Category Archives: Reflections of an English Teacher

writers who don’t write, Lovers who don’t love

Writing has been like love

she spent a lifetime

dreaming about love

so did she about writing

sometimes in her dreams

they intermixed and danced

like ‘theyyam’ in a trance of thoughts

like love itself where it is a task to find a lover

of heart and kind, as good as you think he should be

so it is with writing to find a page and fill it with thoughts

the dancing pen coursing through and noting ideas, dreams and aspiration

the sweat and blood of living, the pain of conception and the inability to reproduce

of long traumatic gestation that bends the heart with weight

the muse in either is case being vamoose

sandwiched amidst hopes, expectations and soar realities

throbs a dull ache that makes living plausible

whiffs of love, songs of yonder, tales of the worlds beyond

are in waiting

but not too long, not too long.

Student leadership &the annual magazine

Bringing out the annual magazine has been a pet project in my teaching career. I had not done much of work for the college magazine, when I was a student and I deeply regretted it.

Then there was this deep deep desire and longing to be a columnist, a writer and to have my writings appear in the newspapers of our times.

Since my efforts to enter Indian Institution of Mass Communication was squashed due to my lack of preparedness to answer questions with confidence in the interview round, I decided not to try again, no I was advised strongly against taking up this very unsafe career.

In the hindsight, I have no regrets about not having taken up journalism as a career but the desire to present and get acknowledgements for students efforts at expression perhaps stemmed from these thoughts and experiences.

Eversince I started off as a true blue English teacher, I rallied around the higher offices of administration, fought with management, burnt midnight oil at the printers in my endeavour to bring out the annual magazine.

My daughter will definitely remember sleeping at the printers or playing there with her toys, till the copy was being edited and ready to print. At Agarwal Public School, where I taught in 2002- 2006, I found enthusiastic support from the student community to bring out the magazine and the newsletter which we did diligently. I remember how the founder had once suggested that he could get a message from any film actor for the magazine and I had to literally refuse it staking my job for the sake of avoiding overarching bragging.

Well! later at Presidency School, Bangalore East, again I rallied my students and we prepared the sample quite a few times but somehow it never got the support it should have had, to see the light of the day. The student editors were disappointed to say the least!

At Presidency University, though I am not a part of the English Department, I was assigned to take up the task of bringing out the Annual Magazine. The students and the team of faculty consisting primarily of yours truly and Gopal Sir, brought out the first edition of the annual magazine feeling euphoric about the achievement. When the second edition had to come out, a new set of enthusiastic and committed students joined the students affairs department, which I was then entrusted to manage as Assistant Dean, and the efforts the students put in was consistent and topclass.

Infact, all the creatives, all the reports, the preparations and everything else was so well managed by the members of the students community who took any challenge with an unmatched enthusiasm and peformed every task with great finesse.

So the 2019-20 magazine kind of took shape but went through a long period of gestation before it could reach our hands.

When it did, it was something worthwhile to hold in hand, read and recollect.

The team who spearheaded the task included Sufiyan, Hariharan, Hannan and Sakshi and received lots of support from the members of other clubs.

Some skill sets develop better outside the classroom in the process of brain storming, organization, execution and introspection, so I am sure it must have been for the youngsters who pitched their efforts to make the students affairs a happening place.

A bit of encouragement and support can do wonders to the youth and can help them place themselves as accomplished and talented individuals in the society. We really need to get our youth engaged at every level in the society and that should augur well for our collective future.

University magazines and student talents

Drive again & Teachers missing classrooms

Now, its sometime since I sold my car and driving, I thought has slipped off my skill set. And Kerala, with its narrow roads and screaming buses somehow intimidated me.

Yet, when my uncle wanted a lift to the bus stop a good three years earlier in Calicut, he asked me to take out my cousin’s car. ‘It’s not mine no’, I said a bit apprehensive. ‘Ha ha,’ he laughed, ‘the car doesnot know that it not Gopi driving it,’ he said in jest.

I took out car under the watchful eyes of the owner’s father and took this gentleman to the bus stop and returned home, happy at having completed the task.

I wondered at Nandan chetan’s clarity of thought and how I am muddled in confusions which have no standing.

Despite much trepidation I decided to take the car here at Kopparambil, again that of another uncle and applied Nandan chetan’s logic, ‘of course, car does not know that it’s me. And the roads, well, they don’t know either that I come from Bangalore’, ha ha, I laughed to myself.

