By Pradeep Shetty:
In January, 2014, I saw a tweet from historian Ramachandra Guha that really inspired me. It was about the great pride he felt for his nephew Krishna, who had just started Avanti Learning Centres, to teach bright students from low-income backgrounds. “His (Krishna’s) teacher-grandfather would have been even prouder,” Mr Guha tweeted.
This got me really thinking. I had always envisioned taking up teaching full time after gaining a decade of work experience across sectors. But now I asked myself – if my ultimate aim is to be a teacher, why wait? Will working in the corporate sector teach me to be a better teacher? My answer was ‘no’. So, I left my IT job and joined Avanti. And just like that, I found my life’s purpose. And happiness.
I started off teaching kids in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Mangalore. These children were mostly from rural parts of Dakshina Kannada, and they were hardworking and compassionate. They showered upon me much love and affection, which is very hard to see in any other profession. One day while playing basketball with the students, I twisted my left ankle very badly and couldn’t move for a week. The students brought food from the mess to my room every day and cajoled me into taking medicines, from time to time. I’ll never forget my students’ kindness. That is when I decided I’m going to be a teacher for life.
After a year or so, I gradually moved on to a role, which involves managing teachers across Karnataka and creating an environment where teachers can perform to their full potential. We teach in Toranagallu, Bengaluru, Hubli-Dharwad, Coorg, Tumkur, Hassan and Mysore and my goal is to reach every district of Karnataka over the next five years.
My team of teachers is my greatest motivation and it is heartening to see graduates from the top colleges of the country, come to teach in all these places. Some of them have worked in top companies in the world, but like me felt that there was something missing in their life. That’s when they switched over to Avanti to teach. They wanted to make a difference at the grassroots, and enjoy their contribution in building human and social capital for a resurgent India. These teachers make me believe that the younger generation of our country is in safe hands.
My own journey of teaching began with my love for storytelling. During engineering and MBA, whenever we had free time, I would teach random topics to my classmates using stories. My classmates came to love this and wanted more of this.
I notice that students, too, are always attentive when a good story is being told. How you introduce a topic and build a story in a language they understand, matters. I also believe that if you can inspire students to learn, you’ll be surprised at what they can learn on their own. This is important because you can only teach them limited things in a limited time. But if you can inspire them to learn on their own, there is no limit to learning. In other words get the students on to the driving seat and get out of their way!
Today, there are many examples of wonderful teachers both in the private and government system. The problem is that they are overwhelmed. Their work is not just teaching subjects but in many cases changing social behaviour. For instance, in North Karnataka, I was shocked to learn from a school principal in Bellary that most girls are married off by the age of 18 and they are taken out of the school for this purpose. In fact, the percentage of women married by the time they were 18 in Karnataka stood at 45% in 2011. To fight this practice, the teachers and principals of schools here are counselling parents and the elders of the villages about the harm it does to the girls.
Another problem that is dogging our education system is students going behind marks rather than learning life skills and concepts. It is a problem of such a scale that a handful of people can’t solve it. What we need is, lots and lots of good people joining the teaching profession. After all, the subjects and the topics, which we learn become immaterial and useless after a point of time, and it is the values we imbibe that are more meaningful for life.
I believe that if we as a group of teachers are able to inspire others to become teachers, then we have done a wonderful job. Furthermore, when it comes to choosing a profession, if my students think of teaching as their first choice, that would make this teacher truly happy!
Featured and banner image shared by Pradeep Shetty