115. 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

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2 thoughts on “115. Teacher Beware and Student Beware – Part II

  1. I’m glad you’ve gone beyond the “teacher as informer” point of view that many (just too many) people subscribe to. It annoys, even hurts, to see how even teachers buy into the practice of first defining teachers/teaching in very narrow terms and then beating up that straw man built out of the worst material in the real world of teaching. At a time when public education as a whole (and not just some of the lazy teachers in it) is under attack from those who want to make an easy buck (and I’m thinking about the US more than Nepal, which I know less about the ground reality today than I used to), it is important that we don’t just use superficial analogies, characterizations of the whole based on the worst parts, and fancy bandwagons of theories/conceptions of progress. Especially arguments coming from those who make too much out of the power of emerging technologies can prompt good teachers into thinking that they’re not good without jumping into the technology bandwagon and abandoning what they’ve been doing altogether, instead of thinking how they can improve their practices, adapt the technologies, not lose sight of realities and priorities. I am glad that you have written part two where you really focus on what good teachers and good teaching are– beyond simply saying that the ubiquity of information is affecting teaching. It of course is, but it is more significantly doing the wonderful job of reminding that teaching is a lot more than providing information.

    • Shyam sir, it’s always nice and encouraging to read your comments.

      I had a feeling that the first part of this article would definitely raise some dust and it did indeed. In some ways, I wanted to do that by comparing teaching with sales because I knew ‘sales’ or ‘salesperson’ has a image which is quite negative and unwanted. May be because of the general notion that if one can’t become doctor or engineer, one can be a salesperson or a teacher. We still see a lot of people viewing teaching as a very easy job, all you have to do is stand and deliver. And I just wanted to challenge that misconception by comparing to sales which is not as easy job at any cost.

      As we all know that our public education, just like in the US, is still dominated by standardized testing and traditional teaching. However, my quest is to find, even in these depressing situation, exceptional teachers who are changing lives of others.

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