A Legacy Of Learning

When I was a student at boarding school, now over two decades ago, my teachers told me that there wasn’t a single day that they didn’t learn something new. These were masters we idolised, worshipped, poked fun of, at the same time, revered. To have them confess that they did not know it all, was a revelation.

Of course, this confession was long forgotten. Relegated to a deep recess of my memory, until recently, when I, the accidental teacher, stumbled upon the very same realization. And from that crevice of my mind’s labyrinth, these words from my own teachers, revealed themselves.

Teaching has been a cathartic rebirth for me. For someone who was firmly set in a media career, doing well, then became disenchanted and decided to shift tracks, unsure of what the alternative would be; I’d go so far as to say that teaching has fulfilled me, completed me, in a way that perhaps not even music could (my first love that never quite materialised). My fortuitous foray into the world of teaching has reacquainted me with myself. It has given me purpose, pride, and ignited a passion that probably always existed, only it was dormant.

That I have no formal education that qualifies me to teach, a fact sometimes held against me, I feel is my biggest advantage. It does not colour my approach to my work. In fact, I hardly perceive it as work in the first place. No training, no career-long teaching experience, are facts that have, in fact, granted me a great sense of freedom and liberty. My interaction with my students is spontaneous, freewheeling, spirited. In turn, their’s with me is uninhibited, uncensored, unfiltered. The way I plan, and un-plan my workshops and lessons benefits from a similarly open and experimental ethos. There is a destination but how my students and I reach it is random, interactive and, on occasion, emancipating!

I have come to realize that to be an effective teacher and an inspiring mentor, the person can not feel or act ‘above’. That there MUST be a genuine openness to learn with each encounter, each interaction. That students in fact, in many cases, teach the teacher more, than the teacher does, them. Teaching then, is a legacy of continued learning. A process that is infinite. A pursuit that endless. A calling.

STUDENTS, Create A Profile!

In an era of intense competition, students find it difficult to stand out, to stand apart. Its like each individual is lost in a maze of ‘sameness’, as if just another, among a bunch of red apples! The irony is that we are all unique, peculiar, wonderful individuals, despite which, we seem alike. So what can young people do, to communicate their ‘uncommonness’?

I always encourage people from middle school right up to college graduates to undertake a Profile Writing exercise. This is a simple little 250 to 300 word document where one talks about certain basic information about oneself – Name, School/College, Grade/Year. This is followed by stating 3 Areas of Interest/Passion. And then, really expanding on these 3 areas of interest by devoting the following 3 paragraphs of the profile to these interest-areas. One paragraph each for one interest, with details about Where, When, How, and Why that Interest first began. Any Achievements in that area. And any Learnings/Lessons/Realizations (about oneself or otherwise) during the course of experiencing/pursuing that particular passion. A concluding paragraph that talks about any Current Pursuit that the reader might find interesting, followed by a final sentence on Future Plans, which could be firm, or approximate.

While there may not be any immediate practical use/requirement for this kind of a write-up in a student’s curriculum; young people should view this more as an opportunity to Introspect and get to know themselves well. Undertaking the Profile Writing Exercise compels a student to dig deep, question oneself, and ultimately, know oneself better. It brings about clarity of thought, of purpose, and of a direction for the future. At a time when young students scarcely have time to breathe; this exercise forces them to pause, reflect and discover themselves – likes and dislikes, their learnings, and can provide a significant guidance in planning ahead.

Now to the matter I began this piece with – that it helps communicate a differentiated personality. When one is applying for colleges, or jobs post college, even though you may not be asked for a write-up such as this; supplying the reader/organization/college/company with a Profile of yourself will, in most scenarios, be appreciated. First, it will ‘humanize’ the student and provide a glimpse into the candidate as an actual person (rather than just another on-paper CV or Resume). Second, it will give genuine insight into the candidate as a unique individual. Both vital to communicating a winsome personality.

I strongly urge students to undertake this little exercise. And for this, I leave you with a SAMPLE Profile to get you started. All the best 🙂

SAMPLE PROFILE

I am Karan Malhotra and I currently study in grade 6 at the Asian World School. I would say that my three main interest areas are Swimming, Science, and Music.

When I was just seven years old, I told my father I wanted to learn to swim. He would complete the entire length of the swimming pool at Jaipur Club in no time, and that always amazed me. That summer my parents enrolled me in swimming classes and I learned how to swim. I learned an important lesson through swimming. I realized that to do well in anything in life, one has to work hard and be disciplined.

