Talking to Ms. Nilam Das -Senior Chemistry Mentor -Lucky International School, Jodhpur
Please tell me about yourself – how did you get into teaching?
Sure. I started my career at a very young age because I lost my father when I was 17 years old. Since then, I have been taking tuition for CBSE Class IX, X, XI and XII.
That fueled my studies and I went on to complete my Masters by the age of 22. Then, I became a full-time teacher. I have now completed my M. Phil and Ph. D and I continue teaching.
In the course of my career, I have been associated with all kind of education boards – CBSE, ICSE and IGCSE. I have also taught in colleges for 6 years.
Currently, I am teaching at Lucky International School, Jodhpur in Rajasthan as an A Level Chemistry teacher.
How many years of teaching experience do you have in total?
I have around 15 years of teaching experience.
Which was the first school you started teaching at?
I started at a CBSE School in the Bihar-Bengal border area.
Where are you from?
My native place is in the Bihar-Bengal-Bangladesh border area. It is in the Bihar district but near to Bengal and Bangladesh. I was born there. My early education was over there itself. I went to Sikkim for my University education.
You mentioned you have completed your Ph. D – which subject is that in?
Chemistry – I did my Ph. D at Bihar and M. Phil from Sikkim.
When did you start teaching?
It was in 2004.
What are your views about the various education boards? Are the teaching patterns the same?
I have taught in many places as well – Bihar, West Bengal, Mumbai, Maharashtra and currently in Rajasthan. And at various places I have been associated with various boards – CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE. I have been a college lecturer as well.
The language in which we teach for all boards is the same. The basics are the same – in Chemistry, for instance, an atom is an atom and a molecule is a molecule. The pattern of assessment is what sets them apart. Another point of difference, is the amount of content we need to teach in a particular class. For CBSE it is relatively less, ICSE and IGCSE, it is more. According to me, these are the only differences.
You are teaching Classes XI and XII . Which has been the most challenging board for you?
Yes, I teach the equivalent of XI and XII.
In my experience, as far as teaching is concerned and from the student’s side as well, I feel IGCSE is easier because it gives them ample sources to make children think.
In CBSE there is a defined curriculum. You give it to the children in a set mode, they mug up and write it down. Thinking capacity does not develop when it comes to the CBSE curriculum.
In IG, on the other hand, it promotes thinking, learning and problem solving. They do not focus on mugged up answers. There is no scope for that. They are given the concepts and they get well versed at it. To answer their assessments, however, they have to do a lot of thinking.
So, in my opinion, IGCSE is better.
Does that make IGCSE tougher for a teacher to teach? I mean how do you train people to think?
Yes, that is there. I used to teach IGCSE in Mumbai around 8-9 years back. That was a time when this syllabus was only popular in big cities.
Here in Rajasthan, of course this concept is very new. People are more used to the CBSE approach. Nowadays, international schools have started IGCSE as well. They have started it at the primary level itself. Those children get used to this curriculum and syllabus.
Is there any difference when it comes to being a teacher in a normal CBSE school and an international school?
Not much. In fact, IGCSE can prove more difficult for teachers. You have to gather all kinds of knowledge and give maximum to the students so that students are enabled to think properly. They have to have all the knowledge regarding a particular topic.
In CBSE, it is all well-defined – the start and end points are dictated to you.
Different students have got different capabilities. Some are good at mugging up and remembering and some are good at thinking.
Where are these IGCSE final exam papers evaluated? Do these A-level papers of international schools go out of the country?
Yes, they are evaluated abroad.
Do papers come to India to get corrected too?
Not yet. They do appoint examiners but we are not involved in paper correction.
In these international schools, do you get paid better than in other schools?
The international schools do have slightly higher pay than the other schools. But nowadays branded CBSE schools also offer 7th pay commission. This is the outcome of school competitiveness. However, the reality is that most CBSE schools don’t follow the 7th pay scale. They offer almost 50% of what is required to be paid. That is very demotivating.
Are you saying that the CBSE schools who offer the 7th pay commission are good schools, from a teacher’s point of view?
Yes. Schools like DPS offer competitive salaries and are at par with international schools.
When you look for a job, what else do you look for other than the salary point?
In general, people look for the salary and locality. I definitely would look at the locality in which the school is positioned.
Certain localities wouldn’t appeal to me. And, of course, I will look at the salary package. We teachers work very hard. I think it is fair to look for a good package. I would also look for a chance to grow. I would try to analyse if the place I am going to will have scope to make me grow as a person.
As a teacher what, according to you, is growth?
I had switched from teaching CBSE to college and then, I got back to IGCSE. The reason for not going back to CBSE is that the chances of growth is very limited. But, there may be other administrative positions or something that may open up.
Would you like to go for such a position if you get one? Is that what you look for?
For a Science teacher such positions will be a burden, to be honest.
