Teacher Beware and Student Beware – Part II

Teacher Beware can be a blessing for Teachers

In the first part of this article, I talked about the new concept of Student Beware and Teacher Beware. Metaphorically. I came up with these after going through Dan Pink’s To Sell is Human where he talks about Seller Beware and Buyer Beware situation.

Laxman Gnawali, one of the few exceptional teachers.

Laxman Gnawali, one of the few exceptional teachers I’ve met.

So, to continue, in a ‘Seller Beware’ situation, a dishonest, manipulative and pushy salesperson won’t survive for long. In order to excel in a long term, the salesperson or companies will have to be exceptional.

Exceptional as in a salesperson who is honest, caring and responsible towards the buyers. Because in this competitive marketing where buyers have too much information and too many choices, sales these days are more about building connection, maintaining personal relationship and building identity than about selling products, making profit and getting richer.

Same goes for the teachers. In this ‘Teacher Beware’ situation, they have to be exceptional if they want students to ‘buy’ their ‘products’.

The ABCs

In To Sell is Human, Pink resoundingly states, “Like it or not, we are all in sales now”. Doctors. Accountants. Lawyers. Designers. Bloggers. Actors. Writers. Singers. Engineers. Journalists. And, teachers. And he stresses that every salesperson (and every human being) must possess three key skills to be exceptional. They are: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity.

Very briefly, Attunement means to understand another person’s perspective, have emotional/social intelligence and empathy.

Buoyancy is how to keep afloat in a world of constant rejection, criticism and negativity.

And, Clarity is about problem identification and then solving it. It is about making a sense out of the clutter of information.

Exceptional teachers

Now, back to my point: like it or not, teachers are also in sales now. We don’t sell any physical products as such but we try to sell our ideas, information and knowledge. In return, the students pay us with their attention, time and effort. And it will definitely get tougher for teachers in this ‘information parity’ situation where information is easily and freely accessible.

Because students won’t buy from a Math teacher who constantly makes students cram up formulas, steps and methods. They can learn math better by watching Sal Khan’s youtube channel. Students won’t buy from a Psychology teacher who reads from notes and never even looks into their eyes. They can understand better by watching Paul Bloom’s free video lecture series. Students won’t buy from an English language teacher who knows the grammar rules but does not have communicative competence. They can learn English better by listening to BBC podcasts.

Therefore if the ideas, information and knowledge are straight out of the textbook (and are routinized), students won’t be interested in them anymore; because they’re everywhere. However, they will certainly be interested if the ideas, information and knowledge are co-created, shared and owned by the students and the teachers.

And, yes, I am not trying to devalue the importance of professional mastery, practical knowledge and experience in one’s subject area. They really matter a lot. It doesn’t make sense if a teacher is very friendly and positive but doesn’t have sufficient mastery over the subject and methodology.

Who will the students ‘buy’ from?

What students need is a teacher who is more than just a mere information seller. A friend, a guide, a mentor. Someone who understands them, treats them with respect and avoids judgment. Not someone who talks down to them, frowns at them and walks around with a stick in the hand. Researches in Social Science say power reduces tendency to understand how other people see, think, and feel. Students don’t need some bullheaded authoritative teacher who can’t see students’ perspective. They need teachers who would step down from their high horses and get in ‘sync’ with them.

Students need educators, not mere teachers. Teachers who not only make students memorize information, but also motivate students to think, analyze and synthesize the information. Teachers who are open-minded and won’t silence students’ voices with demoralizing ‘chup laag’ or ‘jaaney huney hoina’.

Students need a Math teacher who encourages them to come up with different answers. Students need a Science teacher who can tell stories not just theories. Students need an English teacher who can empathize with their struggles of learning and acquiring foreign language.

Exceptional teachers, just like exceptional salespersons, will have to possess the three skills of attunement, buoyancy and clarity. Exceptional teachers will have to know how to ‘tune-in’ to match with students’ perspectives, remain positive even in the flood of frustration and criticism, and have a clear idea about the problems students and teachers go through.

