Teach Without Prejudice

Over the past five years, I have taught at many schools, colleges and institutes. Some have been well known, others start-ups, and still more have been extremely modest places. I have been advised by many people to ‘choose’ the places I teach at, and organisations I associate with, CAREFULLY! Why? Because if I associate with ‘lesser’ institutions, the ‘good’ ones will not want to have me!

THIS, I find preposterous. While I realise that most of this advice comes from well-meaning people, from a place of genuine care and concern; I REFUSE to ‘select’ the places I teach at on any ‘basis’. I reject the notion of ‘strategising’ a career of an Educator. Teachers MUST go where they are needed – no matter the size, stature, status of the organisation. At least that is what I firmly believe. If all good educators ran along to teach at the ‘best’ places, who’d be left to teach elsewhere?

Teaching for me is about trying to reach out to the most number of students. A vital part of that pursuit is to interact with students through a multitude of engagements. This automatically means that instead of being permanently tied down to one institute, I give myself the freedom of ‘visiting’ several institutions, engaging in various ways be it workshops, long-term programs, with entire batches of students, with individuals through one-on-one classes, and even through online teaching. This vast spread of teaching-vehicles allows me to have students who represent a wide range of age, social standing, geography, demography, and inclinations. And that is what keeps my teaching fresh, invigorated, and of course, allows me to reach more people.

Knowledge can only grow when shared. And when you share, you don’t discriminate. If indeed there are people or organisations or schools or colleges that feel I am not to be ‘touched’ because of my prior or ongoing associations with any individual/institute, that’s just too bad for them!

“Education is the foundation upon which we build our future”, and the future belongs, to EVERYONE.

Heart Over Head

A lot of the parents of my students ask me to ‘convince’ their respective children to choose a specific set of subjects, leading up to a specific, predetermined career. This selection of course, and I don’t mean to deride at parents’ intentions, often times has nothing to do with the child’s passion, talent, instinctive abilities or leanings. If I question the parents, I’m often told that they’re too young to know any better, or that they are confused and that it is incumbent upon the parents & teachers to ‘guide’ them. ‘Guide’ though, in most cases, is a euphemism for ‘direct order’. And that, I take issue with.. Serious issue!

Why must we as parents be in such a tearing hurry to have our kids ‘figure it out’? Is it not wonderful that life be this journey of discovery throughout? Does the sense of wonder, amazement, and happiness not count?

I must confess.. I rarely propagate what I’ve been asked by a parent to do! Not because I’m unjustifiably rebellious. But if I feel the ‘suggested’ path is at odds with the student, I DO NOT propagate it.

Instead, I show them this…..

Lets Go Outside..

The classroom can be a wonderful place for a student to learn, gain knowledge, explore, and discover. Sometimes however, it helps to GO OUTSIDE!

Whenever I teach a session on ‘communications development’, grooming, or what is unimaginatively called ‘personality development’, I like to take my students outside. One of the sessions I always take is at my favorite breakfast eatery in town. Here, the students and I get an opportunity to interact in a more informal environment. And there is an immediate and tangible reflection of this lighter atmosphere in the students’ behavior. They are more open, more free to express, less inhibited. In doing this, I also have the chance to expose them to a real-world scenario. Not that my students don’t go out with their parents; the act of being out with a teacher is altogether different though. So be it simple instructions on table manners, public etiquette, and an informal chat about what’s going on in all of our lives – all of this solicits some surprisingly intimate bonding, confessions, free banter, and subconsciously, gaining of public-conduct skills.

This weekend for example, I am taking one of my batches to breakfast, and now that the weather is better in Jaipur, another batch will just sit outside in the garden with me and we will read stories to each other.

Think of it this way… If man had never crawled out from under his rock, or emerged from his cave, how would he have DISCOVERED the world?

Ta-boo!

Competition.. Schools, parents, children, are all competing..

Vigorously.. Vehemently..

To what end though? To gain that enviable spot at an IVY League College? Which, will then land that once-in-a-lifetime Job Interview? Which will make that student a Ripe Marriage Prospect? Which will then facilitate yet another Suburban, Mortgaged, Cloned, Picket-Fenced Life?

Was a time when our grandparents and teachers told us about stories of courage. Of kindness and of love. Of living life in the moment. As we were growing up, blissful, rolling about in the mud with the neighbor’s children, eating mud, racing paper-boats through rainy-streams; something changed.. Something died..

It became more about Marks & GPAs, less about exploring, expressing, learning and understanding. It became more about Certificates, less about empathy, helpfulness,  sensitivity and caring. It became more about “my Harvard graduate son”, and less about “my son”.

How? Why? When? Because of What? And by Whom? One is not sure about these answers. But I can offer a small solution. Let us TALK to our kids. Not LECTURE, Talk. Not INSTRUCT, Engage. Not REPRIMAND, Explain. Not PUNISH, Reason.

