Megha Saban – IBDP Facilitator – The Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad
Fascinated by Chemistry, Ms Megha Saban shares the same chemistry with her passion to teach as well. Ms Megha speaks about her chemistry with her subject, her teaching, her students and the schools she has taught at. Her sharp observations and aspirations has made this conversation very enriching.
Please introduce yourself and what got you interested in plunging into the education career?
I come from a small town in Madhya Pradesh called Jabalpur. I was born and brought up there. I studied at St Joseph’s convent. After my schooling, I graduated and post graduated in Science, specializing in organic Chemistry. I am an MSc Gold Medallist.
I then, joined St. Xavier’s High School in Jabalpur. During my career there I was truly taken in by the influence that teachers have on children. In our convent school, not many parents come and interact with teachers much unless a parent-teacher meeting is called for. But, it was different at St. Xavier’s. By the time, we wrap up for the day, most parents come and enquire how their child was doing; they would voice what their children tell about us at home, etc.
While working at St. Xavier’s I did my Bachelor of Education; I was part of that school for about 4.5 years before I got married off and settled in Ahmedabad.
In Ahmedabad, I joined Eklavya International School. In about a year’s time, I was on the family way and hence, took a 3-year gap. It is after that that I entered the international education field.
I was stunned by the manner in which you can teach concepts without instilling rote learning at international schools. I have been teaching the IB Diploma Programme and IGCSE for the past 7-8 years. It has remarkably made a positive influence in me and strengthened my belief that being a teacher is one of life’s best choices I have made.
What made you interested in Chemistry as a subject?
Chemistry is something wherein you get to see the results then and there itself. The good thing about chemicals is that you can see the reactions happening. Chemistry fascinates me – the colours, the sounds, and the intensity of the reaction. You don’t get all these in Physics, Biology etc. Getting to see reactions is something unique to Chemistry.
In Biology, you get to make some slides or dissect a few animals. In Physics, you get to do hypothetical experiments which may or may not correlate with what you see. But in Chemistry, if you take chlorine in a sample of salt, for instance, you get to replicate this experiment in toothpaste and see for yourself if there is chlorine in your toothpaste, or face cream etc.
I remember in my last school, one of the Admin Directors bought a cream which claimed to be ammonia-free. She knew that no cream could be ammonia-free so she gave it me to check if there is ammonia present in it or not. I, of course, couldn’t tell it quantitatively but we have tests in Chemistry to check if ammonia is present in something or not. Likewise, there are simple chemical tests that you can perform with things around you. This can be to check adulteration in your food stuff, presence of chlorine in your toothpaste or ammonia in your face cream, etc. I am truly fascinated by Chemistry.
You mentioned that at St. Xavier’s, parents would come and tell you teachers what children tell about you at their homes and that feedback is what got you more rooted in this career. What do you think you are doing right that gets children to talk about you?
Children won’t understand a subject unless they understand a teacher. The first thing you have to do in class is to make children comfortable.
Chemistry is a frightening subject for many children. Even now when I teach in Grade 11, we have a batch of 40 students who opted for Chemistry. They were apprehensive of how they would make through with Chemistry. I assure them that all they have to do was just be with me and journey through. I tell them to take it one class at a time and spare themselves of thinking of the big picture because that is what we are there for. I am very particular not to start teaching until I instill confidence in my students and they feel comfortable and confident in me.
How do we get there by being fair?
As a student myself, I have seen how students in teachers’ good books get special favours and these things happen so naturally that rarely is the teacher conscious of the partially he/she is showering. Subconsciously you respond better to your favourite students’ questions. One rarely thinks about the quieter students in class. This subconscious act instills the thought that only good and outgoing students can excel in life.
Teachers should take the effort of making the quiet students open up and express their level of understanding. If this vibe is not present, those neglected students would never understand the subject. So, building a rapport with all your students is extremely crucial. Once your students are comfortable, you can make them run, walk or anything and everything you want them to do.
My mantra of teaching is to first build every child’s confidence. Once they have confidence in me, they are in an acceptance mode and that is what we want.
And, you feel that this one thing in itself makes a huge difference.
That is the first step. Unless they are with you in your boat, your whole essence of teaching is void. You have to first make sure they are with you. So, build the rapport and be in line with them.