Science has always fascinated me. Like swimming, my passion for science developed at a very early age. When I was just five my parents got me this Doctor-Set game which I used to love playing. As I grew older, I watched many videos on channels like National Geographic and Discovery which made me even more curious about science. At school, I always take part in the science-related activities and enjoy doing experiments and building things. It is one subject I think I will want to study for a long time to come.

My parents and my grandparents love music. I too developed a keen interest in music and my parents got me a great guitar instructor with whom I soon learned many melodies. This talent was appreciated by my music teachers at school as well and I am a proud member of the school orchestra. Listening and playing music makes me feel calm an inspired.

These days, I am really working on a Solar Powered Rocket for a Science Exhibition. I hope to become a Scientist working in Aeronautics in the future, while still continuing my swimming & music as hobbies.

Why Your Child Should Be A CONFIDENT COMMUNICATOR

Wanted to share an Article of mine that was recently Featured in the Indian Express… It talks about the essential skills of communication that young students need in order to make a mark for themselves.

“Confident Communicators Stand Out” by Kartik Bajoria

 With an estimated 500 million young school students, India has one of the world’s largest student-populations in the world. In our cities and urban centres, a vast majority of these students share aspirations and goals. What they also have in common, unfortunately, is an equally impressive roster of scholastic as well as extra-curricular achievements. I call the situation unfortunate very consciously. All our young wards are trying to outdo each other while at school, and after graduating. There are only a finite number of ‘good’ indigenous colleges, and with rising cut-offs and an increasing number of applicants to a similar set of colleges abroad; it is almost impossible for a student to distinguish himself or herself from their peers. This high-pressure and performance-packed atmosphere has necessitated the one and only facet of a student that will make them stand-out, and that is, to be Great Communicators!

Start Writing Young

 As parents, educators, and guardians, it is essential that we develop in our young wards, the ability to express themselves clearly and effectively. This begins with learning how to Write well. Writing, contrary to popular belief, is much less about using big fancy words, and more about communicating a person’s thoughts, succinctly. If we can get young students into the habit of writing from an early age, we will empower them to express their true thoughts.

At School

Writing will enable students to communicate ideas, opinions, and their vivid imaginations beautifully at school, which will directly help them in performing better in various subjects ranging from English to History, Geography and the like; also as they become senior, it will aid them in articulating their feelings clearly and convincingly in a slew of situations. Say a senior student at school is to organize a carnival at school. Knowing how to write well will enable that student to communicate with possible sponsors through emails, with potential exhibitors through presentations & proposals.

After School

Later still, while applying to colleges abroad, a process that requires students to write detailed essays about their lives and goals; instead of seeking the immediately identifiable help from Academic/Admissions Counsellors, they will be able to articulate their own thoughts and stand an infinitely better chance of admission acceptance.

Start Speaking Young

 Similar to Writing young, we owe it to our children to get them to start speaking from a young age. Most children of course do that naturally. What I mean specifically is Public Speaking. The sooner we can organically get our children to interact with, and express in front of groups of people, the more self-confident they will become, the less self-conscious they’ll be.

At School

 At school, this habit of Public Speaking will manifest in a student being able to participate in, and do well at various activities such as Debates, Drama, and Quizzing, which will ultimately add to that much-needed collection of Extra-Curricular Achievements, vital from a College Admissions standpoint. It will also be a skill that will always help a student make a great first impression, be it interviewing & interacting with dignitaries who visit school, or while hosting important events at school.

After School

Being a confident Public Speaker will make any student post school stand in great stead as the person will be able to break-the-ice instantly in many new social situations. Starting with being Interviewed for College Admissions, to then being at a new college and making friends instantly – being able to speak well in public will prove to be the marked difference between that individual and scores of others who may even have better credentials but people will remember the one who spoke well & confidently.

How?

One might wonder how one can get one’s child to become that great communicator. The answer is actually rather simple. Expose students to good writing, and to people who speak well. I always propagate that as people responsible for bringing up a new generation, we should embrace technology. By exposing children to videos of people who speak well, impactful speeches on various online platforms, we give them a sound foundation upon which to build. This initial orientation combined with a great communications workshop can transform the way a student expresses and will ensure that your child stands apart, and proud.

