Good teaching qualities: inducing interest and positive expectations

Good teaching qualities: inducing interest and positive expectations
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First Published: Sun, May 10 2009. 09 33 PM IST

Updated: Sun, May 10 2009. 09 33 PM IST
This column should be read as a continuation of my last column, in which I wrote about some aspects of good teaching. Here I am writing about two important attributes of a good teacher: the ability to induce interest in students and the power of positive expectations.
For students to become self-motivated learners, a fervent interest for the subject has to be sparked among them. Teachers can generate interest by sharing purpose and vision and adopting teaching methods based on experience.
Sharu S. Rangnekar, a leading management teacher and consultant, told me how his teacher induced in him an interest for Sanskrit:
In the first period he taught us, we were 40 boys ready to listen. The first sentence he said was, “Boys! You are lucky.”
We asked him in chorus, “Why?”
“Do you know what you are going to learn?” he asked.
“Sanskrit,” we replied.
“What is Sanskrit?” he asked.
Most of us replied, “A language.” One student said, “A scoring subject (in our time there were only three subjects in which one could score 90% or more: mathematics, science and Sanskrit).”
“You are all wrong,” he said. “Sanskrit is not just a language or a scoring subject. It is a key to 3,000 years of culture. With this one key the whole treasury is yours.”
Not everybody believed him—but 10-12 of us did. After matriculation, Sanskrit was of no use to me in chemical engineering or MBA—but I still read Sanskrit. It is a virus that cannot be removed.
When my Sanskrit teacher retired after 35 years of service, I visited him. He started as a Sanskrit teacher and ended as a Sanskrit teacher; did not become even a vice-principal!
“What did you achieve in your life?” I asked him.
“Sanskrit is becoming a dead language; but I got every year a batch of 40 students. I tried to infect them (with interest for Sanskrit)—I know I could not infect everybody, perhaps 10-12 in each batch. After these 35 years, there are 400 former students of mine who must be still reading Sanskrit—this is my achievement.”
A good teacher also has positive expectations of each student, that each can learn and be a winner.
The research on the impact of expectations was done in the 1960s by Robert Rosenthal of Harvard University and Lenore Jacobson of South San Francisco Unified School District. They showed that when a teacher has positive expectations of a student, the student’s performance improves.
They conducted a test among students of an elementary class at a San Francisco school. Then after some days the researchers went to the teachers of the class and explained to them that they were to be part of an experiment. The teachers were told that based on the scores of a pretest, the “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition”, they had identified 20% of students in the class who were special and from whom great intellectual growth was expected. The teachers were asked to keep the information confidential. Although the researchers randomly selected the names of students with no exceptional intelligence, the teachers were led to believe that the selected 20% had great potential. The teachers developed positive expectations of the students.
All the students were tested again after eight months. The results showed significant intellectual growth among the designated 20% compared with the rest. The teachers believed that the 20% were better than the rest, and this had a strong influence on their body language and attitude towards these students.
Effective teachers have this attitude towards every student in the class and keep encouraging and motivating them. By contrast, if teachers give up on their students and adopt a negative attitude, the students will sense it and tune out. As a student I have seen some teachers who exhibited prejudices against students based on their social background, which in turn alienated them from the learning process.
Many of our educational institutions unfortunately are not giving enough attention to work on the competencies of the faculty. If our education system is not delivering at different levels, incompetent faculty is primarily the reason For some years now, there have been attempts to use technology to counter the shortage of good faculty by linking large number of students to a teacher in a far-off location via satellite.
I believe such short cuts can’t be a substitute to the emotional connect between students and teachers that can happen only in a classroom. One of the toughest challenges for our country is to cultivate good faculty. For this the systems and processes in our institutes needs to be revamped. I will write about that in my next column.
Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting & Research (C-fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools. Comments are welcome at businesscase@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, May 10 2009. 09 33 PM IST