Jaskaran Singh – PGT Mathematics – G D Goenka Public School ,New Delhi
What got you interested to make a career in education?
Honestly, I have always been passionate about Mathematics as a subject. Having said that, I never wanted to be a Math teacher at all. It is just by fortune that I turned out to be one. When in school and college, my friends who had issues with Math used to come to me for help and I used to clear their queries. I also started taking tuition. That is how I got interested in teaching and now I am a teacher.
Where did you pursue your studies?
I completed my Masters in Mathematics from Poland.
By that time had you made up your mind about taking up teaching as a profession?
Yes. While I was doing my graduation, I landed a very good offer from A K Vidyamandir. I used to prepare students for IIT JEE exams, over there. This was when I was doing my graduation.
Initially, I was a trainee teacher for two years over there. Then, I started taking classes for IIT JEE students for 3 years. After that, I got back to Delhi. I have an institute which is preparing students for IIT and Medical Examinations. For two years I was with that particular group.
I assume, after that you got into a regular school – am I correct?
Actually, A K Vidyamandir was a regular school. It had two ventures – the school and the institute for preparation for IIT JEE and Medical Examinations. I used to teach in the school during morning hours. In the afternoons, after 4, I was part of the coaching center. I was part of both ventures.
Is there any difference when teaching Math for IIT preparation and teaching Math for regular classes?
Yes! There is a huge difference. The concepts you are teaching in Class X Boards are basic minute concepts. Whereas, for IIT JEE you get questions which is a mix of all concepts. So, you have to get into the depth of concepts.
For example, we teach trigonometry in Class X – a lot to do with triangles. We don’t expect a very high degree conceptual question in Class X. On the contrary, when you teach for IIT JEE preparation, you need to start from the origins of the trigonometry concept. In regular board exams, the syllabus is set in such a way that we teach the concept of trigonometry first before venturing into the concept of similar triangles. The difference is huge.
Moreover, the level of questions in board exams and the level of questions that come for IIT JEE are oceans apart. For board exams the questions are very surfaced while for IIT JEE the questions are very concept based.
The, perhaps, 50 questions that you teach students in regular classes is what they can expect for board exams too. But, that is not the case for IIT JEE exams.
So, teachers preparing students for IIT JEE and similar exams, would be much more demanding, right?
Yes. That is why they tend to earn more money as well. In Kota, there are teachers who earn up to 2 crores per year preparing students for IIT JEE and similar exams. Some institutes give more than 1 crore to a Math teacher. That is the kind of demand. If you are a good Math teacher with a strong command over the subject, you have to teach only one topic for the entire year. For instance, if you are teaching relation functions, you only teach that the whole year round. So, for a good Math teacher, the job opportunities are open and this kind of institutes offer a good pay package as well.
What are the other challenges of the job?
Speaking of challenges, if you are teaching a batch of 20 students, at least a minimum of 4 students should crack the IIT exams. If that doesn’t happen, you lose your job. That is the catch!
Institutes want to showcase how many IIT rankers they have produced. That is their advertisement for more students to join. If a Math teacher cannot get children to secure high ranks, then their job is at stake because the most difficult to crack in these competitive exams is Math.
Did you feel satisfied while doing that job, keeping aside the money part of it all?
Honestly, I didn’t venture much into IIT teaching. I came back to the regular Boards. I am from Delhi and to get into hard core IIT teaching, Kota is the best place to be at. I had some family issues and so couldn’t go and be at Kota. But, the ease at which I teach, I was equally comfortable with both. Apart from my school teaching, I take tuitions and likewise, teach for IIT JEE preparations.
Most of my students do not prioritise on IIT because they know how tough it can get. So, we plan accordingly. This year, one of my students has gone for BITS. After IIT you can try Delhi Technical University exams, BITS, etc. All these are for B Tech studies.
See, Math alone cannot be a saver for IIT JEE. You have to be a pro at all the subjects – Math, Physics, and Chemistry. It takes a team to get a student clear IIT. It cannot be a single teacher’s effort.
Does that mean that a regular school that prepares children for board exams cannot see a child through their IIT exams?
It is very difficult these days. In Delhi, children can get distracted by a lot of things around them which is a waste of time.
In Kota, they don’t have much to explore in the environment. So, they focus on studies a lot more than children in Delhi. Most of the students who want to prepare for IIT, they get the school to give them attendance for the entire year, sit at home and study religiously and go for their IIT exams and give their board exams too. It is difficult for a regular school going student to go give the IIT exams and come out with flying colours.
How is your experience teaching at the current school you are at?
I enjoy my teaching. When I was a student, I was once told by my teacher that a teacher should be a magician – whatever you say your students must listen to it very carefully. That is when you turn out to be a good teacher.
Unable to hold the attention of your students is an indication that you do not know how to teach. So being a teacher, it is up to us to make the class interesting. Do whatever it takes to be the magician in class.
What do you do to be able to stand up to being a magician?
You will need to start at a level that is below the level of students so that every student in the class feels they know something. So, if you are teaching a concept, you should start from basic level 0. This will encourage participation from every student to be engaged with the concept, and then once you have all of them attentive you can take them to the higher levels of the concept. I know that some of them may drop off in terms of attention span at some point. But, there are steps that need to be taken for weak students and for the strong ones as well.
Which Board is the school you are at affiliated to?
CBSE – Central Board of Secondary Education.
