Ms.Smita Gangola – Year Head (MYP Year5/Grade10) -Pathways World School
Please tell us about yourself and how you got interested in teaching.
I hail from up North – from Nainital. I was schooled at one of the most reputed schools called Sherwood College. As of today, Sherwood has completed 150 years in the field of education. We have had one of the most elite alumni which includes Mr. Amitabh Bachchan who was the chief guest for today’s function.
Back in my school days, during my grade X, XI and XII I remember teaching a lot of my peers. Education back then, was not so conceptualized – it was more of content. You would know, it was the regular ISC, ICSE schools with much focus on the content. I used to peer teach my friends and eventually developed an interest in this career path. I began very early and have a tenure of 15 years in my teaching career.
My first assignment was in 2003 and it was in Nainital. I have almost 9 years of teaching experience in the International curriculum. I have transited to the IB curriculum where I have been for the last 6 years.
That is my career journey of the last 15 years in a nutshell.
I would love to hear your opinion on national versus international curriculum.
Firstly, I would like to do away with the myth that students studying an IB curriculum cannot gain admission in Indian Universities. Students who are more inclined towards engineering or medical, particularly from in and around the country, certainly benefit from the national curriculum.
CBSE Math is very popular on that front. I have had so many colleagues of mine who transited within the national curriculum. They left ICSE for CBSE, rather than ISC because CBSE Math is highly popular especially in terms of the competitive examinations held nation-wide for engineering, medical and even for the administrative services.
The IB, on the other hand, is so conceptual that I can hugely vouch for its critical thinking and research skills.
Holistic development of the child is what every school strives for – national or international. On the same lines, whether it is the Cambridge, the IB or any of the national curriculum institutions – they are all various mediums, per me, which work towards a common goal and that is the holistic development of children.
The approaches are myriad. More often than not, parents have come to believe that if they put their children in an IB school then they would have a special ground with respect to overseas placement. That is not totally untrue. It is a fact that so many IB students I know, have not necessarily moved overseas as they have sought admissions within the country. I think IB equips a child very well with critical thinking and research skills, which is not very popular in the national curriculum.
I believe, a lot of residential schools across the country – national or IB, work towards developing soft, social skills in children. It is particularly the creative/critical thinking, reading and research skills that are very deeply embedded in the international curriculum.
The entire IB programme rests on inquiry – inquiry that comes from the student. It is actually the student that is the centre of it all. The national curriculum, on the other hand, is very teacher dominated. We do talk about technology integration at various fronts, which I think is still an eye wash in the national curriculum and not so much in the IB.
What challenges does a school, currently affiliated to the national curriculum, face if it considers moving to the IB curriculum?
The infrastructure would be one of the most basic things. An IB infrastructure is very demanding – there are a lot of prerequisites, other than the building, the lab and the library. But, there are other things that go into it. That is the basic ground level factor.
Then, of course, is the curriculum per say. A lot schools across the country first extract the interest to teach IB.
Next is the delivery of the curriculum. IB is split into 3 programmes – Primary Years’ programme – Grade 1 to Grade 5; Middle Years’ Programme – Grade 6 – Grade 10 and the Diploma Programme – Grade 11 and Grade 12. There are lot of schools that really want to do a continuum IB course – PYP, MYP and DP. Lot of schools offer combinations. There are schools in India like the Don School that offers the national curriculum – ICSE/ISC, they offer Cambridge in Grade 10 IGCSE and which interestingly offers DP in 11 and 12.
When a school thinks of making a shift to the IB, I think the school needs to know if they are looking to be a continuum school – that is, right from primary to Grade 12, or if you are looking at only a part of the curriculum – PYP and DP. For example – the primary years and diploma programme have been around since donkey’s years. Now, of course, the PYP has gone through a major revamp. But, these are the most popular of programmes. Also, if a student wants to do DP and stay within India, their mark sheet can be brought to an equivalent of a national curriculum. That doesn’t hold true as of now for the MYP. That is something I believe the education ministry is going to look into. Students who pass through the middle years’ programme still have to get the recognition within the national curriculum. I do know of students who face that. Of course, MYP is fairly decent – it is still evolving, it isn’t yet set in stone.
In 6 years of my journey as an MYP teacher, I have experienced a sea of change. When I joined the current organisation 6 years ago, I was a well-established ICSE and ISC teacher. I used to teach Grade 10 and Grade 12. After those 9 years of solid experience, along with a lot of leadership positions I have enjoyed, when I came to this school – I was given a Grade 6, I thought it will be a cake walk. That was a mind-set and I cannot begin to tell you how much of a challenge I had to unlearn and relearn. That is the biggest thing for any organization.