 

 

 

“Teacher Don’t Preach” and other Pleas of a Student

Teachers, please don’t be preachers

Teachers, please don’t ill treat us

Teachers, we’re not all the same

Teachers, at least half-way, meet us

Teachers, we aren’t stupid

Teachers, don’t order us

Inspire us

Teachers, don’t scold us

Explain to us

Teachers, please see it our way

Teachers, it can’t be just your way

Teachers, make the class fun

Teachers, don’t hold up that gun

Teachers, we want to learn, we promise

But not from books, if we’re being honest

Teachers, share yourselves with us

So we too, can be ourselves, All Of Us

Teachers, don’t berate us

Instead, encourage us

Teachers, we want to love you

Respect you

Look up to you

Guide us

Politely chide us

But most of all

Excite us!

Some Hits, Some Misses

I am asked constantly by parents, “how will your classes benefit my child?” Simple question. Fair question. NO simple answer.

As an Educator, I’ve learned this. There are NO guarantees in learning.

First, a student-teacher relationship is like that of a person’s with his or her therapist. It may be the world’s most intelligent student and the most sincere teacher; unless a genuine rapport is struck, there will be negligible learning.

Second, it isn’t always necessary that ‘benefits’ of an education, or of an interaction, are Tangible or Immediate. Things that some of my teachers told me at school, I am only now realizing some two decades hence, are relevant.

Third, teachers today are functioning in an environment where students’ attention spans have greatly diminished. Add to this, the fact that the class HAS to be entertaining. Not just any plain old entertainment; we are competing with the entertainment-value that a youtube video provides! So unless a teacher can connect with a student in a manner that vibes with the student, there is limited possibility of learning.

In my modest five years of teaching, in groups and individually, I’ve had some great triumphs, where students have endeared themselves to me for life, and I’d like to think there is a perceptible change that has come about in them. Having said that, I have no qualms admitting that there are several students whom I have failed to engage. Students who, it would seem, have not benefited from our interaction at all.

In the teaching-game, like in life, you win some, and you loose some. But your wins keep you going steadfastly on your mission!

Embracing The Educator In Me!

That I always wanted to teach, and that I have been teaching for the past five years, is known to many people. However, there is a certain evolution that has come about in my own perception of education, my approach to teaching, and the significance and importance it holds in my life.

See initially when I moved back to Jaipur, my ideal plan was to continue being a Writer (my primary vocation – ghost writing, content development etc), and teach on-the-side as and when time and opportunity permitted. I was very clear that I would teach in the allied areas of communication & writing, and what is commonly known as ‘personality development’. I got lucky and despite having no formal academic background or experience in teaching, I met friends, colleagues and mentors who gave me many platforms to teach.

However, what I thought would be a ‘thing-to-the-side’ has assumed increasing importance in my life. Teaching now, happily consumes a majority of my day. And there are a couple of reasons I steered clear of this in the beginning, and have embraced it completely, now.

I never believed in ‘tuition’ classes – a rage and I suppose, a prerequisite in India (given our skewed education system). So I always shied away from seeing students at home for fear of being labeled ‘tuition teacher’. No offense meant to the thousands who dedicate themselves to teaching what schools ought to; personally, I was also sure I did not want to teach any set school curriculum or ‘prepare’ students for any standardized tests/exams. A small group of parents and students seem to have seen merit in what I’ve been trying to do – impart life-long skills and ‘prepare’ people for LIFE rather than their immediate exams – and ‘risked’ me 🙂

Ever since, that number has grown significantly. And so, I have now made my peace with seeing students at home – because I am NOT teaching them English, or Grammar, or Vocabulary – rather how to find themselves, and express themselves!

Two other reasons I was a touch reluctant to let teaching become my happy preoccupation – less pay and  mental fatigue. Both my presumptions,  I am happy to report, have been proved wrong! That if one associates with quality institutes, organizations and people, and stands one’s ground in terms of charges/fee for personal one-on-one lessons; one can make a respectable living doing this (which I always doubted). And that after half a decade of teaching versions of the same broader program, because each time I interact with a new set of students or with an individual, my experience of teaching and sharing the same material is completely renewed, with new examples, new experiences, varied thoughts – that has alleviated my fear of being ‘bored’ and seeming repetitive to myself.

I am ecstatic that Jaipur seems to be getting to know me, and has begun to recognize that there is a life for students beyond their prescribed texts at school. That life isn’t limited to 100% marks. That life ought to be about self-expression and the quest to find oneself. And that is why, I find myself teaching more and more. And I am loving it!

That I have begun to get inquiries from out of Jaipur that invariably translate into online/skype/whatsapp lessons is just the icing on the cake. Be it through a workshop, a home lesson, or an online session; it is my endeavor to reach as many keen learners (age being irrelevant) as possible, now that I have finally Embraced The Educator In Me 🙂

BRAINWASHED!

