What Qualifies Someone To Teach?

In India, in order to teach, a B Ed Degree is mandatory. I present to you, with no disrespect intended to the millions of teachers who have secured their B Ed Degrees, an alternate scenario. One where, in my limited experience, the engagement, enthusiasm, participation and learning of a class of pupils, has little or nothing to do with the teacher’s ‘qualification’. I teach from Primary School all the way up to College and beyond. And I have found that EFFECTIVE teaching demands a few KEY elements…

  1. Earning Trust – For a teacher to earn the trust of a class, is vital. But this has two big prerequisites. One, that the teacher student relationship be given TIME to develop. Two, that the relationship itself, CAN NOT be based on FEAR. There will be NO trust building in that case. There is a fine line between FEAR and RESPECT. And I believe it can be maintained.
  2. Entertaining Education – We live in a world where students have access to an array of ‘instant entertainment’ – be it youtube, online games, social media sites/platforms; all on their cell phones. THIS is what teachers are competing against. So in order to ENGAGE students, a TEACHER must be an ENTERTAINER, a PERFORMER.
  3. Cultural Context, Similarities – In order to ‘connect’ with students, teachers should be able to ‘speak their language’ – literally, metaphorically, culturally. Unfortunately, because of how most of our society is structured, our teachers and students belong to completely contrasting universes. So where then, can be the commonality? How many teachers will be able to have a chat with a student about Bieber? How many students, will be able to identify with a teacher’s last family holiday?
  4. Respect Students – Respect can not be demanded. And it is certainly not one-way. A teacher today is living a fallacy if he/she thinks that the teacher is some beacon of knowledge and the students are empty vessels. A teacher HAS to respect a student intellectually and individually. I learn everyday from each student of mine. But if a teacher is closed-off to that notion, chances are there will be very little engagement.

I have been teaching for not TOO long now. But I have made some observations that have been corroborated time and again. That a teacher NEEDS to know about what he or she is teaching, and along with that, know the students’ world. And in that world, no B Ed is required!

Of The Brood!

When our daughter Krisha was to be born, MANY people, friends, family members, ‘well wishers’ asked us, and advised us on our ‘pets quarantine’ plan. “How are you planning to keep your new born baby and the pets apart?” “How will you ensure that the baby is protected from the pets?” These, and many more questions were raised, and answered by the very same people 🙂

Now don’t get me wrong.. Not for a minute am I demeaning or unappreciative of the genuine concern that all these people had. Having said that, if you asked me WHAT we finally did? The honest answer would be – ZILCH!

Sure, we got lucky. That our daughter, as it turned out, was born, not showing any obvious signs of allergies from the pets – our 8 year old pug Mojo and our two cats Zachary & ZeeZee; all seemed to make ‘no’ difference to Krisha, at least from a ‘medical’ standpoint. THANK GOD! First fear overcome, my wife Anuja and I realized that that ‘first’ fear, really was our ONLY fear. That settled, a distant second concern that the pets would unwittingly hurt Krisha, paled quickly when we realized that pets, and animals in general, are the most sensitive, aware, careful creatures on the planet – much more I dare say, than us humans!

Now 7 months into this new journey with Krisha, aside from the expected pangs of jealousy especially our pug experienced; things seem happy 🙂

                                         

This brings me then to the main point I’d like to make. A child that grows up around pets is bound to benefit in many ways. Pets give love, unconditionally. This can be a huge source of emotional support for a child. A pet can also become that one true confidant to a child, someone who unconsciously helps the child deal with the myriad upheavals of growing up. Of course, caring for a pet, and seeing the pet being cared for, will most certainly instill a sense of responsibility as well as empathy. Also, soliciting interaction will only help a child develop communication skills. So be it psychological well-being, mental stimulation, or character-building; for a child to grow up among pets can only be advantageous.

I am excited for the years that lie ahead and to see Krisha grow with our little brood 🙂

Get Paid, Pay It Forward

I know I have said lots about writers being woefully underpaid, and that is absolutely true 🙂 However, do not let the title of this post mislead you. It is not a tirade on the financial plight of Writers or Teachers. It is to share what I try to do in my life, in my own small way, about balancing ‘paid’ projects with ‘voluntary’ work.

So there are Ghostwriting Projects where we charge handsomely. Similarly when it comes to Teaching, depending on whom and where, I tend to charge well. But I don’t do this just because I CAN. I do it so that it allows me the luxury of then devoting time to certain projects, causes,  events and enterprises where I am happy to work pro-bono.

Again, the point here is not to try and sound like sage; I’m not. But given that I am nowhere near capable of making monetary contributions to the many causes I feel strongly towards; the next best thing I know how to do, and absolutely love to do, is volunteer my time and my few skills. Just one example of this Work-Volunteer Balance I try and maintain is a Workshop I did for this NGO that is doing tremendous work in the advocacy and promotion of Organ Donation. So for over 100 school children from multiple schools across Jaipur,  we organized a sensitization event where I held a Film & Poster Making Workshop. Here, the kids were explained how they can make short films and posters on this subject, and went back to their respective schools and produced some brilliant work! In the process,  not only were they familiarized with this important issue, they became advocates of the same. A win-win.

