Talking to Utkarsh Kumar -Physics teacher who wants to be an entrepreneur one day!
Can we start with your education? I see that you have completed your BE from Lancaster University, UK.
The course I took, while studying, was a twinning programme between Manipal University, India and Lancaster University. After 2 years of my education at Manipal University, I took a credit transfer to Lancaster University. There I completed my graduation in Mechanical Engineering.
Upon completion of my course, I got back to India and began looking for a job. The recruitment scenario wasn’t very good back then. However, I did land a job in Jaipur. I worked for a year as a Mechanical Engineer.
During my stint at Jaipur, I had two students preparing for IIT at the PG I was staying. I started helping them in their studies and I gradually started liking what I was doing.
Your path to teaching has been quite unconventional
Actually the teaching has been consistent part of my life. I have been teaching other students from a very long time – even when I was a student.
For instance, Physics is a mandatory subject for 1st year engineering students. I have always been in love with Physics, so I used to help students grasp Physics when they found it difficult.
The motivation to shift from the job of mechanical engineer was from the love for Physics.
Which classes do you teach now?
I teach Grade 10 and IB Diploma.
By IB Diploma, do you mean the equivalent of Grade 11 and Grade 12?
Physics is a very challenging subject for many students. What is your observation? Do some students just have the Physics aptitude in them?
I have been teaching for 4 years now. During the first two years of my teaching career, I have been associated with the CI curriculum; then, for a year I was teaching CBSE syllabus and then IB. Looking at Physics course outlined by different curriculum, I see there is a lot of aptitude based on which children are best fitted for certain curriculum. Apart from that, what I see is that most students who have taken up Physics in my school are actually interested in Physics – they are, gratefully not there due to any compulsion. And, because there is no compulsion, they want to learn Physics to seek knowledge and understanding. So it is not much of a problem.
But, when I associated with CBSE, I used to tweak my methods so that children understood what was going on. My methods are not very suited for CBSE students, so I did face difficulty during that phase.
Can you elaborate more on the methodology?
What I try to implement in class is driving the subject through data. I accumulate data from a set of demonstrations and try to understand the physical concept through that data.
If I am, for instance, trying to explain mutual inductance, I would give a demo of a how a step up transformer works. I showed it using an oscilloscope. I would rather teach in this manner than fro the text books.
I trigger students to think why the voltage fluctuates, what causes it etc. It is through these conversations that I drive in concepts. Mine is a practical kind of approach than a theoretical one. Many a times, some students do get confused. But, those who are really into Physics appreciate this approach. For them, it is a great learning experience. They learn more than what we think they can through this approach.
This approach gives me an edge to explore the subject and keeps my curiosity high, which I think is very important for a teacher.
Some demos may not work, I admit. In such cases, we – my students and I – as a team have a conversation of why it may not have worked. That also becomes a learning experience for us. That way, through this approach, I believe, we learn to handle failures and success with equal poise.
Having said that, I understand that all students cannot be taught in the same way! Through this approach, I am aiming at driving those students who are genuinely interested in Physics, to take up Physics in higher classes. I would aid in keeping their interest ignited from within. I aim at making my students proud of me and proud of what they have learnt!
I do not promote just remembering things. I would rather promote curiosity, thirst for knowledge, the zeal for experimentation and cherishing the fulfilling experience that you gain when you learn something new.
Students may not be interested in pure Physics, but this approach encourages them to look for new things, experiment and explore options.
One of my old students is currently in the US. He was once having a conversation with me and was sharing that it was our discussions and conversations that he discussed with his fellow mates in college and in many walks of life. When he has similar discussions, he is reminded of my classes. Statements like these give me a sense of fulfilment, as a teacher. So, in a long term scenario, I think I am doing quite well.
Having said that, if you only focus on short term goals, like grades, ranks or marks, I may be ranked differently! Those things depend on the aptitude of the student as well.
My students, if they choose Physics or anything associated to Physics as their career option, they won’t be disappointed.
From what you have said, it looks you really enjoy IB curriculum
Yes, I find it really interesting now. I enjoy this method of teaching because as a team, my students and I are exploring things that are perhaps unknown to many. Currently, I am guiding my students for extended assignments and internal assessments. When I read their research paper and find that they have discovered something new, I feel exhilarated. At Grade 11 and 12, we don’t expect a quantum level knowledge delivered to us by a research paper. But, from the first year on we can understand how students get moulded as a researcher. Even if they are not great at this, we can instruct them on how to do a good job and equip them better for their after-school journey.
