The germ for this post sprouted in the aftermath of the death of Dr.Kalam.
In the deluge of Kalam-related information that dominated the media after his death one small bit struck a chord — his love for teaching. Of all the things he was — a teacher, a scientist, an advisor to the government, the President — it was the role of a teacher that he cherished the most.
On first meetings, people usually ask, “So what do you do?” The only reply I want to give when faced with this question is — I am a teacher. All the rest, the MBA and the business ownership are built around this core.
Teaching at 21
The first paid job that I took up was teaching.
I had completed my engineering as mechanically as possible and graduated with a software job, whose joining date got deferred in the bloodbath that followed the dotcom bust. I had taken the CAT in my final year and contrary to all expectations (including my own) I failed to get a call.
I was more than determined to clear it the second time round and was offered the chance to teach Analytical Reasoning to GRE students (back in the day GRE was out of 2400 with Analytical Reasoning being one of the sections) at the institute where I had prepared for the CAT.
The feedback for my classes was good but back then I did not really think much of teaching as a profession. I can distinctly remember thinking that it can become a really monotonous thing — the same sheet, the same problems and the same jokes.
It would take me more than a decade before I really understood what teaching was all about.
During my first teaching stint while my feedback was good and I had no problem solving questions, there would rarely be students queuing up to ask me doubts or speak to me after class. But since I moved to IMS Chennai in late 2012 and started teaching again, things have been different.
It was around that time that I realized that in the decade that I spent since I first taught, my approach to teaching had changed completely. I realized that at 21, I was only a good problem solver with good communication skills. I was not a teacher.
At 21, I looked at teaching from my own perspective — what is in it for me? Am I getting a kick out of it? I laughed inwardly about the monotony — the same sheet, the same problems and the same jokes.
I failed to see the most important and unique aspect in this whole process — the student.
The sheet might be the same but there is a set of completely new students experiencing those problems for the first time.
Once one sees this, the sheet no longer remains the same; in fact it is no longer about the sheet, it is completely about the student, forging a connection with them and helping them absorb everything to the fullest.
The teacher always gets more in return
I can confidently say that teaching has actually taught me and given me a lot in return. My successful second attempt on CAT, had a lot to do with the clarity of thinking I developed because of taking classes.
I learn to solve better because I learn to teach better. I learn to teach better from the students. There have been many cases when the same problem and the same explanation with the same energy fail to help a particular student understand. You notice a face in the class that has not really understood it.
It is then that you are forced to come up with a more creative way of explaining the problem. It goes without saying there are also cases where students come up with better solutions.
While these are the very specific benefits, there are others that my fellow teachers, mostly freshly-minted MBAs who take time out on weekends to come and teach, have mentioned:
- one says that he has to come and teach after a long working week, just to refresh himself
- another guy says that his wife says she likes him more when he returns home after taking a class at IMS than when he returns from his full-time work place
- yet another guy says that no matter how rotten his day or week might have been all he needs to do is to take a class and he is back to feeling great again
My favourite part
It was around April 2013, the GD-PI results for the first batch of CAT students that I mentored were expected at anytime. One of the students with whom I had spent quite some time called and said — Tony…IIM-B…then a pause…converted! I leapt out of the chair and screamed YES!, my other arm outstretched.
This is always the best part, the moment a student succeeds. Nothing tastes like success, only in this case, it is not your own but somebody else’s.
When I look back, I did not leap and scream years ago, when I came to know of my own result that I had made it!
The world needs great teachers
There was a time in this country and in our culture when being a teacher was a mark of distinction — the word guru itself means the one who dispels darkness; we have hymns equating the guru with all three gods.
Not just in myths with Dronacharya & Arjuna but everywhere there have been legends of great teacher-taught relationships from Chanakya & Chandragupta to Socrates & Plato.
We live in a different world now, a world that talks about technology, inverted classrooms and self-learning. I am more than sure that technology can really make things better but that does not mean that we can do with fewer teachers.
There is something about being in the presence of a great teacher that makes us want to be better than the individuals we are. I have had the privilege of experiencing this a few times.
I hope that more and more youngsters seriously start taking teaching as a profession. It’s a very fulfilling profession and what better day to say it out loud than today — the birth anniversary of another President, another Teacher.
Happy Teachers’ Day my fellow mentors, motivators & guides!