39/356: My bad teachers..

Posted: February 10, 2011 in People
Tags: , , ,

We’ve all had bad teachers at one time or the other, some much worse than others.

I’ve had more than my fair share of bad teachers including some really rotten ones during my undergrad. Let’s select a few chosen ones before I come to my worst teacher. Shall not be taking names but for people who were around me during those times, the names would be obvious from my criticism.

I made a bad start. I was a lazy kid right from the beginning and having Ms. N for class teacher during Kindergarten and 1st standard didn’t help matters. She needed someone in the class to be made example of to keep other kids in line and I was her favourite target. Beatings on the knuckles using foot-scales to standing either in front of class or, more tolerably, outside the class were so routine that not being punished must have made me feel left out. But that was the least of it. Her worst behaviour was reserved not for me, but for my folks. Every parent teacher meet, she’d make them wait long hours while she attended to every other set of parents. And rare was a set of parents to whom she didn’t point out them as how parents of a ‘failure’ child. To this day a shiver runs down their spine every time she’s mentioned!*

Ms. N’s treatment had perfectly conditioned me to prepare for being a failure in life. That I did not fail entirely is thanks to a set of teachers I got immediately after I moved out of Ms. N’s class. I particularly remember my maths teacher. She was infamous for the thick pen she used to hit us on the head with and the sharp pinch on the year with which she use to lead us to front of the class. But despite these physically aggressive tendencies, she was a brilliant teacher and refined her methods to suit every child. I may have been at the top of her list of beatings, but I was also blessed with several one-to-one instructions from her in an (for her) un-naturally soft tone. Most important was the way she guided my parents, on how to teach me – a problem child with a short attention span and a wild imagination. It was all to her efforts that within an year I jumped from rock bottom to the top quarter of students. And the love affair with maths that began with her continues till date :)

Next up is a teacher who did everything humanely or devilishly possible to drive that love of maths out of me. Let’s call him Mr. NG. He came at a critical time, academically, in my life – classes 11th & 12th. NG was neither brilliant in mathematics, nor good at understanding individual students’ needs but had a natural ability to command language as a sharp whip to shame and harass. His teaching method, thus, was based around frame and shame, and his classroom objective was to drive students to his private tuitions. Every class he would frame a problem on the board and then pick on students who did not study privately from him. If they didn’t answer the question, which was routine considering the topic had not been covered in class, they’d be subjected to such a volley of tongue lashing that it regularly made us hardened teenagers cry. Even worse was the fate of students who provided the answer but using a methodology different from the one he taught – derision at ‘complicated’ approach used by ‘unworthy’ students, ridicule, shaming and an implicit 25% reduction in test marks. Since Ma was also a teacher in the same school, he rarely picked on me. Though, he also made sure that I attended tuitions with him on a ‘subsidised’ rate. But given a basic lack of teaching methodology and his ‘one & only’ approach to each question, there was no way a rebellious fella like me could’ve stuck with him long. I switched after a couple of months to his biggest competitor in private tuitions market. Class marks suffered but my confidence in maths, and consequently physics, soared. Unfortunately, he’s still around at that school. Still ruining many a students future.

After I got past NG and his torturous Maths classes, came college. The quality of teachers here varied widely – from some who really knew their subject curriculum inside out to those who were weak on the outdated curriculum but were great with the latest developments in the field to the rotten ones who neither knew the curriculum, nor the current developments and, above all, didn’t care enough to study either. MK was at the bottom of these rotten ranks. He was so rotten that even some of the rotten ones considered him beneath him. Thankfully, for me, he did not belong to my department and only taught us for one semester. The fella didn’t know most of his curriculum, didn’t bother about the latest developments in his field and was completely uninterested in preparing even for the few lectures he had to take. His teaching method for a 1 hour class: come to class 10-15 mins late, spend another 15 mins marking attendance, trade a few words with the rows of girls, start dictating notes from the prescribed book while leering shamelessly at the few girls in class, and leave 10 minutes early. We learnt little in that class. Other than about how low the ‘teacher’ could fall.

Finally, the worst professor I’ve had. RB was a stats professor at b-school. He had studied at the best statistics institute in the country and was highly respected amongst the fellowship students and fellow professors for his academic knowledge of the subject. All very good. However, someone forgot to tell him that he was now teaching advanced statistics to MBA students at the country’s best b-school and not history to 6th graders at the neighbourhood paathshaala. His teaching method began well. He’d introduce a problem based around the day’s topic, listen to solutions presented by a few students while guiding them or appreciating them. What was bad was what came afterwords. After the students had presented their solutions, he’d embark on his dictation walk. He’d walk around the lecture hall dictating, word by word at a writing pace, ‘his’ solution to the problem including a basic theory of the day’s topic.  I disliked his note giving and refused to write anything down after the first few lectures. What I hated the most was that despite a deep knowledge of the subject, both curriculum and beyond, he made no effort to make it interesting or practical. He religiously stuck to the prescribed syllabus, chose problems from the book and prepared the exams from problems touched upon in class. The person had I heard about from fellowship students and his academic papers was completely different from the person who taught us in the class. He was wasting his enormous talent and our time and money, and I hated him for that from my guts. I scored 7 out of 30 in his section of the course and was glad it was over. In the next part of same course, taught by an inept and bad professor, I scored 67 out of 70 and was disappointed with the marks. Enough said.

There have been quite a few other teachers who influenced my life – most in a good way, a few in bad way. On the good side, there are some I’ll follow and revere all my life, one I almost cried for when he retired at the end of my first term at b-school, another I actually cried for when she passed away some years after I’d passed out of school and some who vanished in the mist of time yet maintain a special place in my heart. To them all, including Ma**, I’d just like to say a big thank you.

There, that’s my short list of some of my teachers – a couple of bad ones, a good one and the one who could’ve been the best but ended up being the worst.


* A few years ago, while I was at B-school, Ms. N paid a visit to Ma. Her daughter was now a student in the school where Ma taught and performing not too well. She came to request Ma to speak to her daughter’s teachers to spend a little more time and effort coaching her daughter. Ma’s face held some interesting expressions when she told me this story – a mix of terror remembering all that we three had suffered from Ms. N and humour arising from irony of the situation. A year later, Ms. N’s daughter passed out of the school and Ms. N herself moved overseas, but that didn’t bring closure to my folks’ memories. Ma & Pa still feel a shiver every time her name’s brought up :)

**Ma has been teaching at the same school for 27 or 28 years now and is widely recognised as one of the best teachers around. The school has awarded her the best teacher award thrice since the award began about a decade ago and many of her ex-students, including my sister, publicly acclaim her as the best teacher ever. She, however, has one outstanding crib – I never accepted her as my best teacher. Not even the best teacher from the duration that she taught me. There is nothing else in the world that works her up like this one lack of acknowledgement. I never told her this but the teacher I considered the best from the years I spent at her school was my geography teacher. She was also the one who passed away a few years ago after a prolonged fight with cancer, bringing tears to my eyes after half a dozen dry years.


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