A Quest on Overdrive … :)

An eccentric rambler on life's lessons and mercies, found and lost… :)


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Perspectives

Yesterday, we had Class Parent Teacher Meeting in school. We’ve had numerous PTA Meetings, where attendance is usually limited to parents who want to make an noise and bring in complaints (never, till date, have I ever seen a meeting here, where something positive, either about Student/Teacher is expressed!), and some grouped meetings, that Parents of some classes grouped together are asked to attend to discuss common matters pertaining to that class. Usually to do with syllabus or general developmental issues (of Children ie).

In the newly patterened meeting, the Parents of one Class, the same division of the class, met together with the Class Teacher and their children, in a full group, had a general session followed by individual one on one meeting for those parents who wanted to have more to say/ask. From nine in the morning to twelve noon the room was fully populated 🙂 Well I have 52 students, most of whose parents did attend 🙂 .

A lot of common issues were taken up first, else what usually happens is that the same question gets asked innumerable times. Eg. My son/daughter does not read. How can I get him/her to do so? Or He/She just does not open her text books! What can we do.
(Mind you, this same question would have been asked by the same parent, on all the previous occasions we would have met 😀 Do you get the exasperated feeling I sometimes have? )  So these were addressed early, in the whole group, thinking that it would not get repeated later. Boy! Was I wrong! Now I know I shall have even more patience with their kids! 😀

A few pointers were also given. Asking parents to be aware of what their child does on the internet, their use of FB, who calls, what is discussed 😀 And also the fact that most times notes are copied over the phone, instead of being completed in class, where they are given time to 😀

The moment I indicated that the general session was over, my table was surrounded. Fighting panic, I suggested the parents join a line that had already formed, to my right, where there was more space. I must admit that they complied. Perhaps because I did not listen to anyone’s remarks/questions/ suggestions, but only smiled, broadly and insisted, patiently that they do. The smile I am sure did not reach my eyes! 😛 And, well, they probably knew what their kids had told them about the ogre I could be 😛 😛

While most parents were kind and inquired after my health, and expressed they were glad to see my (typo, do excuse me :D) me back, one particular irritable parent came with his stubborn looking son, and his long suffering wife. (This child had, in the previous year, been caught for being part of a group of boys who supplied/exchanged/ shared pornographic films – they’re known more familiarly here as “Blue Films” – in school. Sigh. Please believe this to be entirely true. 😦 ) The child in question, let’s call him A, was all ready for a verbal lashing from the teacher (me) to his father, who was adept at it, and who looked belligerently, daring the teacher to say anything kind about him. I mean, here was a child, who has never had much positive said about him, either at home, or at school (an only child).

Father: Teacher, what do you have to say about him? (Pointing to his son, whose expression was filled with daggers at his father)

A (his thoughts, probably): Dad, can’t you just shut up?!

Me: Oh, A? Yes, well, he’s improved vastly, and he pays attention in class. I must tell you that was one the few children in class who had completed his notes and had even done it neatly. I checked yesterday. Isn’t it, A? (A. nods, quickly looks at father, and the sullen expression is back when he sees no smile on his father’s face.)

Father: But, teacher, he does not speak in English at all!

Me: Oh he does, to me, in English class. And in most of the other classes!

Father: But to others in class, he does not. (all this is spoken in Malayalam 😛 )

Me: (Smiling through my teeth 😀 )You see, Sir, why does anyone use a language? To communicate. And if A can communicate in Malayalam, when there is no need for him to use it (read, no Teachers are around to check 😀 ) why would he? Would you? Language as I see it, is need based, and if they can get by in another language they will. Most kids I know, who can speak English fluently still use Malayalam to interact with each other. All classes. And if he were to continuously speak only in English, he would be laughed at, here. Peer pressure is a strong deterrent, so while I am sorry he does, not, and because we do not have “punishments” to check that, sometimes this happens. But , I assure you, he can speak, and well too.

