Talking to Geetanjali Padhy
We spoke recently with Ms. Geetanjali Padhy, HOD Science PGT Biology and GEMS Education, Gurgaon. Through her initiatives as HOD, as an Unacademy tutor, and YouTube Channel host she has tried to, in her own way bring about a change in the society. This speaks volumes of her organizational skills, determination and commitment to cause.
Can we start with how you zeroed in on the idea of becoming a teacher?
All this began when I was in class 11. The class was about periodic classification and I just couldn’t make head and tail of it. I tried a lot to study it – I even went back to teachers asking for further explanation etc. It so happened that everyone got excellent marks in that chapter except me. My marks were so low that I got literally scolded in front of the entire class.
In class 11, you are an adolescent and you take it very personal and feel very insulted when you get scolded in front of your friends. Adding to that, my teacher started treating me like a vegetable in class from then on. She would do things like ignore me and ask me questions when she was sure I couldn’t answer, etc.
At that point, I resolved to understand all the concepts myself and that I would take the trouble of learning very well and doing well for myself. I took responsibility for myself and saw myself as a teacher who wouldn’t let such a thing happen in her class.
That was when I conceived my career path. My vision, when I was in standard 8, was that I would first become a research scientist and then get into teaching in my mid 30s or so. But, after the incident that I just related, which happened when I was in class 11, I was very sure that I would adopt teaching as my career as soon as my research work would close.
I resolved to make every child in my class feel special and worthy of themselves.
So, what happened after that?
I did my Biotechnology from Ghaziabad. After I entered the world of biotechnology, I had a vision of getting into research first because I wanted to take back something valuable when I begin my teaching profession.
After my biotechnology, I gave my interviews for research work in Bangalore. I did my research in mental health and neuro sciences. I worked for a while at St John’s Hospital, Bangalore. I also worked as research scientist as well. Once I got that experience, I felt I was worthy enough for a teacher’s job. Then, I did my B Ed as well because it is mandatory to do it when joining the teaching profession.
Then, I joined teaching and in my school, I have started a small lab and I do small-scale research along with my students. This way I give them a little more experience than just the world of text books. I encourage any kind of experiment that a child feels like doing. I don’t curb them from exploring.
Some students take a natural interest to Science subjects, some students affiliate themselves to the subject because their parents envision them to be doctors and in the process they will have to learn biology. What type of students do you see more often?
I am not sure if you know, I am an online educator and an academician too. Initially, I was only doing my regular classes. One of my friends from another state called me because there was this child who really wanted to understand the world of biology but she couldn’t understand the concept.
That is how I got myself accustomed to the online platform and I found it interesting to reach out to students outside my school but genuinely interested in the world of biology.
I believe that the school is a very confined place. I don’t feel studying should start and end in schools. The process of education should cross confined borders and for me the schools are these confined borders as of now. When I connect with students online and get to hear the kind of doubts they have, it gives me the thrill. Their doubts show how interested they are in the subject. They also suggest what kind of lessons I should upload. That motivates me further.
Coming to your question, in my school there are 10 students in biology. As such there is a low trend when it comes to children getting into the world of biology. The trend of children going into medical studies is gradually on a decline compared to earlier years.
Why do you think there is a decline?
I believe parents should know that biology doesn’t mean just getting into the profession as a doctor. I know that parents have this feeling that if their children don’t become doctors then the medical field is of no use at all. It is as if any other profession within the medical field holds no value. That is a very cruel way of looking at things.
A child may want to take up biology in standard 11 and 12 with the aim of getting into research. What is wrong in that? I think parents taking the onus of deciding for the child can do a lot of harm.
Children tend to get very restrictive with such aspirations that parents hold. Some parents advise that their children can research even after they take their MBBS. Yes, they can. But, what is wrong with a child aspiring to get into pure research and not do MBBS? For them, taking up MBBS and then getting into research is a long haul route to their profession. So, it is discouraging. I believe that there should be a strong and open relationship between the parents, child and the teachers for a healthy career choice that the child can make.
I personally feel, we have to strive to retain the value of education. Instead of the word teacher, I would use the word educator. I feel, I am an educator because that word holds a broader concept. An educator has to literally burn oneself out so that you can enlighten another’s path. That is how deep it is. If I have to make a child, entrusted to me, understand not just the concept, but a life, then I have to be a being who is part of that child – that child’s life – to understand what that child is going through so that I can guide him/her in the right path.
We see all kinds of children – children who are enthusiastic about everything, children who understand everything but are low in self-confidence, etc. In each case, our role as an educator is utmost crucial because we have to indulge with the child at every step to understand the psychology behind the attitude and actions of each child.
To quote an incident, there is one child who would always chew gum in the class. Now, there are broadly two ways to deal with this:
● Yell and be stern and ask him/her to never chew gum in your class.
● Have a conversation with him/her and tell that you understand that he/she needs to chew gum and suggest that he/she does it in between classes etc.
The former, in all probability, may end up rearing a stubborn child. The latter may facilitate understanding.
It is extremely important to think and deliver your message in the right manner. The patience level in children have taken a downward trend and they are very reactive these days. We have to ensure that we think before we speak in front of children. The thing is children will react in whatever mood they are in, at that moment. Especially in case of adolescents, they have a lot of hormonal issues going on, they can react respectfully or in whatever momentary mood they are in.
