Choutari Oral History (Interview with Prem Subedi Jan 2012)

“Good Teaching is the Same, Center or Periphery”

Under its “Oral History” project, Choutari has been collecting and publishing interviews with teachers from across Nepal. This interview was taken by Hem Raj Kafle with Mr. Prem Subedi, a seasoned English teacher who had also taught Hem in high school a long time ago. Mr. Subedi remembers his early days of teaching, shares a few things that he wants to remember and value about being a teacher, and reflects on the changing ways in which we teach. He suggests that good teaching is the same whether you teach in a city or the rural backwaters of Nepal. He adds that in order to be a teacher you need some special qualities.

As we enter a new year in our professional lives, let us consider what qualities we want to cultivate as teachers. Let us also think how we can share ideas and support for one another across geographical and sociocultural borders.

Please listen to the interview by clicking here 

… and 

on behalf of Hem Raj Kafle
Shyam Sharma

2 comments

  • I thank Shyam for writing such wonderful introduction to the interview.

    Mr. Subedi’s life as a teacher involves at least three important phases. The first is what he calls the ‘compulsion’ to land in English teaching in countryside schools as the best alternative for a fresh graduate after relocation in the homeland from North-East India, during the early eighties. But this formative period of his career must have been the most memorable, involving the struggle to mitigate the general fear accorded to English as something insurmountable by a rural school kid. He started off teaching grammar rules as fundamental to teaching English. He succeeded in eliminating the dearth of qualitative books and accessible guidelines.

    He joined a private boarding school in the second phase, which might have appeared largely challenging. He had chosen to diverge from the possibility of permanence in a government school, a not-so-wise idea for an ‘educated’ man and his ‘conscious’ relatives at that time. He says he found work in a boarding school more challenging not for the rules, limitations and uncertainties involved but the indifference and disrespect of ‘well-to-do’ students towards teachers and learning. It is not about now, when boarding schools are too common and of too many varieties and classes to draw any educated consideration on class-induced attitudes. It is about then, the late eighties, when private schooling was a matter of class, with obvious economic gap between teachers and students.

    In the third phase of his career, Mr. Subedi finds himself the Principal of a well-established secondary boarding school in Urlabari, Morang, a school he helped to grow. His work today requires managing clashing moods of colleagues, rapidly altering ambitions of students, and unpredictable demands of a community of ethno-politically preoccupied multiplicity. The work keeps him remorselessly glued to the supposedly ‘peripheral’ town on the Mahendra Highway. He is confident that with hard work one can make the periphery signify as much.

    – Hem

  • At the cost of making my comment sound a little awkward, I really want to share a thought that has sat in my mind for, well, almost 20 years: going back to meet your high school teacher is not an easy experience! I studied in India until 1992, then came to Nepal. Around ’94, when I visited the place I grew up, I met with a primary school teacher who I used to consider the best speaker of English in the world, as well as the nicest and most intelligent person. Well, some of my memory of him still seemed true, but his English accent now felt like, really, I thought you spoke much better! In my teenage mind, I also didn’t think my primary school teacher was the most learned person in the world, like I used to think as a child. Almost two decades since then, listening to Mr. Subedi’s interview–and, as strikingly, Hem’s comment above–I better understand what was wrong with my teenage revisit reaction! Those of us who go into “higher education” start expecting people to express ideas in the same words as we have learned to do, same sociological frameworks, same abstractions. But it is actually us who need to learn how to listen–perhaps unlearn a lot of things as well–to people who spend their lives in relatively similar positions, who speak in terms of life-experiences rather than “discourses,” and whose work and value systems can only be judged in terms that we have forgotten to understand very well. It is so important for members of a vastly diverse professional community like NELTA to share stories and through them understand the lives, work, values, and worldviews of one another. This ability to understand people in their own terms is a quality that I want to cultivate in 2012 and beyond.

    What quality do you want to cultivate as a teacher, scholar, and NELTA member?

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