My greatest lesson on being a teacher..

It seems now that I may end up having teaching as the career option sometime soon if not immediately. But I had my first lesson in being a teacher came some 15 years ago. We just learnt that my sister then in her sixth standard was not promoted to seventh. This was her first year in that school. My mother went and requested the Principal to promote her to seventh promising that she would do well in the next year. The Principal patiently explained her the need not to do so. She reasoned how such a decision can actually hurt her in the long run. Looking back several times I have thanked that Principal.

My sister redid her sixth standard, but she was determined to do well now. She progressively improved in her academics, went on to do very well in college , studied networking, passed CISCO certified exams in flying colours and now working in one of the best private sector organizations in the country. I am so proud of her, the way she worked hard and improved by the year. I am sure she will scale greater positions in her career. I always think all this might not have been possible if the Principal had agreed to my mother’s request. It might have been possible as well but I guess the chances would have been very less.

I believe that single firm decision with the student’s long term overall interest in mind played a major role in the transformation of my sister. 

According to me, a teacher’s job does not end with just giving technical inputs on the subject, conducting exams and giving out letter grades alone. A teacher has a larger role to play in shaping the mind of a student. And sometimes by his/her action (knowingly or unwittingly) the teacher can affect students’ life in a way that they cannot even imagine.  I have given the positive example above. There are examples on the other side as well.

For example, I have seen teachers who were careless about evaluations. I have witnessed teachers who give grades without submissions or give grades without even bothering to go through the submissions or accept late submissions without any reason. Maybe they genuinely disbelieve the grade system etc. but by their action they are sending out a message. They send out a message that is discouraging to people who have put in the hardwork. More importantly, they are in danger of sending out a message to those who were lackadaisical about their work that it is okay to be so. They inadvertantly play a role in reinforcing the carefree/free-rider approach to work. I believe that this would ultimately hurt those kind of students’ interests in the long run. These teachers have not learnt an important lesson of being a teacher: that a teacher’s action can have long range impact on a student’s life and it is important to think one’s role as much more than just a technical knowledge giver and being ‘popular’.

Learnings for an accidental researcher..

I read an article titled “The right mindset for research” in today’s edition of Education Plus (The Hindu).

Some expert quotes caught my attention –

“Research is an open-ended problem.  When a mind seeking immediate returns works on it, it is easy to get disheartened and bored. An age when the pizza delivery companies promise you a free dinner if they take more than half an hour to deliver is counter to the mindset needed for research.”  “Research needs an inquisitive mind which is never satisfied with the current solution or status of affairs.  But it needs discipline too- Dr. Rupak Biswas, Acting Chief , NASA Advanced Supercomputing

“Research mindset offers a competitive advantage. It is like the story of the hare and the tortoise.  If you have a mind trained for research, you will be the tortoise – the climb would be slow and steady, but eventualy you would win the race” – Dr. Rajesh Kasturirangan, National Institute of Advanced Studies, IISc

For someone like me who at core is an action-oriented person and an accidental doctoral student it is yet another reminder of what I need to learn from my stay here as a doctoral student. I know that I have always excelled in ‘mastering the system’, a system which essentially is based on ‘learning by rote’, predictability and maintaining the status quo. I do not necessarily see it an inferior skill but I know I need to move beyond it if I were to realize my potential.

I have always found answers for the questions posed to me. But what I would like to learn by the time I finish my thesis and graduate is to ask the right question and systematically answer it.

P.S.: For those who are interested in reading the article, the link is http://www.hindu.com/edu/2009/07/13/stories/2009071350020100.htm


The Serenity Prayer

Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie (Image via Wikipedia)

Perhaps one of the most influential books that I have read is ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ by Dale Carnegie. I remember that I bought a old second-hand copy (though it looked like a fifth or sixth hand only!) of the book from one of the platform shops for some 15 or 20 bucks. The copy was really old, papers turned almost brown and brittle. I also remember that I read it during my second semester of Engineering; as I topped the batch that particular term. I used to wonder whether it is a coincidence or it was the effect of Dale Carnegie 🙂

Whatever be the practical usefulness of the principles enunciated in the book, Dale Carnegie’s excellent writing skills, his ability to keep the reader engaged, the numerous anecdotes that dot the book and the book’s ‘feel-good’ character made it an interesting and fulfilling read.

Some of my experiences (both first-hand and second-hand) in the last one week made me remember one of the numerous anecdotes and quotes that I read in ‘How to stop…..’. Dale Carnegie had quoted what is popularly known as ‘Serenity Prayer‘ to drive home the point that there is no point worrying about the things that we cannot change and we would be better off dealing with things wherein we can indeed make a difference. Stephen Covey gives a similar call when he asks us to differentiate between those things that fall within our  ‘Circle of concern’ and those which fall within our ‘Circle of influence’.  Coming back to ‘The Serenity Prayer’, here is it:

“God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Once again, I pray to God for that wisdom and courage.