I had started off to go to Avnissery to visit the family temple but en route decided to head to Chakkamparambil Temple at Ashtamichira, Mala. Once on the road, I was thrilled to bits at the rush of fresh air and the sheer feeling of holding the steering wheel in my own two hands. What a pleasure!

Perhaps, being ‘bekaar’, I was also a bit ‘bebus’ or helpless, I thought to myself. And well, I dropped at my teacher friend, Maya’s beautiful home uninvited.

Of the many things that Maya does, she is a fantastic cook, she loves tailoring, has the most beautiful smile on the planet but most ardently, right at the core of her, she is a dedicated teacher, who enjoys her time in the classroom.

The moment she starts to share about her classroom, her eyes twinkle, her hands wave about in excitement and well, ‘Lekha, we teachers get a lot of love and affection from our students, don’t we, and that is a major missing due to this corona’. ‘Actually it is so acute that it pulls me down sometimes, she smiled a bit sadly flashing her famous dimple.

Petting her lab, Happy, she said, ‘this girl is my best buddy, see, she is so excited to see you!’

I thought of all the teachers who are struggling with the digital screens and sorely missing the human touch, when the world is sneering at them for ‘less workload’ and ‘ease of work’.

Really !!! the teaching community is constantly missing the classroom interaction as much as the students do and like the students themselves, they are itching for the noise in the corridors, in the classrooms and the rush of walking up and down, with the purpose of ‘making lives better’ and the pretext of adding value to lives they touch.

The new normal is rather abnormal, don’t you think?

the success of a young teacher

My young neice is a first time teacher. Her enthusiasm is palapable so is her nervousness. She is driven to do her best. ‘They should learn right, chechi. They should benefit from my classes. ‘

Eager to make a mark and make a difference she puts in efforts to learn the tricks of the trade. From introduction of a lesson to details about classroom activities to making the class engaging, she is an enthusiastic question bank. Our discussions are as interesting for me as it is for her.

As we discuss, I see in her a glimpse of how I was, fired up to make each class memorable, reading, making notes and learning new words.

Years of teaching has made me confident and comfortable in a classroom, so it will be with her or even better, given her commitment and sincerity to the job.

The fact that she deals with students in a government school makes it even more demanding, she has to constantly consider those who have had no exposure whatsoever to good language. Yet, the teacher is excited and committed and the students are lapping it up, reciprocating the teacher’s enthusiasm in equal terms.

Many years back, I taught at Ganapat Boys High School in Calicut for just 3 months and that experience was an eye opener for the beginner in me. In a classroom of repeaters, I could with some affection and positive remarks generate enthusiasm for learning. I remember breaking in my heart when the kids in the classroom, spoke of their ambitions, ‘I want to be a mechanic’,’I will run a watch repair shop’, ‘I will become a bus conductor’. It looked as if the fact that they had failed a year or two has reduced the scope of their dreams and aspirations. It must have been such a painful experience to go home and be reminded only of their academic failure and be told the same at school. While I was warned of the indifference of the students in the class, I found them very supportive and willing to understand and learn. I guess a little compassion and understanding is all it takes to make a child ‘whole’ again.

It is therefore, touching to see young teachers being so kind and willing to learn and grow, it speaks good for all of us. But mostly I am just happy to witness this process of evolution of the nervous new comer finding her feet and her voice in the class room and her colleagues and students showering praises on her as she does it.

A helping hand and a smile helps anyone, even teachers, yes, more so, teachers because a teacher is in a unique position of being able to give joy to many little guys and girls and that many homes, if you think about it.

Go on then, reach out to a teacher you know and tell him/her of the good work they do, they also deserve a few good words.

Mam!!!YOU GOTTA SING!

As we were windin up the semester, the class was euphoric. There were sharing of what they learned and how. The class also talked about the peers, and how others rooted for them and how this transformed them literally. In the general atmosphere of bonhomie and with the satisfaction of having completed the work assigned, I stood relaxed in front of the class of 100 students, 50 online and the rest offline.

Suddenly, a noise broke out from the back benchers, ‘ Mam, we want you to sing!’

I looked up strangely as that was not part of the agenda and smiled it off as a meaningless blabber.