From the time we are born, we are bombarded with ‘sage’ advice. From our parents, from our teachers, from our friends, from our relatives, from society, from the media. Most of this plays into a very fixed notion of ‘life’, more specifically, of a successful life. The steps are easy. Study hard. Here are your subjects because it is ONLY these 4-5 subjects that will get you into a good college that will lead to a superbly paying job which will solicit a fitting life partner that will result in children – and the miserable cycle continues… on, and on, and on!

Do you know just HOW many people, ‘successful’ (read earning pots of money) I know, that are woefully unhappy? I can’t even begin to tell you, the count is so alarming. Why is that?

It is because of what I wrote in my opening paragraph. Did it mention even once that any of the stakeholders in a young person’s life (parents, society, media etc, who shouldn’t be stakeholders to begin with because an individual alone ought to be his or her own master) EVER ASK what the child LIKES, or is PASSIONATE about, or would like to EXPLORE? Nope. Nada. Nein.

It is a sociological tailspin that generations have been caught in. Because young independent India had little to offer except the few safe career options such as being a Doctor, Engineer or Civil Servant – the ripple effect decades on in a relatively transformed India, continues. Alas, the changes have come about in the country, not in the mindsets of its citizens.

Add to this the immense pressure and influence of particular communities. I belong to a Marwari family. Traditionally a business family. It embarrasses, shames many in my family that I am NOT in the business of business; the part of the family that assumes I am lazy, entitled, and whimsical. Its a crying shame. And though it has now, at nearly 40, stopped affecting me – how can years of preconceived notions of rights and wrongs not impact, influence, and brainwash, young children?

The race is on my dear rats. And ONLY a few are going to make it to the top. But I tell you what. Chances are when you get to the top, you’ll realize that the view isn’t great, that you are alone, burnt out, and that the way up, when you suddenly came upon that unexpected waterfall, or when you discovered that peculiar bird, and maybe got a glimpse of who you really are, was infinitely more satisfying than the summit itself!

The Dichotomy Of A Teacher

Through my childhood my mum took me to many Hindustani Classical Music concerts. Because I started learning music when I was just six, I thoroughly relished each experience listening to these great maestros perform.  The one observation I did make was that if and when any exponent of music did not have an appreciative audience, he or she was immediately turned off, deflated, irritable, angry even. It wasn’t until I performed myself later at boarding school that I realized why and how true this is. Conversely, if the audience was even a little involved and encouraging, the performance could reach unimaginable heights!

I am on about this because in the four years or so that I’ve been teaching, I’ve realized that it is exactly what I go through in class as well. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Teaching isn’t nearly as selfless as it is made out to be. Sure as an educator I want to be an enabler and impart some wisdom and knowledge that might impact a few students’ lives. But there is a ‘performance’ aspect to this. See just like a musician, a teacher puts immense thought and effort into a lesson. Especially in my case, since I teach Writing, Communication and Identity Enhancement, and do not use ANY text book whatsoever, drawing primarily from my personal and professional experiences or coming up with original and creative tools and methods; when I find that my class is NOT receptive, it is the most off-putting feeling on the planet. Its like “hey, I got better things to do you schmucks!”

But then I have to check myself. Teaching, particularly in the present era is nothing short of a performance. A carefully choreographed concert that HAS to engage and sustain the interest of a generation that has been habituated to  instant-entertainment, youtube and the IPL. So then I ask myself, maybe I am doing something wrong. Maybe there’s something lacking in today’s lesson. Maybe I am not being able to connect with my students today.

Every now and again though, there is that one student who invariably spoils the experience for everyone else, students and teacher included. Even so, one powers through it. Sucks it up. And carries on. Because here’s the thing about teaching. If one can impact just ONE life in some small way, all the performance anxiety, the blood and sweat of preparation, the tears of not being appreciated, its all WORTH it!

Youth-Fully!

India is a young nation and that is without argument our biggest strength. This is a sentiment that is echoed by many, by political parties across the board, by the business community, by society in general. Question is, are we preparing this gigantic youth-force in the correct manner?

When I interact with students, kids, children of all ages, from primary school through to college; and I can speak with some authority at least in terms of upper middle to the well-to-do in urban centers – I find very few young people sensitive, aware, and engaged with society. Sure there’s the natural counter to this, why should kids be bothered with the harsh realities of the world and of life.. let kids be kids.. But my contention is that a young child, though needs to be protected from some disturbing truths about the world (terrorism for example) that might scar and disillusion him/her at a tender age; unless we inculcate some kind of basic morality and sensitivity in our children, how will they grow up to be aware of the things that matter, when they do come of age?

