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O teacher, my teacher

O teacher, my teacher
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First Published: Sun, Dec 25 2011. 07 58 PM IST

In the green: Shanker loves his role as a teacher-researcher. (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
In the green: Shanker loves his role as a teacher-researcher. (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
Updated: Sun, Dec 25 2011. 07 58 PM IST
Politician “requests” on admissions, battles over funding and curricula, students who are in it for just the degree—the job can drain you. The upside? Enthusiastic youngsters who make you forget all of the above; and more importantly, a chance to truly change the world by shaping the minds of an entire generation. We spoke to three people in the field of education to find out why they enjoy what they do.
Kartik Shanker,42
In the green: Shanker loves his role as a teacher-researcher. (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint)
Assistant professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bangalore
How he got here: It was quite by chance that Kartik Shanker began studying the subject he now guides PhD and MSc students on, and even more so that he got into teaching in the first place. In school, Shanker wanted to be a doctor. But he couldn’t clear his medical entrance exam (“I can’t express more strongly how happy I am at that failure. As a doctor, my experience would have been infinitely narrower”) and took up zoology. As an undergraduate zoology student, he founded the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network in 1988 with classmates. It was at this point that he was drawn to the idea of teaching. After his MSc, Shanker took his first stab at teaching, as a biology teacher at the Rishi Valley School, Andhra Pradesh. The experience convinced him he’d like to be a teacher-researcher. He followed this with a couple of research jobs. The first was a one-year stint at The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology as a researcher (2002), the second was a three-year stint at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (Atree), Bangalore, from 2003. In 2006, he joined the Centre for Ecological Sciences at IISc., to teach and research. But there’s also informal teaching that happens by way of providing guidance to students, discussing their PhDs, reading their papers. In this process, I learn as much as I teach,” he says.
Education: He completed his BSc (zoology) in 1989 and MSc (zoology) in 1991 from Madras University. He did his PhD in the community ecology of small mammals in the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats (1998) and postdoctorate in the genetics of Olive Ridley turtles on the east coast of India (1999-2002).
A day in the life of: When in Bangalore, Shanker gets in to work by 10.30-11am. “Most of my day is divided between answering emails, attending to manuscripts and proposals of students and other academic commitments like journal reviews, discussions with students about their work and reading assignments and administrative work,” he says. He teaches for a term (August-November), and lectures twice a week during that period. He wraps up by 6pm. When he has to write his own papers, he either stays back in office or closets himself at home for two-three days. During the January-March term, the season for fieldwork, Shanker makes field trips to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Orissa and Lakshadweep with his students.
What I love about my job: “I certainly love the research. And then there’s teaching. Part of me wonders if my love for it is about enjoying the attention and liking the sound of my voice (laughs)! What I particularly love is the perspective and the enthusiasm that fresh minds can bring to a topic. They ask you questions you can’t prepare for.”
What I’d like to change: “I could do with spending less time on administrative work! Also, I would like more experiential learning for students and a break in hierarchies. There shouldn’t be any more of who’s the teacher, who’s the student.”
To improve education in India: “When our students come to us, the first thing is to deconstruct what they have learnt. As one grows up one gets more shackled in one’s mind and unfortunately, the Indian education system promotes that. Also, the issue of funding for college departments needs to be dealt with.”
My dream students: “If they could be more creative and independent.”
How do we create more educators? “When you see exciting institutions, with people doing exciting work, academics that are widely respected, you will want to join the place. Only by creating such institutions can we draw more talent.”
Money matters: Rs 9-12 lakh a year, plus benefits like staff housing, medical insurance, sports and library facilities.
*****
Abha Adams,58
Attitude issues: Adams says parents from the affluent class can be terrible role models for children.(Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
Adviser—education with Step by Step school, Noida
How she got here: In the 1970s, there wasn’t much an undergraduate passionate about theatre could do about her theatrical aspirations, so Abha Adams decided to approach it through a somewhat circuitous route, by opting to teach theatre. Very early into her teaching years, as a lecturer at Lady Shriram College (LSR) in 1975, she realized she had a skill she hadn’t recognized. “I realized I work best with young adults, and connect very naturally with them. To contribute to their thought process, engage them to think differently, is an invaluable feeling,” she says. After six years of teaching drama to students of English literature and some semi-professional theatre on the side, Adams moved to the UK for a master’s degree (“I wanted to spread myself”). It was the start of an 11-year whirl.
She went on to do an MPhil, got married, worked for three years in community theatre, seven years at the BBC as a producer of educational programmes, and two years with the Arts Council England’s department for South Asian studies, where she devised ways to incorporate Indian arts into the British curriculum. In 1992, the family moved back to India.
