Ten years! They have slipped like seconds. My first day at KU is afresh as if it were yesterday — the confusion, the compunction, the curiosity, and what not. Only when I see the changed part of its surroundings and the new establishments, and only when I count the number of school-going children from KU quarters with my own son along, I begin to ponder over the days, months and years I have spent here.
I am trying to trace my transitions and transformations in reminiscences, in my diaries, and sometimes in the grey hairs of my friends and colleagues. I can’t be more organized now while the flashback comes like a hillside stream during a heavy rainfall.
— Hem Raj Kafle
Long back high school teachers from my part of the country (eastern Nepal) used to travel up to Janakpur to take the one-year B.Ed. examinations. On their return they used to narrate their fortnight-long absence with such zeal as if the examinations alone had reinvigorated them into becoming better teachers. We students only used to revel at those rather embellished stories of their ‘picnicking’ and ‘tourism.’
“Was it really worth more than a mere certificate – only the proof that you had one because you were asked to?” I sometimes asked my English teacher and some other recipients of this One-year degree when I was old enough to question the worth of this one time venture. The answer: just smile or a shrug. But the question always troubled me, especially when people began to demand it from me since I decided to become a teacher. What was the meaning of the compulsion (or fashion?) of obtaining one more certificate? Would it prove anything but a license to claim that you could become a teacher irrespective of how many teacherly qualities were absent in you?
I came to Kirtipur after completing Bachelor of Arts at Urlabari, Morang. I looked for a teaching job before joining TU central campus for my Masters studies. Boarding schools were the immediate destinations. I dropped applications at places. I took written ‘qualifying’ tests at some schools, and faced interviews at others. In all interviews, among many questions one confused me most: “(Why) haven’t you done B.Ed.?” This would come to me as if I had been useless without B.Ed. despite my satisfactory B.A. and four years’ teaching experience. But, I would end up saying, “Well, it’s too early for me to be a B. Ed. I’ve just completed B.A. There’s time. But do you think it is mandatory to have a degree in education to become a good teacher?”
I decided to try One year B.Ed. only when I started my M. A. Thesis. It was simply for owning one extra degree never really caring whether it would help in the future.
During the entrance test I was amazed to see the likes of me. I had a consolation that mine was not an odd time. I decided to take the admission also. On the admission day, I had to meet a professor at the Central Department of English Education for some sort of recommendation/signature. When she saw my papers, she asked, “What do you do?”
“I am doing my M.A. Thesis,” I said.
“Why do you need be a B.Ed. now?” She questioned with a smile. I only smiled in response and left her office.
Yes, why would I need it? By now, I was all set to start teaching in a university/college and was planning teach courses in literature/literary studies. I had only joined a crowd never knowing their purpose of joining, nor mine.
In my interview at Kathmandu University in August 2000, a professor asked me what I was doing in addition to looking for a job. “I’m doing one year B.Ed.” I responded with little more zeal than I had because this was at least something to say in an interview. But this ‘something’ did not make any impression. One of the interviewers retorted, “Why are you trailing backwards? You must be thinking of higher studies now. You know KU even doesn’t employ an M.Ed. to teach English in the Intermediate level.”
But I registered for the final examinations, again after the crowd. I even sat to write one or two papers in the Kiritipur center. What appalled me then was the way my inmates took their exams. You could have a truck-load of guess-papers and guides only from that room. B.Ed., which was a license for being a better teacher, was a mockery in this center. I would not think it was any different elsewhere.
By now B. Ed. had lost the little value I had upheld earlier.
Meanwhile, I was invited to Mahendra Ratna Campus, Tahachal, to teach Teaching English Literature in B. Ed. final year. I was already qualified to teach a university course. Why keep carrying the school level hangover now? I decided to forget that I had once thought of owning a B.Ed. certificate.
I sometimes recall this fiasco, but without regret. How different would I have become if I had forced myself to pass the B.Ed. examinations?
By Laxman Gnawali
Senior Vice President, NELTA
Whenever the issue of teacher training comes up, I start visualizing an event which I witnessed as a student in 1976 when I was a student at Grade VI. This event left an indelible question in my mind. As an inquisitive student I used to listen to what my teachers said and observe what they did to find a correlation between their words and deeds. Once our English teacher told us in class that he was going to Kathmandu for a three month training course; there he would gain knowledge. He returned after three months and resumed his work. Intuitively, I had developed an expectation that when he came back, he would teach us in a different way. I did not expect a better way as I had no idea of what good teaching was, but I expected some difference in his activities in his classroom teaching. To my disappointment, he started with the same method of translating the texts, giving us grammar exercises and asking us the Nepali equivalents of English terms. There was no difference in him and his practice. A question struck me: what had he been doing for three months? I thought training meant learning new things. What had he learnt then? For years the question lingered: What difference did the training make to my teacher?
