When the table turns on you
I was teaching English to the BBA first year students of Tribhuvan University in a private college in Kathmandu. As part of their assessment, I had given them a short presentation task. The textbook had some texts against the watching of television as how it destroys family and reading culture and creative thinking and all that stuff. After having discussed those texts I asked my students to make a two-minute individual presentation on either supporting the watching of television, or opposing it or balancing both the view points.
Many of the students made very good presentations and I was evaluating their performance on the spot and giving them their grades. When the student presentation session finished one very smart boy, Lobsang, raised his hand from his seat and challenged me, “Ok sir, now let’s hear from you, how do you fare yourself on the same kind of presentation. Let’s see a good example of presentation from you now.” My God! I was caught unawares at the middle of it. This was something which had never happened to me before. My students had never dared or challenged me. I thought for a while, as how to deal with this unexpected situation. A teacher in our situation is an absolute authority in the class. I could easily dismiss the challenge saying, “It’s your test, not mine. So just shut up.” But I didn’t do that and didn’t feel like doing that as well. I thought of the repercussion it will have, if I did that. It would be letting the students down, not respecting their voice. Giving a message “I don’t give a damn about you”. And since I am in the teaching profession out of choice, not out of any compulsion and I always hold my students above anything else, even above the authority of the college, I couldn’t dismiss the voice that had come from among them. So I thought for a while and decided to comply what they had said. And in a couple of seconds, I thought of how to do it, in my mind. I decided that I will take a balanced view about TV watching. Within a minute, I had taken my stand and then I smiled, with the whole class smiling with me but they smiling for a different reason and me for a different reason. And I said, “Ok, I am game. I will do it for you. You count the time and warn me ten seconds before as I had done with you. The same rules apply to me. I will take a balanced view of TV watching.” The class was quite excited. The whole class was my judge now. And I had to prove myself before them. It was totally a different test from whatever I had faced so far. I took a deep breath. And quickly organized my talk in my mind. I began by the days of radio, how you could listen and imagine the event yourself, which could have been better than shown, how when you watch a TV you can’t use your imagination as the visuals control your thought, how TV creates a falsified world and manipulates your thoughts and perception but at the same time had somebody taken the entire film of how Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and came back, how Hillary and Norgay reached the top of the Mt. Everest our knowledge would have become richer, if we had no access to the live telecast of important national and international events we wouldn’t know how things actually happen. So there are equal pros and cons of watching TV and we need to use our discretion. By the time, I was about to finish my talk I saw a student at the back writing a big 10 on an A4 paper and lifting it with his both hands above his head and pointing it to me. When I had finished I got a good applause. And Lobsang was very impressed and he said, “I could never think of the points you touched within those two minutes.” I felt very happy, obviously. And the class was never the same again. I had gained their respect and confidence.
6 thoughts on “Teacher Anecdote – Lekhnath Sharma Pathak”
Very inspiring anecdote. Encouraging for the teachers! In my class here, I do free writing with my students– writing for 10 minutes without stopping, and giving attention to fluency not accuracy. One of my colleagues even does all the writing assignments that he assigns for students. It is a good way to have a feel of what students experience of your tasks and assignments.
The teacher at least the teacher who I am famialiar with including myself are guided by the principle that ” do what I say rather thand do what I do” but students are always by impressed by “what a teacher does”. The anecdote is really eye opening.
I feel like writing pages on this wonderful teaching anecdote. My best part was the ending: the writer doesn’t simply tell the common (cliched) story of the teacher becoming the learner, but he is realistic about gaining respect and confidence as a teacher. Of course, the story itself is not saying that this teacher believes in being the authority of knowledge—-he didn’t choose the option of using his authority—-but as the ending suggests, he does want to be respected as a person who knows what he is doing, who wants to teach by example, and who is honest. The anecdote’s ending is quite complex, but one thing that I get is that the writer is realistic, honest, and humble. If he didn’t say in the story that he obeyed his students because he cares for them more than anything or, more importantly, that he is a teacher by choice—-in other words, if he had not been positive in making his decision to accept the challenge—-then the ending could be interpreted as suggesting that the writer wanted to preserve his authority/respect in class; but because the story has already proven the teacher’s true sense of service to his students, the conclusion conveys a very positive message about the writer’s idea of authority in class. It is easy to idealize, or to be negative—-what slips between the easy options is what makes you a great teacher.
Much to assimilate from Mr. Pathak’s anecdote. A rare but pleasant challenge to overcome. Rare both from his and the student’s points of view. I have hardly met a student who would say, “prove what you preach!” and never met a teacher who came up with such pleasant narratives as that of Mr. Pathak
A class is not where only readymade lesson plans are reiterated; it is where its inmates create opportunities for mutual teaching. A bottomline for being respected as a teacher — a heart to respect student expectations, a mind to understand the need of the situation, and the readiness to accept that some students are demanding.
Thank you for your responses.
Believe me, I lived every moment of this episode!!!!!! I swear by my profession. This might sound unusual, but a classroom is always a package of surprises, unexpected twists and turns. No second class is always the same, even though it’s the same edifice we visit every day and the same faces we meet.
I know things like this don’t always happen in a classroom. But it’s from what-doesn’t-usually-happen-in-the-classroom that we learn, rather than from what usually does.
Quite impressive! I placed myself in your position and started pondering that teachers are to be well-prepared to face unexpected challenges.
We, as English teachers have some responsibilities. One of which is to teach our students good English and teach them to speak it correctly. This objective of English teachers can only be gained when we set ourselves as EXAMPLES. And, I think that Pathak ji has been able to do that (it’s not an empty compliment!!! If the anecdote he is sharing is true)
Kafle ji is right when he says that the situation faced by Pathak ji is very rare but it is a reality. I suppose that is what makes a classroom. A classroom is full of unexpected situation. We do not know what kind of situation we are likely to face. I think it is because a classroom is a society itself. A society because it is a gathering of different individuals having different social and economic background. So we should be ready (in term of our subject matter, the way we deal with our students, and etc) to face all these challenges when we have undertaken this profession)