Uttam Chatterjee, Chemistry Teacher
Mr. Uttam Chatterjee, Principal Academics and Strategic Manager at Harsh International School, Haryana has had quite a unique career path. His journey is interesting, thought provoking and truly inspirational. From laboratories to schools, from a corporate professional to teacher to Principal and from teaching to strategic planning, the learning and teaching process of Mr. Chatterjee has been evolving, unconventional and a much-needed constant.
The Beginning – The Student
“My journey to entering the education sector does hold quite an interesting history. I did my schooling at TATA DAV Public School, Jharkhand. Like the name suggests, this school is owned by the TATA group. My father was an employee at TATA so my school education was sponsored by the TATA Company – a perk given to my father.
Talking about the school, DAV stands for Dayanand Anglo Vedic. It is a school that provides a blend of the 21st century learning as well as vedic knowledge. At that time, we resided in a place peppered with either miners or engineers – and somehow both these professions did not appeal to me; perhaps, I wasn’t impressed with the lives they led. I sure was impressed with the lives of the teachers there. Our teachers had to comply with lots of standards owing to the fact that most of their students had parents with technical background. This ensured that I was blessed with the best teachers. The respect that teachers held was admirable and the lifestyle they lived was an inspiration– Everything contributed to shaping my passion for living the life of a teacher.
After my schooling, I went to St. Columba’s College, Hazaribagh where I did my B.Sc Chemistry Honors and MSc Chemistry. During my B.Sc Part 1 days, as a result of diabetes, my father voluntarily retired from his services. I did not think of coming to my native place because I was in a stream that was well managed at that college. I did not want to go through the hassle of reestablishing myself. As a result, I was put in the hostel and during hostel life, funds from parents, at times, could be deficit. This motivated me to take up part time teaching jobs. I started working in some colleges as a lab assistant. This job gave me good insight and clarity about practical chemistry.”
The Intermediate – The Corporate Professional
“Upon completion of my MSc, Wipro hired me. My ability to shape a process for every small thing fetched me the job of a process trainer. So, I started working for HP Tech Process. At that time, I was working in Kolkata. The salary offered was Rs. 35,000/-, which at that time was quite lucrative, especially for a fresher and I had the luxury of being posted at my native place as well. In 2008, with the advent of recession, the company started losing projects which resulted in mass layoffs and I too lost my job. Next, I got hired as an analytical chemist at a company called Intertek Calebrette India Pvt. Limited – they do standard testing of gold, oil cargo, coal, etc. After my training period, I was posted at Bhubaneswar at their central laboratory. Over there, I had to test samples that arrived from various companies and certify them.
Then there was this project in SPS Steel Company in Jharsuguda, Orissa. A plant had to be erected and process elevation was going on in the Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA-QC) lab. These test results were similar to the ones we did at the Kolkata labs. A standard error of 0.3% was allowed, exceeding which the project would be handed over to other companies. You see, there were 2-3 companies who provided services in doing these tests, and are in constant competition for winning projects. The test results we submit would thus be cross checked by a third party company. It was a very challenging and interesting job.
It was a 12 hour shift consisting of different kinds of testing. This job gave me exposure to lots of analytical chemistry. Since I was working with lots of chemicals, acid and heat, my skin got adversely affected with a disease called leukoderma. I was medically advised to stay away from rapid changes of temperature and pH. For this work, visiting blast furnace plants, etc. were a regular affair and my skin condition was a cause of dilemma.”
“Honestly, I hadn’t considered teaching yet; but, I did have in mind that perhaps I should work towards it. I had only completed my MSc; I didn’t have a Bachelor of Education (B Ed). To do my B Ed, I would need to shift to my native place to carve out time to study. So I requested a shift of location. They approved my request and I got posted at the Raipur Central Lab. Now, at Raipur it was a new lab and I had to establish the lab from scratch. The lab was erected but my skin condition started deteriorating. When I sought leave, they got very rude which is quite common in service companies. I understand that that arises from a business need. My technical manager and even the CEO remarked that my condition was the result of my inability to handle work pressure. So, I handed over the lab and got back to my native place, almost letting go of my job.”
A New Chapter
At this point, I began searching for teaching jobs, a school that would, perhaps temporarily compromise with the fact that I do not have a B Ed degree. In the objective of my resume I mentioned that I would secure a B Ed degree, provided I am given 2 years’ time considering the time it takes to gain one through distance. Gratefully, a principal – Mr. Arup Mukhopadyaya liked the way I framed my objective. I got hired at Manav Kendra Gyan Mandir School – one of Baroda’s top residential schools as (PGT) Chemistry. Now what happens in schools generally teachers are hired from Level 9 to Level 12 for top human resource utilization. Looking back, I do feel that I was a little exploited but must admit that my intellectual property was harnessed effectively and efficiently.
I got the opportunity to attend various leadership workshops in that school. Owing to my experience of working in a self-managed team and being a go-getter, I displayed good managerial skills and work culture. The very next year I was promoted to the post of Dean of Academics. This position made me the academic head of the hostel as well as academic coordinator for the school – my first break!