“I had come back with expertise in media and arts management, and simply didn’t know what to do. I heard about the Shriram Group coming up with a new school, with a commitment to performing arts. In 1993, I joined Shriram School, Vasant Vihar, as principal.” Adams went on to become the director in seven years, and started three schools with the group. “But after 13.5 years, I needed a break. Increasingly, as director, I had felt a disconnect with the children, the teachers and the curriculum. The battles with administration, bureaucracy, politicians, the system, wore me down.” She quit, took three months off and then took on her current role as adviser—education for the Step by Step (SBS) school in Noida. Adams is the lead consultant with the team that set up the school and has designed and developed it since inception. Her secondary roles include sitting on various educational committees, such as those of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and working for various arts and training organizations. At SBS, she designs and develops the syllabus, works with the leadership team over issues related to human resource and special education, among others. Most importantly, she is back in the classroom, among children, which she describes as “the high point” of the job.
Education: She completed her BA English (Hons) from LSR in 1973 and MA from Delhi University in 1975. She finished an MA (in drama and theatre art) from the University of Leeds, UK, in 1981 and an MPhil in drama from the same university in 1983.
A day in the life of: Adams gets to work by 9.30am and the first thing is a meeting with the senior management, including the principal, heads of school, heads of curriculum, heads of personnel, finance and special education. This is followed by two teaching periods. She wraps up by 4pm.
What I love about my job: “One of the greatest gifts is when you have the opportunity to contribute to someone’s learning. I get such a great deal by being a part of children’s lives.”
What I’d like to change: “The attitude of some parents. I specifically mean parents of the affluent class, which feels that everything is a commodity and who have no respect for the teaching profession or teachers. They are terrible role models for their children.”
To improve education in India: “There’s no point in any suggestions if the biggest challenge is left unaddressed: lack of political will. If our political masters really wanted to educate India, they would have. But it is not in their interest to educate because they will lose their vote-banks.”
My dream students: “I want them to be thinking, compassionate, courageous human beings.”
How do we create more educators? “If you want to pay market salaries vis-à-vis corporate sector, the fees will have to be commensurate with these, which also means we will only be attracting a small student-parent community. So money is not the way to do it. At our school, for instance, we have a fully equipped crèche (a huge support for working mothers), we have flexible timings, part-time opportunities, extended maternity leave (up to 18 months), sabbaticals, and a rich staff-development programme.”
Money matters: Rs 24 lakh a year. In the case of government positions, there are added benefits like staff housing, etc.
*****
Saikat Ghosh, 31
Free thinking: Ghosh says reforms in education are just curtailing intellectual freedom. (Priyanka Parashar/Mint)
Lecturer, English literature, Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College, University of Delhi, New Delhi
How he got here: Like most Indian teenagers who need respectable fallback options in the dire scenario that science is not their thing, Saikat Ghosh had homed in on the idea of becoming an economist. But by class XII he had changed his mind, deciding to take up English literature and then, possibly, a media job. But once the world of academia got hold of him, there was no letting go. “My teachers inspired me with their learning and multifaceted creativity. They were my role models. This is when I decided that I would love to work towards becoming a teacher,” he says. “After my MA, I had already started working in various jobs, including a short stint at The Indian Express as a journalist, a few ad hoc teaching jobs at Ramjas and Kirori Mal College, until I landed a permanent teaching job at Khalsa in 2006,” he says.
Education: He completed his BA in English (Hons) from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University, in 2000, MA from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in 2002 and MPhil from JNU in 2004, on Saadat Hasan Manto’s short fiction.
A day in the life of: Ghosh gets to college by 8.40am and is there till 1.30pm, busy with classes or tutorials. “The challenge is to make students feel that instead of cramming and devouring guidebooks, they can make original and meaningful contributions on their own,” he says. After a quick lunch, he goes to the library or to the office of the Delhi University Teachers Association, where he works. Ghosh is also the staff adviser for the college theatre group, and during the college festival season, spends many afternoons rehearsing plays with the college theatre society.
What I love about my job: “As a teacher, you benefit from the enthusiasm of the youth. If you are receptive to their energy, you can remain young all your life.” Then there is the bit about intellectual freedom. “I am only accountable to my students. Nobody above me tells me how to teach.”
What I’d like to change:“The so-called reforms in the educational sector. These are bringing in corporate hierarchy and limiting intellectual freedom. There is a concerted attempt to dumb down and reduce knowledge to a utilitarian pursuit (such as a new course that trains students to join BPOs, or business process outsourcing firms).”
To improve education in India: “Education has to be retained by the state in the public interest, as it is still the most powerful means to social transformation in a poor nation like ours. ”
My dream students: “Those who think on their own and do not want to be spoon-fed.”
How do we create more educators? “What we need to do is, right from the undergrad level, introduce a different kind of learning that will orient them towards research and teaching. At the moment, academia is not really considered an option by most school students and parents. ”
Money matters: Rs 4.8-5.4 lakh a year, plus housing or a housing allowance and reimbursement of medical expenses.
Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three people at different stages in their careers. Tell us which profession you want to know more about at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Dec 25 2011. 07 58 PM IST
More Topics: Education | Teacher | Students | Job | Kartik Shanker |