give them examples. Real life stories, real implementations, real applications of whatever I am teaching them.The student gets out of my class satisfied, this is important ! Atleast 5 minutes devoted to this one.

Priority THREE: The lazy/weak ones in class should not be left behind.Hence I need to find an alternative to make sure they catch up to the class topic, atleast after a few lectures.And I cannot find a way to do this other than provide them some course material.But seriously, isnt this spoon-feeding? :)

Priority FOUR: The really interested ones need something to keep thinking about my lecture even after I leave the classroom.So at the end of every class,I give them a question about the next step, or something creative that they need to find out themselves.Another way to do this is by giving really creative questions in the tutorials, as KSK would. These so-called 'starred' questions were bound to lead to questions, which I'm sure the old man enjoyed answering :). And that would be one hell of an answer, one that would leave us mouth-wide-open for sometime :).

Priority FIVE: I dont want to be labelled a 'fake'- i.e., a teacher who doesnt really know about his topic. This according to me, is the hardest of all, since I need to read enormously well beforehand and have an excellent understanding of the topic before I start.Time spent reading and studying myself seems to be the only way out.

Priority SIX: Making sure the course goes way beyond the course and classroom.This can be done by explaining the state-of-the-art in the topic to them, and inviting students for their ideas/projects/questions and pointing out further reading in the topic.

Project Teacher is still on. If you have any more comments and suggestions, I will incorporate them into my future plans and even this blogpost :). @Naren, Joseph, Sid, Kishore, Laxmi, and all the fellow aspiring teachers out there...


nautillus said...

Man..i dont know about the others, but seriously KSK ???? duh...?? Sometimes i used to think when he was taking a class, he was talking to himself . He knew the subject pretty well so much i understood from his classes. I am not sure he was a good teacher. But maybe you did. These are just my opinions. I am sure atleast half the class would agree with mine .. :)
Anyways, i think you would make a good teacher. Keep perservering..And happy new year man!!

nautillus said...

I forgot to check the email follow-up comments checkbox.. :)Just commenting for that..

Anon said...

Haha..Good to know PJ ing is the number one priority. :D

You've written most of the characteristics my ideal teacher would have too.

I guess the most important thing needed in a teacher is the desire to create the interest,so sure you'll make a great teacher :)

Hari Vishnu said...

@nautillus: KSK's worst was his delivery of his lecture man, but he prepared really well for it, seriously ! u remember the detail to which he wrote in the classroom board in the hope that even if one of us didnt understand wat he was saying, atleast we wud look at the board and get an idea :P :).. im sure that he put a lot of effort into his teaching, and his strength was his complete knowledge of the topic too. just that a few lacking elements ended up screwing up the whole course. along with the fact that he set ridiculously hard papers too, ofcourse :P.

and thanks a lot ;)

@krik krak: thanks dude ;), hope ure enjoyin ur share of student-ing at nitc ;)

Quest said...

Reading something after a long time :)
I really liked to dream in KSK's class....there was indeed a class in his teaching :)

Hari Vishnu said...

@chathan: a, writing something after a long time :). glad u still found ur way to unseen paths here after long ;).

Dont know if u were sarcastic about the old man KSK ;), but apart from his smoky room and below-base voice, i did see some amazing stuff in his 'class' too ;)

Hari Vishnu said...

My 12th straight year of teaching at the Madras AdClub. I follow unique teaching methodologies. Required pre-reading before the class. Discussion oriented learning. Less PPT. Must work on real-life projects. Strict with homework. Must submit via Facebook. Students accountable to the class and not me. Must have fun. Freedom to criticize openly. Only circular seating. Everyone must put their cellphone in the 'bonfire'. My aim is to push the students out of their comfort zone. I consciously push the students to perform higher. More focus on practical approach rather than theoretical learning.

Hari Vishnu said...

(the previous comment was posted only for my own reference later. it was taken from the FB status of Kiruba Shankar, famous blogger and entrepreneur)