Father: (more annoyed) But something has to be done! He does not read at all!

Me: Do you? (turning to his wife, who had a deadpan expression, and let her husband do all the talking; I’ve been told that neither her son, nor her husband value her words or opinions) Do you?

Father: Yes, I do. And I buy him books.

Me: Do you read, with him? I mean, during the same time, share things with him, etc?

Father: But he does not! (he hasn’t answered my question, but I’ve had it with him, and am beginning to feel sorry for the child! )

Me: Have you tried incentives? Do, please, and do remember that they’re at an age when it is difficult for them to cope with so much of stimuli around them. I assure you, A will do well, and he will be able to do all of this!

A. by now is looking rather astonished at this exchange, but quickly brings back the stubborn expression when noticed. The unhappy father, the long-suffering mother and their recalcitrant son are then gently signalled off, with a sweet “thank you, we’ll certainly work on this”, and the next parent invited to come up! Phew!  I almost wiped imaginary beads of sweat from my brow, theatrically 😛

The next parent had been all ears, at this exchange and the moment she stepped up with her son B. , who is A.’s classmate, she said, Teacher, you don’t have to say anything more! I know what you’re trying to say, and yes, I did want to tell you all about B, being this way. But yes, the peer pressure is a factor we do need to take account of! Thank God for parents like this 🙂 They give me back my faith in humanity 🙂 🙂

For three hours, I stood (as did my brethren at school 🙂 ), smiled, talked, endlessly. But I must say that it was fruitful. We did not give out report cards, we simply shared what we knew of the children, discussed ways and means for their betterment, sometimes complained a little (both parents, and me 😀 ), ranted a bit (me 😛 ), and I do believe we have all taken away something positive from the interaction.

This meeting was something a lot of us were against saying that it would have been better had it been a bigger group, not small individual class groups, but I know I was wrong in thinking that. Tired, and rather exhausted though I was, I learnt a lot, and gained much by it. For once, I’m happy to be wrong 🙂

22 January, 2012
(I’m Keeping My Promise to myself (posting each Sunday), though I’ve decidedly become wordy again! 😛 Can’t help it 🙂 )
#92


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Teach, better yet, learn…


5 September, 2011. Teachers’ Day 🙂

It’s that time of the year, when we, in India, suddenly remember it’s time to look up our Teachers from school and college; for those still at school it’s a day of celebration, when suddenly, all the Teachers are nice, well, suddenly, even if for a brief period 🙂 It’s a time when some of us teachers rest our radars, and ultra-sound sonars as far as stuff in school, like noise levels and boisterousness, goes :D! It’s a day we speak of the Guru, and spend a few moments, in retrospection, on the Great Teacher, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, who re-defined and moulded our perception of teaching and our attitudes towards teachers.

In India, most certainly, the profession of Teaching is much respected and looked up to. It is the heritage of the Aarsha Samskaaram, the legacy bequeathed by our Rishis. We still live it, to a great extent, even schools that have been started by the Missionaries,  or by those of other faith.And that is good, it has its due dignity and place.

How much, however, do the teachers themselves, this day and age live up to the legacy they need to live up to? Questions on this abound the discussions on many forums. When I was in school, and that is more than 30 years ago, in the seventies, the Teacher’s Word was final. Parents and students did not question it. Even if we felt we should, and we did, more often than not, our parents would side with the Teacher, and we learned to respect even that. So why is it not so today? I’ve seen the sea change that has come (well, it has, in practically every sphere of life, but as far as schooling, and education is concerned, you expect certain basic things to stay the same… 😀 )

Now? Well. Sigh. Yes, I grant you the argument that children are of a different generation, they are victims of inflotion (information explosion :D), they live by a whole new different set of rules, and play a different ball game altogether. Granted. But as I see, teachers have become punching bags. For students, for parents, for the Administration, most times for society itself. Yes, that is an extreme and perhaps a rather harsh statement, but what one sees in the final account, is just this, the shortcomings, and very little of innovative and proactive things they do. Fact. Been there. Heard that. Seen that. Experienced it.