The paper work is still a doable thing. But if the teachers of the organization are mentally not ready to unlearn and relearn, the transition will be very difficult. The methods are extremely different. I believe now, CBSE is gradually inching towards modifying at least the assessment structure. They have started talking a language of formative and summative. They have moved away from unit tests and unit plans and they are into a jargon which the IB uses. Formative and summative are IB jargons, which CBSE moved into a few years ago. But still, this whole bridging – we talk about bridging within the IB programme from primary to middle to DP – I would love to see our national curriculum beautifully integrated with bridges to the international curriculum. I think it will benefit both parties immensely.
It is quite a challenge for teachers to switch from teaching national curriculum to IB. Is it hard to get good teachers who can handle the curriculum?
I choose to answer this in two ways:
1.Let us talk about teachers in general. When I was growing up, I have had teachers I idolized. I was blessed with some of the best teachers. That was a personal sentiment that I held. I have travelled quite a lot and I have realised that globally the passion with which teachers are working has dwindled over the years.
There are lot of people who come with a mind-set that a teacher’s job is very easy. It is an 8-2/3 job. That mind-set needs to be broken. This has nothing to do with residential schools or a day school. There is so much that a teacher takes back home. I see so many office-going folks who are on a 9-5 job and I know that once they are back home after 5, they are switched off from office and are completely soaked up in their personal world.
In a teacher’s world that seldom happens. Even now when I am beginning to enjoy my summer vacations, there is so much of homework that I am carrying with me. That is one thing about a teacher’s life, in general.
2.Coming to your question about moving from national to international curriculum – as I was saying, teachers have to be very open minded. If you come with a closed and stringent mind about the way you teach and how your method has spelled success for students over the years, etc. – that mind-set creates a problem. So, be very open minded.
We are educators and mentors. But, above all, we ourselves are learning so much. When I was given Grade 6, 6 years ago, I had these young children come with a plethora of questions. They would ask me so many diverse questions. There were factual questions, debatable questions, conceptual questions, etc. So, the success of teachers depend on how open minded they are.
A problem that globally many teachers have is the fear of using technology within the classroom. If you ask me, even I am the kind who can get away with a few basic apps. But, I would rather invest my time in my subject area rather than integration. There is a very famous quote by an educator that we cannot teach 21st century students with age-old teaching methodologies – we can’t. Technology, today, runs in youngsters’ veins.
We all talk light-heartedly that a child is born and then suddenly takes to gadgets before he/she can even say the word mom or dad. That is how our students are and that is how progressive it is going to be. So, this fear of integrating technology should be dealt with.
Let’s say you are teaching a subject like Math. You want to do your chalk and board or a marker and a white board sort of a thing. But even then you need to figure out a way to bring in technology because students like experiential learning. In that perspective, in the national curriculum it is still very content-driven, run by a book and a teacher.
IB, on the other hand, is about experiential learning. It is how you bring out the multiple intelligence of your class. That foundation has to be strong. If that is the mind-set of the teacher then things become slightly easy. There is a lot to learn. In an IB curriculum there is so much more.
Another very tricky type is the cross curriculum. Cross curriculum basically is how to make connections within different subjects. When teaching English, for instance, how would I bring in traces of History, art and music into it? This is not very popular with the national curriculum. This is a mandate for an IB curriculum because the more creative one gets at teaching and learning the more interesting it gets for children.
When a student walks out of my class, I ensure that he/she is not taking away just English. He/she is able to make connections, the real life connections to the world around.
For instance, when you talk about urbanization, a student within the Delhi NCR region should be able to make connections with so many other things. So, along with making those real life connections, the student should be able to understand that that is what they are doing now in History. So, that is about the cross-curriculum nature of the subject. These are some things that you would look forward to learning provided you are very open-minded – I am consciously reiterating that!
In comparison with a CBSE curriculum, there is always something new to learn when it comes to the international curriculum, isn’t it?
Yes. We normally have a 30-40 min class. I remember back in my days, it would be 40 min of lecture with students taking down lecture notes. Students would, of course, ask questions and once in a while you would ask them.
In the IB, you break down those 40 min. You just talk with the students for the first 5 mins and they will have questions for you. In the next 5 mins you ask them to scribble something down. In the next 10 mins you ask them to do a group activity, followed by 5 mins of lecture and a last 10 mins of reflection.