Later, the principal of that school left the school and went abroad. Change in leadership always is accompanied with a lot of turmoil. He started recruiting his own set of teachers from Punjab. I found many of the changes he brought in undesirable especially because he was constantly trying to mirror my position for another teacher.
By then, I secured 2nd position in All India B Ed Entrance test. This gave me the option of choosing to enroll myself wherever I wanted. I chose to do my B Ed from Som-Lalit College of Education, Ahmedabad through IGNOU. This college held good relations with IIM Ahmedabad and most of the workshops like teachers’ role as a manager, teachers’ role as a social worker, etc. used to be conducted in AIMA and IIM. So, I could get better faculty there as well. With B Ed on my task list, I used to travel on all weekends.
Upon completion of my B Ed course, I didn’t find anything new in any workshop that I attended. I realized that people conducting these workshops just picked topics from books which people do not read a lot. Also, the thing is that the B Ed curriculum book being quite elaborate there was little or no scope of rediscovering anything through any workshop. Owing to this I began debating with people conducting workshops. This highlighted that I was good in all those areas and was bestowed with opportunities to conduct workshops and manage a team in the school.
Later, when I joined Swami Narayan group of schools in Gujarat, I became an International Schools Award (ISA) coordinator there. This post is a bridge between British Council and the schools – internal curriculum implementor. I had to associate the action plan of British Council with the existing CCA curriculum so that international studies and international learnings could be implemented in schools. For example, having collaborative learning using virtual learning environments, etc. Most international schools have these activities and since 2012, I became an active member of the British Council.
What happens generally is that a good management never asks a teacher to resign. They, in turn pass the buck to somebody else. So bearing the bad news was generally shifted on my shoulders. These things were not appreciated by the Principal and they started crafting stories.”
Then, I moved to Siliguri as a Faculty of Chemistry, in St. Michaels School. My task there was to convert their ICSE School to an ISC school. That school was founded by a Chemistry teacher. I taught Chemistry for one year there – the school was run by family members. Their style of working was discouraging and this prompted me to look for another job. I moved on to The Sagar School Alwar. I was taken in as a PGT Chemistry + ISA coordinator. There also I secured an outstanding certificate in implementing an international curriculum at the school. At that time, I was parallelly offered the position of Vice Principal by one of the big consulting companies related UK Barry and Stone. In India, it’s called Eduvisor – they are the consultants of a few good upcoming schools. They take up the school’s management system and put system implementator principal as the face of the school and every reporting structure and management processes run through their system. At Eduvisor I was an associate consultant and for the school I was the Vice Principal. Over there, the Principal came with the background of being a headmistress running a school of up to Class 6. I was given the charge of the school from Class 7-12. At one point, she requested that I leave the school.
She confessed that she feared that with me around a day will come when she will be left with no job. I gifted her my resignation letter.
I moved out when I got a job at Pallavan School, Jhalawar. There the target given to me was to set up after school enrichment classes, so that students don’t opt for being dummy student and join Kota Coaching Centers. I was given the responsibility of a Vice Principal but as an authoritative teacher I had to bring back those students and give the school a face that this school is at par with any other coaching center. So, I opened after- school classes there. These classes were open to all. As expected many schools and coaching centers developed an enmity towards me. I chose not to fight these battles and move on.”
Enter the Strategist
“Then, I met a person, The Founder Principal- Mr. Rajesh Sharma of Harsh International School , who was from Sunflower group of schools, knew me through LinkedIn. He hired me as Deputy Principal, so that he can work on expansion of the school consultancy work, which is his passion.
At Harsh International School, I introduced international activities, which hardly any school had started by then. When I joined the school, the student strength of the school was 550. Within 1.5 years, we now have strength of 780 students. My first assignment in this school was not to teach or manage day to day operations but to go door to door and run school’s marketing campaign. For this I was given school unique propositions, I used to be trained about how this school is different from others and how to make parents aware of the fact that they should take the advantage of the system operated school which aims at diagnosing each child’s learning difficulty, find correlation between attitude of the student and marks shown in the mark sheet. Mostly in this locality parents feel happy to see higher marks and most of the schools made parents happy by giving generous marks to the students which many a times contradicted the diagnostic test results and students interaction reports.
This exercise helped parents to understand the need of this school which work on the basics and remains truthful in giving proper feedback about the students with action plan by the school for the child’s development. The simple strategy which worked in getting admission in the school is making parents aware about the fact that how much teachers are pressurized to fetch marks to the students so that students can be retained for longer duration in the school. Now parents here understand this fact and are able to correlate students’ skills and understanding with the marks reflected in the report card.
I initiated a system called Buniyad – it is a Hindi word and it is understood by everyone in the area our school is located – and that is the beauty of the word. People can relate to it. Another thing what is conflicting about the idea of the word ‘foundation’ is that you cannot build a foundation in Class 12 – that concept itself is false.
These coaching centers like foundation IIT etc., what they do is they include things in their study material which children will only need a year later, the faculty which they choose prepare questions that is equivalent to that which you get to answer in NET exams. Unlike what they advertise, they are not doing anything new. So, I went ahead and did some eye washing so that parents understand what things actually are versus what is shown to them.