Somewhere down the line we have lost the big picture in the analysis of detail. Each Class Meeting, or Open House, or a PTA Gen. Body, one hears of suggestions (most welcome) , listens to rants (welcome again, for we grow with each one), are treated to endless repetitions of the same item, by different people (because each person has his/her child to cater to), this we could do without.I admit there are many in the Teaching Profession that bring it a lot of shame, what with growing cases of Child Abuse, and less than Professional or Empathetic conduct both in and out of class. But to judge the entire lot by those yardsticks is to do great injustice.

No, we are anything but perfect. Just like you. Yes, we are human. Just like you. And maybe, we aren’t always right ( 😛 ), maybe like you?? But this I need to say, on behalf of each teacher who has tried his/her darnest… 🙂

  • You know, we do actually listen to the children…
  • Yes, we realize there is a problem, and we are willing to share it with you, and move forward by finding common ground; after all, we too are concerned about your child
  • Could you, perhaps, refrain from bad-mouthing teachers in the presence of your child?
  • Could you, also, recognize that we are NOT here to find fault, just help, and maybe you need to see your child for who he/she is and what he/she could become?
  • NO, we are not on the other side, we really are on the same side
  • We’re listening. Yes. Could you also listen? Not just to us. To your child too?
  • Do you read? Yes? Wonderful! Share that with your child!
  • You don’t read? No time? Oh! Perhaps you’d like to share reading time at home with the entire family reading for just 20 minutes each day? Great!
  • Do you talk? I mean like TALK, to your child? Good. Now, do you LISTEN? Great. Pl. continue to do so… 🙂
  • Ah! Is that so? Maybe you need to share what your child has said with us too…. and then see if you can really believe it!!
  • Oh, he doesn’t speak much English? Do you? Don’t worry, in English Period, he does!
  • How to improve it? Well, exposure to it, of course 🙂 You know, instead of serials and movies, why not a bit of news now and then, in English?
  • Perhaps  you could come more often to meet us?
  • Do you read the diary your child brings home?
  • You know, I’d rather meet and talk than endless talk on my phone, usually at 8pm when I’m busy at my home. I do have a family too, you know 🙂

These are but few of the rants I have today. I’ve lived each of them 🙂 But I send out my appreciation to all my colleagues, wherever they are, doing that thing they do, best. For, even though they say “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach”, I’d rather laugh it off, for it reveals just an earthworm tunneled vision of them that do say so 🙂 🙂 Taylor Mali’s Video , on his poem “What Teachers Make” is an alltime inspiration for me, from the time I have read it. So also, Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to his Son’s Teacher (mentioned with this post written, same time, last year :D), and the film, “To Sir, With Love”.

The Best Motivation for a Teacher? Be a Learner, all your life. Nothing inspires more than the curiosity you carry with you, and nothing will impress and engage and enliven the learner group you become part of. Heck! Teaching, anyone can do. Learning? Now that is something else 🙂 So Teach on, and keep learning too, all of you Teachers, Mentors, and Influencers … you all deserve an applause 🙂

Happy Birthday, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan! And Happy Teachers’ Day to all my Comrades in Arms 🙂 🙂 You are among the best of persons I have had the privilege to know! God Bless!

4 September, 2011.

For 5 September, 2011, Teachers’ Day.


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Job Description: Teacher. What’s that, you say?

It’s Teachers’ Day today. 5 September. The Birth Anniversary of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, eminent Statesman and Educationist. Educationist. (I have a red squiggly line under this word, as MS Word refuses to accept such a term. Grammatical or spelling error! And I wonder why, because even online dictionaries do seem to recognize this spelling!)

