Friday, January 16, 2009

Countryside macadam

I never believed in teaching profession. In my opinion, a person who wholeheartedly yearns to learn or study will eventually* do so without any coaching (by getting into books). And for a person who isn't interested in learning anything at all, he should promptly castrate himself. Those who aren't interested in learning the things being taught by a teacher, and have some better things in mind, shouldn't even bother to listen no matter how good the teacher is. So no one really needs teacher no matter how proficient he or she is. Personally I never needed a teacher so far, but teachers were thrust upon me as I had to attend some or the other college and study something.

And despite my above mentioned sentiments, I am into the profession of teaching... obviously not by choice. I had a very limited options after graduation in Mathematics, and as long as I don't obtain necessary academic credentials, I would have to wait for the job of my preference. And so I became an interim teacher of maths, and will continue to be one, at least for a couple of months. My first assignment was to conduct lectures in an Engineering college in Shirpur for about a month. Shirpur, a small town located well out of urban limits, is the place where I held my first (and hopefully my last) course, among students from interiors of Indian plateau. And these people have a very different upbringing and culture compared to the spoiled brats of the city like me.

All the time during the journey I couldn't help feeling pissed. The impression I had was that in my life's first professional lecture itself, I'll will be pitted against 200 wild stalwarts all straining their necks to make a mockery of me in class, crack jokes at me, pass comments behind my back, jeer, and walk out of my lecture. The way along the journey, I couldn't ignore the butterflies in the stomach, knowing that this countryside student crowd usually does the above mentioned things in any rookie lecture. Again there was that old cliche I had heard from my own teachers that the first professional lecture really squeezes one's nerves out and that its natural to have a fucked-up first impression. Also, I was influenced by the old proverb, 'life is not a bed of roses'. What the fuck was I going to do?

The arrival in Shirpur was smooth. The village itself was a blend between contemporary housing style and modern concrete settlements. There wasn't even a germane restaurant or any place serving apposite food to city based visitors. But the hotel accomodations were really luxurious. Travelling arragement from hotel to college were fluid. The college staff itself was very congenial. And all commodities very chicken feed cheap. But for me, all the granduer was overshadowed by the nerves.

On the first day, there were a very few students, and hence my scheduled lecture was postponed till the next day, which was relief. But I knew I wouldn't be able to keep on running away and that some or the other time I had to face the students. My days in military school taught a very helpful tact. If you want to learn swimming, the best way to do so is to jump in the water right away, and get the fear out of you. And the same applies to everything else. And so, despite feeling apprehensive I asked my seniors not to bother introducing me to the class as I wanted to do that honour myself( ...there is nothing honourable in my introduction).

And then came the day when I had to conduct the lecture. As I made my towards the podium, I could feel pupils staring at me with a who-the-fuck-is-this-oaf kind of look on their face. One of my senior colleagues was sitting amongst the students too just to make sure I'd be able to handle the class. I suspect he wanted to check out, whether I was really able to conduct a proper lecture. And then it began... O horror!

I was surprised at the pitch of my own voice. To my delight I spoke loudly and clearly, without stammering. I sounded confident to myself. I kept my introduction short... just two sentences (I never like to boast about myself) and started with the topic. And after a while I noticed that the students were actually listening and not dozing off. This was a positive sign again. As the time wore on, I became more and more confident and started taking occasional detours in the lecture reminding myself that I shouldn't be carried away. The fact that I knew everything about my topic in and out, provided me with the necessary anchorage to conduct the lecture without making any kind of mathematical blunders. After a couple of minutes my senior colleague realized that I wouldn't be needing any help now, and he left. I myself felt, it had been very silly of me to have feared this moment, as there was really nothing to be apprehensive about. A few students even asked question, which was again nice, as they actually bothered to think over the things I was barking out. I finished the lecture without having encountered too much disturbance.

I was happy with my first lecture (as I didn't screw up nearly as bad as I first anticipated myself to do). Whether the students actually enjoyed my lecture or not, I have no idea (and honestly I don't care). I didn't make a fool of myself and that was all that mattered to me at that moment. In my opinion it was more like sharing my knowledge with them, and less like coaching.

With the anxiety extinguished in my very first lecture, I couldn't help enjoying my sojourn in Shirpur. The food and travel was free and unlimited, and although there was nothing much to enjoy in the village it was still like vacation and relaxing all the time. As days passed by, I realized that my lectures were getting increasingly boring (I could make out from the students' contours) but I didn't really care as long as I got the content right. As Aristotle had quoted, 'a good teacher is a person who tells the truth to his students, irrespective of his engagement skills'. Personally I would never have attended my own lectures, as I have seen my lecture videos. I know that my lectures are truly boring, very prosaic and totally unimpressive. As it is many people just hate maths, although I don't understand why.

But it was the time outside the college classroom, that I enjoyed the most. As the students were of my age group and in fact from the same batch, we got along well. I myself felt very awkward that they were addressing me as 'Sir' all the time. I played volleyball with them on few occasion ( they had to tolerate me, as I could never hit the ball right). I made a very good friends out of a couple of students there. I spent evenings at their hostel rooms along with my senior colleague, often watching movies and shows on their computers amongst other things like gym. Being an ardent birdwatching aficionado, I took a huge delight in spotting exotic Indian birds (like the Oriental Magpie Robin) which were aplenty in the college vicinity. Even the weather was quite pleasant and much soothing compared to city atmosphere. And I broke my two-and-a-half year long abstinence of alcohol and indulged in vodka along with my company colleagues on 31st midnight (I was astonished to find out that all the major liquor brands were actually available in a remote place like Shirpur, where there was no proper restaurant... I guess thats just Indian culture).

Shirpur experience was a rapturous one. I got rid of my podium fear for good, and had a nice break from the monotonous city life as well. I'd definitely want to go back to Shirpur some day, but certainly not as a faculty. Walking down the country macadam was very pleasing.

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