Thursday 4 December 2008

A TEACHER SHOULD…

Once, in my 12th grade class, I asked my students what do they expect from their teachers, what should teachers be like. Of course, when I put forward such a question my primary intention was to give them a practice in modals . Plus, I would get to know their ideas and help them in critical thinking. And pat came the responses –

A teacher should be friendly.

A teacher should be sincere.

A teacher must not punish the students.

A teacher should not tease the students.

A teacher should be supportive.

The answers were all predictable and went on smoothly. And then, came a mind blowing response –

“Teachers should love their life and job, and celebrate it too.”

I was surprised by the answer and asked my student why did he say so. Though he never expected a ‘why’ from me, he gave an explanation. He said, it was too frustrating to be in a class where a teacher had a sullen face. The students would enjoy the classes only if the teachers did so.

Sometimes it is the unpredictable student-responses that spell out the right kind of philosophy.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

A CONTEXT CALLED KERALA

It is not very difficult to convince the people of Kerala about the need to learn English in this age. People here, are rather ambitious and they value education much. They are also brilliantly adaptable.

But something is hindering the path, there is a slowdown.. I think the reasons are perhaps, the outdated political ideologies, unwanted prejudices, focus on short term results than long term ones and slow technological progress.

I think the teachers need not wait for the system to sort out things for them. The need of the hour is to be a system of your own and work out for the learners to help them achieve the skills they need.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

A PROMISE WITH A HOPE

What follows below is a message that my friend, Rakesh wrote to our students on the Independence Day. I think this message needs to be spread all across our learners with a great positive energy. Do make a promise to yourself and to your learners , for the world is awaiting a better you.


Independence to Interdependence

Dear friends,

The department of English congratulates you for being the future citizens of the largest democracy in the world, as the nation celebrates its 62nd Independence Day.

Let us remind you that the freedom you breathe today had been the dream of millions of Indians who fought for it. We are extremely happy to join you to commemorate the heroism and patriotism of our freedom fighters on whose sacrifice we enjoy this unlimited glory of independence. We take this opportunity to remind you that the future of our nation rests on your shoulders and wish you the best to take up the responsibility successfully.

However, let us remind you that the world around is marching ahead faster than we imagine and the value of independence is slowly evolving to a higher value called interdependence. No individual, society, culture or nation exists in isolation today. The success of any individual or nation lies in its ability to collaborate and work together with other individuals and nations for creating opportunities and wealth. The message we want to give you on this occasion is the message of “interdependence.”

We also recognize our role as educators and our responsibility to make a difference in the lives we touch. We are convinced that the world of unlimited opportunities and wealth requires an interface for individuals and nations to come together and collaborate to unlock the hidden value. Fortunately, the global interface for collaboration is the English language. The department of English pledges its commitment to make a difference in your lives by empowering you with the ability to communicate successfully in English.

Happy Independence Day!




Sunday 17 August 2008

THEM....

I think, there are two categories in which we can broadly divide our learners..


One, those who need extra time to work and

two, those who need extra work to time.


The slow learners and the ones who work after class hours to support their family belong to the first category. There is a need to pace down for them as they need more time to grab their learning. And in the course, if they could achieve only 3 objectives in 10, it is worth. Definitely, they would reach the 10 in their own pace. (But we are too impatient, aren’t we?)


The next group is those from the higher end, who can take up better challenges... They need to be given some tough tasks to meet with. Or else classrooms would be the most boring places for them. I remember one of my students once said that the school was a dull place for him, as it offered nothing challenging.


Unfortunately we all work for an average. We pull some of them up from below or pull some others down from above to maintain a mediocre standard. Trying to create uniformity may lead either to monotony or to frustration.


That means to have a better standard we need to face the needs of different learners in different ways.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

BEING PRACTICAL

I think, there has been too much of talking on my philosophy. Now let’s head towards the practical ways. So how do you plan to upgrade yourself?

Here are a few tips to empower yourself and enrich your classrooms with variety. Try them out and share your ideas too..

  1. Stay tuned to your T.V channels

Any Programme/song/film in English can be used in the class to teach vocabulary, grammar, conversations, writing etc. Integrate it with your lessons, have debates or discussions on the topics, hold competitions based on it, makes students write reviews and anything that you can think of. Visuals can generate more interest in most of the students.