While the nation, especially the younger folk go ga ga over wishing teachers all over, I wonder at the diminishing relevance of setting the day aside to acknowledge the community of teachers. Given the job description of a teacher, what does it entail? Once upon a time, the Guru was placed on a pedestal, and Indian tradition still does that, in very many minds and schools. What has it come to now? With a more discerning student body, more openness in discussions on teacher profiles, more multiplicity of perspectives on roles teachers need to adopt, and finally, the need for a qualified teacher to recognize that he/she is not the end or even the means, but merely a tool of learning, how do we perceive the “job” of a teacher?

The line, I find, is very thin between being teacher and learner. For, if you cannot be still learning, you cannot teach. Richard Bach whose quotes from “Illusions” are here, speaks wonderfully about teaching 🙂 I remember referring to this page, when I first started writing in this blog space, on A Quest Spills Over. This is what he says about learning and teaching and doing.

Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers.

I simply cannot let this day go by without sharing with you something a lot of you would have already read before, something that I find is more and more relevant these days, for teachers. It is supposedly a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s Headmaster. Here it is.

Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s Head Master

Respected Teacher,

My son will have to learn I know that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for ever scoundrel there is a hero; that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend.
It will take time, I know; but teach him, if you can, that a dollar earned is far more valuable than five found.
Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning.
Steer him away from envy, if you can.
Teach him the secret of quite laughter. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to tick.
Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books.. but also give him quiet time to ponder over the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on a green hill –side.
In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat.
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if every one tells him they are wrong.
Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with the tough.
Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when every one is getting on the bandwagon.
Teach him to listen to all men but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.
Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness.
Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul.
Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob… and to stand and fight if he thinks he’s right.
Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel.
Let him have the courage to be impatient, let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.
This is a big order; but see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow, my son.

Abraham Lincoln.

(You can google it and see many versions of the same text, as verse, and as a prose text, in the form of a letter too. I picked this out from one of those many sites.)

For me, it is a visitation to my inner self. Like any other day. 🙂 Many say teaching is a thankless job. I wonder at that. I have found the most fulfilling of moments in the connection a child makes to what you say in class, even in the disagreement a learner has, with what you say. In sharing something that connects instantly with them. In the sly looks they share sometimes, when they think you aren’t looking. In the notes they pass to each other, which takes me back to my own times sitting on the back bench. In just being with them, tedious though it can be, at times. In the sudden sorrow too, when I realize that I am unapproachable to some, because of my rather standoffish attitude at times; in the firm, strict “teacher”, the dragon that I am too! While, at the same time, I take heart when some of them come back after leaving school, and tell me it was fun being in my class, no matter that they could not play the fool :D! That is the best of all. When they remember you, years on, and just come up, smile and talk to you. Not thankless. Not for me 🙂 🙂

Something else to share. Something I concur with entirely. Read for yourself 🙂 This is from an email I received ages ago, the source of which I simply cannot trace. That account got deleted so I cannot even figure out who sent it 🙂 Luckily I had written it down.

A succesful teacher must have (it goes..)

The education of a College President (A Dean)
The executive quality of a financier
The craftiness of a Politician (!!!!!)
The humility of a Deacon
The discipline of a Demon
The adaptation of a Chameleon
The hope of an Optimist
The courage of a Hero
The wisdom of a Serpent (!!!!!)
The gentleness of a Dove
The patience of Job
The Grace of God
And….
The Persistence of the Devil!

The last line says it all actually. Only with a certain amount of persistence, gentleness, humility, craftiness and patience can you be a teacher, for sure 🙂 🙂

And finally, let me leave you with this video of Taylor Mali, speaking about “What Teachers’ Make”. The idea may be a bit outdated, but there is some truth and some meaning in what he shares 🙂 Happy Teachers’ day to all the Teachers, Mothers, Fathers, Mentors, Instructors and everyone who, by their own lives and their actions, teach another something. Anything.

God Bless.

Taylor Mali, on “What Teachers Make”

5 September, 2010