I am disenchanted with the way we are bringing up our youth. Fierce competition, one-upping each other, an unnecessarily tech-heavy and dependent age; with the essence of self-respect, self-discovery, awareness and regard for society, species, gender, people and planet, almost completely missing.

While most schools and educational institutions do espouse certain ideals, they tend to be perfunctory parts of the curriculum. A school I was teaching at was organizing an ‘environment’ festival in their Primary Sections. I was asked to make short videos about what the children had researched on various pressing climatic matters. I was worried when I learned through the course of my interaction with the various students, that they had merely ‘rutted’ up a text provided by the class teacher and spewed it on camera. They had NO idea what they were on about!

In my own modest way, I try to sensitize the youth at every opportunity I get. Be it through my Writing Workshops and Classes or my Identity Enhancement Sessions, or through my column ‘A Word To The Wise’ in the Times Of India’s NIE (Newspaper In Education); my own hidden agenda is to build an environment where students don’t feel the peer-pressure to be ‘cool’, which in my view is the biggest impediment to them being open to self-discovery and true learning. I use short films, stories from my own life, examples from my own experiences to tell them, in a funny and engaging way, about what all is wrong in and with the world today. To love animals, to be themselves, to not be wasteful, to respect the differently abled, to love every gender, to protect and nurture the environment…

I am happy to share that just yesterday I was asked to become a Member of the Executive Board of the Jaipur Youth Festival. The JYF, a young and enthusiastic platform that is led entirely by college students aims to mobilize the youth of India and engage them in an action-oriented dialogue on several pressing issues of the world. I am excited to do my part now in this forum. Because ultimately, if the young wake up to these realities and develop a permanent and emotionally perceptive approach to life, only then would we have prepared our nation’s youth to be FULLY able, and to make this world a better, safer, happier, more harmonious place.

Education’s Planned Murder!

Life is a series of unexpected events, mostly out of our control. Similarly, love is an instinctive, indefinable emotion that strikes us, unannounced. How and why then, can learning, and teaching, NOT be spontaneous?

As a teacher and educator, I’m certain I’ll ruffle a good few feathers with this post. But then my own education has always compelled me to speak my mind. I’d joined a school briefly as a teacher in Bombay. Then I joined a school back home in Jaipur as well. Both those experiences, maybe not personally but certainly through my interaction and observation of the ‘modern’ schooling system, the teachers, and the students, left me a little disillusioned. Why? Because a vast majority of a teacher’s time, effort and energy seems to be devoted to obsessive planning, pre-planning and administrative work – leaving the educator little or no will,  excitement, enthusiasm, to actually TEACH, and god forbid, INSPIRE any kind of DISCOVERY

Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. These are the different categories of Lesson Plans that teachers are required to submit to the school administration, in ADVANCE! Depending on the board and the school, these lesson plans need to be detailed to the minutest possible degree, including for instance, what ‘examples’ a teacher will use in class to illustrate a specific point of a particular lesson! I appreciate the need and merit in planning, I really do. But the way we were taught at school was a whole lot more on-the-fly. And I mean that in the most positive sense possible. No two students are alike. No two teachers are alike. The way a students responds to a particular teacher, to an example, to stimuli, to a methodology of teaching – varies vastly. There are too many dynamic variables for this to be standardized. Besides, where’s the element of surprise, or fun, or creativity then? If our students are taught like they’re characters in a circus, then not only will the teacher be perceived as the proverbial ‘ring master’, the subject too will be despised, forever!

This profuse planning, to my mind, is killing the very essence and joy of invention, self-discovery, visceral education. We are, as a result, creating clones. An army of dull, brainwashed robots that might go on to secure decently paying jobs – but will have little else to contribute, to society, and more importantly, to themselves and to their own lives.

Individuality, peculiarity, specialty, uniqueness, evolution, realization, actualization – these are concepts that I’m afraid we are KILLING at the very onset of a child’s educational experience. While schools proclaim ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental’ learning in their large banners and social media brochures; what they offer, by and large, is a thoroughly mundane, thought-thwarting curriculum where both teacher and student are merely going through the motions, waiting anxiously for that school bell to sound, so they can escape the drudgery that the otherwise exciting, invigorating, school-day has become.

 Are we going to give our young generations to come this thoughtless a sense of self?