  1. Go Googling

Spend a couple of hours once in a while (at least weekly) to find out what other teachers round the world are doing in their classes. There are quite a large number of websites that share different teacher experiences and classroom activities. (You can see links to some of those sites in the side bar of this page)

  1. Bond with YOUTUBE

Perhaps, youtube is the best companion for a teacher, if used sensibly. Search for almost any kind of video on www.youtube.com (or www.teachertube.com). Surf it, download it and show it.

  1. Try out Power Point Presentations-

You don’t need to have expertise in computers to do this. Microsoft Office provides enough support and guidance on your computer to create your own Power Point Presentations. Be it grammar or literature, you can try making presentations to make your ideas more specific and precise (and colorful too)

  1. The all-time favorites – Charts and Pens –

We have almost stopped using charts and pens in our classrooms. Remember, how enthusiastically they were welcomed in our practice classes during our training programme. They are always available and give fresh color to the classes.

  1. Believe in your OWN creativity –

Nothing is as worth as things that come out of your own brain. It’s always you and your students. So design and plan every class for them. Create your own ice-breakers, activities, tasks and evaluation techniques. Do make references, when required. Ultimately, it’s YOUR world..

The above tips are too generally listed, I know. I’ll try to detail upon each aspect in detail in the coming posts. Till then, take care. Bye.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Is Learning Elsewhere?

Here, I don’t intend to talk about the need for learning, the scope of learning, or the goals of learning. I just want to share some observations on the attitude towards learning and the treatment of it.

Observation #1 is that learning is very often deferred to a next stage. I would quote a general comment heard in teachers’ and parents’ meeting. It says, what is more important for the teacher is to finish with the syllabus (always referred to as “covering” the syllabus), and for the student is to pass the exams. The intention or the value on which the syllabus is based is not usually taken into consideration. So learning is very often postponed to a further stage, and no wonder most of us have had the “real” learning outside the schools and universities.

Observation #2 is that learning for exam is separated from learning for knowing. Exams have become a be-all and end-all of classroom learning. Instead of integrating exams into the process of learning, it has become the destination - isolated and away. The task of the learner is only to get there somehow, receive the award and move out. Hopefully, he/she would learn things after that.

Observation #3 is that learning is limited to a frame (normally, a prescribed text), where information is prioritized over imagination and innovation. Too much of information is crammed into the learner’s mind that he/she is left with no space for creative inferences. By the time he/she is an adult, he/she will have lost the faculty of wonder and curiosity.

So, if you ask me what is learning, I would say that Learning is something that would sandwich the curious observation with wild imagination into a perfect, delicious toast of experience.

Let exams be a part of it, not an end of it.

Always remember that Learning is now and here.

Friday 14 March 2008

“The Learnscape”

Our educational institutions are obsessed with two rituals – one, preparing for the exams and the other, writing the exams. The purpose, the objective, the planning, the process and the result, are all juxtaposed with these gilded rituals, and years just pass by. We are on the pile of generous curriculum revisions and liberal fiscal aids, but as you go deep down you will find the conventional garbage around. The ultimate vision gets lost somewhere. Thus, the classroom which is meant to open a wide window to the world becomes parochial in every sense. So how do we break this code?

One of my favorite hobbies is watching the immense evening sky and its changing patterns. Every new pattern is a charming masterpiece, and the skyscape offers limitless frames. I think our classrooms too, are wonderful learnscapes, where every individual learner is a possibility. Each learner is unique, that makes the class multiverse and hence there is much to explore. But how far is multiversity acceptable?

Whenever the teachers gathered for discussion, we used to talk about the problems of our classrooms. One of the problems, anxiously underlined was the heterogeneity of the class. I too joined the discussions eagerly as I thought that this was a serious problem which has to be managed, dealt with or sorted out. But the conclusions (some of them were mine too) were often disastrous. They very often referred to monotony in the guise of uniformity. So, of late, I have revised my thought. I think, a multiverse class offers better scope for personal and intellectual growth - both for the teacher and for the learner. Of course, there is a need for uniformity on certain aspects, but this should not be at the cost of curbing the diversity.

Our learners deserve the best. So the highest challenge for a teacher becomes providing them their own space in the classroom with a real window that would let them see the world outside, where they have to live hereafter.

