Friday, August 1, 2014

A Better Teacher!

I had read somewhere that there are no difficult subjects, just bad teachers. For some reasons I believed in this and tried to see any student failure as the inability of the teacher or the system as a whole to transfer knowledge to the student. This was a year back and I had recently joined Virginia Tech as a graduate student and teaching assistant. The past one year in both the roles has taught me a lot about teaching and learning. And I hope working in both the roles during the next academic year will add to my learning.

Learning something is not like drinking a magic potion which a student can just gulp down the throat and be equipped with the desired knowledge.  It is like a bridge which can only be crossed with joint efforts of the teacher and the student. While a teacher has to understand the needs and attitude of the student and teach them accordingly, the later has to put an equal amount of effort in learning what is being taught. Even the smartest teacher cannot teach a student who is not willing to learn and even the smartest kid cannot learn from a teacher who is unable to understand the needs of the student and accordingly modify his/her style of imparting knowledge.

As a child I was told that learning is a difficult endeavor. Not that it is painful but it requires hard work and dedication. For some reasons I feel that is true. Working as a teaching assistant, I came across many students who would just be interested in getting the right answer instead of learning the subject. Needless to say they did not learn much from the class and during the time they spent with me. These are the kind of students who graduate from universities without much idea about what they learned in four years while they were attending college. I have heard my fellow teaching assistants complaining how students in their senior year at times are unaware of what they should know by the end of their senior year. On the other hand, there would be students who would try to understand the subject matter while trying to get their homework done. And the later were the ones who actually were able to appreciate the course material.

While I was in my undergrad, I had the same attitude towards education. I just wanted to score well in tests without trying to learn the course content. I managed to do fairly well when it came to getting a good GPA, but failed to learn what I should have during those days. On the contrary, in grad school, when I started putting serious efforts in learning, I feel that I am learning a lot. Not that the quality of teaching has drastically changed but it’s the step required to be taken by me which has lead to the difference. I had good teachers in my undergrad days and I have great teachers now, but the extra step taken by me has made me a better student.

While it is important to understand the role of student effort in learning, blaming just the kids for not putting in the required efforts can be overstretch. Students these days are forced to go on the traditional educational paths which can secure jobs for them while their interest lies somewhere else. For example, I know so many students who are studying engineering because it is a secure way of getting a job after graduating. Moreover, when the capability of a person is measured in terms of the degree he or she has or the grades obtained in tests, the quality of learning is bound to deteriorate. This system of education puts in little value in a child’s interest. If a potential musician is forced to become a doctor, he will surely end up becoming a bad one.

As Sir Ken Robinson says that the present education system was modeled to cater to the need of industrial revolution. We are now way past the industrial revolution time, and hence the system of imparting knowledge needs to change. And then we will have not only better teachers but also better students.