Talking CAN solve the world’s problems, including this one. The world needs, now more than ever, SENSITIVE, AWARE, EMOTIONALLY-AVAILABLE Young People. Let us create those, rather than A+ Robots & Zombies.

And to start, Let Us Talk about ALL the ‘Taboo’ issues…

Because ONLY Awareness will create Inclusion…

I leave you with a film I ALWAYS show my students… Its just a 6 min Short Film.. Please watch..

Freedom…. to just BE!

In the 3 years I’ve been teaching regularly, I have noticed that students, junior and senior, are mired in a labyrinth of restrictions, dogma, and pressure. While some have to subscribe to their family’s views, others do not find an encouraging enough environment, even within their own peer-groups, to be, who they REALLY are!

At least for some parents/families that are privileged enough to not HAVE to have their sons and daughters follow a ‘pre-selected’ path (that has nothing to do with the child’s passion, inclination or talent); children from these families ought to be ALLOWED an independent, uninhibited, exploratory childhood.

In my own modest little way, I try my best to create an atmosphere of NO JUDGEMENT and absolute ACCEPTANCE of ALL my students. And I always show them one of my favorite short films – Vicky!

I leave you with the link to this beautiful, and very important short film, in the hope that while you enjoy the visuals, you also find it in yourselves as parents, to let your children, just BE!

On behalf of ALL the students of the world, and, from the student within me….

The Discovery!

The sun shone bright as a ripe orange on the second morning of Jeff and Karen’s Mediterranean honeymoon. Full of youthful bounce, the couple made its way out of their resort at the edge of the ocean to the tiny main street of their idyllic romantic getaway. Complete with matching straw hats, together atop their bicycle hired from the resort, the plan for the day was ‘exploration’; perhaps not just of their immediate surroundings, but also of themselves as a newly married, united entity. The air filled with giggles of innocence as Jeff complimented his better half on how beautiful she looked, radiant as she was, like the clear blue waters of the beach. They’d even skipped the complimentary breakfast at their hotel and had decided instead, to wind their way riding, and stop at any street-side cafe that would catch their fancy. They shared a uniquely competitive yet friendly banter, more akin perhaps to that of close friends being as comfortable with each other as they were in their own individual skins; than the sometimes awkward atmosphere that the weight of recent marital status brings. Jeff, the IT programer who’d risen quickly through the ranks at Microsoft, steadfast, scientific, his good looks belying the often-quoted ‘geek’ stereotype; went about everything including their ongoing and mutually agreed ‘discovery-of-the-village’ with a cautiously planned approach. Karen on the other hand, a young, up and coming graffiti artist from the trendy Soho area, unabashed, unapologetic, and entirely arbitrary in her ways; compelled Jeff to just “let go” and “be”. As the two lightheartedly quarreled whilst riding they came upon a quaint little eatery and for a change yelled together spontaneously…. “Breakfast”

Karen and Jeff parked their bicycle right outside the cafe, Jeff instinctively reaching out for a lock that didn’t exist, perhaps a result of his everyday routine of riding to his office and having to ensure the safety of his daily-runner. “No need for locks here darling”, quipped an excited Karen, who’d never used a lock a day in her life, no matter where and for what! The duo entered the cafe. The enticing aroma of freshly baked bread and butter wafted through the tiny 10 seater place. At the counter, behind a modest but well stocked temperature controlled show-window that had the most divine looking confections, just a single, familiar-looking, middle aged man, his hands full of dough, smiled at them and signaled by gesture for them to seat themselves and that he’d be with them, momentarily. Karen and Jeff noticed just one more table occupied towards the end of the small space. Curious to see who else had had the same idea as them, especially given this was a village almost exclusively patronized by tourists, they made their way down the other 5 tables to the one at the end. Along the way, they passed the pale yellow, rustic wall of the cafe, dotted sporadically, with black and white pictures that seemed to be of a young man at the beach with his family. It became clear to Jeff and Karen that they were of the same oddly familiar man that had greeted them at the cafe, making it quite obvious that he was the owner. Before they’d settled into this knowledge, they’d reached the end of the cafe to the ‘table’. And as they caught sight of the couple sitting, eating, laughing, enjoying their morning, at the table they’d been curious about… They realized. The couple at the table, was them!

The RATE CARD!

The first time I experienced this phenomena was when a writing project came our way over a decade ago. The client said, “what’s your rate?” Confused, perhaps a bit cheekily, I asked, “rate for what?” Pat came the reply, “per word rate”. Now, I understand that the writing/content industry does often subscribe to ‘fixed rates’. My question though is, should the ‘rate’ for a word such as ABROGATE be the same as it is for IT? And what about ideas? How do we have a ‘rate card’ for those?

