Teach Like a Champion

With a background in science, Pradeep Gothoskar started his education experiments with science teaching. Then he realised that teaching is more skill than science. His world view of teaching changed. To use an analogy he moved from the classroom to the sports ground, becoming a coach, instead of the stereotype dictator that teachers tend to be. He would make his students practice, observe them and nudge them to try different approaches. The enemy in this process was the content driven syllabus. And even in this syllabus, Government aided schools nowadays do not pay salaries of art teachers.

Today’s teachers are as stressed as corporate managers. Instead of the small 5 person team that reports to a typical manager, teachers have 60 students reporting to them. Managing the huge span of control is the biggest challenge a teacher faces in today’s world. With a growing population, India will continue to have classrooms of student sizes more than 50. Yet there is a silver lining in big classrooms. Pradeep feels that the normal distribution curve for a big classroom has a significant chunk of 30 in the middle. Teachers can use group psychology to get this group of students focused on the task at hand. In contrast, in smaller classrooms, where the middle will only be 10 strong, coherent groups are difficult to form.

Education stands on three pillars: Content, Skill and Will. The tragedy is that most of the teachers today see their own learning plateau off after their first 3 years. Teacher training does little to get them out of their inertia. Most of them continue the rest of their career as syllabus meisters. Some of them transition to becoming skill meisters.  Pradeep’s focus currently is on the third pillar, improving the will in students. Good teachers are those who can make the transition from content to skill to will. How do you get a teacher to develop interest in Will Development?

We don’t like subjects, we like teachers. If we dig deeper, we find that most teachers are of average intelligence. So then how do they inspire students? There are no inspiring teachers, only inspiring processes. Finding exceptional teachers is a difficult task. But getting teachers to accept some of these best practices and incorporate them into their teaching, will lift a teacher from the ranks of the mediocre to the world of the superstars, simultaneously reducing the stress associated with teaching. It is the little things that they do that students are fans of. If we can document and share these processes, we would have moved some teachers in the journey from skill to will.

What we require to do is document the kaizens of good teachers. An Indian website on the lines of the eponymous American website by Doug Lemov, ‘Teach like a champ.’ In his book the author documents his findings of a journey that he makes to schools across the United States. (Here is a link for a talk by the author.) He lists down kaizens that he has observed through his journeys. 

Teachers, possibly because of the huge amount of control that they command, have big egos. They are reluctant to sit in others teacher’s classes to learn from them. Pradeep’s idea is create an Indian ‘Teach like a champ’ and make that part of the teacher training program. His idea of identifying good teachers is simple: Ask the students. Then shoot the videos of these teachers in action. And make these videos copylefted instead of copyrighted.  YouTube videos have an advantage over real life classrooms; you can pause and rewind. Teachers will be able to see them at leisure, reflect on them, discuss with peers – and hopefully implement these will-building techniques in their own classrooms. What kind of stuff should we record?

  • It could be the Tilak Road New English School’s Mone Sir writing down names of students who have given good answers, not necessarily correct, on the board. And letting the names remain, even after they have scrubbed the board of all the writing at the end of their class.
  • About giving the tough problem right in the middle of the session, so that bright students can be kept busy.
  • Keeping a quiz of easy questions at the end, so that everybody feels good.
  • It could be the ‘Marks’wadi Professor Vaidya, who runs through a Math diagnosis exactly the same way as a doctor runs through his patients symptom, to identify the root cause of the disease.
  • It could be Professor Tilloo, of the Pune University Physics Department, who you feel that education should stop at 18, because 18-25 is the peak age for contributing to society, We learn only 5 out of 12 months in a typical school year. If we are able to increase the productivity, we can definitely all graduate by the age of 18.
  • It could be about Pradeep, giving students a choice of what they want to learn in the class.
  • For coming to the next class, with the teacher having done the same homework as students have.
  • At the end of course take this feedback from the student : What could have she done so that she could have learnt better?

In conclusion, the focus of our education should not be on learning but learning to learn.