And one last thing. Exceptional teachers exude the attitude of service and understand that their work can affect the lives of many.

As a student and a teacher, I have been very lucky to have met some exceptional teachers. And I’m sure there are a lot of exceptional teachers out there who are changing lives of students. I want to be that exceptional teacher someday and I’ve already saddled up for that wonderful journey. I hope to meet you somewhere along the way.

(To be continued)

For more readings:

Dan Pink: To sell is Human

How To Be A Good Leader: Power And Perspective-Taking Helps Leaders Make Bigger Impact

Losing Touch

Teacher Beware and Student Beware

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We live in the world of information overload. It’s not an exaggeration. Information is literally just milliseconds away if we want it. What does this mean to teachers? And to students? It means students can access information anytime, anywhere and anyhow they want. They don’t need to memorize the name of capital city of Nicaragua anymore. Or how deep the Pacific Ocean is anymore? (In fact, no one needs to memorize anything unless you are taking part in a televised quiz show.)

It means students can be as informed as the teachers.

And therefore, these two expressions – Student Beware and Teacher Beware mean a lot. Before I jump into what I mean by these two concepts, let me take help of author Daniel Pink (and his book To Sell is Human) to explain the two expressions from Commerce/Sales: Buyer Beware and Seller Beware.

Suppose, I wanted to buy a laptop. A few years ago, I would have gone to a computer seller and asked her around for which one is a good one. Dell? Sony? Mac? Depending on my requirement and budget, the seller would have suggested me one of the brands. And it’s likely that I would have bought whatever she suggested me.

The seller always had more information than the buyer. There existed ‘information asymmetry’ between the seller and the buyer and Pink calls this situation as Buyer Beware. The seller had more information and thus could persuasive, pushy and manipulative. They could sell the things buyer don’t need (remember this expression – a great sales person is the one who can sell a comb to a bald man). Hence, buyers had to be aware else they would get cheated.

However, the wheel is slowly getting reversed with the easy availability of information. More often than not, the buyer is the one who has more or same amount of information than the seller does. Now the situation, as Pink calls, is Seller Beware. Buyers come in with so much information already that it is not possible for a seller to manipulate, force or dupe them, at least theoretically.

So today, if I wanted to buy a laptop, I would first go to the internet (or flip magazines or watch TV ad or ask for recommendations from knowledgeable friends) and find all the necessary information I need. And then only I would go and buy the laptop I can afford or desire.

Therefore, Pink asserts, sales is becoming more and more challenging in this world of ‘information parity’. It’s harder to get people’s attention, convince them and sell stuffs to them. And, if you are a traditional sales person who is pushy, forceful and manipulative, your days will be soon outnumbered.

Now, what does this possibly have to do with teaching?

I find the two professions – teaching and sales are very very similar. I don’t want to disrespect this noble profession which I am very passionate about. Without trying to defame the profession, I think that as a teacher, we are basically trying to get the student’s attention, convince them and sell them ideas and knowledge. There’s no monetary transaction but it happens in the form of exchanging information, negotiating for attention and investing time and energy. And if you are a teacher right now, you certainly know what I’m talking about. Just like sales these days, teaching is a tough profession.

Things were different in the past when a single teacher possessed all the information and knowledge (and note books). The information disparity between the teacher and the students created the ‘Student Beware’ situation where the students were literally at the teacher’s mercy (just saying). And may be, for those reasons, the teachers had to be respected, revered and worshiped. More so out of threat, than out of love.

But obviously, the situation is not like that anymore. The information is all over the place. Students can watch a 10 minutes long video on youtube (eg: The History of English Language) and be as informed as after listening to a teacher’s lecture or after reading a history book. I don’t need to read 600 pages of theories on marketing, or attend a lecture on behavioral psychology (unless I am looking for a college degree). I can simply access to those knowledge when I want and as I want. The student in me would probably get bored to death in the classroom listening to some professor yapping about ‘history’ stuffs which I can easily access on my smartphone. It’s all over the wikipedia.