Have you taught in schools catering to other boards as well?
I have ample experience in CBSE and then teaching for competitive exams.
Is the curriculum designed for other boards like IGCSE, IB etc different?
Yes, it is better. I agree. I also got an opportunity to teach at a school catering to the IB board, but I didn’t go. But in future I may go to teach the IB curriculum. I am interested in that. The depth of knowledge and concept at IB Board is brilliant.
Do you anticipate learning curves when you cross over to teaching at the IB Board from CBSE?
I am looking forward to it because if you don’t learn anything from a change then it is useless.
How many years of school teaching experience do you have?
Are the school authorities ready to accommodate the way of thinking of young and motivated people like you?
I am aware that the senior most people of the school are not very much for the ways in which we teach.
What is their way of looking at things?
Earlier, people used to teach without the aid of technology. So, their argument is without the use of technology also we have been able to secure good marks in the past. Hence, for them, the relevance of using technology is immaterial.
According to me, in their era there were no gadgets like mobile phones etc. Now that students have these phones anyway, we can map studies into technology so that students use these apps and it will help them. 20 years ago, nobody used technology for teaching, right? But, now eliminating technology from any field is unthinkable. In the IB mode, you can’t even step into the class without technology. Every class has to be delivered in presentation mode so that each student understands exactly what we are trying to say.
It is a lot different today as compared to the older times, when it was just chalk and board.
In today’s times, will it be difficult for students to connect to what the teacher says, without use of technology?
Well, that is debatable. You can help build the connection, if you possess knowledge to that degree. And, you should have the ability to present it to students from level zero. That can also be done to help students connect.
What are some of those technologies that were useful aids for your classes?
If you can source a video regarding a particular topic that you are teaching, you can always use that.
I find Byju’s app to be a very good app for explaining concepts. They have good videos. Having said that, apart from those videos, they have not aided the videos with explanations. So, it is a great tool for you to use in the classroom, because you can explain as the video progresses. Frankly, I don’t think it makes complete sense for children using the app themselves, without information on a topic.
How about Khan Academy videos?
I think Khan Academy uses the best tools in their videos. After the US, the best tools I have seen being implemented in videos are by Khan Academy.
Do you actually play the videos in class or do you ask your students to refer to those videos?
In my current school, I am not permitted to do any such thing. But, in my previous school, I had the freedom to implement these things.
What is your philosophy on home works?
I cannot do much with the current system that my current school runs on because it is running on auto pilot mode, more or less.
In the previous school, I used give 5 pre-class questions and 5 post-class questions to students. I feel that activity does wonders to make children understand the concept better because they come to class having an idea about the concept. This ensures easier grasping of the concept and renders deeper understanding of the concept. Nowadays, attendance is also a big issue in schools.
What is the most frustrating part of your job?
The first frustration is the Delhi traffic – it takes a good 45 minutes for me to reach school and then the parking is another pain point. These are the most frustrating and pain points of my work life. Once I enter the school, I am fine. I will start figuring things out.
Then, there are seniors who do nothing much and just sit around – that is an added frustration. But, the fact is that most of the best schools in Delhi functions like this. So, we gulp it as a reality.
Do you have the opportunity in your career to take a break, learn something new, feel refreshed and come back recharged?
See, that is another thing. In the IB system, there are workshops held for teachers, and teachers get to make their classes even more interesting. But, unfortunately, not many schools have that. When things run on auto pilot, there is hardly any break.
When you keep doing the same thing, monotony and frustration can set in, isn’t it?
I am coming to that. If you know one or two methods to teach, keep switching methods. That can be an achievement for you. And, you can apply many more methods to keep yourself charged and innovative.
If I am taking a class of 40 students, they will be going to different division centres for their classes. So, I set papers in different formats. That is another learning curve for the students as well. Also, when I correct the papers I get to know the thinking of students from different angles. So, it is learning for me as well.
In the years ahead, what are your future plans?
In Dec or Jan, I want to appear for the National Eligibility Test (NET) exam. So, I will be preparing for NET, and once I clear that, most probably I will go for my Ph D.
What does clearing the NET exam help you accomplish?
If you clear your NET exam, you are qualified to do PhD from recognized universities of India. Most probably, I may opt for doing my PhD from the US. Clearing NET exam is great if you want to do your PhD in the US as well. In India, I don’t think it is going to be extremely good in terms of work when it comes to teaching.
Do you see yourself in the teaching career itself?
Yes, I see that after 5-7 years. I see myself in higher positions in the field of Mathematics itself. I am not aiming for any administrative positions.
What about schools outside of the country?
There was a test that was recently held in India by the UAE Ministry of Education. I have cleared that too. Among about 200 teachers, I secured 1st position in that test. I had the opportunity to go to Dubai as well.
What advice would you give to young people looking to be a Math teacher?
If they really want to become a teacher, they should be very clear about all their concepts, because knowing the content and imparting it are two different things.
They should know how to deliver the knowledge in class. You should be in sync with the students so that you can deliver content in such a way that the students understand exactly what you are trying to say. You need to query students if they got anything out of your classes. That is the level of understanding and vibe you need to maintain with your students.
Suppose you are in a class, and for some reason you cannot relate to your students. What would you do?
I was coming to that point. If you are unable to connect with students on a particular topic, leave it for then. Take up an easier topic; connect with your students – this way the time, effort and class don’t get wasted. That is how you calmly resolve that scenario.
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