All students are not going to understand using one methodology. Different students have different needs. Our aim should be to understand what it takes to build that understanding in the minds of each and every one of your students. It can be through a presentation, group work, etc. Understand what it takes so that all students are on the same page as you. Strategize your class so that the concepts are accepted.
When we are in school, as a student, or even as a teacher it is all about completing portions and examinations that needs to be given. The success of it all depends on the grades that students get. Do you feel that pressure that at the end of the day, you just have to get the students to pass the exam?
I understand. I think, marks are very deceptive. It doesn’t help judge the intellect of students. Having said that, unfortunately in this world, we are only concerned about marks. People who score high are valued. So, I do weekly tests. I keep it simple and assure my students that these marks are not going to be recorded anywhere. Those tests are for them and me to understand where they are standing in terms of understanding the subject.
Once the students get comfortable with the fact that these marks are not going to be recorded, they work better towards it. As soon as you put the pressure that marks will get recorded, out of sheer pressure they may under perform. We have formal monthly tests. But we have these informal small weekly tests as well to get an understanding of their understanding.
In one of my classes, there was this student who would never score well in the monthly tests. The weekly tests helped him overcome his fear. He has been open about his nervousness when writing the monthly tests. So, I assured him that we will have these tests in a controlled environment – writing the exam in an examination room. Gradually he got better and I was really happy for the child when he overcame that fear because he was a truly hard working child. So, it is up to us teachers to strategize and guide children out of the fears they hold.
What are those opportunities where you look at new ideas and strategies and pick it up? Is it from your own learning experience or do you have the other faculty from whom you can learn? How do you keep yourself updated?
The best people to keep me updated are my students. If your students do not understand your teaching, you have to look for different opportunities. In IB, we have an international community of teachers, wherein we can discuss those areas where we get stuck and other teachers let us know how they would have dealt with a similar situation. I keep myself updated and am a regular person at that forum. It helps me a lot.
I also check if the proposed strategy works with the students or not. I have had this student from Thailand. In Thailand, they are not very comfortable with the English language. I am teaching states of matter – a very basic thing. But he isn’t able to understand. So, I have to go back and show him what solids, liquids and gases are. You cannot expect such questions from a Class X student. But then, you have to go back and try and understand whether he/she really understand what you teach. If not, you will have to build different strategies.
So, I gave them a paper and asked them to make small balls out of it and arrange it on a paper to show the arrangement in a solid body and then for liquid and gas. He understood the concept with that activity.
I see that you have been with Kodaikanal International School and the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad. Do these schools organize workshops, trainings, etc.?
Yes, in IB there are workshops organized for the subject as well as for the core elements. When the teachers share ideas, it gets us thinking if we can implement any of those ideas in our own class. We have lots of opportunities for interaction with each other.
The other day I was teaching my students how to build the Melting and Heating Point Curves. We saw that the same concept of plotting data on excel sheet was taught in Math. So, we – the Math teacher and I – collaborated with each other and did a combined class to understand how Math and Science works together. That way, children can take a concept from Science and try to build their knowledge of Math and vice versa.
Does the school organize workshops for teachers as well, wherein you get to travel and see others places as well?
When I was in my first international school, I had no idea what the international curriculum was all about. My first international school, KIIT, Bhubaneshwar sent me to attend a workshop in Mumbai, after I completed an online workshop. They sent me to Mumbai for IB training, following which I had to go to The British School, New Delhi.
There I informally learned a lot about the working pattern of IB schools. If we have a formal structure, the workshop is designed and is presented by a person who has an agenda in mind and they would cover only those points. But the best part of being part of an informal visit is that you can ask as many questions as you please. You can divide the day as per your convenience. The visit to that British School worked really well for me to plan my way ahead. Likewise, most schools that follow the international curriculum send inexperienced teachers to such workshops.
As a teacher in an international school, would it be right to say that facilities such as getting an environment/support to learn new strategies, to collaborate, etc. are confined to international schools alone? Or, do you see it happening in our ICSE/CBSE/State Board schools as well?
