Saturday, October 03, 2015

Teacher's tricks

The following was published in The Hindu on September 29th:

Coping mechanisms in today's classrooms of the new generation
On voluntarily retiring from a commercial bank after 30-odd years of service as an unsuccessful manager, I wanted to become a teacher. Didn’t George Bernard Shaw say, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches”?

It did not take long for me to be convinced that I was a successful teacher. Session after session, students thanked me profusely, claiming that my lectures were proving to be an effective cure for their insomnia, but without any side effects.

However, very soon the impact of a new teacher was wearing thin. Participants started coming late to class. All my pleadings that punctuality was essential for maintaining academic discipline and to ensure that they did not miss any part of the lessons taught were in vain. Finally I made it a rule that late-comers would occupy the front row. Late arrivals ceased forthwith!

Students avoided the front row, fearing that sleeping there would be noticed easily. They are perhaps not aware that many teachers focus more on the rear rows where mischief normally occurs. Whenever the front row was vacant, my ego would receive a jolt. So, after the arrival of all students I would quietly remove the chairs in the front row.
I found to my amusement that students’ knack of enjoying forty winks during lectures has crossed an evolutionary threshold. They have now developed the knack of sleeping with their eyes open. My doctor friends tell me there is a medical term for this: ‘lagophthalmos’. Though doctors treat this as an inability to close the eyelids completely while sleeping, present-day students have made it an ability to sleep with eyes open!

The practice of lagophthalmos among the student community makes the job of a teacher frustrating. It becomes difficult to know whether astudent is actually sleeping or not because all have their eyelids open. Whenever I suspected that a person was sleeping though the eyes were open, I would go near the person and ask a question on what was being discussed. Students usually outsmarted me because they were not only sleeping with their eyelids open, but in addition were talking in sleep (a cultivated condition called ‘somniloquy’). Though what the student was mumbling would have no relevance to the topic under discussion, I would prefer to think the student was in fact attentive and would walk away. This would keep my self-confidence as a teacher intact.

I was always interested in knowing how I was shining as a teacher in comparison with others. To my utter shock, another teacher told me once that when he checked up with a student in my class, he could not even remember what was discussed in the class. From that dismaying day, I ensured that I always wrote in block letters the subject of discussion on the white board. It is my firm hope that seeing in bold letters the topic of discussion for 60-odd minutes would make it impossible not to remember at least the topic. But to my odd blend of eternal joy and consternation, the students make the impossible happen.

It was not as though I wanted to become a teacher only after quitting the bank. When I was the manager of a large branch, a General Manager of the bank visited the branch for an on-the-spot assessment of my performance. The branch was notorious for its non-performing assets and therefore my main focus was on recovery. The General Manager made it clear to me that my performance was far from satisfactory. Unrelated to this, I had earlier applied for a faculty position in the Staff Training College of the bank. The interview to select the faculty members was held the next day. The General Manager who visited the branch the previous day was on the interview panel. I was hoping that I would be selected because my branch performance was ‘unsatisfactory’. But the wily General Manager initiated the interview asking me why I was interested in teaching when my field performance was ‘excellent’. I was tongue-tied and, needless to say, was not selected for that post.

Printable version | Sep 30, 2015 5:02:13 PM |

© The Hindu

No comments: