Talking to Adnan Lokhandwala
Mr Adnan Lokhandwala, Math faculty at Aditya Birla World Academy at Mumbai is a qualified engineer who chose the teaching profession. In our conversation with Mr Adnan, we found the calm of his personality and the storm of his passion to strive for the better, always!
Tell us about yourself – your education background and what got you interested into becoming a Math teacher?
I am an Electronics Engineer from Mumbai University – passed out in the year 2002. During the course of my engineering, I started teaching children, part time, to earn some money. While I was working with children, the response I received from them was very encouraging. It was evident that they liked my teaching style and wanted me to continue teaching them in future as well. Honestly, that response was what made me stick to the education field itself. Not just the response, I enjoyed being in the profession as well. As I progressed in the profession, I got more comfortable and continued as a teacher ever since.
In my journey as a teacher, I kept growing and now I am an IB teacher. I really love everything about teaching, at the moment. Having said that, I realised that if I have to grow in this profession, I will need to educate myself further. So, I completed my B.Ed. in 2015 and my Masters too from Mumbai University in 2017.
In the school that I was at previously, Jamnabai Narsee School, I was the head of the Math department. It was this year that I shifted to Aditya Birla World Academy. That has been my trajectory so far.
People are joining teaching from other careers. Is this something that is an upwards trend these days?
Currently, when I meet other Math teachers at forums, workshops or meetings, I see many engineering graduates who take up teaching Math. I see many reasons for this.
1. Engineering students are expected to be good at Math.
2. Engineering jobs are less in our country – I mean pure engineering jobs. So, these students look for other options.
3. With the advent of IB, CI such other curriculum penetrating the Indian education system, the education sector is scaling now in India. It is a lucrative profession as well.
4. When I began this career, there weren’t many IB or CI schools. But, there is a boom and the money is also good.
Hence there are engineers streaming into this career. I have colleagues who have completed their BSc/MSc in Math too. The difference I see is that they are very theoretical in approach as compared to the engineering crowd who take up teaching because they have this aptitude for applied Math. Also, in IB and CI schools, the need for applied Math is high. That is where the engineering graduates have an edge over the regular faculty.
Math is considered a difficult subject. They say, you either have it in you or you don’t.
How to bring the not-so-bright children up to speed?
That is a very good question. It is true that some children have the analytical ability and some don’t. The ones who don’t, are challenging for Math teachers. Having said that, the IB curriculum emphasizes a lot on critical thinking and applied Mathematics. So, when I teach those children, who are not gifted with analytical abilities, I make it a point to make a connection between the concept I teach and a real life situation. For instance, when I teach trigonometry, I connect it to the buildings etc. so that it is easier to consume the concept. I have realised that the more connections we make, the easier it is for children to grasp concepts. That is what I do to make sure that all children understand what I teach.
We can make a difference by bringing in real life concepts while teaching and moving away from the rote learning system. Rote learning doesn’t promote questioning of concepts or even understanding why one is learning. There is a concept and that is the end of matter. When I aligned my teaching to the IB way of thinking, I could make the subject simple.
Which classes do you teach?
Currently, grade 11 and 12. In my previous school, I have taught 9 and 10 as well.
Was your previous school also affiliated to IB?
Yes, my previous school was affiliated to ICSE and IB.
Children, from the formative years, have been conditioned and in Class 11 you get a set of students who have already gone through the churn.
Do you feel that you really can’t do too much in Class 11 and 12 because the reformative years of Math teaching has already passed?
Not really. The way I look at it is that I can do lots in Grade 11 and 12. Children coming from different backgrounds, mediums etc. come with a different mind-set and knowledge base. The first thing is to align all of them to the IB philosophy and then there is a lot that we can do.
The practical applicability of Math increases with Class 11 and 12. Of course, we build it on the base that was formed until Class 9 and 10. Of course, I have no control over the way in which the child has been conditioned – I have seen some children who have been conditioned in a very stereotypical manner who end up becoming quite a challenge but I try and connect their past learning to what they need to learn currently. Then, apply it to practical knowledge. That opens up a lot for the children as well.
They then have abundant possibilities to link their previously learned Math to practical knowledge. There are, therefore, lots of opportunities, in my view, to expand their thinking.
