By Manvendra Mishra:
I was always an inquisitive student. I had the curiosity of knowing about everything that exists. This led to my increment in knowledge but I also suffered many punishments asking so many questions, as this would irritate my teachers. The problem was only aggravated when I changed schools. Having grown up in a lower middle-class family in Varanasi, I’d experienced Hindi medium schooling till Class 8, after which I took admission in Central Hindu Boys School.
But there was a fear inside me. Fear of not being able to compete with those students who came from a very good English medium school. However, after attending a few classes I realised language can never be a barrier – just as my father had advised.
Being amongst the class toppers, and the eldest sibling in my family, it was my responsibility to teach my younger siblings. Initially, I would get frustrated because I couldn’t explain to them the very concepts that were so clear in my mind. One day my father asked me to stop shouting while teaching them. “Try to understand them and figure out where they are struggling. Only then you will be able to help them,” he said to me. That changed my thinking, and I started explaining the same concepts in different ways, also helping them perform simple activities written in their science books.
This worked, and it got me thinking about the teaching process, deeply. I realised I had met only two or three teachers, whose classes were worth attending, and I started realising how classes should be more engaging; how there should be a lot more experiments and activities, and how the teachers should frequently discuss our problems.
After Class 12, I took admission in a reputed college in my hometown. But I chose to move out and experience life, differently. I joined the electrical engineering branch at HBTI, Kanpur, and felt it was the best decision I could make. Through it, I found a ‘different me’. I participated in fests and singing competitions, which I had only ‘imagined’ myself doing till now. I discovered how powerful group discussions can be, and what amazing results learning with peers can give. I realised how trapped I felt in the classroom during my childhood, because all that I had experienced, was majorly theoretical.
When the time came for campus placements, even though my father and grandfather had been school teachers, my family wished me to take up a government job – for job security and to improve the family’s financial conditions. I would agree to do this, externally, but deep inside I didn’t want a regular nine to five job. I wanted one where I could utilise all my potential and implement all my ideas. I wanted to work with a free mind.
During college placements, I refused a few job offers, and went back to Varanasi, thinking I shall prepare for IES (Indian Engineering Services). But when I returned for my college reunion, I heard of an organisation called Avanti, working in the educational space, in the campus. The field of education has always fascinated me. Maybe because teaching has always been in my genes. I researched about the company and got to know how they work with young graduates and try to teach students differently, as well as focus on students from lower income backgrounds. Something clicked, I applied and got hired.
I began teaching in the Kanpur Learning Centre. Over three years, I have witnessed my students getting into the best of colleges in India and abroad. That feeling of seeing my own students come out with flying colours just cannot be framed in a few words.
This was what I had been seeking in a job. My student Afzal Ahmad (now studying at IIT, Guwahati), is one example of a kid whose transformation has been amazing to witness. When he had first come to my class, he had average scores. He even worked hard to improve his scores but had failed. Eventually, he realised that learning is more important than scoring, and started focusing on learning using Avanti’s pedagogy, and automatically, his scores started improving. Today, when he is in town, he meets the current students, so that they can also feel inspired to learn as opposed to merely improving scores.
It is also extremely important to look at things that directly affect a student’s performance – family problems, economical issues, time management, friends, school related issues and any other distraction. These are some of the problems students face that no one likes to talk about. I noticed that an academically bright student was being very irregular in class. He was also performing poorly. One day when I asked him how much time he spent at home studying, “30 minutes,” was his response. After much coaxing, I got to know more. “Ghar pe padhai kar nahi pata sahi se. Mummy hamesha dant lagati, chhoti, chhoti chijo pe bhi” (I am not able to study at home as my mother scolds me for every small thing.) It turned out that his elder brother was the apple of his parents’ eyes, and this made him feel negative. But post a discussion with his father, things changed for the better. Now, he is back in class, and I can see that things are going right.
I have many students who ask unexpected questions, and when they do, I feel nostalgic, seeing my own reflection in them. And I don’t punish them ever for being inquisitive. I try and solve their queries, because those who answered my questions (even the silly ones) in school, were among my favourite teachers. Those who laughed at my questions demotivated me. Having said that, I suggest students in my class to discuss their doubts with their peers first, as they might share a higher level of comfort.
These have been some of my greatest learnings as a teacher – first – always pay heed when someone has questions. Don’t ignore them. The second one – never give up on your students. Third – understand that people learn at different paces. Four – don’t just lecture them but also do things together (discussions, activities etc). Last but not the least – be a friend by knowing them more. I recently went out of town for a few days. When I returned, the way my students welcomed me was unimaginable. I felt like I had accomplished something big.