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Posts tagged “teaching

Feelings of a TA

Disclaimer :

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.

I’m disappointed.

Most of them do not want to think beyond what is evident. “What does this result tell me?” is not an oft asked question.

I’m sad.

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.

I’m curious.

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.

I’m angry.

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..


I’m glad

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 😉


The Student-Teacher divide

Read all mushy posts for Teachers day a couple of weeks back..

Get outraged by the kind of innovatively wrong answers students come up with while checking exam papers a week back..

Witness both clever thinking and pointless-ly done assignments a few days back..

‘Enjoy’ an all time high interaction with students as a TA (in teaching concepts, clarifying doubts, arguing abt the correctness of their answers etc.) during the past few days..

You tend to think about the way teaching & learning is perceived by students & teachers.

You realize that there is a clear divide. Feel it more since you yourself are positioned ON the dividing line.

You find the divide depressing & put up a status message saying..

Looks like an entire generation has been ‘educated’ to believe that Good Teaching=”preparing short notes of a text book & presenting them in class as slides” and Learning=”memorize slides vaguely.. you can let your imagination run wild to interpret them when confronted with questions in the exam“.. Sadly, Thinking & Appreciating concepts do not find a place.

Well. . that sounded more like I am lamenting on behalf of the teacher (which I was doing), and it was quick to provoke heated arguments with friends. . All who have been only on the student side of the divide..

I say : Students do not utilize a teacher’s earnest effort to put across concepts in interesting ways.

They say : I haven’t seen too many teachers put any kind of effort! May be they do in YOUR dept, in YOUR institute. . But how many teachers do you remember from your previous institute who made learning interesting?

I say :

I say : Students refuse to learn & appreciate basics or contemplate about any concept in detail. . They refuse to go beyond what the slide says.

They say : They would do that when someone provokes thought in them.. When someone makes them see that learning & thinking is fun. Who does that?

I say : It is a 2-way process. . Learning can be fun only if both parties put in effort.. For instance, students should be thinking why an assignment is framed the way it is. . What it is trying to make them learn/experience/appreciate. . and THEN attack the problem . . there is no point in mechanically doing an assignment and presenting a solution which most of your peer group agrees upon. How many do that?

They say : Do we have the time for that? You give us assignment after assignment, deadline after deadline in course after course. . If we sit & meditate on each assignment, when are we going to finish? And when are we going to find time to enjoy life?

I say : Well. . You can enjoy learning too. . If only you stop treating life as a rat race where courses are laps finished. Students seem to be more interested in scoring more than their peers than in learning. Why worry about “Am I getting a half a mark less than that fellow? Should I fight/beg the TA for that half a mark?” instead of thinking “I made this mistake & lost marks. . I have learnt what not to do now” ?

They say : Life IS a rat race, honey!

I say : Why do students (esply the post graduates who have graduated from non-IITs) seem to think that ‘covering’ a textbook is better teaching? Why do they prefer a prof who runs through every detail in the textbook in marathon-mode to a prof who takes it slow & steady & tries to get the class to think & appreciate the stuff? If I had to ‘cover’ a textbook, I would sit under a tree & read it. . not come to class at 8am in a cold November!

They say :

They say : For all that talk, how many profs approach teaching with a passion? How many approach each classroom session with an infectious enthusiasm? They do a mechanical job, we too go through it mechanically.

I say : As long as students do not take the course seriously & show enthusiasm & commitment, how do you expect profs to retain their enthusiasm and do a great job? They are bound to get frustrated from seeing no fruit for their efforts. That means, you get a poor course experience cos you did not respond positively to the Prof’s efforts.

They say : !!! Profs get frustrated? I thought they’d be cool with their jobs. . Though it may be thankless & boring.

I say : !!!

Clearly, the arguments lead nowhere. . They are never-ending. . But they do throw up some interesting points..

  • When would teachers retain passion for teaching & approach each class with an aim to put across basic concepts & provoke thought?
  • When will students realize that going through the works of a course mechanically is mere waste of time & effort?
  • When will teachers recognize the need to pause the grilling for a while & help students realize that their active role is important in making the course worthwhile?
  • When will students realize that not all teachers fall in the category of “know nothing. . repeat something from textbook. . gives a damn about whether I learn something or not”? That in most cases, a lot of thought goes behind the way a course is conducted?
  • When would this student-teacher divide be bridged?

Questions sound too idealistic & utopian eh?