Jasmine Sandhu – MYP DP Physics Teacher – Jamnabai Narsee School, Mumbai -Narsee Monjee Educational Trust
Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself and what got you interested in the teaching career?
I did my Bachelors and Masters in Electronics Science. Whilst I was doing that, I opted to study German from one of the very pristine institutes in Pune. That is when I was introduced to a different style of teaching.
Our German classes did not follow the traditional style of teaching. Those classes got me thinking that if that were the style of teaching that I had received at an earlier stage, things would have been quite different for me. Simultaneously I completed my Masters and thought of getting into the education sector.
I got a call from one of the schools for the exact position that I was looking for; perhaps, the Universe was trying to lead me in this path.
Please elaborate on the style of teaching employed in your German classes.
They focused on the functioning of the subconscious part of our brain. For example, if I were to hear certain colloquial German terms on a daily basis, it would be part of my daily dialect. That is when you start thinking in that language. Normally, if you learn a language it would begin with ABCD. In contrast, they focused more on how we can be made to think in that language.
The thing that goes wrong while training yourself in a language, using the traditional method is that you train your brain to think in your mother tongue and translate those thoughts in the language you are training for. That is complicated and erroneous. Also, in our German class they tried to focus on every type of learner. They tried to get all our senses involved while teaching the subject.
Did you find that method of teaching refreshing compared to the traditional methodology?
Yes. It got me thinking that it is high time the Indian education system evolves. Of course, for such a change to take effect, each teacher should be aware about the education systems around the world. Those German classes triggered me to read on the IB and the IB philosophy and that got me into the International education spectrum.
For how long have you been teaching now and how were those initial few months as a new Math teacher?
I began teaching from Jan 2015 at the Indus International School, Pune. Initially I had a lot of energy. When you study any educational course, you don’t study it from a practical aspect. It is more of theory. When you come into a classroom, you need to convert all that theory into a pragmatic approach.The methodology you adopt to bring that into effect is all up to you. I think that was my main challenge.
I used to plan a lot of activities but in class, I didn’t get the time to do all of it. Time management and classroom management was quite a hurdle. Every class has a different dynamics. You will have to figure out what works well for your class.
Reflecting on the challenges on a daily basis and trying to work on it really helped.
Were there any times when you felt it is too difficult and it was not working for you?
There were many, indeed! I was teaching in the IGCSE curriculum for grade 9. They had their exams coming up and I used to have these questions in my head if I were doing justice to these children. They were to give their board exams in the coming year. I used to keep wondering if I was on the right track.
Thankfully, we had a mentoring system in our organization. That way, I had somebody looking over me and somebody to fall back helped a lot.
I suppose, having taken a Masters you were confident with the subject.
How difficult was it to translate the subject in simple terms?
It was quite a task. One was the simplicity – how do I simplify it for the students? Then, the curriculum itself was different.
We were brought up in an exam-oriented scenario. To have a shift in that mind-set – to transition from context-based to concept-based was quite challenging.
What is the main difference between the Indian National Curriculum and the International Curriculum?
You don’t have set questions and set answers in the International curriculum – it is a concept-based approach. If you have understood a concept, you should be able to apply it as well. They have a lot of application and analytical skill development happening in the process. The approach is more skill oriented than knowledge oriented. It doesn’t stop at understanding a concept.
Mugging up a law or definition or solving similar type of questions does not help in getting your grades up. Children have to dive deep and understand what each concept actually means. Teachers will need to map real life scenarios in class so that children become spot on. I think there needs to be a shift in the Indian education system as well.
The subjects that you teach are perceived to be among the hard subjects. How do you tackle that fear?
To be honest, the ease of a subject is quite subjective.
For example, as a child I was okay with Physics and Math. But, I feared, History. I could never memorize those dates. I think it depends on how each child is wired. It also depends on how each subject is delivered/introduced to children by various teachers. A lot of times the liking towards a subject depends on the teacher and the rapport students share with the teacher.
If I sense fear for a subject, I do something called creative confidence tasks. I boost their confidence by giving them easy questions and then work upwards from there.
The root cause of the fear is that they can’t understand a concept which translates to they can’t apply it and hence cannot understand questions based on that concept. They keep building this wall against the subject shutting it out saying it is a difficult subject. To counter this, first a boost of confidence is required.
What are some of dos and don’ts teachers should be mindful of while introducing subjects and concepts?
I think that also differs from learner to learner. Some children find certain subjects easier than others. They are wired for that. For instance, when you introduce addition and subtraction some children would prefer doing it using a number line. That is the way they would understand it best. Some would prefer it through worksheets. Teachers can make lessons interesting.
