RAJARSHI GHOSHAL -SENIOR MATHEMATICS TEACHER & Coordinator for ASSET and Olympiad Examinations- Candor International School, Bangalore

How I became a mathematics teacher ?

I first completed my masters in Computer Application. Ever since I was in high school I was very much into studies and music. I believed then and I believe now that knowledge is a form of God and teaching also, is very much associated with divinity.

I have always wanted to spread knowledge as much as I yearned to gain it. When I completed my MCA in 2012, I got a lot of offers from software companies. I realized then that if I were to work in the software industry, I would not be able to spare time for self-study and further education. So, I decided to continue with my profession as a teacher.

And before I knew it, I was a full time faculty at Manya Education Pvt Ltd., helping those interested to go abroad and study. I was teaching GRE, GMAT, Calculus, etc. I realized that I really enjoyed this profession and that it gave me a lot of peace and happiness.

The first school I taught at was Gems Academia International School, Kolkata. By then, I got bored teaching GRE, GMAT etc. That’s why I pursued to educate at schools. My next aim is a Ph D, which I need to pursue shortly. I have also worked with colleges and universities and enjoyed teaching there as well.

Challenges of teaching at a school

There is a huge difference between teaching at Princeton Review and at a regular school. Usually students who come for GRE, GMAT, etc. preparations, are either engineering students or people who may already be working in the mechanical, IT or architectures sectors. So, training them is much simpler – all you have to do is teach them the short cuts to an answer.

But, school education is a different ball game altogether. Here, you have to teach them the logic, the application and the short cuts as well. You have to train their minds to visualize the problem and teach them how easily they can arrive at a solution.

I mean, a problem can be solved in 10 different ways and every student has a different mindset. So, you must improvise your teaching methodologies for different students.
I have always been good with students. The high schoolers in particular, are fun to teach because you can live up to your knowledge with them and they practice all that you tell them to. They also come with very inquisitive questions.

I have felt it very challenging to get through to students who are not all that into mathematics. That in itself is a challenge; but, at the same time, it gives me great thrill in bringing non-mathematicians to like mathematics. I feel people are generally scared of mathematics and in that perspective, math is an often misunderstood subject.
There are schools like Cambridge, etc. that permit students from dropping Math from their choice of study. And, then there are students who don’t understand Math to the required depth – working with them and bringing them to a certain level is a challenging yet fulfilling space for me. It is also the favorite part of my career.

Teaching Mathematics in India

As per Indian style of teaching, math is given a theoretical approach. All the boards – CBSE, ICSE and state boards try keeping up with the changing phase of education methodologies by also giving hands on examples etc. That is the best way to teach.

I have observed that people know math but when they are asked to apply that knowledge into real life situation problems, they lack confidence. They have some idea but they feel lost among equations and many other theories. That is the challenge with today’s education. They have to focus on exposing children to life scenarios along with all the theory they pour on them.

Chemistry, Physics etc. always have labs. Economics has case studies. But math is the one which gives people a scare. But the scare can get converted into a subject of great interest if they can apply it to their real life situations.
I must say schools do try to bring in a lot of practical applications. But these ideas are not board driven, usually.

Some schools may do it whilst others don’t. But international boards have that as a guiding rule to have activities. That way students imbibe knowledge while having fun – that way, learning is multifold.
You have to take care to be at par with the student’s level to crack the best method in which that student would understand how to go about a particular problem.

I am not aware of what others do. I personally explain the concept and first make sure that the students know a certain amount of background, before I begin teaching. I try getting a pulse of the class. If I feel they don’t have a solid background, I try to support them better; I check with them outside class hours, during lunch break or something and try to find out if I can do something to help them out.

All the students in India, under all boards have to take up Math till grade 10. So, if a student does not have his/her fundamentals clear, the first and the most important thing is to clarify and make them understand the fundamentals to get them to work forward. You have to work on both aspects simultaneously in such scenarios.