You are a person who has traveled around quite a bit. Why haven’t you stuck to a place?
Yes. I like travelling. I like understanding new cultures and people from different places. I like these travel experiences. Travelling is a hobby and this way I get to satisfy my hobby while doing my job.
In fact learning about different places and people helps me a lot when I tackle with different kind of students in my class. I can understand the psychology of the children in my class, which is of great value.
Do you see any difference in the students in the various schools you have taught?
Earlier it used to be different but now because of the higher reach of information through mobile and internet, people are becoming similar. Earlier I used to feel children in Mumbai are more advanced when compared to other children. But, I don’t see much of a difference now. They are still different but at a very marginal level.
Nowadays, we have international schools even in smaller towns, not just in places like Mumbai, Delhi etc.
Yes, we do.
What do you think will be the future education of these children after this A level?
Earlier, only the affluent used to think of giving their children this kind of education. They used to want to send their children to the States or Europe for further education. Whereas, in small towns, people used to aspire to send their children to other states like Bangalore and Mumbai.
Times have changed. There are many people who have a lot of money. Some of the parents here are filthy rich. They may not be very educated but they are extremely rich and they have the capacity to send their children to foreign lands to complete their education.
What was it about Chemistry that attracted you?
Honestly, I used to like the length of the answers we had in Chemistry. Compared to other subjects, I find Chemistry answers much simpler and the gaining marks in Chemistry was much simpler for me than other subjects.
But since you continued sticking to it all the way till Ph. D, you must have been passionate about it, right?
Yes, that is true. I wasn’t very keen on it until +2. But I gradually I developed interest in it and when I got better marks in Chemistry I got attracted to it even more.
Good! But when you teach the same subject over and over again, don’t you get bored?
Well, teaching can get boring sometimes when you teach the same subject. But we have gotten past it. This boredom doesn’t affect us anymore.
I bring in different activities – lab or outdoor etc. But, yes 80% of it is the same.
Do you feel exhausted?
Teaching job is very exhausting compared to other jobs. Some jobs are physically draining and then there are others that are mentally draining. Teaching is both mentally and physically draining.
Continuously talking, standing continuously for hours, getting weak students at par with others, and then there are corrections, etc. So unlike other jobs, we don’t feel tired at the end of the week. We feel tired at the end of the day itself.
Does being in certain schools make a difference?
Yes! It all depends on your boss (Headmaster/Principal). If the boss is cooperative and friendly, everything is good. You may not feel tired even if you have to teach two extra classes. You still feel energized.
On the other hand, if the boss is not cooperative and someone who doesn’t want to listen to you; if they just command you around, the whole thing becomes very stressful.
Nowadays, schools are kept understaffed and this will burden the few teachers that are there with everything that needs to be done. All this, and we have to deliver quality teaching as well. I am not sure how to achieve that.
How would you define a good teacher?
See, even if a person is a Ph. D. holder but students can’t make out what that person is teaching, what is the point? On the other hand, there are gifted teachers who may only hold a bachelor’s degree.
The content that the teacher delivers should be easily understood by anybody – the young or old. We have to create an interest in the subject in the students’ minds. Once they get curious, they will continue liking what is brought to them.
Teachers can’t be expected to be like robots. We have to understand and devise methods to generate curiosity among students. Teachers should be effective communicators and be well-versed in their subject.
It is interesting that you have a college tenure too because most school teachers don’t do that. What was it like to teach college students?
I felt teaching in a college is easier. I feel if you have a good command over your subject, teaching in a college is easier than teaching in a school. They are grown up children who don’t disturb the rhythm of the class. You deliver the class, they may ask one or two questions. So, if you have a good command over the subject and have confidence, college teaching is easy.
If you are not confident enough or if you are not very well versed with the subject, teaching in a school is more advisable. In a school, children are younger, so you have to have better control over your class so that children may not disturb the rhythm of the class.
You don’t have these issues in a college. Another thing that works in your advantage in colleges is that you are spared of correcting notebooks, giving homework etc. That way working in a college is more relaxed.
How would you rate the new generation of teachers that are joining?
What I have realized is that in India, usually no one chooses the teaching profession by choice. If you ask any student what they aspire to be in the future, you hardly get to hear that they want to teach. I feel people come into this profession, if they do not get a job elsewhere. That is the biggest hassle.
I think nowadays because we have IT jobs in the picture, people are more driven towards that.
That is true. You also get to see people who have B. Tech degrees, working as teachers, usually because they don’t get placed elsewhere. Getting into a teaching profession is easy. Though they do not offer a fat salary, you do get to make some money. Most of them do not have a passion to teach.
I see lack of passion usually within the male community. Ladies join schools because perhaps their husbands may have got transferred to that part of the country etc. These are the reasons why people join the teaching community – not exactly because they love teaching. Hopefully it will change.