Lakshmi Narayana, Mathematics Teacher
Mr. Lakshmi Narayana Adabala – currently Math teacher at VidyaGyan, Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. The journey of Mr. Lakshmi Narayana is undoubtedly phenomenal as is his infectious passion towards Mathematics. Read through to get a flavor of his life as a Math teacher…
Why did you want to be a teacher?
I come from a rural Hyderabad. I have had very humble childhood days – rich in experience, but humble. I studied in a government school and drew much inspiration from my teachers. My uncle was also a teacher there – a Math and Science teacher.
My motivation began at home. My mother is my first mentor and teacher. I remember always wanting to be like my teachers. Everything about them fascinated me – the way they taught, the way they presented themselves, the respect they received – everything! I was in awe of them, always. In fact, whenever I was asked what I wanted to grow up to be, my answer would always be that I wanted to be a teacher. It is a blessing that that I am still passionate about my profession.
Coming to your question on why I chose to be Math teacher… Math was always a source of activation for my brain. I believe that our brain is an instrument and like every instrument, our brain also needs to be kept lubricated for smooth and effective functioning. Research says that we use only 3% of our brain, that too when we are in deep thought. Imagine what it would be like to use at least 5-10% of our brain. It is interesting to note that, Albert Einstein- an undeniable genius, used 15% of his brain capacity, and created wonders.
Sharpening brain capacity gives birth to the best scientists, mathematicians and creative artists.
Long back I had read an article on how Abraham Lincoln nurtured the hobby of reading Euclid’s Elements. Being a politician, his interest in books of such genre is a notably interesting fact. His era as an administrator proved how sharp he was. He recognized the powerful effect of Math on his brain. It sharpened his brain and aided him in his journey as an administrator and leader.
I spent 4 years teaching in the first school that took me in, about 5 and half years in the next and now I am with VidyaGyan.
What were your initial experiences as a Math teacher?
Honestly, I have enjoyed my tenure irrespective of where I worked. The first school, St Aloysius was a very small one, Sir – a two-storey building. The experience, was nevertheless, very interesting.
The manner in which I landed this job is very humbling. Prior to joining this school I used to take tuitions. While doing my graduation I ran my own tutorials, which got me some popularity in my area. Probably because of the reputation I held, I was invited to teach at St Aloysius School. By then I had completed my education and so there was no looking back. I taught at that school for 4 years and enjoyed every bit of it. Students at St. Aloysius constituted of tribal children. I signed up for taking classes in Class 3, 4, 9 and 10.
Their IQ levels are equivalent to that of any other children. The only thing is they are devoid of proper facilities. There is lack of proper support. When I say support – I mean in terms of the facilities the school offers. It’s not just the infrastructure, most teachers were not qualified. The expertise level of the teachers there and their approach to teaching is different. I understand that the fee structure there was only Rs 300/- per month. My point is that even with that kind of budget they could source better teachers.
In terms of student ability it is the same as that of children in other schools. Many of my students from that school are doctors and engineers; some of them are into IT and even in public sectors.
I feel very good to see students successfully carrying out their lives.
Again a very motivational experience! VidyGyan is a school for the underprivileged, yet meritorious children. They have their presence only in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populated state.
The school identifies meritorious students from economically underprivileged backgrounds in rural parts of UP. This purely residential school houses classes from Class 6-12. We have two branches – one at Bulandshahr and the other at Sitapur, where I teach. It is a CBSE school but we follow a carefully crafted leadership curriculum that allows them to explore their full potential.
At VidyaGyan the management maintains highly international standards. The foundation spends around 3 lakhs annum on each kid. It is a fully residential school for all teachers and staff included.
VidyaGyan is run by the Shiv Nadar foundation. Mr. Shiv Nadar, founder of HCL, believes that society changes with the kind of education imparted to children. He believes that the societal gaps, between rural and urban, can be bridged by giving good education to both sectors.
