Feelings of a TA
I in no way under-rate the collective quality of education or the average talent level of students at IITs. Views presented here are merely the result of observations about a not-too-small section of students.
Most of them do not want to think beyond what is evident. “What does this result tell me?” is not an oft asked question.
Some of these people aren’t ready to put in effort. They do not want to contemplate any concept beyond what is mentioned in class. They do not even want to put in the minimal effort to understand the basic point of some things mentioned in class – they come up with their own absurd reasons as to why their wrong understanding of it is “right”.
I feel helpless.
When people do things only for marks. When they do assignments blindly and mechanically, without pausing even a second to think about why they are being asked to do it. After not being able to answer the few simple questions thrown at them during lab assignment demos, when people complain “She is asking questions just to cut marks. The assignment never stated that I had to know those things”, I pretend to myself that people here really want to learn, not just get good grades.
Where’s the curiosity in all these people? Why aren’t they asking themselves “why is this so?”, “how is this so?”, “what will happen if this is not so?”, “what other possibilities exist?”.
I feel disgusted.
Many of them want to be spoon-fed. Hand-holding seems to be a lesser evil now. When a student tells me “I did not do that in the assignment because you did not explicitly tell me to do it.”, I roll my eyes. When a student tells me “I did not know that bit to complete the assignment. I was not taught that in class.”, I suppress a sarcastic retort asking “In which classroom were you taught to download 100s of GBs of movies & watch them back to back?”. When a student asks me “Would you have the solution manual to the exercise problems in this textbook? If I knew the answer, then I would find it easier to ‘work’ towards the answer?”, I am left speechless.
At the education system. The coaching industry has managed to be very successful in producing “pattern recognizing machines” who can solve problems of the sort they’ve been bombarded with a zillion times. The JEE kings & queens can no longer attack a problem with originality. The GATE nobility can no longer argue a point, they can only choose the correct option. They want everything to be told to them explicitly, everything to be put on paper. They want to throw any reference material other than class powerpoint slides out of their lives. The JEE-coaching-culture has made IIT BTechs to expect spoonfeeding with respect to the ways of approaching a problem. The indifferent and bookish teaching culture of the 2nd rung engineering colleges has made IIT MTechs to demand spoonfeeding as a right!
I am filled with self-doubt.
Am I the only one who thinks concepts need to be appreciated and not merely acknowledged? Am I the only one who thinks assignments are a fun way of learning, thinking and applying? Am I the only one who thinks that the more challenging questions you face, the more you understand the concept? Am I expecting too much out of people? Am I harbouring utopian ideas?
I haven’t given up hope yet..
When I argue for an out-of-the-box point, someone comments “Well, that’s an absurd line of thought. But it is an interesting way of seeing things.”, I find that grin creeping across my face. When that single soul tells me “I enjoyed doing this assignment. It was interesting to observe some things & think about some things.”, I can’t but feel happy & satisfied that small assignment that I put up with the aim of making people think & enjoy learning has served its purpose. When people trust me enough to ask me to clarify some doubts or teach them some stuff from a class they missed, the feeling of “Oh, I could endure this for a lifetime just to experience these occasional moments” brightens my day.
I have a hunch.
That even in today’s education scene, teaching is not too thankless a job after all 😉