This ‘Teacher Beware’ situation is a challenge to all the teachers and more so to those who are sticking to traditional ‘teacher-centered’ methods. And to expect the students to be attentive, obedient and respectful is as close to daydreaming.

So, as teachers, how do we face this challenge and still walk around with enough work-satisfaction, dignity and pride?

(To be continued)

Investing on teachers?

I am just a teacher. I am not an expert on education. I don’t have any Phd yet to claim that but here’s what I think will help significantly change our education and education system. So, how do we do that?

The answer is simple – by investing on/in/for teachers.

Let’s put aside the vision, mission and objective of our ‘troubled’ education system for a later discussion. Let me just focus on one of the aspects of teachers and their development.

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(Pic: Sikshak magazine)

The headline pretty much says it.

Most teachers don’t read. Only few regularly buy and read books. And many never touch books which are beyond the syllabus.

And I would definitely make a mistake here if I come to a quick judgment. Judgments like – the teachers are lazy… the teachers take their job for granted… the teachers don’t like to develop professionally.

Plus, judgments like – that’s why Nepal’s education system sucks because the teachers themselves don’t read anything new once they become teachers.

It might be a part of that reality but that’s unfair.
In fact, very unfair to most of the teachers out there.

Like I said, I am not an expert on education but I truly believe that one of the ways to create better teachers is by investing in them to develop teachers’ reading culture, writing culture and eventually a sharing culture.

Because, we need amazing teachers.
Empathetic teachers.
Rebel teachers.

However, many teachers in Nepal have not yet been ‘invested’ in a true sense.

And, not to just smear the whole blame on the government’s and policy makers’ faces, teachers, who whine all the time, need to stop making excuses. Because, khaaney mukh lai junga le chhekdaina, garna man laagey baahaana le rokdaina.

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(Pic: Sikshak mag)

Exams as memory test

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This pic is from one of my student’s facebook status. After reading this, I felt pretty bad about it. Almost guilty because I know that at the end of the semester, these students will be judged by a final standardized examination and their papers will be evaluated by some outsiders who don’t even know these students.

And I am very skeptic about external examiners who check the answer papers.

One, the general mentality in these externals is to be very strict while giving marks. As if being generous while marking is a cardinal sin. (They also go after hand-writings and length of the answers.)

Second, they are not liable. There has been a lot of cases of ‘re-totaling’ and ‘re-checking’ but there has never been a case of holding the externals responsible for being careless and even biased while checking the answer papers.

So, to make the matter worse, most of the time it depends on the externals whether a student will pass or fail the exam or will pass with good grades or a very low grades.

Therefore the double-trouble for students: if your memory isn’t that good, you are doomed. And even if you did well in the exams, your external might turn out to be a grumpy miser who is worse than stingy Scrooge McDuck.

Teach students to be rebels

Right from the pre-school, teachers tell the kids to confirm and abide. In the school, teachers feed the students with standard answers and drill those into their head. If you write ‘in your own words’, you are in trouble (even though the question paper always starts with – Write in your own words – instruction).

We have been a part of this system for so long that we think it’s normal to follow the predictable route. Everyone knows 2+2=4, and if you get the answer, you score.

Being predictable is safe. Once you cram up the formula, you are fine. Everyone else comes up with the same answer, going through the same steps, using the same formula. There’s no risk in it. There’s no pressure to break away from the chains we feel comfortable to be bound with.

Schools are conditioning centers.

For over a decade, schools and teachers mold students’ belief that into accepting that being different is risky. The whole class has to speak aloud the same words, the same sentences and the same thought. Ram eats rice. Ram is eating rice. Ram has eaten rice. Ram has been eating rice. Students may not know exactly what ‘gravitation’ means but they memorize the definition to perfection. They may never know why we need to study algebra, but they can spit out the formula (a + b)2 = a2 + 2ab + b2.

