Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Failed Teacher

"… When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed." ~ Marva Collins

If there in even a modicum of truth in this statement, I have failed miserably as a teacher.

First up, I'm not a professional teacher. I'm not even someone who takes up teaching as a pastime because of one's passion. I became a teacher by default.

It was a few days after Christmas last year (or was it New Year?) that I received a call in the office from someone from a business school in Delhi. They had, I was told, started a new course as part of their MBA curriculum. Since the field is very new (more so in India), they were having a problem finding the right faculty to teach the course – there aren't many academicians who have worked in that area, and very few companies who had adopted the practice in India. How did I qualify? Simply because the company I work for is known to be one of the pioneers in that area.

At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to teach. I had never taught before, was quite uncomfortable standing before a large crowd, and, more importantly, I was not at all an expert in the subject I was supposed to teach. I had some practical experience at best, which in fact was extremely limited considering the fact that I didn't really know what was happening outside my company. Add to that the extremely short period of time I was given to decide – 4 days to decide and 6 days to deliver my first lecture.

Anyhow, in pursuit of an interesting experience, I agreed. That's how I became a teacher. By default.

Teaching is a tough job. I had clearly underestimated the amount of preparation required to deliver one lecture of 90 minutes. On the eve of my first set of lectures, I spent my entire Friday evening (well past midnight) just preparing for my inaugural lecture (this set the tone for all my Friday evenings for the next 3 months). The first lecture was tough, but I slowly started enjoying the entire experience of teaching and by the time the term ended, I didn't want it to end.

However, one thing that kept bothering me all along was my perception that the quality of students was not what I would expect in a business school. Most of my students had no interest in studying, they would attend classes only because they had to, they would not waste time on anything that required them to do some work (the assignments they submitted were horrendous), and so on. Very soon I gave up on them. There were a few 'good' students in each section and I spent most of my effort teaching them, because they were the only ones who seemed to be enjoying the subject.

Now this is where I failed. If I were a good teacher, I would have generated an interest for the subject among a majority of the class. It is so easy to put the blame on the students. If they didn't take my classes, or the subject I taught, seriously it was my failure more than theirs. The final exam evaluation was the last straw. I have just finished evaluating all the exam papers (179 in all!!!) and more than 30% of the students – which is equal to one entire section – have failed.

I would have considered myself a reasonably good teacher if this figure was, say, 15%. But 30%!!! One-third of the class!!!

Nah, I didn't do a good job.