There is so much of contribution and engagement on part of the students that they are very actively involved. An IB classroom doesn’t mean a chaotic classroom. And a quiet classroom doesn’t mean a disciplined classroom. These are not the standards. This is a general mind-set that a very quiet classroom is a well-disciplined classroom. I know that the most interesting IB classroom is the most noisy, loud and chaotic classroom. Everybody has a mind of their own and they want to share ideas.
We teach to respect each other. That is very important.
Is the national curriculum focused on India while the content of the other curriculum are not specific to Indian content?
No, not at all. The national curriculum is very prescriptive. They are very rigid in approach. For example, it is set that there are 15 stories that need to be taught. For instance, in the national curriculum they would say, these are the 15 stories, 15 poems and a drama text book that needs to be taught. Whereas, in the IB, the world opens to you. I am going to teach Tagore – great! I am going to teach Shakespeare – wonderful! It is not that I wouldn’t teach anything that comes under the national curriculum – I would. But, I wouldn’t be teaching just that.
For example, when I taught drama in the national curriculum, you know that Shakespeare has existed since time immemorial. We did Merchant of Venice and perhaps my great grandfather also did Merchant of Venice. Poetry by R K Narayanan are still there in the national curriculum. I am okay with that but it is just that it limits you to only that. In the IB, you have to have a world literature component. India is very much a part of the world and that does not go out. Taking that, we ensure that there is a lot more from across the globe. So, we like to pick up a Russian author or we would like to explore the works of an African writer. You have to have a world literature component, without having to undermine or underplay the national literature component – not at all!
What advice would you give to a young person who is seriously looking towards building a career in the education sector?
Firstly, they have to overcome this stereotypical thinking of the way a teacher and a learner interacts. There are some very stereotypical modes to look at it. Teaching seems to be the last resort in most cases particularly for women who feel it is difficult to manage a corporate life after marriage, so they get into teaching. These are very stereotypical opinions and they need to rise above them. That is the first thing.
Second, no matter how smart you are, every new generation that come will outdo them. Every child born in our country today will be far more progressive and will be far smarter than the one that was born yesterday. Now, we are teaching students that are generations apart. So, if you come in with a mind-set that I am the ‘be all and the fountain of knowledge’, it is not going to work. That is my biggest advice. One of the most beautiful things about being a teacher is that you even get to learn from your own students. If you are a good teacher you will take immense pride in that aspect. I think what has worked extremely well for me as a person, in the last 15 years, is the connection I have developed with my students. That is the one advice I give to every educator.
A lot of people believe that knowing about your students is whiling over your time – it is not! It is academic time. You take the time out to get to know about these 10-20 students. In the IB system, you don’t get a batch size of more than 20 students. I have never handled children more than 20 in number in a class. If I don’t know the in and out of those 20 children, if I don’t know what the break point will be for each of them, I am no good. Students, particularly who excel on the sport field, more often than not, are the kind of children who may not be very good at academics. It is not like it is always the case but most often it is. When I teach and I know a student of mine is very good at cricket, I would probably give him an analogy of cricket in my teaching. The moment I start using terminologies from an area which that student is extremely good at, he/she would definitely connect with me. The moment that connect happens, everything and anything I relate to the child, will be absorbed. Forming a connection with your students would be the most valuable advice I would offer. Once that happens, any part of the globe that you are in, the students will be eating out of your hands and once that happens whatever you teach will just penetrate in. They won’t have a mental block.
Are you concerned about the reading habits of this generation?
I know that good reading is a concern. But it is not that it is a concern only now. It was very much a concern even back then. People who are bookworms will continue to be so. That is the case even today. But, I think there is a conscious awakening to the fact. Over the years if you notice that a child is very much into gadgets and things like that, people say that old habits like reading have been done away with. As far as I remember my school days, reading wasn’t compulsory even back then. It took an awakening for that to happen. In fact I was interviewed a few months ago and they asked me – because reading is a problem, what would you do so that students take to reading? To be very honest, it is not something that can be mandated. Of course, one thing we can do is to arouse the interest – that is the start level. But the more important thing is to sustain that interest. In my class, if I am reading a book, which I often do, I introduce my children to those characters and I talk often about them and read very interesting bits of it. It has become like a habit. It is like work culture. I watch a movie every day and we talk about the protagonist, the plot etc. Similarly, part of my work culture is reading snippets from a book – any book that I am reading, and we talk about it. Reading of snippets invokes this interest in them to understand the climax of the book, and that is where I draw the line. I stop and say that they need to read to get there.