I mean, in a class of 10, if 2 students are struggling because they do not know basic concepts, you have to teach the fundamentals along with the regular class.

What I have seen is, 90% of schools focus on building the fundamentals of subjects. However, it would be good to have a Math lab. I mean, the Math lab period can be a class conducted in the Physics lab, Chemistry or Bio lab, etc.

Also, an exclusive Math lab should be there, where we can see simulations and videos. Honestly, teachers can program such simulations. There should be a certain number of hours/week dedicated for the lab activities. This will help students map theoretical concepts with real life.

The thing is Math is not just about numbers, it can be found everywhere.

Frustrations in a teaching job

(Laughs) Well, teaching is the most interesting part of my job. On the other hand, the frustrating part is the documentation part. You know, we are expected to fill lots of forms, maintain records, send emails, etc. This administrative part can get irritating.

I take about 30 classes a week. Amidst that, these paper works tend to take your focus away, at times. Out of 30, 26 are regular classes. Then there are substitution classes that come our way, which for me is boring.

(Laughs again) I get bored with invigilation duties as well. Imagine doing nothing, but roaming around and watching students writing.

The thing is these administrative works sometimes take away the time, which we can utilize to research and prepare better for our classes. That aspect is what frustrates me.

Teacher appraisal

The first thing we were taught when we were mentored for this profession, is that our students should enjoy coming to our class, and they should learn at the same time.

I follow the same principle. If my classes entice my students and they enjoy it, they would, for sure, recollect whatever I taught them. Teachers should strive to make their classes interactive and stay away from giving boring lectures. That is my first thought.

Also, you should design a class that would cater to the needs of all the students present in your class. There should be a proper coefficient of the popularity of the teacher based on how humane he/she is, as a mentor. It should touch upon all the spheres of a teacher’s profession.

Having said that, he/she must be able to complete the curriculum and do something extra to give an edge to the student to go ahead and explore on their own if they choose to. Students and teachers should be encouraged to walk that extra mile. To a large extent, teachers should create that curiosity. It involves a certain amount of analysis and thought.

About B. Ed classes

Honestly, a few of my friends suggested that since I am teaching in a school and since I intend to be doing this for the next 4-5 years, I do a B. Ed course. So, I thought doing a B. Ed would be an apt thing if I move into some Indian curriculum.

B Ed was the outcome of not knowing if I was going on the right track. At that time, I got to read a few books through which I got to know a lot of things that were unknown to me at that time.
It taught me the various levels and history of education. I also am very interested in psychology – to understand how the mind and brain works. One part in those books spoke about child development and education – the correlation and the methodologies, etc.

Earlier, I didn’t know these things and I feel if you care to put B. Ed learning to practice, it is really worth a course to pursue. You get to know the journey that the education industry offers and what you can do to make it better.

Had I taken up B Ed earlier, I would have sat through the classes just as part of my ongoing academics. I wouldn’t really have understood why each part exists. But I do now and I am grateful.

Technology tools in teaching

Honestly, I do showcase and share a lot of videos from Khan Academy. Sometimes, I make my own as well, and share it with my students.

I think it is a good approach, especially for people who do not have an understanding of what is going on. They can pick up a lot of concepts from such videos. Even if students are absent, you can send them these videos so that they get an understanding of what we did in class.

Schools should also strive to have video recordings of certain classes, which they should publish on the website. This will help children and it is a boost to the teacher’s confidence as well. So, in my opinion, videos are a very good idea.

Future plans

So far I am satisfied with what I do. As far as my long term goal goes, I would like to continue teaching in schools only and haven’t planned anything beyond that. It gives me the utmost satisfaction, to be honest.
However, I would like to conclude by sharing something. I was addicted to programming during my MCA days. At the time, I used to wonder why I can’t program human beings. Now that I am a teacher, I realize that I am indeed programming human beings – I program them not to make robots but to make them better individuals.

Contact- Email: rajarshi03@rediffmail.com