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.