Do you see any difference in the way girls and boys take an interest in Math?
Not much. However, to a small extent I have seen boys apply what they have learned to business and economic abstracts. In IB, a part of our curriculum is internal assessment, wherein children have to conduct research work in Math and submit it. From what I have observed through that activity – it is that boys do these projects based on economic or business abstracts, whereas girls bring in the flavour of art and other such aspects, like environment topics. I had one student who applied it to cooking as well.
It is not that girls don’t use Math concepts for economic or business concepts, but the number is less.
How many years have you been teaching Math now?
After I completed my engineering in 2002 and became a full-time Math teacher, so ever since then, it has been about 17-18 years. Out of these 18 years, I have been an IB teacher for almost 15 years.
How has your experience been as the Head of the Department (HOD)?
It is a big responsibility because now, I am not just responsible for my students but also other students. As an HOD it’s not just about my teaching but also ensure about my colleagues doing it the right way.
In short, I would say that the whole of grade 11 and 12 becomes my responsibility and this definitely increases my work to a large extent. You always help colleagues but as an HOD the help changes to responsibility. You are responsible for that entire section of teachers and students. As an HOD, I have to see to it that they all do it the right way; that they use the right methodology and the right kind of examples in class.
The most challenging thing for an HOD would be to answer to the higher authorities. They bridge the gap between the authorities and the teachers. Everything that the teachers require and vice versa is communicated through HODs.
I am answerable to both ends of the pole. I am good with my subject and I had the respect of my colleagues – with these your work becomes easier and there is less of friction and I can stand up for them easily. When there is transparency, they know what I go through for them and they know what the management expects from them.
An HOD’s job becomes easier with transparency and if you are a person who is accepted by your department, you can get a lot done.
I understand that these can be very difficult moments as well since you are responsible for others’ performance as well. They may not be as motivated as you, right?
In such circumstances, how did you handle both situations?
I had cases where students who were not happy with their Math teacher would come and complain, etc. That is where my role as a Math HOD would be at stake.
I would speak to the teacher and would have a conversation with him/her briefing that the students are not comfortable, seeking clarity as to what may be going wrong, etc. Sometimes, it may not be a huge change that is required, and a fine tuning is all that they may require.
Sometimes, the small things we miss out may result in the fall out of students. That is where we have to take care. There have been instances where I had to sit the teacher down to understand their point of view, explain the children’s point of view and discuss what can be done and alert them of what they need to be careful about.
Again, if you have gained your colleagues’ respect and they are assured that you are not picking on them, but in fact trying to help them and want them to grow and evolve, and then your job becomes easy.
When I was faced with such situations, it is my rapport with my colleagues that helped me. I admit that these were moments of stress for me, but I feel I handled it well. The support my colleagues made it easy.
So, as a Math HOD, what in your opinion will be an ideal math department?
Irrespective of the subject, an ideal department is one where there is open communication among team members. In my previous school, I have seen departments which lacked this. So, some things go into your head and other remains open – this becomes a communication barrier and can hamper the progress of the department.
I have come to understand that things don’t go well if there are communication gaps. To top it, if the HOD is not approachable it sows more seeds for frustration. The communication gap not just surfaces between teachers and the HOD, it creeps into the relationships between teachers as well.
As a result, the working environment gets toxic.
So, an ideal department is where there is free flowing communication. It is one where every member respects each other, cooperates with one another and has a clear understanding between each other.
My first project after taking up this role was to bring in free flowing communication. To bring in communication, I brought in transparency, positive intent and the sense of oneness that we are all constantly learning something new.
I strongly believe that higher authorities should possess the work ethic to make colleagues feel that we are all team members working towards a single goal, rather than playing boss. When we all work together, we become a team! Now the best part of gathering of being a team is to grow and nurture each other’s growth. There are no selfish and hidden motives. The atmosphere becomes motivating and positive!
All this positive energy pushes everyone do their best and work scales up. That is the atmosphere in my team now. We help each other, share resources and share ideas with an open mind.
If you were to hire a Math teacher for your department, what would you look for?