Whether it is in the class or outside, we as adults should be mature enough to think before we speak so that we can rear better individuals. Children are very sensitive to everything that is happening around them.
Children deal with so many pressures today – peer pressure, the pressure that books extend, parents’ pressure, teachers’ expectations, their own expectations, etc. To top it all, there is somebody or the other shouting at them. So, in all this chaos if they meet a teacher who is extremely calm and shows interest in understanding them, they will be ever ready to talk to that person.
Everyone needs someone to talk to.
There are many students who come to me with their problems. I have to display an attitude which will assure them that I wouldn’t judge them based on the problems they face. This is something parents also should understand.
If a child decides to open up, it is because they hold the confidence that the person listening has the capacity to understand. From 4 years to 18 years, children are really very sensitive. I see my daughter who is 4 and I see children who are 18 – they are all equally reactive to things happening around them.
Apart from the regular school job, with the responsibilities of a HOD, you are also helping children via online channels. How do you manage to find time for all this?
You will be surprised to know that I am building my own YouTube channel. This is something new. It is called – Let us NG (never give up). Through this, I plan on taking workshops for people residing in rural areas on menstrual hygiene and adolescence. The reason I have started this is because of an incident in school.
Once I was taking a class on reproduction in grade 8. There was this child asking me what a sanitary napkin was. I was shocked that a child in grade 8 has no knowledge of a sanitary napkin, which means the parents have never discussed this at home.
This either means that the parents are waiting for the menstruation to start or they have no clue how to convey these messages to the child.
Through these workshops I intend to coach parents on how they can talk about these things to children.
Coming to your question on how I manage all these things, I think I am good at prioritizing my work. I have never had days when I have worked too hard that I have burned out. I meticulously plan out things. Prioritizing things is one of my biggest strengths. Taking short term goals that I can complete is my mantra.
We often hear teachers say that they love teaching but they end up having to do so many other non-teaching tasks – fill forms, do reports, manage pastoral care responsibilities etc. All of which leaves them feeling drained and exhausted. What are your thoughts about this feedback?
I would say that an educator – a good one – will always go to take classes with a plan. Once the class is completed comes all the other paper work. A good plan is what caters to a good career path for each and every teacher and it caters to the betterment of each and every child in class.
I might decide to play a video in class for my children on electricity perhaps. But, there must be children in my class who would like to work with wires, cells and bulbs. They may not be visual learners but children who learn from doing things hands on. Some may be visual learners who will benefit a lot from the video. According to the children in class, I will have to design my classes. And hence, the importance of having a good plan. A good plan has to cater to all aspects of the individuals work at hand.
A plan also caters to keeping the teachers and the children calm and there is an understanding of what class will be dealt with that day. If I go into a class and just randomly start it, children also will be like random molecules in gas. It will be very haphazard.Yes, the whole synergy class will be positive if you go as per a plan.
Also, every teacher must care to take feedback from children. That way, they know if what they transmit is reaching the children or not. That is what lesson plans are all about.
Hence, prioritizing and organizing your work is extremely important.
How do you organize your work as HOD ?
As an HOD, it is most crucial that my team is aware of what I have in mind for the academic year. I hate being a boss, ordering and getting things done. I find team work more productive. Team work involves communication, giving and receiving feedback, etc.
Once a week, I hold discussions with my team to talk about the issues teachers face in class. Collectively, we give suggestions and come up with solutions. Once, a teacher shared about a student in her class who used to sit in one corner of the class and didn’t show any enthusiasm in class. She couldn’t answer any questions and the teacher couldn’t understand what happened to that child.
We teachers decided that one of us who are not related to that child in any manner would talk to that child and gradually understand the predicament that child was facing. This activity revealed the fact that the child was facing some problems at home. Then, as a team, we held counselling sessions for the parents to sort this out.
This is how you grow as a team and get stabilized.
I believe I learn a lot from the team and vice versa.
A team is a great catalyst for people to come up with solutions to issues and do more productive work.
I see a lot of energy in the youth. The new teachers joining come with a lot of vigor. They need to understand this energy and learn to channelize it in the right manner. When you do that, you achieve more than what you have set out for and you leave a positive touch wherever you go. Bringing about a difference in at least one child’s life is a huge achievement in an educator’s life.
If you meet a young child who wants to become a teacher someday, what advice will you like to give him or her ?
To give that sort of advice, I would first need to meet and listen to that individual. There are children who are money-minded and feel that they want to earn money and there are children who feel they want to work for people. And, neither of this is a bad aim.
We just have to guide each of them to their goal. There are children who do not know what they want and what they want to do as well.
So, to a child who wants to earn, I would not suggest becoming an educator because, like I said before, being an educator is literally burning out to see light in another’s path. Being an educator is amazing as long as you are in it in all vitality. You will be able to cherish small things only if you are in this field in true spirit.
I do not know of any other career where there is a possibility of children getting back to you and saying that you are the one who shaped my life for the better. The person who inspires you is the one who teaches you the most. If that person is a teacher, the combination is magnificent.
So, my advice would be that this profession is for those who want to see a change in the world.