I had mentioned that I was a part of St. Xavier’s School. Xavier’s is an ISC school and it has branches all over India. But, it depends on what the community want? How does the higher administration cater to the requirements of their teachers? That is what counts.
St.Xavier’s functions like a normal school. You teach a subject and the world over there is just about you and your students. There are no collaboration opportunities. It functions like a secluded compartment.
I was part of Eklavya School, which again functioned with compartmentalization. But the higher admin, made sure that you collaborated. They organised weekly meetings wherein everybody talks about something or the other. So, opportunities for teachers depend on the higher admin’s vision.
IB is a very successful program and so is ISC. If you ask me which I’d like to be part of, it will be Eklavya School because the management there was extremely helpful. I was appointed at Eklavya to teach Grade 12 ISC. I didn’t know that internally a teacher wanted to take over that class. She was not given the opportunity for whatever reason. When I joined that school, she was very indifferent to me. She was also candid enough to ask me why I couldn’t resign. I resigning was beyond my understanding.
One day when I was absent, she came over and enquired about the reason for my absence. Before I could answer, our Principal intervened and asked why she was after me all the time and reprimanded saying that she had no right enquiring the reason behind my absence, etc. If you are new to a school and a senior teacher decides to bully you and the Principal intervenes positively, it is a huge relief.
The difference is all about the management. Otherwise, between teachers, there is no difference. In fact, I am of the opinion that CBSE teachers are much more knowledgeable than anybody else. But the manner in which they are supplemented matters a lot.
How about your current school? Is it a fully residential school?
Not exactly. It is a day cum residential school. We have day boarders and we have some students living in boarding. We have weekly boarders as well who come for 5 days and they go home for the weekends.
The best part about this school is that if you have talent, you stand to get 100% scholarship. In whichever part of the world you reside, if the school recognises your talent, they pick you and sponsor your studies, clothing, and food and to and fro travel from home as well. They even sponsor trips for parents who want to visit.
There is no divide between the rich and the poor. We have no clue which students are supported versus which are not. We have a very balanced approach that way. In most schools, if you think about it, there is a fine line of divide between the rich and the poor. This school is devoid of that.
Am I correct in understanding that this is a very recent school?
Yes, it started in 2010. It has been around for 9-10 years old and has branches all over the world.
In fact, the Aga Khan framework has many other programmes other than teaching. They are into humanitarian work, finance services etc. Hence, it operates in many sectors.
If you didn’t come into the teaching space, what do you think you would have ventured into? Any regrets some times?
If not teaching, I would have been a singer. But, teaching was on my mind 90% of the time. The way you interact with people and get new ideas from students is really very exciting. There is no inhibition for students to talk to teachers.
I remember last year we had an exchange program with students from Africa. I am not very good at Social Studies. All along my life, I have read that in Egypt there is one river called the Nile and I understood that Nile is the main river. While teaching I happened to say that in Egypt there is just one river. At that point the African students refrained from getting up and shouting at me.
They came up to me while leaving the class and queried if I would be offended if they told me something. Upon my consent, they elaborated that there are many more rivers in Africa other than the Nile. I was very impressed by how gently and calmly they gave me that information.
What has been some of the frustrating moments of your career?
The frustrating moment is when the school calendar does not align with your calendar. There are certain times when it should only be studies but the school decides to take the students away for a project. I understand that the admin also has their own way of working but sudden surprises in the academic calendar, which is fixed at the beginning of the year, disturbs the rhythm of the students.
Yesterday, for instance, we had a class, the students then had to go for a lab class where they had to perform calculations. In between that one of the teachers from the admin section came over to take photos on the iPad. It is a one minute job for the admin – go out and click a picture but not so for the students. It is a disturbance in their rhythm of activities and it takes time for them to settle back. These things can be frustrating. In fact, a student even voiced their difference in opinion about sudden spark of such activities. It is a put off.
What are your aspirations looking forward?
Eventually I want to become a diploma program coordinator wherein I get to see how other subjects are being handled as well. In IB you have to choose subjects. Sometimes or most of the times, students tend to choose these subjects based on how many of his/her friends chose that subject. Sometimes once in a class, they realize that that subject is not really their cup of tea. The coordinator is someone who can influence their choice, positively. So, I aim to be in that position someday.