I would want to understand if they love the subject because if one doesn’t love the subject they are going to teach, they cannot be a good person with all the frustration that may eventually set in. If you love the subject, you will try increasing the knowledge about the subject, try different things in the subject and in the process you will help students and other teachers as well. So, the love for the subject would be the first thing I look for.
The second thing what I try to understand is if this person loves students. A good teacher will always have a soft corner for students; one who has the patience to repeat what they have taught, as many times as required. They will have the patience and the mind to go deep into why a person is unable to grasp a concept. A good teacher would delve into thinking what more could be done to get those children to crack the concept. So, with the right attitude, shelling out some extra time to get those children to come to speed would be something that would be initiated by the teacher itself. So, it is essential that the person loves the subject and is warm to children.
If these two conditions are satisfied, then even if I find them that they are not experts in some areas of Math, I would hire them because they would make an effort to learn and give it their best shot.
On the other hand, if the person is only interested in completing the job and going back home, then what is the point even if you are an expert?
When you appraise a teacher – when you evaluate whether one has done a good job or not – what are the parameters you have in mind?
Performance criteria to evaluate a teacher is:
1. Student’s opinion about the teacher. Even if exam marks have not been very good, if the children are of the opinion that that teacher is very approachable, makes the class interesting, etc. I think then, the teacher has done his/her job.
A teacher cannot guarantee anybody’s marks. Every child is different and the marks that the child fetches are dependent on his/her ability of the child.
2. The ability of a teacher would lie in how he/she gains the respect of the children. Children can evaluate teachers quite easily. Of course, if the teacher has pushed boundaries to help children reach their objectives then the teacher has done his/her job. It is a teacher’s job to make the classroom’s atmosphere conducive for each child to rise and reach their potential.
Do you see monotony setting in after a while in the teaching profession – a feeling that there is nothing more to learn/grow in this career anymore? Any frustrations that have set in within this span of career that you have built?
The IB has a very robust and path-breaking curriculum. I remember that the curriculum had changed in 2014 and it required us – teachers to develop our skills and hone our skills to impart this knowledge to the children in the most effective way. So here, there is a constant nudge to evolve yourself as a teacher. I hear, the syllabus will change again next year and it changes quite drastically. This would largely mean to brush up our knowledge bank and understand how we can teach better. Hence, there is a need to constantly rebuild ourselves.
Another thing about the IB curriculum is, we have internal assessments, in which each child has to research on the topics we teach and we have to guide them so that they do a meaningful piece of work. That again requires us to be up-to-date because in research work, the child may pick up any topic from anywhere and hence, it is sometimes a journey of self-discovery because even if the child has picked up an area which is alien to the teacher, they are expected to support the children. Hence, in this curriculum, it is always work in progress and we never feel monotonous. We are kept on the edge to push ourselves to expand our comfort zone.
Do you hail from Mumbai?
I was born in Rajasthan, did my early schooling in Muscat, Oman – my father worked there at that time. From grade 1 until my engineering days I was in Mumbai.
For a brief period of 6 months I was in Dubai. I have worked as a teacher over there too. But, I moved back because it didn’t work out financially for me. Barring a few years here and there, I have mostly been in Mumbai.
Is there anything else you like to talk about?
If it is of any help, I have also been guiding students for Model United Nations (MUN). That is one of the extracurricular activities that our students do, where we help students to participate in MUN. This is where children represent themselves as delegates from countries and discuss over topics. I train children for this event. It is very interesting and is quite an innovative activity for children.
What kind of training goes into that?
It is a little different from debate because the children will need to participate in an event, where there are other children representing other countries.
For example, they can be representing the G20 committee. So, every student who participates will act as a delegate of a G20 country – India, China, France, etc., to discuss a current hot topic like terrorism or trade and impact of trade and every child is asked to put forward the stand of that particular country that he/she is representing.
Children have to do a lot of research to understand the kind of difficulties that each country is facing. We, as trainers, have to train children as to what kind of things wouldn’t go in their favour, the opportunities they should look for to speak up about certain issues. Those are things that we do as part of this activity.
We have had this in India and there are events happening all over the world. We take our children for such events as well. I have had the opportunity to take a team of my students twice to Singapore and once to Korea for such an event and currently a team of students and teachers are going to Spain to participate in Harvard Model Congress as they call it.