Learning by being present:
It was during June of 1999 that I was approached by a parent to tutor her son for grade 10 Maths. This was purely thanks to the marketing efforts of my beloved mother about my score of 99/100 in my 10th exams.
My ever-zealous mother used to take tuition classes at home for students whose parents couldn’t get them to study. She used quite a regimental approach. Ever since I was in 3rd grade, I happened to be around for all these classes. I absorbed subject content by being around my mother’s classes and her disciplined approach. I believe this influenced my good scores in exams through my school days. Being the son of a teacher and constantly monitored about my study habits, I grew into an academically well-trained individual.
Preparing to be a first-time teacher:
Now let’s get back to the story of my first student. For the sake of the story, let’s call him x (the ubiquitous unknown). He had a terrible basic understanding of Maths. This was primarily due to his parents’ neglect of his teachers’ feedback about his Maths skills.
Here I was freshly into college and trying to take over my mom’s primary business (for fun). In order to showcase that I was more organised and trained, I chose to go with one-on-one sessions. I also set up a premium fee of ₹100 a month for one subject while my mom was graciously giving her time every day at ₹100 a month for all subjects. Hats off to my vanity! 🙂
The first chapter was arithmetic sequences and progression. I had revised all the problems and definitions before the session. With great enthusiasm and overzealousness (in hindsight of course) I started showing off the ease with which I could teach Maths.
The first session was a shocker to me. I found that x had no clarity of mathematical operations. He was struggling with basic multiplication and division. For some strange reason, he loved subtraction which he called ‘substraction’. He was fond of doing it. Only then, it dawned on me to check for his previous knowledge. Every stone I turned in his learning history, I discovered huge skeletons of a lack of conceptual understanding.
That was the first one hour of interaction. The next session was a couple of days later and I started my preparations. My first class was a big failure and I wanted to make it right. I read some books on arithmetic sequences and series, by MIR publications. I think this is when I first realised how much effort is required to be a good teacher. Since then, I have learnt that I need to spend at least 10 hours to prepare for a one-hour lecture. This experience also helped me articulate a way to teach that helps students learn better.
It took me 8 sessions over three weeks to communicate the ideas of sequence, progression, and series. I still remember that x couldn’t grasp the idea of nth term and n number of terms. This was despite my efforts to explain the same in Kannada and Tamil. He couldn’t handle my over-enthusiasm to teach him everything about a concept. So, after three weeks of tolerating my excitement, he just gave up and dropped out of my class.
Coming full circle:
This was a great eye-opener for me. Since then, I have learnt a lot about different methods of teaching. I have learnt how to focus on helping the student learn rather than teach everything I know about the topic.
The reason for this article, after 21 years since the incident, is that I had an opportunity today to teach the same topic to a student who is appearing for her 10th board exams in March 2020. This refreshed my memories of 1999. When I was teaching her, I could feel the difference in my approach. It took me 40 minutes to drive the idea and get her to independently solve the required problems.
This is indeed a progression of my teaching skills. Now as a teacher trainer, I emphasise more on helping the student to learn rather than to teach everything we know. I urge teachers to follow this.
Sriraghavan S M
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