Schools have conditioned students and teachers into becoming normal, obedient and boring. Teachers don’t want to take risk. There’s the result to worry about. The SLC pass percentage is the yardstick. Schools won’t let teachers take risk. Schools are just following the trend because the education policy demands it.

Students are clueless. The schools want them to get distinctions and want to print their photos on hoarding boards. It’s a matter of pride. Students aspire to be the winner of the rat race. They remain clueless and conditioned.

Parents, please start questioning.

Teachers, please start questioning.

Teachers are the hope.

Teachers, please start taking risk.

Teach the students to be different. Teach the students to be rebels – not the ones who destroy school property or assault teachers. But teach them to be critical, compassionate and caring. Teach them to question everything: the authors, the books and the system. Teach them to speak up and not to hold back in silence.

Teach them to hope, to preserve that hope and to fight for it.

In the meantime, this video is just a slap on the face !

“In just 30 years, Finland transformed its school system from one that was mediocre and inequitable, to one that consistently produces some of the world’s best students, while virtually eliminating an achievement gap. And they do it without standardized testing.

Public Speaking Guideline #3

If you think about it, all the rules of communication are just a rule of thumb. Sometimes being confident works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Being vulnerable seems to work as well. There is no way of finding out which works – being confident or being vulnerable – unless we know about our audience and the context.

These two videos have a lot of validity under their belt and probe into the neglected part of the science of communication and human connection.

The power of powerless communication: Adam Grant at TEDxEast

The power of vulnerability: Brene Brown

Public Speaking Guideline # 2

tamariz-eyes

I really enjoy looking into the eyes of the audience when I’m giving a talk or doing a presentation. I love getting their non-verbal feedbacks. There’s a saying – eyes are the window to the soul. Therefore, while looking into their eyes, I feel more connected, intimate and real with them. This just boosts my self-confidence into a higher level and makes me feel right at home.

This is very important not only for the public speakers, but also for teachers or any leaders. Teachers are essentially public speakers inside the classroom among the students. By looking into the eyes of the students while teaching or doing a presentation, teachers can connect better, teach better and influence better.

Imagine that you are talking to your friend and she doesn’t even look you in your eyes. It gets awkward after a few seconds. You start feeling uncomfortable. You might also suspect that something is certainly wrong with your friend. May be she is lying. May be she is not feeling well. It could be any reasons.

But this is a very scary thing to do when we start out. During my initial days as a public speaker, looking into the eyes of the audience was a very daunting job for me. I vividly remember fleetingly looking into their faces, gazing toward the ceiling or scanning on the floor. I lacked confidence. I lacked conviction. As a result, I lacked any effect. 

So, desperate to improve my speaking and gain confidence, I started going through toastmasters’ videos and public speaking tutorials on youtube. I went through several hours of Tedtalk videos studying the art of public speaking and learning the psychology behind eye contact. I learnt how to look into their eyes so as to make them feel cared and respected. I also learnt that if our eyes are giving away anxiety or nervousness, our audiences will simply reflect anxiety and nervousness.

Now I don’t get scared to look into their eyes and communicate effectively. I just feel I’m on a different level when our eyes get connected.

So here’s my take on this. 

  1. Look them in their eyes, but not for more than two seconds.
    Connect with them but don’t stare at them. If you look into them longer, they might get uncomfortable, and as a result they might just tune you out.
  2. Also, look for “positive non-verbal feedback”. Head nods. Friendly facial expression. Open body language.
  3. Remember: non-verbal signals are contagious.
    If you have energy, the audience also shows interest in you. If you smile, the audience also becomes friendly with you. But if your body language is slumped and slouching, the audience starts snoring in a while.

And, please watch this TED video of Amy Cuddy. It’s not overtly about ‘eye contact’ but it’s about the power of mind and body language. If you’ve already watched it, give it a one more shot. :)