Talking to Ankit Agarwal – Mathematics teacher

Tell us about how you got involved in teaching?

I started my schooling with the UP board. I was weak in Mathematics until class 8. After I passed out of class 8, I felt the urge to improve in Math. So, I took that as a challenge in class 9. The next two years I worked very hard and improved a lot in my class 9 and 10. This improvement further increased my interest in Math and gave me the confidence to opt for it as my first subject in class 11.

English was another big hurdle for me until class 10. I was struggling with English and it can be because I was in a Hindi medium school. I took that also as a challenge and in Class 11, I switched from Hindi medium to English medium.

I began my teaching career at a very early age. At the age of 17, when I was weighing my possibilities to start a career, I chose teaching because to me it is the noblest of all careers. I chose to be a Math teacher because with the entire struggle and all the effort poured into it, I had excelled in it.
I started teaching as a private tutor ever since I completed standard 12. In that perspective, I have been teaching since 2003 and my students used to score well too. It was after my graduation that I started considering teaching in schools.

I started my journey as a school teacher in my hometown, Shahjahanpur, UP at Don and Donna Convent School. I was part of that school for 6 years. Then I moved to G D Birla Memorial School, Ranikhet and a year later joined the Shiv Nadar Foundation. I have been working with Shiv Nadar Foundation for almost 5 years now.
I had started with classes 6,7,8,9 and 10. Currently, I teach classes 9-12.

What do you think are your strengths as a teacher?

I believe my strength is that I understand each child. I notice that while I take my class, not a single child feels that Math is a tough subject. I can teach Math with ease and comfort. I take the effort to go to the level of each child while I take classes.
Another thing is that I constantly counsel myself. I also plan for what I want and then work towards it. This is what I transmit into my students as well.
From the very beginning, I help students plan what they want to achieve and help them reach that goal.
As per my observation, I have seen that most students who say that Math is tough do not say it because of a personal difficulty. It is because that is what they get to hear the most – Math is tough. So, it is kind of advertised to the child at various points in time.
I have seen that with proper guidance, children ace at Math. It is not that any of their intelligent quotient is low, it is just that they haven’t been practicing enough, which is the outcome of their internal dialogue that Math is a tough or a dry subject. So, the main thing is to change this internal dialogue to “I can do it”. Once they feel that they can do – they can excel in the subject.

What do you enjoy most about being a Math teacher?

I love teaching. I take it as a challenge when I am handling a bunch of students who seem to feel bored etc. I like to see the transformation that they have at the end of the class. I like making my class energetic and making them experience the simplicity of Math. This is particularly true for older classes – they feel that chapters are lengthier, tougher etc.
I like the feeling when, at the end my class, my students feel how simple things actually are. That feedback leaves me with a confidence that my students have learnt something.

Is there any aspect of this profession that you dislike?

Well, if you ask any teacher, answer paper correction is something most of us dislike. Personally, I understand that that is an inevitable part of my job but when asked if there is anything I dislike – that is the only thing I dislike.

We have heard from many teachers that the admin and reporting work makes teachers feel diverted from their core responsibility – have you also felt that way?

I agree with those statements – yes. Apart from teaching, today, teachers have to do a lot of other things. Having said that, today’s world demands multifunctional and multi-skilled people. That is true for teachers as well.
Being a Math teacher alone is not enough; I am required to be a good counsellor, an administrator, a leader, an organizer, etc.

How do you keep yourself updated about your subject?

Being up to date about the subject is a very vital demand in our profession, as in other professions. If I feel any of my students are unable to grasp something with all the techniques I use, then I retrospect and try to understand what more I can do to set it right for that student.

Some students don’t get high marks in maths. Your comments.

Indian education currently focuses and runs on the grading system. Personally, I am not very happy with that system. A student, perhaps, cannot score well at that point in time. That shouldn’t be highlighted and made a big deal of. The focus should be on making sure that the students grabs the context. Marks can go low for myriad reasons.
Secondly, there can be students who are not very great in Mathematics. There are so many other areas that they may be excellent in. Society, of course, has a very crude way of looking at marks.
But yes, today’s reality is about scoring good marks and I try to mitigate this by making students understand that ‘good’ is subjective to each person. Each person needs to decide what good is for them.
Before I start any class, in the beginning of the term, I very clearly discuss what the target is for each student. And this is a discussion, not a thrust of power. My students and I work based out of that target.

What do you think is an ideal school for teachers?

That is a good question, checking what an ideal school is for teachers. Again, it is all about individual preferences. For instance, my current school is a school for privileged children. I don’t see any issue with respect to discipline, facilities, parents’ pressure, etc. But, there are people who may be of a different opinion, right? We can all define ideal schools, but it is a personal preference at the end of the day.
Some people are happy that their children are studying in a very low budget school; it can also be that somebody who’s child is in a very big school offering all sorts of facilities, is not happy. So, it is hard to define such things.

What would your choice be?

I am very much happy with the Shiv Nadar Foundation – very good and well-disciplined students. We don’t have to worry about anything much. Management is very understanding. They provide everything that is necessary for a child’s development.
For me, this is an ideal school.

How do you rate mathematics syllabus offered by different education Boards ?

I do not know much about the IB syllabus. I have gone through CBSE, ICSE, and ISC. I was teaching ICSE from 2006-2010.
I find ICSE syllabus very effective. In comparison, I feel that the CBSE Board should revise their syllabus because a lot of life skills are incorporated in the ICSE syllabus.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I am 34 years old now. I would like to continue as a teacher for the next 5 years. In the next 10 years, I would like to serve as a Vice Principal at a national level.

For youngsters who aspire to take up teaching as a career, what will you say?

It is one of the noblest of jobs and is a white-collar job as well. When it comes to the IT sector jobs for example, you can be replaced by someone who is more technically bright. But in the field of education, you keep sharpening your teaching skills as long as you are in it.
I always promote my profession. Having said that, it should be an individual choice not something which is thrust on you. As long as you enjoy your profession, you get better at it every day. This happens only if you have made a conscience decision regarding your career.