P.S: I had once heard that Dale Carnegie committed suicide. But my ‘customary research’ for this post showed it is just a rumour. I am relieved! 🙂 For those who felt bad like me to hear that Dale Carnegie committed suicide, here is his obituary in the NY Times which makes no mention of a suicide and says he was ill for some time before death – http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1124.html

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Writing term papers…

(This blog is dedicated to Prarthan, Gunta and Anirvan who helped me navigate through the maze of term papers.)

Writing ‘Term Papers’ can at once be a frustrating and satisfying job!

Frustrating….

… in those early stages where you find your ‘original’ ‘powerful’ idea has been already explained by X or Y just a few months ago;

… in those times when one has to literally pull oneself to put fingers on the keyboard and get started;

… when you find out that the one key article that you need to build your argument is not available on Ebsco or the library;

…. when after writing the paper, an hour before the submission, you realize the mistake of not using Endnotes right from the beginning and have to manually type in the references! L

Satisfying..

…when you finally zero in on the two or three propositions that you will build your paper around;

.. after developing a pictorial model with lots of rectangles and arrows with H1, H2 etc.. indicated on them (once the pictorial model is done, you realize you have arrived as far as that paper is concerned J );

…. when your kind seniors who do not want to hurt you remark “Sounds good”, “Flows good” etc.. (some extremely generous kind enough people even remark “potential thesis topic!”..that moment you are on cloud nine);

…when you realize your ‘originial’ idea has already been explained ( and say to yourself “Not bad..I am thinking on the right lines..If only I had come here earlier I would have written it!!”);

..and extremely satisfying when you finally take a printout of that document, see your brainchild in print, read and reread it with pride J

In all I found the initial frustrations are worth the final joy that one gets..

Now for some tips that I got from my seniors and own experience on writing decent term papers:

1.       The more focused your idea is better will be the paper. If you have too many ideas spanning the entire gamut of things, it is better to zero in one or two that has the maximum potential in terms of eliciting interest and enough meat to write a paper. If you have too many ideas see whether you can split them into two papers!!

2.       Once you have the idea, write down in the form of propositions point wise. Then write a brief two or three line logic on the basis of which the proposition is arrived at. It is assumed that you have read the relevant literature for some time now to arrive at the basic propositions.

3.       Sound out your propositions to the prof or your peer students or your seniors to get feedback. 

4.       Take one proposition at a time, break it down, understand what literature backing is required, go back to the literature, and flesh out the arguments for them..one or two paragraphs before each proposition. By the time you finish this exercise for all the propositions, the main body of the paper is ready.

5.       One can use a Discussion or Future Research section wisely to put forward those points for which you have not yet found adequate support or those points which are still in the realm of speculation in your mind. If you have any ideas of how to operationalize your propositions you may include them in the discussion section. In empirical papers, you may use the discussion section to explain those results that were not expected.

6.       Some thinking on the contribution of the paper to literature and practice and writing them down in separate sections adds to the legitimacy of the paper.

7.       The introduction section should clearly mention the motivation for the paper (the research question that it is examining) and briefly capture the summary of the paper.

8.       I always used up some space at the end of introduction section to explain the structure of my paper like “this paper has x sections..first section looks at this ..second at this etc…). This I felt made the reader at ease with your paper and help him/her navigate through better.

9.       I have always found that my second draft is better than the first..third better than second..so atleast do two iterations and plan accordingly. I have also noticed that a time interval of one or two weeks between iterations where u don’t think of the paper gives u a fresh perspective when you get back to it.

10.   While reading papers for classes, apart from concentrating on the content, notice the style too as to how arguments are built, how words are used to cleverly put forward an argument and avoiding controversies etc.

11.   Follow the style guide of any one appropriate journal even when the prof does not mandate it.

12.   All of what is said here might or might not work for you. So do not hesitate to develop your own style.

Things I learnt from H.A.Parks!!

I was just chatting with a college friend of mine on gtalk..and thought I should blog on things that I learnt from him..

This guy is special..he is fun loving and enjoys every moment of his life..in fact he is one of the few guys I have met who ‘lives’ every moment of their life..i have never seen him worry about anything much….even when it took time for him to get placed..he was not unduly worried and was his usual cool self….let me clarify..he was neither carefree or complacent he just took things as it came without any regrets….and he is doing very well in his job now..thats one thing I want to take from him – take things as it comes, without any regrets..his words are more precise – “God knows what is good for you and he will ensure u get it”

 

Now this guy is not from a rich background..I know he came from a family which was finding it difficult to make ends meet…I had been to his home and I am not sure whether I would have studied the same way he had if I was there….he was diligent and studied hard….knew the importance of education and did well in college..now he is building a new house.. I can see how proud his parents will be of him….for me he is yet another proof of what education can do to transform lives and reshape destinies..…

 

Thanks da for these lessons!!

 

P.S: Of course I also learnt from him how not  to send an email J that story though have to wait for another day..another blog…