Wednesday, September 7, 2016

PSTET : Teachers who pass the students’ test

Teachers who pass the students’ test

A good teacher is one with who students can connect and, therefore, learn. Here is a look at what makes the magic happen.

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Teachers who pass the students’ test


Candidates come out after a Teacher 
Eligibility Test in Mohali. 

Every time I come across news feeds about teacher trainings and workshops, the student in me feels perplexed. I imagine a trainer, a senior pedagogue, coming to these meetings, pontificating to teachers about best practices in the field. I wonder why they don’t invite a student instead. Isn’t a student the best person to give opinion about what a good teacher should be like?

Having been a student for the last 20 years and having gained quite an eclectic exposure to teachers from Punjab to Delhi to Oxford, I think I have some interesting insights to make. While every human being is distinct and heterogeneity is evident in teacher quality, there are strings that are common across teachers who become their students’ favourites. This Teachers Day, I make an attempt at compiling the traits that I have keenly spotted in the teachers who have become my personal favourites over space and time:
Those who are passionate about what they are teaching.

John Quah, one of my professors at Oxford, had a contagious passion for his subject. The entire class would be spellbound by the end of his microeconomics lectures. I vividly remember his class on fixed point theorems. After scribbling the proof of Tarsky’s Fixed Point Theorem on the whiteboard, he remained in a state of trance looking at the proof and then told us, “This proof is the most beautiful thing on this planet, and who knows, even beyond!” The entire class was thrilled. Passion is contagious and has the power to ignite unparalleled enthusiasm and curiosity in the minds of learners.
Those who always encourage students to ask questions. 
It signals that one is the master of one’s subject and does not fear answering queries. I fondly remember one of my professors at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Mrs Leema Mohan, who would always take questions from students with a wide smile on her face. Her patient and placid smile would be so encouraging that even the weakest ones in class would not shy to raise their hands and ask their doubts. She was in complete contrast to another teacher who would deride the students for asking questions that according to him were ‘silly’. The entire class admitted to having developed a phobia for the subject taught by this particular teacher at the end of three years. Creating an atmosphere where students feel empowered and encouraged to ask questions creates a beautiful two-way flow in a classroom. This is one of the foremost characteristics that differentiates a teacher from a preacher.

Those who make an attempt to link the worlds inside and outside classroom.

One of my high school teachers, Mrs Sargam Malhotra, at Guru Nanak Public School, Ludhiana, would always make it a point to narrate a story in every class. Every student would gear up for this moment in class, putting their pens down and straightening their backs every time she would quip, “Let me tell you a story”. Mrs Kochhar, my political science teacher at Sacred Heart Convent School, Ludhiana, would embark on tangents and narrate inspiring personal life stories to make a point. Those stories stay with me still. One of the basic responsibilities of a teacher is to simplify concepts so that they no longer remain esoteric. The ‘Indian Economic Development’ class of my teacher Mrs Poonam Kalra at St. Stephen’s College was an excellent example. Her lucid and graphic expositions of poverty, unemployment, hunger and other developmental issues beyond pithy facts and figures would leave the entire class charged with the spirit to make a change.
At the same time, I recall experiences of studying under dull teachers who would merely repeat what was present in the textbooks or just fail miserably at explaining concepts to class. Our blank faces were unable to deter one particular teacher as he would continue enunciating his dry script or copying proofs from textbook to blackboard. He would fail to make us see the connection every time. Being able to synchronise my worlds inside and outside classroom has been one of the most crucial challenges growing up as a student.
Those who would go an extra mile to answer questions that are beyond the scope of the course. 
A good teacher doesn’t snub a question saying this is beyond your syllabus or that it isn’t important for the upcoming test. Even if it is something ineffable for the students at their current understanding level, she would draw a simplified analogy and help the curious students sneak a peek at the knowledge that lay ahead.
Those who are honest and say ‘I don’t know’ candidly. 
There were times when an unexpected question from class left a teacher blank or confused. Some brushed off the question as being unimportant, some pretended about knowing and gave an ambivalent answer. At the other end of the spectrum were those who would honestly admit, “I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I shall get back to you”. And then they would get back the next day as a mark of sincerity. I still harbour oceans of respect for these teachers.
Those who hand back graded answer sheets in time.
I had a teacher who would take at least a few months to return answer scripts of the class tests he gave. Then there was Pankaj Tandon, my microeconomics professor who would return the graded class tests right the next day after the test. I remember the entire class getting awed when this teacher gave a test on Monday and walked in with the graded tests on Tuesday. It showed us his utmost sincerity and devotion, the kind he expected of us. 
Those who say a word of apology for a mistake made on the blackboard.
There are some teachers who become too defensive to accept the mistake; some who admit the error but very discretely making sure to erase it before any other student notices; then there are those who openly announce in class that they were wrong before making a correction. Acknowledgement of one’s infallibility is one of the hallmarks of a great teacher. We came to respect such teachers even more.
While our education bodies keep coming up with eligibility tests and stringent requirements for qualifying teachers to teach, I do hope that someone up there is taking a note and making the students’ voices heard. It is time to raise teaching standards in our world by assessing teachers by the students’ criteria as well.

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