Talking to Shashi Bhushan – VidyaGyan, Shiv Nadar Foundation, Noida
Why did you want to become a teacher?
I belong to a rural family in the Western part of UP. I was brought up with very limited resources. My father was a marginal farmer. In fact, he struggled to educate us. But, he toiled hard and got me enrolled in a good school. I completed my 10th and subsequently my 12th from a CBSE school, located in our district itself. I was a good student so I used to manage to get half of my fee relaxed.
In the place where I hail from, there were no good colleges or universities. My father was willing to send me to another place if I opted to continue my studies. But, finance was a problem. Anyhow, by the grace of the Almighty, my uncle who was working in a private firm in Shillong, Meghalaya agreed that I could stay with him and study.
It was a new place for me – the experience was very different. I studied well and did my BSc in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from CMJ University, and passed with Honours.
During that time itself I had started teaching in coaching classes. Somehow, the love for teaching started building up and then I moved to Kanpur and got enrolled for MBA. I had to get into something that would generate an income for me. It was a necessity. I appeared for my entrance exam and qualified with good grades and got admitted into HBTI, one of the best government colleges. I passed my MBA with Honours.
I, then, got selected in three companies under campus selection. I joined a company and worked there for some time. I left that job in a couple of years because the work didn’t complement my enthusiasm. Post that I joined 2-3 companies, but couldn’t stick to anything for long. Before long I realised that I wasn’t carved for the corporate life. I then decided to switch to the education sector.
When you take such a decision, you should first make peace with the salary difference. When I left the job my salary was more than 62000 and I joined the school at 26000.
Having taken the decision, I decided to do my MSc in Physics because that was the subject that attracted me most. I did my MSc from Shobhit University, Meerut through distance mode of education. I also started teaching in one of the schools in Kanpur. It was one of the best schools around. Few of my students from back then are in IIT, NIIT and a lot many in Delhi University. It was a good journey for me.
I must say that on the monetary front, it was a very difficult decision to take. My friends and parents did discourage me at that time from switching. But I was determined and I was confident that I would do well. That was how I dived into the education field. I worked in that school for two years.
Then, I shifted to Nagpur to a school for the children of employees at the Sunflag Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. I was there for around one and half years. My work was very good and I had a good rapport with the Principal as well. But, I was too far away from home.
Then, I came to know about VidyaGyan and they had a vacancy. VidyaGyan is run by the Nadar Foundation, the founders of the HCL Company. The vision of this school is so unique that I felt it very close to my heart. It was a foundation that I wanted to work with.
The school is for the poor students of UP. They select 200 students every year through an entrance test. About two and a half lakh students appear for this exam. Their motive fascinated me because I could work with such students who would be going through what I went through at that age. I went through seven stages of interview before getting selected.
There were so many ups and downs in my life. Choosing this has been one of the most fulfilling decisions of my life. That is about me.
Why do you think some people find Physics very hard? What do you do about weak students in Physics?
I believe that no student is weak. When I was doing my MBA, I was not very good with Accounts. The reason was obvious – I was not from an Accounts or Commerce background. Sometimes it does happen that we are unable to develop interest among students. Once a student gets fascinated by a subject, they will no longer be poor in that subject.
Another important aspect is that in our Indian education system, the whole evaluation process – the examination system is trash. The way in which we judge performance of students is not fair. Many times it so happens that the student may be very good in analytical skills but those analytical skills and their overview about the subject cannot be judged in 3 hours of time and that too through a single paper.
What I do for the so called weak students is, I try doing a SWOT analysis – the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threat. I then create an opportunity to work with the students. Once we start getting involved with the students, the overall work becomes very easy. Once students feel that a teacher trusts them, they get motivated.
Is being a Physics teacher in school like being any other teacher? Or are there any aspects to be highlighted when one is a Physics teacher?
It is a blend of the two. There are certain areas which is common to all the teachers. But being a Physics teacher, there are certain areas where we feel we lag behind and then there are areas where we are far ahead of others as well.
I feel Physics is the most beautiful subject as spoken by Einstein. No doubt. Physics is the base of most of the technological advancements. So, I feel if Physics is taken in an optimistic way, it can lead to very good results. But if taken negatively, it can lead to bad results as well.
The basic problems remain the same for all teachers. But, being a Physics teacher, the most difficult thing is to explain the concepts and derivations, and again the interrelations between different topics is important. Bringing these out is a challenge which Physics teachers face.
As an HOD, I feel not all teachers are equally motivated from within. This is the most challenging thing. Once a teacher is enthusiastic and self-motivated, 80% of the work is done.
As the HOD, if you want to build a good Physics department in a school, how will you go about identifying good teachers?
In most of the cases, identification is not our issue. We have to work towards sustaining people that are being hired. But, if they ask me, I think knowledge is no doubt very important.
