Monday, May 19, 2008

A teacher who should have been doing something else

When I was in high school, there were only two "Delhi Public School" branches, of course both in Delhi: one on Mathura Road, and another in R.K. Puram. Not many years after I graduated from the R.K. Puram school, DPS went into a rapid expansion mode. It appeared as if there would be more DPS branches than Mickey D franchises.

At that time DPS R.K. Puram was considered to be a great school because a large number of its students managed to get into the most prestigious engineering and medical colleges. One would have expected teachers of such a fine school to be equally good. However, barring a few exceptions (Ravi Gopinath teaching Chemistry comes to mind), I felt that the teachers were quite ordinary. Some were quite horrible.

There was this teacher who taught us English in the 12th grade. She would invariably ask a particular person to read a passage from the text book. Then she would tell the class to underline certain lines. These were supposed to be the answers to questions that would most likely be asked in the examinations. This routine continued for the entire year. She seemed to be ideologically opposed to showing any interest or joy in the wonderful stories contained in the text book. Short stories by Kipling, Maugham, Saki, etc. apparently gave her as much joy as I get out of reading junk mail that shows up in my mailbox. It was clear that she was not teaching English literature, but coaching us how to take a test in that subject.

Such teachers may be considered effective and good by the assorted bean counters who pass off as school principals and school/university administrators these days. But they embody everything that is wrong with teaching to the test. My junior high school English teacher (Father Job, the subject of my previous post) who never taught to the test filled us with a life-long passion for the language. My 12th grade teacher did her best to take all the joy out of learning.

Determining what is good teaching is a very challenging task. The folks who are expected to evaluate teachers and teaching are either entirely incompetent, or too lazy to do their job well. So, they champion tests that hardly ever assess mastery of the subject. They rally around tests that determine how many students have achieved the lowest acceptable proficiency. In a nutshell, mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mount Assisi School: Father Job!

There are some teachers who impart a lasting love for knowledge. One of them was Reverend Father Job Edakulathoor, the Principal of our school (Mount Assisi School, Bhagalpur) and also our English teacher.

Father Job was a remarkable figure. When we discussed the poetry of William Wordsworth or P.B. Shelley or Nissim Ezekiel we could see the love for the language dripping out of every word that escaped his mouth. I still have memories of him riding on the imaginary horse a la Lochinvar (so faithful in love, so dauntless in war), rushing off to rescue fair Ellen. Oh how his eyes would glow with emotion when we read Shylock's speech from The Merchant of Venice!

In class Father Job was a great friend and a fellow lover of the language. But, outside class, when we pushed the envelope (quite) a bit, he was famous for his little pinch on the ear of the errant pupil.

Outside school he was an entirely different person. His love for the latest Bollywood potboiler, especially the Amitabh Bachchan movies, was well-known. On more than one occasion, when leaving a movie theater in the evening, I saw Father Job in his leather jacket, with a motorcycle helmet in his hand, waiting for the night show to start.

For us kids, in our early teens, Father Job was a great source of inspiration. We will always admire him for being a great teacher, and also for assembling a great ensemble (Mr. Javed Hasan, Mr. Animesh Majumdar, Mr. Satish Jha) around him. To this day when I am enjoying a good book I am thankful to him for showing us the pleasure to be found in great literature.

So, Father Job, wherever you are, here are a few lines for you:

He rode all unarm'd, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Long Sleep

My blogging is no different from several of my other endeavours: started with more optimism than stamina. So, after three articles, it went dormant.

I have decided to revive it. Hopefully, this time it will not need life-support after a few posts. Also, I plan to write on a variety of education-related issues, not just higher education. My next few posts will be about my school education, the great, the not so great and lousy teachers I had in school and college.

So, stay tuned.