But the call caught on and soon, the entire class was rooting .. we want sreelekha mam to sing!

sing! goodness! not if I have to die in front of you!!!

I thought to myself when someone reasoned, ‘ You always ask us to do so many things and we do. When we don’t know you encourage us, now it is your turn’.

I sweated a bit at this. There seemed to be no escape. I still tried my best and said, ‘Listen, I have no sense of rhythm, I have no sense of music itself’.

‘No problem’, shouted the class to me.

‘We want to hear you sing!’

Ohk, said I after much failed negotiation, I will recite a few sanskrit shlokas for you!

No! No! ‘Ok! anything!

The class cried out their thoughts to me.

Then caught in a corner , way out of my comfort zone, I went ahead and recited the sanskrit shlokas for the first time in my life in front a crowd that big.

When I stopped the class applauded my performance with enthusiasm.

That left me thinking of the mentors and trainers , who have so much to learn and unlearn and so many barriers to cross before we start to lecture others on coming out of the comfort zone!

Speeches are not difficult for me, but songs are a different ball game altogether.The learning from the event is that one has to constantly test oneself to continue to grow and evolve into better mentors, trainers and teachers!

Am I not as smart? To Remedial or not

Am I not smart enough? Is that why I am in this remedial class? Why have you so segregated us?

Often and on, we in the teaching community face this question from students who we chose to give some extra training or attention.

For the years I have been a remedial teacher and have conducted remedial classes to many students. We have had fun in these classes, my students and I, whenever I have been successful in winning their confidence and have ensured them that they are in good hands and that this is not a punishment, it definitely is not.

Though I remember once I had mentioned the need for the child to focus more in education or learning, in this case, English, which was my subject, to my great shock and extreme shame, the father had lifted his hand to hit the child right in front of me and other parents. I felt guilty and rightly so for having been the reason for this public embarrassment for the child.

I realized the absolute significance of my words as a teacher to a parent and the child and how my words can impact their relationship and also impact the child and his/her mental and emotional health in the long run.

Thereafter I remember being extremely careful of what I speak and how so much so that students often chose to get their parents to meet me first, ‘mam, once you speak, no, they would joke, my parents will feel good and if someone complains later also, they will not take it badly.’ This sort of became a pact between some of my students and me.

I had another eye opening, life changing moment when I encountered another student of mine, Prabodh and tried to question his lack of interest in improving his English skills. Instead of accepting my observation or taking it negatively, Prabodh countered me, ‘Mam, I am very good at carpentry, Hindi, swimming and some other skills. Why should I be good at everything? It’s ok that I am not great at English’.

I laughed at my own folly, on hearing this confident counter. Indeed, why so? Why was I bent on shaming Prabodh for his poor English when I completely ignore his many other talents?

Again in one of my 11 th standard classes, I had another experience of a similar kind. I was advising Mukul Yadav to work on his English. The entire section of boys in the class, literally growled back, ‘ Mam, he is the state swimming champion. He is that and he is this….’ and while Mukul basked in the glory of collective compliments, I definitely had to retract my statement and politely add, ‘well, no harm in learning English as well!’.

But what am I driving at? I am trying here to point that to build on a new skill set, we need to acknowledge and appreciate, what is already present.

For example, when some of my students hesitate to speak in English, I allow them to speak in their mother tongue in the class. The class applauds the speech, poetry or any other presentation. This adds to the confidence of the student. I then gently interject to point out that it is a matter of pride to be able to speak your mother tongue fluently. It is a great achievement indeed.

While this being so, we still need to build our English skills, only because it is language in which academic interactions and expressions happen mostly, at least in our country. There fore we need to acquire this skill set.

This I have seen has often helped me to not shame a student for the skill he/she has already, but emphasize that we only need to build and improve on what is missing and needs betterment.

In my early years of teaching English, I have often approached the topic of imparting English language skills with an evangelistic zeal, somewhere though, after much reflection, and humbled by various experiences, I realized that gentle persuasion works better than any kind of shaming.

Acknowledge the existing skill set of the student.

Give him the credit he deserves.

Gently reason out the need to learn a new skill.

Most often than not, the student decides to collaborate with you in picking up the new skill, which he sees is going to benefit him.

Mission accomplished 🙂

Collaborative learning makes classrooms healthy happy spaces to be in for the teacher, as well as the student.