It gives me lot of pleasure to teach these children – a highly satisfying job
There are about 1000 students. I take Math classes for classes IX, X, XI and XII.
Why is it that schools struggle to teach Math nowadays?
I really don’t know. When I hear such statements I can’t reason it out because Math is a really interesting subject. Math has always fascinated me. It is a beautiful subject. But, I also understand that one must come to realize that fact.
Math is not just about a bunch of numbers or formulae. Once people crack this thought and see beyond the numbers and the formulae, they will see how Math exists in every step and phase of our lives – from when we wake up till the time we go to bed at night, Math is so much a part of our lives.
In every situation and every action there is Math. We start our day and complete our day based on time – time is Mathematics. Our body is a geometrical figure and hence, what we wear are geometrical figures – it consists of measurements, which is again, Math. We stay in houses – again a geometrical figure. We eat food, walk, talk, run, think – everything we do consists of Math in one form or the other. Once we crack that thought, Math transforms from being a scary subject to a beautiful subject.
Where are schools going wrong?
Whether the child develops fear or fascination depends on the foundation given to the child. What we listen to is what we deliver. Students who come in for education are like a clear slate, how that slate is molded is in the teacher’s hands. Which means forming an opinion in the child’s mind depends on the attitude of the teacher.
If I don’t have a Mathematical aptitude and does my job only to draw my salary, then my subject, will for sure, become a burdening one for my students. If I teach or portray Math as just a bunch of formulae, which is the way, my students are going to perceive it. They will simply learn up something, write their exams for the sake of passing and that is it!
But, that is not Math – to show them the beauty of Math we need to show them how relevant it is in our everyday lives.
What does it take to be a good Math teacher?
To be a good Math teacher, you should be able to feel Math. You should not be just do Math – you should feel it.
This is true for whatever you do in life. If you don’t feel for something, you are just mechanically doing it. Such acts don’t generate any value.
It is true for human relationships as well. Life goes for a toss if there is no feel for the relationship, right? If you feel for the relationship, it lasts long, strengthens by the day and is a source of great happiness. Otherwise, it will end up becoming an arranged life – one which runs on a give and take policy.
Similarly, if you see only formulae and numbers in Math, where is the feel for it? It won’t give you any source of happiness or pleasure. It only fetches you your monthly pay.
How can schools identify those teachers who feel for Math?
What I believe is in a 15-20 minute interview, you may probably be able identify something about the subject level of an individual. But, you won’t be able to identify the passion they hold for that subject.
I believe that teachers can only be discovered in classrooms. If children wait for your class despite the fact that it is the last period; their relationship with the teacher is well bonded. That is the true verdict.
It takes much more than a 15 minute interview to identify passion.
But schools select based on that quick interview right?
Not all, but many do.
The first thing is that a school, as an organization, should not think in terms of 100% business. At least a section of the profits should be reserved for social responsibility. This is not a difficult deed. Nowadays, the attitude that schools have towards teachers is bad. They pay teachers a low salary to boost their profits. A teacher, like everybody else works for their livelihood too. They also have their commitments.
Schools should first imbibe that they are responsible for the molding the next generation. It cannot be the philosophy of the teacher alone.
Is it salary alone that prevents schools from hiring good Science and Math teachers?
See everybody needs money – they have their responsibilities to keep and their bills to pay. They are also working for their living. When it comes to standard of living, people inevitably begin comparisons.
People working in corporate offices live in good apartments, they own good cars, their children study in good schools and life is comfortable.
On the other hand, teachers live a moderate lifestyle. So, in that context, there are high chances that a good number of people interested and highly skilled in teaching will choose another job over teaching because a teacher’s salary doesn’t meet their needs.
How will you recognize a good Math teacher and confidently offer the job at hand?
If he/she is a fresher and want to get into teaching, I will have a discussion with them about their academics to understand their area of core interest. I will want them to talk about their academics. When people speak about their academics, they will speak about what they like the most. Based on that conversation, we can identify what subject they are most passionate about.