Now, coming to the concept of Buniyad! In every school there should be one class to facilitate students to write down the problems they have faced in the gaining great basics in their previous class. For example, children coming in from Class 7-8 wouldn’t be coming in with 100% marks and this means they must have made some mistakes in the previous class. So, in Buniyad we teach them things that are one year behind so that they are thorough and ready for the next year’s class. This way they understand the subject better and become better achievers. Buniyad, per me, cannot be anything that is taught in advance. Buniyad is fixing and tightening up the loose ends of the past. Terming a concept ‘foundation’ when you teach a 10 grade student something that has to be learnt in Class 11, is unarguably incorrect.
I googled and got information of 40 villages and invited 40 sarpanches to create this awareness among them. They, after hearing me out, invited me to their respective villages to talk to their villagers. 100 parents in each village were invited to the talk and this way I got to educate them and the school attained many conversions. That was my marketing strategy.
If you see our school website, we constructed a skating ring in 10 days’ time. Why do we need a skating ring when it is easier to set up an Akada for wrestling training, in Haryana? I felt we had to have a USP. Most schools give wrestling training. We went for a skating ring, one with international standards, to do something different.
Children are more attracted to skating rather than wrestling. We have to understand what children like and understand the skills for the 21st century, which children are looking forward to attain.
Conventionally PTA is a 1:1 affair; it is never a group talk with multiple parents. So, we started that as well. In order to understand the parents’ need and what teachers are doing, we started a conference system. Every second Saturday, a group of 30 parents are invited. We care to ensure that the group is one where their children have similar problems and we distribute the action plan to those parents. We make them aware that we know the problems but are gathered to discuss solutions and not problems. So, we sell the solutions in the form of a substantial action plan.
This is crucial because in a student-teacher-parent structure, 33% contribution should come from the student – 33% from parents and 33% from teachers. If all 3 do their 33% it ensures 99% growth. So we make it clear what students, parents and teachers need to do through action plans. These are the mentor-mentee actionable items that should be worked on at home and at school. This way the scope of miscommunication is eradicated and has a positive influence on the relationship the family and school holds for each other and it works as well.
Patients only go to doctors who can prescribe effective medicines, right? We think on similar lines. So, parents manage timetables; facilitate study tables at homes, etc.
Another activity we do is that we have a selected team of teachers who are encouraged to pay visits to these children’s homes – a friendly visit to chat with the family over a cup of tea, etc. This increases approachability and comfortability. Teachers are asked to submit a structured report on how the study conditions are at these children’s homes. The report will be based on their observation on how the study rooms in these houses are managed, how the books are kept etc. This way we make sure that we support the child holistically.”
Keeping Learnings a Constant Process
“I got myself admitted in IIM as well to attain these skills. I am doing a Long Duration Programme (LDP) and an eMDP certificate programme in strategic management. This is how I get these ideas to strategically manage the growth of the school. I keep enrolling myself into valuable courses. Learning is a constant and must be kept a constant.
I have also conducted many case studies – of Starbuck, HCL, etc. – all those case studies are generally which an MBA student does. This helped me a lot in making our school a strategic business unit because at the end of the day, the people who pool in money will look at the profit and loss.
In the coming days, I am looking forward to being the CEO of a group of schools. I would want to manage a number of Principals through 1 SOP.”
“I am not dictatorial; I take the pain to coach and train. I always tell my team that training is never a comfortable process. To get to the next level or to excel at what you do and influence people, they need to follow my path. My degree, my career path etc. are visible pieces of information. I didn’t take my path just for hike in salary. The salary I draw can be made by a teacher in some other school as well. The task that I do is an investment into my career.
This is what fascinates my team to become my followers. We are into an instructional relationship. Whenever I talk to them, I talk to them from the desk of a principal and I document it with specific instructions. They are prescribed to follow these suggestions. Of course, simple instructing does not work. I keep following things up. I keep a task diary of my own. In my task diary I write down whatever I have to do from 7 am to 7 pm. I also have notes on the follow ups I have to make. Then, I have a quadrant on 4 important things:
1. Key important and urgent work
2. Important but not urgent
3. Not important but urgent
4. Neither important nor urgent
So, whenever anyone comes to me with a great idea, I classify it into one of these quadrants. In fact I ask them to classify it. For example, if someone comes to me for a salary hike, I ask if it is urgent. If the answer is yes, I ask why. They will tell me of the need. I will suggest that they take a loan. If the problem is solved with a loan there is no need for a hike.
This way my team has also learned to make decisions. The only issue an implementer and leader need to learn to crack is decision making. If you teach your team to make decisions then you will have a Self-Managed Team (SMT).
I know of principals who come to school not knowing what to do. They ask teachers to make lesson plans but they don’t have a plan of their own. They do not have a day schedule or a book of observations. Observation is an extremely crucial skill for this profession.
We have to be a new person every day because, like us, problems also evolve and we have to outsmart it.”
Principal Academics | Strategic Manager @ Harsh International School
Jind, Haryana, India, Website: https://harshinternationalschools.com/
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