This is precisely what excites me about IB and I am still in my initial phase looking forward to many more things coming my way.
My best part of the day is my interaction with students. But, of course, teaching is much more than just interacting with students. There are other activities too.
What do you mean by other activities?
I mean for things that are not exactly your subject or your first line of thought as a teacher. These things are not enjoyable but it also feeds you with some learning. I may have to head the science exhibition, etc. That is still at a tangent. But when it is not inclined to Science at all, I feel terrible with the journey. But, I guess that is part of any profession. There will be bits and pieces which you are not interested in.
Do you think school education has now become an obsession about marks?
I do. I am glad that my school encourages venturing out of textbooks and learning with experience. But, majority, like you said, term some learning as extra. They only seek information that has a possibility to appear on your exam sheet. Students are very frank about what they want and what they don’t want, in today’s world. They are not as receptive as we were when we were young.
Today, we have a generation that is very vocal about what they want. They don’t alter themselves to simply suit other’s liking. So yes, students do walk on that thin line of analysis.
I regularly take feedback from my students so that I can constantly make my class more relevant for them. But there is a struggle between the things I want to convey and the things they want to learn.
That is a common hurdle for any academician. I keep observing a friend who is a history teacher. I have sat in that class for observation and found it very interesting. I am a person who is not bound by curriculum.
When I take feedback from students, may be out of 20 students 5 will come and say that 30% of the class was dealt with topics out of the course and so they didn’t think it was productive. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, I believe. I think the teacher is the best judge because he/she is conducting the class. I use the feedback to try and define my boundaries.
This is the same for all subjects. There are teachers who want to share tons of knowledge and experiences but are bound to the time they have in their class. In the time game, some pieces of information get titled as extra. But, these pieces go a long way for some students and for others it is something that is not very significant.
The ones that enjoy the extra bit is only perhaps 20% of my total class and so if my extra bit of information is relevant to the topic, I go ahead with it giving no heed to the rest unhappy faces.
What difference do you notice between the schools you have worked in?
I have a very peculiar take on this. The school I am associated with currently is only accessible by the high profile families. Only they can afford this school. So, this only caters to a particular economic stratum. I do think that upbringing changes with the family income people hold. I can see children in this school being more open about what they want rather than being pushed around and commanded by their families.
Then there are schools where most of the decisions are taken by the parents and not by the students – even subject selection.
In my class – there are children who are not interested in Physics but are here anyway. But the percentage (about 30%) may be very low when compared to students sitting for Physics in a CBSE school (which may be around 60%). So, students who are there not by their own free will may have a different opinion about the extra information coming their way.
Ours is an inclusive school. There are all kinds of students in a class. I see students who are not interested but pick up an interest over time. I see a lot of students evolving. These things take time. I learn from hands-on activities and that is the only way to learn for me.
On the flip side, I am not sure how many students will be patient enough to read and understand though. I have also observed that if you pass the message through parents, to encourage their children to study and appreciate what they do, there is a sea of change in terms of attentiveness of students – it shoots up!
So what happens next in your career?
I honestly don’t see myself teaching for a very long time, for various reasons. When it comes to a long term career goal, teaching is not monetarily rewarding. However good you are there is an upper saturated limit of money you can earn. It all runs on a budget. So, I don’t see a lot of financial security there. To gain the monetary part of it, breaking the glass ceiling becomes inevitable.
I am looking forward to developing more demo projects that can be marketed, branded and used by other teachers across the country. I want to be an Edutech entrepreneur.
I am trying to groom myself in that direction. This is one of the reasons why I keep myself updated with the current technology trends and keep sharing my work, online. I see a need to build a community of people who will trust my work and use it to ease out their work.
I love having these conversations as well because it helps develop me as a brand.
Utkarsh Kumar – Physics
Pathways World School Gurgaon
Current address :
102, Annapurna, Gate 5,
Pathways World School, Aravali World School,
Aravali Retreat, Sonha Road,
Gurugram, Haryana – 122002
Ph No: 8527329255