People often tell my wife and I that we are very EXPENSIVE! Our ‘rates’ are TOO much. But it is because we know the quality we provide, and, it is these projects that help us, PAY IT FORWARD!

Like A Boy/Like A Girl

I often hear parents and grandparents say to a boy-child if he has fallen and is crying, “come on,  behave like a boy”. Similarly, if a girl-child is being unruly, the remark is “come on, behave like a girl”!

Gender stereotyping them, begins at such a formative stage in our lives, that it is bound to create narrow, limited, fixed, and ultimately frustrated human beings. Imagine these children grown up! Do we feel they will be able to express themselves freely? Do we think that they will be ‘happy’ in their own skins?

I know I have talked about this in my previous posts as well. But the problem is so natively rooted that something needs to be done to correct it. The gender-divide is more in our heads than it is, in actual fact. It is why we refuse to accept the genders in certain ‘roles’. When a great chef is a man, pat comes the observation, “men are better at women in most areas that are viewed primarily as the purview of women”! Similarly, when there is a woman who has risen to become a Top Cop, or an Industry Captain, snide remarks such as “oh she’s hardly like a woman” are sadly inescapable!

Why the shoehorning? Why the boxing? Why a DEFINITION?

Let us UNBOX, UNDO, and SET FREE!

Great Conversations can be EASY!

Many many students of mine of all age groups essentially want to become good conversationalists. And I keep telling them, just as there are Myths & Misconceptions associated with Writing, there are too, with being a Great Conversationalist.

Whatever the ‘conversation-scenario’ might be, you need a few KEY prerequisites, and I promise you will be on your way to holding a meaningful, engaging dialogue.

  1. LISTEN: Making conversation is NOT about going yap yap yap to PROVE that you KNOW IT ALL. Listen. People appreciate that. Besides, a conversation is a 2-way street. Unless you pay attention to what the other person/people are saying, how will you carry it FORWARD!
  2. GK: The more AWARE you are, the more well informed you are, the more you will engage. There is NO substitute for this. I get that it is BORING to read newspapers, depressing even. I dislike it myself. You know the 2 places I get my GK from? So here’s my trade secret!!! KBC, as in Kaun Banega Karorpati. And this neat app on android and ios called In-Shorts, available free on any play-store, that gives you diverse, interesting news. The best part, each news-story has a visual or video, and is limited to 60 words!!
  3. RESEARCH: Lack of Confidence is sited as a constant niggle. It becomes such a monster, that it can seem all-consuming. You know what the key to alleviating this is? RESEARCH. No matter what the social-scenario may be, there is, logically, a certain about of PREP that can be put into in advance. For example, you are going to your college orientation. If you do a little research about the school, its professors, and the city/locality/history/culture in advance, not only will your nerves have VANISHED, you will definitely engage & delight!
  4. DISPOSITION: Try to keep a friendly disposition. Often times without realizing, our nerves/irritation manifest in our body-movements. We twitch, shake, do not make eye contact, and keep our arms crossed (as if to stay shut off to the world). Breathe. Why Shahrukh Khan has become the legend that he has? I have a theory. What’s his most iconic pose? Arms wide open in slow motion…right? Well, it is all about positive body language and a disposition that says, come, I want to engage with you!

Making conversation is a wonderful thing. It is educative, entertaining, and most importantly, builds relationships. And today, perhaps more than ever, we need that!

Write Right – Myths About Writing!

Writing… That holy grail of creative pursuits and self-expression that to most, is scary, unattainable,  insurmountable. While I am not claiming that it is easy, what I do want to share with all of you, is that the REASONS a lot of us assume it is IMPOSSIBLE, are WRONG!

When I teach Writing, be it at a school, a college, an independent workshop or at home to an individual student; I often come across certain perceptions that have taken hold, and are difficult to shake-off. So to all you budding writers out there, here is my list of MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS about ‘effective writing’

  1. NO FANCY LANGUAGE is NEEDED – There is a common misconception that in order to write a compelling, engaging piece of fiction (especially), one needs to be some kind of Language Pandit. UNTRUE. The point of good writing is not to use big, flowery words. Sure, it helps to have a wider vocabulary at one’s disposal rather than the alternative. Having said that, it is NOT necessary. Many amateur writers become unnecessarily ‘language-lavish’, which, rather than serving the purpose of the story, draws attention and focus away from it!
  2. DEGREE IN LITERATURE – Similar to the earlier point; many people seem to believe that one has to have ‘studied’ the subject (language), in order to write. Sometimes this is also interpreted in a way where people believe that one MUST have ‘read’ lots, to write. Both are UNTRUE again. Sure, reading helps. But like a dear author friend of mine always says, reading too much, cramps his originality!
  3. NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS AROUND ME – In other words, people feel they do not have an engaging enough PLOT; perhaps not realizing that if we were to really analyze a book, a film, a story that we really liked, we will come to the realization that it wasn’t the ‘action’ or the ‘events’ that got us hooked on to that story but rather its primary CHARACTER/CHARACTERS. Great stories are much less about what’s going on ‘outside’, much more about what is going on ‘inside’ a PERSON.

