By destiny or design, I started as a ‘nursery teacher’ in 1994 following a fairly detached effort to be trained in ‘electronics’ (radio and television). Now as an Associate Professor in this university of repute, I can say I have taught at all levels of formal education in Nepal. I celebrated my silver jubilee in teaching last month by publishing a long article on being/becoming ‘a Nepali teacher of English’ (‘An Epistle to a Nepali Teacher of English‘). That’s all.
I have been in ‘academic’ administration for some time. Long ago, in the mid nineties, I served as a hostel warden in a boarding school (for six months). Then in the late nineties, I went about ‘twisting the ears of urchins’ as the vice principal in another boarding school (about three years). In this university of repute, I have worked as associate director of student welfare (two years), and as a coordinator for more than five years. In the meantime, I have also worked in numerous committees and taskforces, as a leader in some and member in others. The latest feat has been to head a department that attempts to yoke the disciplines of communication, management and informatics.
The fact that I would always remain a learner and a guide at the same time inspired me to become a teacher. I thought that I would always have a purpose in life – to make myself useful to young people. And I was encouraged by the fact that so long as human beings remained on earth, they would remain inquisitive; and so long as the desire for knowledge/guidance remained, teaching and value (if not respect) of teachers would remain, no matter in what forms.
What I like most about teaching is the engagement with young people. I mean the opportunity to work with young people, young dreams, young zeal, young biases! Most importantly, teaching involves meeting and befriending new people. My main teaching philosophy is ‘teach to transform lives.’ The philosophy, I think, claims highest compatibility with the category of people I mingle with — the youngsters. I emphasize linking lessons to life. This emphasis, equally, suits the purpose of education, and more so technical and professional education, which is the emphasis of my university.
I fully understand my challenges as a teacher and a leader. Among others, I mainly feel that classes are sometimes held as much as responded with indifference. The indifference may have roots in the gap between what youngsters expect and what we as the university offer. Or it may be because the academic culture is not fairly customized with the cultures of the societies where we have our prospective students. Thus, my first challenge is to engage every student, draw everyone’s attention. This is not by coercion or any other ways of pandering, but by making my classes as life-like and meaningful as possible. Besides, I feel to have failed to collaborate with my colleagues (from close and beyond) to build an overall motivating, engaging and productive academic ambience. I do not mean we do not have one, but we must upgrade what we have so as to build the standards of a ‘world-class’ university in this country.
But my present work environment is exciting. It is full of opportunities. It is full of opportunities because it is full of challenges. It is full of challenges because it is full of smart people — both faculties and students — with a number of aspirations and biases for growth. The environment is exciting also because the inmates are receptive, interactive and reactive. This suffices to keep us awake and alert towards the need of ensuring upgrade in us and justice to our beneficiaries.
To become an Associate Professor like me one should come a long way. It was for me eighteen plus hectic years of teaching, study, research and service. It was a journey from being a learner and mentee to being a teacher and mentor. It was being able to think about others, making teaching passion and a comfort zone. Above other things, it is being confident to make difference in young people’s lives. It is also being able to participate in the institutional processes for initiatives and upgrades with visible impact in the society at large.
My normal preparation for classes goes as simple as this. Apart from reading the texts and contents I am going to teach, I reflect a lot about their possible linkage to real life. I should understand and appreciate the idea before I impart it to the students. I should find joy in sharing the idea so that students find joy in/by internalizing it. My recent strategy involves such keys as exploiting specialties, link-to-life maxim, grasping through taxonomies and post-class reflections. With these, I encourage my students to introspect, internalize and realize the modes of transformation in themselves.
I understand that technology as a tool and medium is essential. You as a teacher must be literate not only on its use, but also on its positive and negative impacts. I spend good amount of time making students aware of the value of digital literacy and even teach some essential skills. Among other things, I formally use the Moodle platform and blogs for my own lessons. I give students access to my blogposts and use some of them as practice materials.
As a teacher, I wish that students asked all sorts of questions. They told us good things in such a way that we got overwhelmed and felt mortally challenged. I mean they exploited our potentials, never let us slacken, never allowed us to underestimate them. How, in fact, would it feel to have been nagged by smart and intelligent youngsters who have genuine wish to grow smarter and more intelligent every day? In the last one decade, truly, I don’t remember experiencing pain and discomfort because I felt defeated by a really demanding group of youngsters. You know, most of our time these days passes trying to make wrongs right. My expectation, overall, is to be inundated by the right things that correct the trivial wrongs without us having to intervene and waste productive hours.
In my field, humanities, effective communication is an essential element for efficient delivery. A teacher of humanities needs eloquence and presence of mind embellished with jokes, anecdotes, wit and wisdom. You must be creative, jolly and good at words. You should be extremely alert and quick to make responses. You must say no to no, confess your weaknesses and assert your strengths. It is not bad to tell the truth about yourself even if the truth is funny (sometimes nasty). It is all right to admit you are stupid about certain things because you can never prove otherwise. Humanities classes must be personalized and down-to-earth, and should transcend the mundane to reach the sublime.
I do not have clear preference for an ideal classroom setting. I remember being able to teach 120 students in a dusty and barely illuminated classroom, and also lecturing in a highly sophisticated ambience with smart-board and smart-looking youngsters. All these years, people (not places) have mattered to me. I would not say that was ideal. There always was a need for improvement. But because my area of expertise – communication, critical thinking, creativity – has much more to do with people and their emotions, people themselves mattered more to me. In this sense, I think I have been able to achieve an ideal setting so far. But I must co-work to explore more modern upgrades elsewhere, and try to adopt these in my own institutional setting. My humble confession.
I am open to expand partnership with other colleagues from the department and beyond. I wish we had developed the culture of collaboration long ago. Collaboration is the life-blood of any academic setting. Who would not like to work in team? I would much like to include the works (creations, innovations, taxonomies) of my colleagues in my list of course or reference materials. But, of course, quality would matter. I do not, neither do you, want to be imposed with substandard works in the name of giving credit to someone. I would love to go to someone’s classes and be a part of the teaching. I would love to invite someone to co-teach with me. We have done this quite often and will increase the frequency in the days ahead. But we have just begun only.
I certainly like to work with students on a project. It is a great responsibility, and real platform for mentoring. You feel younger listening to and speaking with young people. You could transfer to them much more of you than you could in a regular classroom. Working with them, you could relive much more of their freshness and innocence than by just trying to recollect your good young days.
My message to the students is very simple. First, relationships are very important. Do not move in the path of life like walking in water where your footprints do not mean anything. Try to keep good old friends around as you make new ones. Second, there is no point in climbing the mountains alone, since there is no one with whom to share the joy of reaching the summit. As you go, I mean as you grow, take as many people as can accompany you. The moment of reaching the summit in a group is sublime. I mean to say, the trail of growth should be spiral covering as many enriching relations as you can sustain and nurture. Third, remember that one who is accustomed to working only after signals often remains stuck at the crossroads. Be a doer and initiator, with reasonable courage to violate old norms, with confidence to justify the need of productive violation.
That explains my favorite one-liner: ‘Performance is the Key.’
[Based on my soon-to-be-released video interview to BBIS students]