Teachers should constantly update their knowledge

Teachers should constantly update their knowledge

Chukka Ramaiah: Teachers Should Constantly Update Their Knowledge. Prof Walter Lewin, who was ranked in 2012 by the Princeton Review among "The Best 300 Professors in the US”, and the only Professor at MIT to make it to that list, is well known at MIT and beyond for his dynamic and engaging lecture style.

It is absurd to expect all students to be constantly on the edge of their seats to follow their teachers’ instructions

Prof Walter Lewin, who was ranked in 2012 by the Princeton Review among "The Best 300 Professors in the US”, and the only Professor at MIT to make it to that list, is well known at MIT and beyond for his dynamic and engaging lecture style. The video where Professor Lewin puts his life on the line by demonstrating his faith in the Conservation of Mechanical Energy almost went viral and won him universal applause. I too am among his admirers for the way he made his classes extremely interesting and absorbing even to students who were like unwilling horses driven to a pond.

How does a teacher make his class interesting? Can audio-visual aids, puppet shows, PPTs, guest lectures, games and tasks sum it up? Is there some underlying stream of vitality which binds all these, goes beyond and binds the students to their teachers? If right to education is not about quantifying learning but making it truly student-oriented and driven by the goal of making learners responsible participants , every teacher must realize that just as four walls do not make a home but a house, all the infrastructural facilities are but props to make the classroom a happy ‘learning environ’ without distractions from the outside world diverting the learners’ as well as the teachers’ attention; and it is up to the teacher to fill the class with that vigor and life-giving thirst to make it a pleasurable learning spot .

It is absurd to expect all students to be constantly on the edge of their seats to follow their teachers’ instructions. Many students carry with them, along with their back packs, many distractions from the outside world, be it what happened at home before they left, what they fear might happen after they go back home later in the day, some hopes, some anticipation, some fears, some troubles, some dreams, normal to their age and gender, however conscientious they might be.

It is often said that teaching includes a lot of theatrics. Be that as it may, teachers who have mastered the skill to hold their learners’ attention have always been rewarded with higher achievements. Is there a single hard and fast rule? Are there any standards to be implemented, a course to be attended in order to acquire this much wanted skill ?Just as every student is unique , every teacher is unique , or maybe every passionate teacher is unique; she or he may have some special ways of drawing and retaining the learner’s attention, but there are some traits common to all these teachers, though they might have arrived at them through experience or through sharing of positive tips .The sooner or the earlier a teacher acquires these skills, the smoother will be her /his classroom interaction.

We all shudder to think of the days, as described in the poem ‘The Village School Master’ where all students predict their day based on either the frown on his brow or the smile on his face and accordingly decide if they can laugh and make noise in the class that day or save their skins by being dumb .Surely, our teachers are noble souls and I have seen principals and teachers going out of their way to ease a child’s burden at home so that he may attend classes without the anxiety of pending domestic chores; it was not any compulsion which drove them to do so, but an innate genuine concern , true empathy which is one of the vital cornerstones of trust leading to openness to what is being conveyed .I love to recall time and again the lecture by Mahatria and of how every teacher needs to be a ‘Mom at School’ or a parent in order to bring in even the most distracted and depressed of her students.

When students get bored their minds drift. If the class is more lecture-oriented, with too much talk by the teacher, the content being originally complex or complicated by the teacher, if there is no breathing space, no flexibility, no variation; all the teacher’s efforts can be counted as a waste.

Inspired learning begins even before the class starts, when the teacher overcomes the first challenge of capturing all the students’ attention the moment they enter, maybe through a timely quote, a puzzle, a thought for the day, a joke, some vocabulary jigsaws, personal anecdotes or anything related to the day’s topic .All these set the mood; they are like the soup served as an appetizer, they should never be the only course, of course!

Once the teacher discards the robe of the sage on the stage and becomes a partner in the learning process, the room will be full of life, productive participation and interaction. Experienced teachers anticipate the unexpected , plan their lessons meticulously as it helps in letting them follow their schedule without being carried away and with minimum interruptions by dividing their tasks into smaller sub-skills, by regular , objective self -assessments and introspections on the goals planned and proportion of success.

It is neither the age of the teacher, the time of the day when the class is held, nor the strength of the class which decides how interesting a class can be. There are innumerable examples to prove that all these are secondary.Moving around while the students do a task is not just to control them. It is a unique learning experience. I saw them approach a problem in various ways I could never conceive. So too, where there is interest, there is scope for originality, thinking skills, creativity and much more. It was a thrilling experience for me, something I always recall with pride, is how they outdid me in arriving at the solution to a given problem in fewer steps and enjoyed their feat!

Every lesson, be it mathematics or other applied sciences, of languages or social sciences, gets its authenticity, relevance and worth when connected to daily life, when rooted in its surroundings. It is up to teachers to study this thoroughly before entering any classroom. To keep students lifelong learners, the teacher himself must be one, trying to widen his horizons of knowledge day by day, not sticking to one author and one style of teaching forever.

Repetition is always boring. If a teacher happens to repeat himself in a class, that would bring down the attention levels plummeting. If he can read different authors, vary his presentation techniques, quote different examples , get new ideas from the latest competitive examination question papers and refer to them while he teaches, the students know that they have something to benefit and their interest rises sharply .These new points add spice and make the class lively. Every time a teacher steps out of a class, he should remember that his lesson is already dated and he needs to improvise further.

The topic may be the same, but seeing the printed teaching drafts and videos of how the same topic is taught globally, by different countries like Germany, the U.S.A, Singapore, etc, may change our teachers’ perspective. I watched these videos. The Germans gave more time for children’s thinking, while teachers in the U.S showed relatively little novelty while the Japanese focus was more on arriving at the solutions in quicker methods. So, I felt that a country’s vision decides its way of class room interaction.If our government can arrange for our teachers to see and adapt whatever suits our classes, they could make our classes more qualitative and worthy.

My experience and my observations reveal that good teaching strives for a focus and efficiency of time, movement, and energy. The day crackles and glides cleanly from one lesson or activity to the next. As soon as one objective is met, it’s on to the next without delay. Moving sharply and purposefully forces students to stay on their toes, their minds engaged. Boredom never enters the picture. The teacher becomes the wonderful "Pied Piper” leading his wards into the wonderful world of knowledge explorations.

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