The Skill-Set that is required to become a good writer are completely different from what we tend to assume. And the good news is, with a little discipline, ANYONE can learn them. In an age where everywhere is going visual and there is less and less ‘written word’, a romantic like I can only hope that we as a society do not let the endless creative possibilities and the resultant joy that writing provides, become extinct. Because while a picture might be worth a thousand words, those thousand words are able to ‘paint’ the picture; and that has immense value!

TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

I had the privilege recently of getting to know a very interesting couple in Jaipur. Shilpi and Hitesh Adwani. These photographers/film makers have given birth to a silent but potent movement in the city. Their radical, free-thinking school/college/creative playground, The Open Space Society (TOSS), has quietly begun to make an impact.

The couple, and their ‘society’, has certainly made an impression on me. Though I’d met them some time ago,  I finally made my way to meet the two, at TOSS, earlier today. From what I can understand, it is a space that has no ‘boundaries’. Literal ones aside, just as their mission, to espouse creativity; the space has no limits to what can be conceived and created within its liberating campus. TOSS regularly holds workshops in the broad area of the ‘media-arts & sciences’, be it Photo-Book Making or Theater, conducted by carefully selected, highly qualified & experienced, eminent experts. The school also organizes film-screenings and other events, with a slew of exciting, piping hot offerings always brewing.

I’ve always fancied myself as someone who provides an atmosphere for creativity – Shilpi & Hitesh though, have fashioned a living, tangible reality in TOSS, one that quite literally is a manifestation of their creative-karma! Poised to shortly turn into a state-of-the-art, full fledged Media College offering a slew of courses covering the entire Media Gamut, TOSS has to be seen to be believed. Made entirely from reclaimed materials, the air through TOSS is easy yet inspirational, modern yet traditional. To house, among other things, a one-of-its kind Media Library upon completion (very soon), TOSS will emerge as the definitive Media-Studies & Expression destination.

The couple is ingenious, unorthodox, and quietly eccentric (in my view, and I mean that as a big compliment). Just what the city needs to ‘charge’ up the environment. For the young and the young-in-spirit, The Open Space Society must be engaged with. Because here, they don’t give a TOSS about who you are… rather, what you CAN BE! It is then, really, a delectable TOSSed Salad for the Creative Soul!

https://www.facebook.com/tossjaipur/

Open Minds, Free Hearts

Yet another brutal reminder of terrorism. The New York attack. Barely 10 hours back. In Lower Manhattan! My brother, his girlfriend, cousins, countless friends; all a stone’s throw from the scene!

A lot of ‘noise’ is made on this subject. There will be news debates galore, social media will be buzzing in the aftermath of this nth brazen violation of our collective freedom.

Perhaps one way of solving this deep-rooted terror problem is to really start with the younger generation. I always try to sensitize my students about the problems of the world we live in.  Terrorism is a tricky one. What is the right way of introducing such an ugly truth to young minds? How, when, where? One has to be careful not to upset an innocent mind; at the same time not bring up kids in a rose-tinted fool’s paradise.

I leave you with the link to a short film. In my senior grades, I tend to use this beautiful short film to initiate an important discussion. Perhaps, this is one way?

Home School?

I always had fairly well thought out views on education. However, it wasn’t until I had a child myself, that I REALLY began to think about things seriously.

My wife Anuja and I, relatively ‘old’ but new parents, learning each day, every moment with our near-7 month daughter Krisha, have already started discussing schooling. In an education-environment where one hears such horror stories from friends and family; incidents that take place at the ‘best’ schools, among children from the ‘best’ families – we shudder to think what might become of Krisha’s school experience.

And then we quickly realize (guided by our albeit limited but mutual wisdom) that perhaps sometimes we as parents are a bit too hung up on ‘school’. Sure a school is of vital importance. But we tend to forget the absolutely unquestionable role of the ‘home’. That is, in our view, the vast majority of where a child’s real education takes place. Parents, Grandparents, the home atmosphere; are all elements that are so intrinsic to the growing-up & learning mix, that even if, God forbid, a child has a less than ideal schooling experience, it is the emotional and intelligence quotient that has been developed at home, that will help the child cope with that unfavorable climate.

My simple point is this… Spend ‘time’ with your children, not ‘money’. Right now of course we have to be with Krisha all the time since she is so young. But it is our firm endeavor that as she grows older and doesn’t ‘need’ the kind of constant supervision that she does presently, we will still try to give her as much of our ‘time’ as possible. Because home, and time from parents, is really, the most invaluable ‘education’.

The Loss of Innocence?

The innocence of childhood and the fear of loss are beautifully depicted in this Marathi short film (with subtitles) that I chanced upon just yesterday. The tension in the film is real, and palpable.

I thought I’d simply share the film and urge you to watch it, rather than ramble on myself 🙂

Does the film have a larger message? If yes, what could it be?