Struggles of an English Teacher

I have seen you struggle – as on the one hand you deal with the shivering vernacular medium student who does not dare open his mouth in class – and on the other hand the convented well educated English medium-ed girl who wonders why she ever has to be taught a language that she probably even dreams in. As you try to balance this amazing diversity in your classroom, it has been a long struggle. Of falling attendance, low attention spans and a general thanklessness. And yet there have always been in your biradari, or sisterhood, others who have managed to hold attention, rivet classes and create a fan following.

Whenever I interview teachers, I ask them about teachers whom they like. The answers are very similar. And this essay will discuss the answers. The answers are not scripted lectures. Not PPTs. Not gimmicks. Not jokes. The answers are:

  • ‘Reached our level’,
  • ‘Made us understand’,
  • ‘Created a natural environment’,
  • ‘Cleared our concepts’,
  • ‘The way she motivated’.

What is it that you as a teacher can do is not obvious from these comments. So I will try to put down some stations on your journey of achieving teaching greatness. And will only look at the major junctions, which is not to say that the smaller stations are not important. One error on part of a track-man, at the smallest of stations, can derail you. But you will work on the big junctions, because once you have your sights set on those, you can plan out your journey.

Know your travelers: Engines do not make trains. Their main role is to ensure that people in the compartments arrive at their destinations. How much of effort do you take to get to know students in class? The teachers that you would remember are remembered because they mentored you in some way. What are you doing about your passengers and your compartments? A train of shaky compartments can never gather speed – and is always in threat of derailment. Have you looked into each compartment, to see where exactly is greasing required, which are the ones that you want to hitch first into your rake.. Let your journey be exciting. Let your pace be enjoyable. In a class it is supremely better that you do 3 great questions delivering insights rather than 15, in order to complete the presentation..

Give good company: You always remember some train journeys more than others. Where you have met people, who though absolute strangers when you boarded the train, seemed thick pals, a few hours later. Their stories were excellent. The drama was almost being played out in 70 mm in your mind as the suspense builds up. They were good listeners to your tales. We all are social animals. For the seeds of learning to bear fruit in your students, your garden must have the shades of the better students, the symbiosis with the activities that you plan. A classroom exists to deliver a social experience. That’s why you have still not been replaced by a computer. And so think. Are your classrooms facebook experiences, or are the faces seeing more of each other? The way to work with this is to concentrate on activities. Learning by doing, not learning by listening. And this has to be followed immediately by reflection. Learning by discussing. Not with you – for all discussions with you are akin to the Gods who perched atop the peaks of knowledge let flow the wisdom to the meek who sit in the plains below. The discussions have to be with each other. It is your task to ensure that groups are formed to have discussions. And you are viewed as more of an interruption in these debates.

Time Tables: Most projects that you have done have always end up delayed. And have you ever wondered how is it that most trains reach by and large in time. Considering the complexities of men and machines involved, have you ever wondered how this happens? Simple answer. Time-tables. Drivers are penalized for going slow – and also for going fast. Plan B’s are always available. People who board the trains know that they cannot be slack in coming to stations. So the whole idea is for you to have a plan. The major challenge in mentoring is to get your students to plan. The biggest reason for not doing homework is not laziness – it is lack of planning skills. Of course, the healers must first heal themselves before they can start treating others. This is going to be the most difficult for you – because it will require you to change yourself before you can change others.

Get moving: No journey can ever get made sitting and reading in front of a computer screen. So move – act – change. Pick up one thing that you liked and start changing the way you do things. Learning is action which leads to changed behavior. Actively seek action points in every class. Not from all your students, but from just one student. And that is how change happens – one student changing one thing at one time. Lights! Camera! Action!