Talking to Vineet Sharma -Soaring High with Mathematics
Math is strange for some, nightmare for many, quick and easy for some and a fun adventure for many others. Meet Vineet Sharma, IBDP, Cambridge mathematics faculty and CAIE coordinator at Sanjay Ghodawat Institute! His journey seems to tell the story of how Math chose him and the relationship struck a chord which is musical and magical.
The passion Mr. Vineet holds in what he does is evidence, reiteration and encouragement that one should work on only that which we are passionate about.
You are a Math HOD. Can we start with where did you do your education? What made you opt for Math as a career?
I did my studies at a small town in Himachal. The resources offered were very less at that time. There were hardly any students in my school to be honest. I did my 10th in 1999 and 12th in 2001. My Math was always fine. In fact I was waiting to get to grade 11 so that I could opt for PCM. I carried these subjects forward and did my graduation in the same town. After completing my BSc, I pursued MSc Mathematics.
I always imagined doing my MSc Physics. But, unfortunately that didn’t happen. My father reverted saying that he would allow me to do my Masters only on a subsidized seat. I got MSc Physics on a non-subsidized seat but my father refused. He would only hear of me taking up a subsidized seat wherever I got one.
So, Math being my next choice I carried on with it. Before this Masters’ journey, I did my CDS exam but because I had a problematic eye sight, I couldn’t become an army officer. Finally while doing my Masters; I thought I should go for an administrator job. To top it, I had a roommate who was very keen on securing an administrator position. So, we both began preparing for the Allied Services. It was called HAS exam – Himachal Administrative Services exam. We both cleared and went to the next level. Again, fate had it that I did not get selected. My friend is the BDO of Mandi District right now.
I came to peace with it and told myself that these things cannot define my future. I realised that I need to define my future myself. So, I continued with the subject I had opted for and in 2006 I completed MSc and was struggling to get a teaching job.
Fortunately, a coaching company hired me with a good package and then I learned all the tactics and key points of Math. I think the best thing about Math is its evidence in daily life. If you are at IIT JEE, the content of Math there is awesome. If a teacher begins three years of their blossoming career in such a firm with all your loyalty and dignity, I am sure that you will have your subject on track. I mastered my subject because of that. I am really thankful to the coaching institute for hiring me back then.
After that, I got into a school and now have a teaching experience of 11+ years. Currently, I am a Cambridge coordinator as well. I am taking care of exams. In the course of my teaching profession, I have taught ICSE and CBSE curriculums as well.
Do you see any difference in the way Math teaching takes place at the coaching institute and in regular schools?
Oh yes! There is a huge difference. The thing is the coaching institute is just a commercial set up. Teachers there are just faculties of subject. He/she comes, delivers his subject and then that’s it. Of course, this is about result-oriented studies. There are daily practice sheets and marks involved. The student is fully engaged to the extent that he cannot move beyond a level; he/she has no choice but to focus.
In schools, on the other hand, we are more relaxed. We have lot of teaching aids and methodologies to teach in school, which we can inculcate in our lessons. We can relate Math with real life situations and that makes it more interesting. That is one differentiator in comparison with coaching centres.
In schools, I can use software technology as a methodology to make Math more interesting. And a lot of real life situations are used. To give you a simple example, Math starts from the time I walk out of my house. I feel Math and I think we as teachers should inculcate that in the children we teach. We should teach them to feel Math.
The way I wear my clothes is also Math. I apply permutation and combination to understand and decide what to wear to look good. That way, everything is a part of Mathematics. I encourage my students to look at everything with a pair of Math optics. I emphasize on one more thing that nature itself speaks about Math. These are some fantastic things that we should imbibe to understand Math.
Is it more challenging to be in a school classroom or in a coaching institute?
I feel it is more challenging to be in a coaching institute because it is much commercialized. For reasons like, stuck somewhere on a working day or your feedback is not good, the coaching centre owner will fire you. They will just substitute your position with someone else.
But, that pattern doesn’t work in schools. In schools, we don’t want teachers to solve; we want the students to solve. They should understand what to do and come up with a solution.
Schools are where learning happens and coaching centre is the place where practice happens. That is the basic difference between the two organisations.
How do you compare Math in CBSE and ICSE boards?
I feel that in CBSE, the content is not all that updated. I am not being critical because I am a Cambridge coordinator. I feel the CBSE Board should update their content and the syllabus and scheme of work should be available on online systems.
ICSE, on the other hand, is filled with problems. If we compare the Math content of CBSE and ICSE, I would give a good rating for ICSE because Math is about problem solving. We can tell a number of things like making the lesson interesting etc. But, at the end of the day, students should solve problems and that should be inculcated. That way, I feel, ISCE and ISC content gives students an edge.
Another basic difference between both the boards is that in CBSE Math is a compulsory subject until grade 10, unlike in ICSE which gives you a choice to drop Math in grade 9.
As a Math teacher, I always promote my subject. I always state that if you drop Math you are shrinking your career options. For a scaling career option one should stick to Math, according to me.
Math will be instrumental in fetching you good packages or else you become an easy prey for marketing companies, credit card companies, call centres, etc.
Which classes do you teach?
I teach Class 11 and very soon we will be starting with DP 1 and DP 2.
About students who are weak in Math! When you come to know of such a child, what is your attitude towards them?
I feel it depends on the type of hunger you have. For example, imagine we are all at a table and having our meals. All of us cannot have the same quantity and all 10 types of meals, right?
Similarly, everyone has a natural flair for certain subjects and we all have our special learning needs as well. Once we know what our special learning needs are, we need to address them.
For example, I have a grade 6 child in IGCSE and he is appearing for a core examination. So whenever he is free or I am, we make sure we talk to each other. We used to discuss about people all around the globe and in that conversation I add my topic in a magical way. That is the magic that everyone needs to have.
So, teachers should teach how to think and encourage coming up with solutions; not solve the problem themselves.
As a Math teacher, how do you keep yourself fresh and motivated?
I am very fond of going to multiple places and go to places with different landscape while on a break. Sometimes, I hang out on the beaches and at other times at hill stations, with my family. I go on long drives also.
That is what refreshes me. Having said that, I don’t find my daily routine boring at all, which is evidence that I am teacher by choice too and not just by destiny.
What have been some moments of frustration in these 11 years of being a teacher?
I felt it in the beginning, when I got selected at the coaching institute.
I was in a class and a student asked me to solve a problem which was based on logarithm. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to solve it. That was a shattering moment for me that I chose my career as a Math teacher and I couldn’t solve the problem. I wondered how I would sustain in this field.
I went to the chairman of that institution, apologized and told him that I felt unfit for the role and proposed that they fire me.
That person, D.N Sharma, suggested that for 6 months I keep away from teaching and asked me to join the security training program. Hence, for 6 months, I had to visualize virtual classes. As an outcome, I ended up solving around 6000 problems in that span of 6 months. You can imagine – 1000 problems a month (it matters a lot)! Mr. D.N Sharma’s suggestion ended up being a game changer in my life.
Like I mentioned earlier, you should devote 200% of the first three years of your career to learn extremely well. Then, you get to justify your career and profession.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, Vineet?
I will teach Math – I know I can become a lot more. But, I choose to keep teaching Math simply because I love it!