This is just one of the tricks. It is not even a proper method. It is a trick. In our life, we trick ourselves into eating healthy, we trick ourselves into exercising. So, similarly we have to trick ourselves into reading. That is what I feel.
What has been your experience in terms of managing a school?
I have been doing leadership roles for over a decade now. I had started out in my previous organisation as a house mistress.
That was a very traditional school. In traditional schools – boarding schools – a house master or a house mistress is nothing less than God. They are looked upon as God. I was barely 24 when I became a house mistress – a house mistress overlooking grade 6 to grade 12. You are looking after a house and in a particular house, you have about 150-170 students under your care. You are responsible for their academics, their co-curricular activities – everything and anything!
If you are staying on the campus, which is usually how traditional boarding schools function, you are literally living your lives with these children. That is where my leadership role started. Then I came to Pathways World School 6 years ago, and I did smaller leadership roles like being the well-being coordinator, etc. I transited into being an IGCA coordinator and I was even a subject coordinator. My journey culminated this year to a grade level coordinator. My current batch has 155 students. The thing is moving beyond leading students and has evolved into leading a team. We had team of faculty members working under me, wherein, I had to groom them as well.
For the last decade or so, my teaching role has been reduced, naturally, because I am wearing multiple hats. This is the bigger role. There are lot of other roles that I do. For example, I am also a part of the assessment team. Whether it is an internal assessment or an external assessment like the NYPE assessment, I help my school conduct those assessments. I am also a Round Square representative. Round Square is an international organisation which works under the philosophy of Dr. Kurt Hahn. There are a lot of roles that I do. In my current role, I realize that it is so much easier to manage children than managing adults.
My first experience of it was 4 years ago when I first had a team under me. I realized the kind of rift and understanding. I realized that feedback – a good, critical feedback is not necessarily acceptable to the other party. We all are educators. We have to drive across a point for the other person to understand and see certain things. So, that skill of dealing with people, letting them know the areas that they need to work on in such a way that they openly and candidly accept feedback has been one of my biggest challenges.
I am glad that over the years there has been so much of professional development. I am glad that over the years, along with my connection with students, I have also managed to connect with my team. I have had these team members listen to me, stand in awe of me, wait for instructions and meet goals. I think there is an ever emerging need within every human being to live and do more than what is accepted. This is true for at least in the Indian sub-continent. They want to do their best. They want to exceed everybody’s expectations. That is how, I believe, we are wired.
Globally, teachers are doing their work, but their ambition is not heightened. For instance, a weekend is a weekend and they like to switch off. I think the work life balance is missing in the Indian continent. We are very driven by work. I have seen educators who really want to prove and make a mark for themselves. So, passion is good, but at the same time, I would also advise to strive for a good work life balance. If not, we may not see the side effects of it immediately, but over the years you feel the drowning effect. You feel getting sucked into the system and the frustration gets to you.
This happened to me 6 years ago when I felt like I am being engulfed with the things around me.
How do you recharge yourself to re look at things in a different perspective?
It is simple. You have to slow down the machinery, and the initial step is always difficult. At the initial moment of realisation, you need to stop, pause and reflect – that is exactly what I have been doing over the years. Depending on how busy my schedule is, every month or fortnight, I just sit down and analyse how the graph is trending. I see what is happening to me internally. Of course, externally I may be full of energy, but I stop to reflect if I am doing okay internally. Am I okay with how the phase of my life is shaping, how have I handled a conflicting colleague, etc.
Reflection! That is a big lesson I have learnt with my stint with IB. That is when I realised that it is not just for the students, reflection is expected of the teacher as well. You really don’t need a system to know how good or bad a teacher is. The moment a class is over, you know if it was a terrible one or an excellent one. You really don’t need an external judge. It all comes from within. That is what I feel.
Another thing is, once the realization comes to you, what you do with it? Do you just toss it around in your head and let it go? Or do you make notes for yourself? Okay, the class didn’t go well — what were the weak points? How can I make it better? What could I have done? That internal conversation needs to happen.
Of course, you can reach out to a whole lot of people. I can reach out to my HOD or subject coordinator and relate what happened. But, eventually the ability to tide over a situation has to come from within. I believe whole heartedly that there is no concept of free lunch – you simply have to work towards it.