When it comes to don’ts, teachers should definitely not demean a child. Demeaning can be very damaging – it shatters a child’s confidence. Also, teachers should be receptive to questions. There are times when I teach a concept and ask children to ask me questions. According to me, the silliest questions are the best questions. That way, they don’t have to get stressed out to frame ‘smart’ questions. So, if you put across things in a positive manner the fear of peer pressure is also tackled.
There is a general obsession towards marks. Have you been able to break away from this concept while assessing students?
That is quite tricky. This whole concept of marks focuses around a set final goal. The final goal they have in mind is that they should do well in their board exams. The thought process is, if they do well in that, they stand a chance to get into good Universities and that in turn, gives them a chance for a better future. So, all of it kind of trickles down to the school level.
IB offers a curriculum called the Middle Years’ Programme (MYP). They believe in achievement level instead of marks. For example, 2 students can have the same achievement level but if we break it down to marks, they may be poles apart. But here, you are assessing their skill, their achievement level of that particular skill. They are not judged by marks.
It is, however, quite challenging. In my previous school when we were shifting from a marks-based curriculum to IB, it was quite challenging to convince parents as well. Parents also come from the mind-set that marks are the beginning and end of all. During PTMs parents would ask for their scores; and we would have to keep reiterating our process.
You have been doing this for 4 years now. Has it become more interesting with the passing years or has it only stabilized?
I don’t think it has been a very long time because I haven’t taught the same curriculum throughout. I was first teaching IGCSE and now I am into MYP and about a few months back I have started teaching DP. So, it’s been quite a change for me.
I don’t think it is ever going to be stagnant because your students don’t get stagnant. The types of students that come in, with the evolution of time, are evolving. You have to keep reinventing yourself to make your classroom engaging.
What kind of changes do you see in students?
I do not see changes in the time-frame that I have been a teacher. Having said that, if I were to compare me as a student to the students that I teach, there is a drastic change! We did not have so much liberty with electronics or the Internet. Now, anything and everything is available on Google. You need to bring to the classroom much more than what Google can offer.
What are some of the frustrating moments you counter now?
I wouldn’t call it frustrating because a teacher feels frustrated when he/she starts giving up on their students. One cannot really afford to do that. I would call it challenging rather than frustrating.
Sometimes there are these students who have special education needs. There have been times when I have dealt with extreme autism and when I spoke to the child’s shadow teacher, I was quite appalled.
I realized that whatever I do for that child would not be enough. I was/am not equipped for such children. That was quite frustrating because I felt helpless – the child couldn’t even process an entire sentence together. He could accomplish short tasks, but he would feel lost with multiple statements or commands. By the time he gets to the last statement, he would have forgotten the first. That is one example. There are so many complex things happening in his head that I just didn’t know how to help him. That was a very disappointing experience for me.
What, according to you, would be an ideal school for a teacher to thrive and be happy?
According to me, it would be a place which allows the teacher to grow; a place that respects the teachers’ teaching philosophy.
What, according to you, is growth in a school?
By growth, I mean, professional development. Growth doesn’t necessarily mean going up the ladder from position A to B. Such things come with monetary gains.
In terms of professional or personal growth, we need to understand the various aspects of a teacher – teaching and learning and how we can do better. Most schools have their standard Professional Developments (PD) and all teachers have to attend it. But there is hardly any research done on what each individual teacher needs.
I think if the teacher is given the individual liberty to design his/her own PD and be in charge of it, it would be immensely beneficial. PDs should be a reflection of what each person wants to do and achieve.
Do you think such things can be brought into effect?
I think in smaller schools, it should be possible. They could start with a survey or have certain general workshops laid out from which the teacher can choose which he/she needs to be part of and build it from there.
Are these existing workshops useful?
Honestly, it is. When I reflect now, I understand that those were workshops that I needed. I have also been to workshops thinking I already knew everything that they were talking about. In such cases, there was not much of a take away. But, there were other workshops as well about which I have no idea.
These workshops – the ones you felt positive about – are they conducted by other teachers?
One was done by the head at our school. It works both ways. The people who conducted the workshop in our school understood us very well. They understood how we could tweak certain things in a curriculum to satisfy all stakeholders.
There was another online workshop, which has a lot of takeaways and gave me a lot of clarity about certain things.
How do you see yourself in the years ahead?
I haven’t really given it a thought. Right now, I think there is a lot for me to learn. I don’t think I have experimented with all types of curriculum. That is something I do want to try. That is a milestone for me. Once I am done with that, I will decide on the rest of the path.