Besides this, I would ask situation-based questions. For example, if they have helped out any of their peers during their school or college days to get better in the subject the candidate had expertise in. Based on the answers to these questions, we can form an idea if the person has the basic interest in teaching.
Another thing I would look for in a teacher is their attitude towards mistakes children may tend to commit. It is a huge problem that we expect students to always come up with the right answer. We shouldn’t only acknowledge children who give the right answer and neglect or punish the rest. Mistakes encourage the scope of teaching.
I believe, that our professional instincts and interests is within us, from the beginning.
There are schools where there are Math teachers who have been around for a very long time. How do you think the school should motivate these teachers? How can schools rekindle their passion?
There are two things. For any individual, a change is a huge motivator. One fine day Ashoka becomes Buddha. Somebody once went to Buddha and asked how you became Buddha and all. According to me, it is important that people exhibit either Bhayam or Bhakti – fear or passionate devotion.
So if we notice people who feel stagnant and feel the need for a change, then we should encourage them in such a way that they get engaged and feel rejuvenated so as to feel they are contributing something valuable. For all this, student feedback is extremely important and so is the attitude of the concerned teacher and the management.
If any student consistently gives good feedback about a teacher, then that teacher is undoubtedly giving their best.
What if students continue to be unhappy with their teacher? What then?
If Bhakti is one attitude, the other is Bhayam. Whether it is a private or a government organization, you should have rules of conduct and accompanying consequences if they are not met. Stating these consequences are not enough, implementing them is equally important. Every individual has to improve; there should be no two ways about it.
People refraining from upgrading themselves can be very destructive – for the teacher and the students. Teaching is a profession wherein we are not dealing with some product. If I don’t do my best for the students, I am indirectly causing harm to the entire nation. It will be the failure of a generation.
So, every adverse action should be met with consequences. It can be termination, coaching or anything depending on the severity. But it’s always good to have some amount of fear in the shadows. I should feel that if I get redundant, I will have to face consequences. That itself is a driving force for me and everyone around me to do well. It adds merit to the teachers who give in their best too.
How can Math teachers keep themselves upgraded?
Every child is a new child and every brain is unique. It needn’t be that if I think in a particular way, everybody does the same.
So, what I do to keep myself motivated is I never directly teach any concepts. For example, if to teach Algebra, I start by giving a situation for the children to ponder into. Algebra is a management of patterns; it is not about expressions and all. So I give situations. For instance, I ask students to analyze and come up with suggestion what all we need to do if I have to accommodate 10 more students in certain rows of the class. Or, I ask them to come up with an answer for many people I can accommodate given a certain situation. I make up situations and probe for answers. I cook up situations that are relevant for the students today. They should be able to relate to them to analyze things effectively. Now when you do this, students will come up with their own ideas. I always encourage mistakes.
By collecting all their thoughts and ideas we come to conclusions and using that I break down and explain concepts. This kind of exercise needs constant thinking and analysis.
You are now 35 – very young. You have a long career ahead. So, what are your aspirations and dreams?
Actually I am living my dream, gratefully. I do have bigger plans. I have hardly been teaching 100 children I think. Right now I believe I am laying my foundation. I want my teachings to go out to millions of people. For that, I am aiming at using software networking tools.
Before we wrap up, do you have anything else to convey?
I can’t stress enough that if one is teaching just for the sake of salary and comforts, there are lots of jobs available in the market today. In fact you can earn more outside and people with that intention should look at doing that. What my mentor once told me is, as a teacher knowingly or unknowingly, directly or indirectly, you are shaping a county’s future. If I am not passionate, I will pass on the same attitude to every student I teach.
They will visualize that life after their study life is just about doing some job and making a living. In whatever stream of life we choose, it is our responsibility to live our life inspiring others.