Sunday 9 March 2008

The Golden Rules

My life and career has been operated by itself through the many influences I had from the people I relate with, the books I try to digest and the films that I gulp à la carte. This has helped me to set some rules for myself – the rules that help me experience things in new light, think in multiple dimensions and modify myself every now and then. Though I keep on changing or redefining many of them, here are 3 golden rules that I would like to share with you.

  1. Empty Your Cup

Of all the Zen stories I have read, this one message from the Zen master has influenced me a lot. I think it is very important to clear yourself of all the prejudices before you absorb any kind of new learning. The cup cannot be filled unless it is empty. There is an echo of this teaching in Alvin Toffler’s statement, “The illiterates of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. So freshen yourself up for every kind of learning, no matter how you slice it.

  1. Be flexible and thus, compassionate

Interestingly, the learners learn more of the teacher than from the teacher. Hence the teacher-attitude is more important than the teacher-knowledge. With so many resources around, the learner can gain knowledge from anywhere. What a teacher can offer more is only attitude. My best teacher has offered me this attitude to be flexible. He is the most high-spirited person I have ever seen, dealing with everyone and everything in a rhapsodic and humane way. Everyone felt special and important with him, which made a big difference. Being flexible helps you grow better and be compassionate.

  1. Move vertically, horizontally and diagonally

Professional growth, for many of us, is a vertical growth, which is always symbolized by a stepladder. Our choices are limited to climbing up or climbing down. When I chose to be a teacher in English, my focus was narrowed down to ELT approaches and reading a little bit of literature. This was challenged by my best friend (also my colleague), who has diverse interests and diversified reading. Apart from some magazines and t.v.shows, I had not been going through anything other than fiction. When I began to traverse multiple disciplines in length and breadth, my vision was improved, my analyzes rational and my perceptions multidimensional. I don’t claim to have perfected in any of these disciplines, but trying to know alternative discourses has brought in positive changes. Hence, it’s always advantageous to sharpen your receptive skills and move in every possible direction.

These golden rules have become more or less the philosophy of my life and career. You can map out yours.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Teach-err…

When was the last time you had thought of revising your teaching strategies? Have you ever felt the need to experiment with the learning you had in your training colleges or break the conventions in your class rooms? If your answer is “No”, its time for you to change jobs.

We are teachers for different reasons – our needs are different, ambitions disparate, attitudes diverse. But once we are in the garb of a teacher, it becomes an imperative to move beyond our needs, deconstruct ourselves for the changing classrooms, and understand the new generation requisites. Every profession demands this refinement.

In our society, teachers are placed on a high pedestal, more or less like gods. Heavenly qualities have saturated the teacher-definitions. Hence experiments and errors are least expected from them. Many of the teachers believe the same too, because thinking otherwise would be a great risk, stepping down from a godly image would taint the reputation….. They prefer to remain gods at the cost of their own professional development. So here, the learners go out of their schools as sealed, branded products, with crippled imagination and handicapped attitudes.

Where a training system has failed to extract the creativity and enthusiasm in the teachers, the education system will not tend to do any magic. It’s high time the teachers understood that they have to expand beyond the quoted theories of the systems, because our learners need to grow as free thinkers, apart from ending up with well-paid jobs.

Friday 22 February 2008

As good as Inuit…

It was in my school days, that I learned about Inuit – the people who lived in the northern extremes of the globe. It was surprising to learn that what surrounded them was only ice – huge, massive blocks of ice. Also they had a claim of a few patches of grass and a limited number of animals. Yet they survived … Igloos emerged out of ice, animal bones transformed into weapons, animal skin clothed them perfectly and kayaks carried them across waters..

Later in my school – this time, as a teacher - when I looked to see what was around, I saw the same… immense blocks of ice... vast expanse of ice… the ice of theories and plans – learning theories, teaching strategies, the most advanced curriculum plans, changing policies, intellectual discussions .. Every teacher in the state of Kerala might have seen the same. With a limited infrastructure and an almost zero technology, most of them blanketed themselves in whatever available. Yet there was a minority who was as good as Inuit – inventive and creative enough to cut the ice into customized building blocks, constructing igloos for their learners.

This blog is dedicated to those teachers who are enthusiastic and experimental in and out of their classrooms. Here, I would share my experiments, experiences and thoughts on teaching. Since I’m a teacher in English, the focus would be on Teaching English. I invite your suggestions, comments and ideas.Anyone who wishes to come out of their blankets is positively welcome.