But, I feel a teacher should be a person who is open to learning new things, being highly motivated, and feel that learning is a license to growth. If I have a say, I would go for that person than looking at the number of years of experience.
Nowadays, youngsters are very passionate and energetic. So, bringing young people into education can bring in a lot of changes.
You feel that the youth can make a difference compared to the older generation?
No, not exactly. We can always go for experienced people. But, I feel that experienced people should be given more preference for administrative side of jobs because teachers play a vital role when it comes to teaching.
One thing that I tell is that students in 10th or 12th standard have very high energy levels. The age group that we deal with – they are full of energy. If the teacher is dull, their energies don’t match. That does create a rift and it can hinder the interest that the child has for the subject as well. The first aspect is that children map the subject to the teacher. So, more youngsters should be encouraged to join this industry.
What do you think schools should do to keep teachers motivated? How do you keep monotony from setting in?
I have a different perspective to this question. No teacher can feel demotivated, lack confidence or become bored because, as far as my subject is concerned, every year and every month many changes come up, even in the syllabus and the content. The content that we delivered 20-30 years back was without audio visual, with no animated videos, no real life simulations. Now for the same thing you teach there are different ways of presenting the class. What happens is – with the changing time and phase you have to acquire different skills. This is required to work in this present era.
The students are more informed than the teachers. They are living in the world of the Internet. All the info that we have they have the same. The difference is that the frame of mind that we have, they don’t. We have to work on that. If they can accommodate information from various sources, so can we. I think we should work more on how we deliver the content. That is what matters a lot. Most of the teachers do not take this essential tip while teaching.
Presentation and delivery of content is the key!
Yes! The same content can be presented and delivered in so many ways.
How do teachers acquire it? Do schools make an effort to train them on this aspect?
My old school is a good example. The principal used to ensure that there are seminars regarding this. Harish Chandra Verma, one of the most acclaimed Physics teachers who was the HOD of mechanical engineering at IIT Kanpur, had taken a good step about making the student and teacher fraternity attracted towards Physics. He wanted to make Physics easier. Most people feel Physics to be a difficult subject. So he authored two books H.C. Verma Vol. 1 & 2 on concepts of Physics.
That book was published about 30 years ago and is still relevant. It is very concise and precise! Attending his seminars in my then school was a privilege. There is so much to learn beyond my knowledge!
So, a teacher should come with an attitude that they have so much more to learn. So, that credit should be given to teachers if they come with that attitude. This is another way to keep your curiosity high.
Curiosity is the mother of all inventions. So, keep the teachers curious. That can be a solution to a lot of issues. We have WhatsApp groups where we share information related to Physics. We all learn from that. This is a group of very good teachers who are all fascinated to know something new. I think caring is the basic part if learning.
Taking one class after another, exam duty – do these things rob you of the time you should be spending to research? Can you make things better with a sabbatical?
I have worked in a public school where the system was rigid – no doubt. But I was always bold. I have never feared to go up to the Principal and discuss things if I felt otherwise. What I feel is – the management will hear you out if the teacher has logic behind what is being said. They will try their best to bring in a change. We have to have that positive attitude. For everything there is scope of change for the better. So, we have to do our homework on how to present the thought and the courage to speak up to the management.
See, if you open up they will only do either of the two things – they will either take action on it or not take action on it. If they take action – Cheers! If they don’t, life is not going to be harder than it already is. But your input will be the feed for the future. There is always a way forward. Moreover, if they don’t take steps, you can either train yourself to fit into the system or look for better opportunities if you feel you fit elsewhere.
I have followed this policy and today I am in one of the best institutions in India, even globally, perhaps.
Suppose you need to look for the next job after VidyaGyan/Shiv Nadar, what would you consider? Salary or position hike?
I would like to take you to one and half years ago when I was about to join VidyaGyan. Even at that time, if I had thought about salary, I wouldn’t have joined VidyaGyan. VidyaGyan is paying the best salary in the industry. But having said that, I had got selected to a school that offered one and a half time more than this. But it is the philosophy of the school that hooked onto me. When I shifted to the education sector, salary was not my criteria. For me it should be fulfillment and satisfied work. I agree that finances are crucial, but there should be a balance, and that is met.
I definitely want to be a teacher going forward and I feel this institution has better teachers than me. When and if I feel I want to be with a better crowd is only why I would look outside of VidyaGyan. Otherwise, I feel really happy and content here. One more thing I would like to say is even 30 years from now, I would still want to be a teacher.
Wouldn’t you want to manage a school or something?
But then, what will happen is I will be something that I am not. I enjoy this profession.
Good to have met someone so passionate about teaching.
Nice talking to you!
Shiv Nadar Foundation
3rd Floor, Corporate Towers,
HCL Technology Hub, Plot No 3A,
Sector 126, Noida – 201303. UP