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

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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. :)

Public Speaking Guideline # 1

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We learn by making mistakes. It is also true that we learn by seeing others make mistakes.

Recently, I took part in a public speaking session organized a club of a college. Everything went well until the final guest speaker ruined it for me and for everybody. He would not just stop talking. He kept on rambling about his school, his career, his work, his projects for over 45 minutes. I felt like he deliberately victimized us by throwing his frustrations and anger towards us.

How could he not see the impatient eyes and slumped body language of the audience! He eventually realized that he had been talking for a long time and said, “I will end my speech soon” and went on to talk for 15 more minutes. Before closing his speech (thankfully), he also managed to give a few tips on public speaking. How weird is that!

I wanted to sneak out of the hall but I was right in front of him and didn’t want to act rude. So I sat on my chair and listened to his entire speech, just for courtesy and learnt a valuable lesson. I promised myself – “I will never put my audience through such verbal ordeal”.

Now this is not a criticism thrown towards him but just a reflection of a super bored member of the audience. As an aspiring public speaker, I am writing this guideline for me as well as for others who want to be a truly amazing speaker. 

Guideline # 1: Respect your audience’s time

As a public speaker, you must respect your audience’s time in order to gain their respect. You have to feel privileged that they are allowing you their time to listen to your talk. When you show that you care about their time, it will help build trust and warmth between you and the audience.

Even if the organizer or the concerned person did not tell you your allocated time, it’s a good idea to ask them how many minutes you have. Then, tell this to your audience too as you begin your talk.

Here’s one way of doing it:

Hello everyone. Today I’m going to share with you some tips on becoming an effective public speaker. This talk will last around for 15 minutes and hopefully at the end, you will learn how to structure your speech, how to start and how to end your speech. So let’s begin.

There are many effective ways to start your speech (by asking a question, by presenting a startling fact, by jumping right into your story, and so on) but make sure you also give them some sort of hints about how long your talk is going to be. This way, your audience knows how long you will be talking and accordingly they will prepare themselves mentally and physically. Because, common knowledge says – sitting on a chair and listening to someone attentively takes a lot of hard work.

I think rambling and not caring about audience’s need is a verbal disease people contracted from Nepali politicians who talk in circles and never end their speech on time. Once, I was listening to a speech by UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in a hall. I still remember how he said “aba antya ma”, meaning “in conclusion” at least seven times before ending his speech for real. Listening to him for that long was like a harsh punishment. 

Many politicians think that the longer and louder they speak (even when there’s a microphone in front of their mouth), the better their communicating. However contrary to their misguided belief, no audience enjoys an incoherent long winding speech (unless the hall is full of party cadres). But sadly, this twisted concept has crept into so many public speakers also.

This disease can be cured though.

So, give your speech and make a point. And end it in time. Just end it. Don’t give in to your urge to say more, share more and talk more. Don’t feed your audience with too many information because, chances are, they will not remember anything. Even worse, chances are your audience may not remember you.