The same tends to happen when prospective students come to me to get some one-on-one lessons from me at home. Again, the ‘tuition’ industry in India follows ‘per hour’ rates. Having said that, I am teaching in the age range of 5 – 55! I am often times not teaching any prescribed text/texts or something that exists as a formal subject. I design ALL my study material myself, on an individual, case-to-case basis. This requires immense effort, time, and a deep understanding of each individual’s specific requirements. How then, can I have a ‘rate’?!

Even the vegetable-vendor changes rates according to how he/she perceives the shopper. At least I’m not doing that. My ‘rate’ is based on the amount of time, effort, research, study-material-development it will require on my part.

So let us leave the ‘rate card’ to its intended purpose – for Transport, Hospitality and other services with FIXED valuations; and NOT subject Creativity OR Individuality, to rates!

W’RITE’RS WRONGED!

Until eight years ago, my wife Anuja and I were working with different Media Companies (Production Houses, TV Channels) in Mumbai. Then, merely months into being married, we were both Pink Slipped when the recession hit. The Media Industry was particularly bad, with mass retrenchment and companies either winding off, or laying off almost entire work-forces! That is when the two of us, because we had a fair bit of experience in Writing, decided to become stand-alone, freelance, professional Writers & Content Developers.

To our minds, we had hit upon a brilliant survival-idea. We had a pre-existing network into the Media Industry, and we had both been Writing within our various roles over the years as Directors, Producers and Assistants. This would need NO investment. We’d work from home. And we wouldn’t inform our parents (back home in Delhi or Jaipur)!!  🙂

Then came our first reality check. We were asked by a large corporation (said organization shall remain unnamed) to develop their Website. Now typically we would quote a certain figure for the project with a break-up of Writing/Ideation/Supervisory Fee as one block & Designing Fee as another block. We were shocked to learn that the client, upon seeing our cost break-up, rather nonchalantly said that he’d be willing to spend the money on designing, but would cut the Writing Fee by a 5th!!! Why? Because “kaun toh padhta hai”. Agreed. But where would the ENTIRE ‘idea’ for the website come from? Us of course, which is why it formed an integral part of our ‘writing fee’. Bad luck for that though. It was just fine that any design-software-savvy person (not to take away from the genuinely talented designers that are out there) would be able to create a me-too site by seeing ‘references’ provided by the client! And for that ‘copying’ work, the client was willing to pay, let’s say 1 lac, but not our 30,000 rupee Writing Fee!

This was only the beginning of our brutal initiation into the world of ‘freelance writing’. What we dismissed as a first, one off bad client, turned out, to our horror, to be the norm. We’d write scripts upon scripts for huge television networks for paltry sums of money, and those payments would be made to us, after ‘daily’ follow ups (read phone/email begging and countless physical visits to their accounts departments) 6 months to a year later! So while the on-air talent would be paid, lets say 50,000 per episode, IMMEDIATELY, we’d be waiting for a 50,000 cheuqe for 5 scripts, for a year!

I don’t mean for this to sound like a rant, or ramblings of a frustrated writer. The truth though is, it is tough. We even had to ‘invent’ a Brand and Brand ourselves, just in order to be taken a little more seriously. Even that didn’t work.

I just want to leave you with this thought… If Customer is King (which most clients admit), then shouldn’t the Content, which ought to engage them, appeal to them, appeal them, and ultimately lure them (and that will ONLY happen if it is based on careful study of the target audience and developed on the basis of some real human insights of that target), also be KING? Agreed, hardly anyone reads nowadays. But isn’t an IDEA, or a SCRIPT on which VIDEO content is based, worth something?

I sign off with a video interview that UTV had done with us shortly after our Pink Slips in Mumbai… And urge you, do not WRONG WRITERS. We have VALUE!

Vidya

Ageless and Stage-less

Race-less and Colour-less

Not Biased Towards the Intelligent

Nor Biased Against the Average

Indiscriminating

Indefinable

Invaluable

Vidya

 

FilmGyaan!

In a world where education is becoming increasingly staid and prosaic, it always helps to remind ourselves of some inspiring stories of some educators, students, and institutions. A lot of people have probably watched these three films. They are not new. But they will always be FRESH, and my absolute favorites.

Good Will Hunting, the Academy Award Winning film where an unusually talented janitor at MIT is discovered and guided by Robin Williams’s character.

The original, the precursor to School Of Rock; in my view Mr.Holland’s Opus is one of the most moving, uplifting films about a Music Teacher wonderfully portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss, proving how beautifully cathartic teaching can be, and what an impact a great teacher, albeit an ordinary mortal, can make in a student’s life!

The English Teacher in this case, played once again by Robin Williams, inspires his students to look at poetry from a completely unique perspective, helping his students discover themselves in the process. Dead Poets Society’s Mr.Keating leaves an indelible impression!

These masterpieces are easily available on blueray and dvd.  Buy them, rent them, WATCH them, AGAIN!