Reams of paper, red pen, big lesson plan charts, books, evaluation, I have seen them all since the time I did not understand what they were. A teacher mother brings all that to home. As a student, there was lot to emulate. The earliest memory of role reversal goes to 1999 when on Teacher’s Day, 5th September in India; we as class 9 students at Saint Lawrence School, were to teach junior classes. The seniors gave me a ‘most well dressed young teacher’ prize in the function that followed.
Little did I know then that I will eventually become a ‘real’ teacher ten years later and then be at it for another ten years. Today, the 12th of January marks a decade being a teacher.
Angry young man
I joined Kasturba Medical College International Center, KMCIC, often called just IC, after a brief teaching stint at an allied health science college in Bangalore. I always wanted to come back to Manipal and the opportune moment arrived in the cool January of 2009.
As a 25 year old, with a post graduate degree in medical biochemistry, fresh with knowledge of various aspects of the subject, supported by public speaking skills gathered over years, the change in power equation cemented by stereotypes, the angry young man mode marked the beginning.
Exacerbated by the fact that the students were just a few years junior, all non resident Indians having brought up in a different classroom culture, alien to the Indian conception, a couple of walk outs from the class, reprimands, marked the first few months. In hindsight it stemmed from that need of decorum and discipline, almost military like, in a classroom which quintessentially equates to students paying respect to teacher. Crappy theory, one realizes later.
But then it became better. The realization that an unruly class, more often than not, is a failure of the teacher, that insulting an adult to shut him off is only going to alienate him further, that the various personality traits make for various reactions, that power cannot and should not be misused dawned slowly.
I could feel and see change in about a year or two.
In 2013 January, after a very enriching stint in IC teaching biochemistry and genetics, I moved to Melaka Manipal Medical College to continue teaching biochemistry.
I have taught a wide range of courses in these ten years. Mainly the MBBS program, interestingly one that is ratified by Malaysian Qualifying Agency, the former was by American Board. Apart than that allied health science, dentistry, biotechnology, dietary and nutrition, nursing and a few others. I have enjoyed teaching all these courses and I have never discriminated with students based on discipline, sadly a phenomenon widely seen.
Teaching is not just about the classroom. It is mentorship which affects students. The number may vary but I strongly feel that if a teacher can influence just one student positively, it has a butterfly effect. A drug addict, who had been in and out of rehab, a guy whose mental health made him involve in dangerous practices, a girl from a broken family having relationship issues, someone who had trouble concentrating on anything, one who just wanted to share her stories, someone who would lock him up in hostel room, one who would not come back to hostel, there are scores of such stories that I remember vividly.
Exasperating as it may be at that point in time to deal with such kind of trouble, I realized pretty early in my career that showing some support, listening to them, or just being there can make a sea change in people. Of the examples cited above, many of them are successful doctors in the US today, something that was unthinkable back then.
It is a very happy feeling for a teacher to see their students do well. There might be little or no role of the teacher in that success story, yet the mere feeling that you knew the person, interacted with her, tried to impart some knowledge, some skill, and that the person is seemingly doing well is a satisfying feeling.
The lure of the classroom
The one thing that has stood out in this past decade as a teacher for me is the lure of a classroom. There is nothing more exciting that being in a class. It is there amidst students, young men and women, eager to learn, to listen, where all worries vanish.
Unkind situations have led me to points where I have returned from an MRI scan of my one and half year daughter at 2 am in the morning only to take a class at 8 in the morning and it is in that class of an hour where the mind has not fleeted to the hospital. And that is just one example; there have been umpteen such situations.
What is it about the classroom then? It is perhaps the eagerness to share information, to engage with students, the urge to be effective which predominate all worry that the mind has been preoccupied with. It is blissful to be in a classroom taking class.
Teaching is not a job, it is a calling?
I have wondered about this statement often. Teaching has a calling component to it certainly, but it also needs a rigor that a job, even if boring, is associated with. To show up early in the morning, to have a class late in the afternoon, and with enthusiasm, with passion, needs one to like the work they do.
There is one thing about the teaching job that I greatly appreciate and am thankful for - the freshness of it. Every year sees one or two new batch of new students and brings with it the newness that is much required in any vocation. Each batch has its own dynamics, its own challenges, and its own energy. Teaching, for me, never gets boring.
I feel it is important to stay relevant. With each passing year the students change. A cultural shift, a generational shift, an attitudinal shift is all part of the game and sooner a teacher realizes that it is better for her. We cannot be using old techniques for new age students. Yes, a chalk and talk might be relevant for many decades to come but for example using technology to enhance learning should be accepted at a greater level.
Not just a teacher
I have had the privilege to do much more than teaching and some amount of science and medical education research in this past decade. As secretary of the university cultural coordination committee, the organization of inter collegiate fest, as emcee in umpteen formal and informal programs, as writer of numerous reports and yearbooks, as hostel warden for five years, as resource person facilitating sessions on soft skills, winning sports events and other awards, as coordinator for internationalization to website to disciplinary committee to more, these leadership positions at university and college level, these organizational activities have imparted rich experience.
Being in a private university like Manipal is a boon for a teacher for there is a lot of leeway and especially in my college, Melaka Manipal Medical College, which is not under the archaic medical Council of India, one can try new things, the curriculum has flexibility, innovation is appreciated and the overall work environment is relaxing.
A constant question that hits me after every module is ‘how effective have I been?’ I guess it has to do with ones teaching philosophy too. Mine is to leave the student with something that makes her search for more. I believe a classroom also is a room for discussing, with time permitting, issues beyond academics. In my decade long experience, I can vouch it inspires many students. Much has been written, lot of training is imparted on how to be effective and one must enroll in those and learn. But at the end of the day, if there is goodness that you want to share, aiming at enriching an individual’s repertoire of knowledge, skills and attitude, it will motivate you to be a good teacher.
Despite having my own set of disappointment about what I could have achieved in this last decade, I am largely satisfied with my evolution as a teacher. It is not necessary to win excellence in teaching awards to be content. It is rather the path to excellence that is important. And I am on it. I am involved in projects which aim at enhancing learning using technology and I am passionate about psychology and science of learning.
I want to empower my students, not feed them with ready to serve information. I want my student to be inquisitive, not content with whatever is served. I want my student to question all that comes her way, not accept authority in the way it comes.
Sometimes I like reading the few messages on cards, photographs, mementos that students have left behind in these years. They are a source of inspiration on a bad day.
At this point in life, I feel I can be a teacher all my life.
PS: Next update could be at least 5 years down the line.