In 2000 I went to the College of St Mark and St John Plymouth (now, University College Plymouth St Mark St John) to a Master’s course in Teacher Development, the interactions with my tutors and other professionals, professional literature, visits to different institutes and conferences answered the question that haunted me for years. Then I realised that any training that does not relate to the real classroom world, examination system, local context, and trainees’ mental constructs, their needs and expectations cannot achieve the desired goals. Training that takes place away from the school environment without monitored school-based practice or follow–up cannot be transferred to the classroom. Training contents based on trainees’ needs and participant-centred experiential learning approach in the training can make a difference in teacher learning. For teachers to develop in the job, they need to constantly reflect on their practice. As Burns (1999:12) says
‘reflective analysis of one’s own teaching develops a greater understanding of the dynamics of classroom practice and leads to curriculum change and that enhances learning outcomes for students’.
Appropriate ways to structure the reflection are classroom observation and collaborative action research. Justifying the role of classroom investigation for professional growth Burns (1999:12) writes,
‘researching one’s own classrooms and teaching contexts is something which can, and should, be considered by language teachers, as a realistic extension of professional practice’.
Now I understood why my teacher did not show any difference in his classroom practice.
In the dissertation I submitted to the College, I tried to justify my view on the role of classroom observation and classroom action research for teacher development. I also discussed my belief that in-service training can be an important step to guide teachers towards their self-directed developmental activities. Based on these discussions, I proposed a course which incorporated training-centre-based activities and school-based practice.
Since my return, I have invested all my energy to implement what I proposed in the dissertation through the MED and PGDE programmes at Kathmandu University and NELTA-led in-service training and the results have been positive. However, as there is so much to be done in this area, I keep reciting Robert Frost’s lines:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Modified excerpt from the Introduction to my dissertation Investigating Classroom Practices: A Proposal for Teacher Development for the Secondary School: Teachers of English in Nepal submitted to the College of St mark and St John, Plymouth, UK, 2001)
Eak Prasad Duwadi
Be it students or administrators, everyone used to praise me for engaging learners satisfactorily in the class; and I was very self-motivated. In fact, I was started imagining myself to be one of the best teachers in the world. Was I a snob?
Well, I have been teaching English as Foreign Language at reputed schools and colleges in Nepal for more than five years. Besides having degrees, I possess dozens of ELT workshops certificates. Whichever class I go to, learners see me off with broad smiles. Not only they produced what I asked in class but also did every assignment promptly. So I used to feel proud and maintain my learner-friendly status.
However, some time back I had gone for a month long rigorous training along with four other trainees. Besides, theoretical perspectives and language games, we were required to go to real schools along with lesson plans and materials.
It was my first teaching practice of that training. It was also an opportune time to prove one’s worth as a teacher. The instructor and peers would observe the class so as to give feedbacks later. I was so confident that I thought I was the best teacher in the world. I entered the classroom of Grade 10, and started my lesson that had to do with grammar (direct/indirect questions).
As a warm up, I drew some pictures for context setting, and displayed a chart. To my surprise, before I had finished half of the lesson plan, the bell rang, and it was time to wrap up. I felt so guilty that I nearly burst into tears. My ego got dismantled as fragile pane. What I realized was that I was having a vicious circle of self scorn. I was not a perfect teacher as I still had to learn hundreds of methods and countless exposures. It laid bare the threads the fabric of superiority that I had cultivated. Above all I had never thought about timing which is very important. Returning to school, my peers and instructor reflected on my strengths and weaknesses.
I found the first was insignificant in comparison to the second. Obviously, the trainer asked for ‘Repetition’. Although very bitter, I accepted their remarks and promised to do better from another day. It was but another lesson learnt: learning and familiarisation continues all throughout life; and no one is perfect.
Teaching just fell into my lap and I took it up as a profession some eighteen years ago. Whether I had natural flair for it or not, whether I needed to take training for it or not, whether I could be a good or/and successful teacher never crossed my mind. So, a couple of weeks ago, when my colleague Hem Raj Kafle requested me to write something on teaching experience, my initial reaction (to be honest) was of total loss. My head crowded with questions like: What to write? Can I produce a piece worth reading? Do I have something inspirational or beneficial to share with a large audience?
As I started to grope for answers, I was bound to retrospect the years that had slipped without my realizing what they made me. I simply wanted to judge myself as a teacher. I had never done this before and it was a daunting task. What I have realized after such retrospection is this: I have managed to come so far without even once thinking seriously of changing the profession; I don’t recall any noteworthy complaint from the students and my administrators about my teaching (If any which I am unaware of, then let me continue to be in bliss of ignorance!); so, I can regard myself as a fairly successful teacher.
I am not an exceptional teacher to stand out in the teaching community, exceptional in the sense that some students would pick me up as the type ‘who changed my life’. I go about my job quietly. I perform my responsibilities as sincerely as possible. I believe in simplicity, so I try to keep things plain and accessible. Common and basic values of punctuality, regularity, honesty figure in my conduct of class and treatment for students.
However, now at least two episodes keep flashing across my mind like films clips. The first concerns the beginning stage of my career. It was during the lunch-break in a conference. I was with some of my old classmates and professors. We were zealously narrating our experiences of being teachers, pointing out our students’ general apathy towards studies and their failure to meet our expectations. Hearing our ‘hue and cry,’ one of our gurus remarked, “Fresh out of the university, filled with all the isms of great philosophers and scholars, you young lot are too idealistic. Do not expect things to come perfect as in the books. There is a vast gap between the world of books, university classrooms and the real world outside.” I was a little taken aback to hear this. I thought: “Is it wrong to expect perfection, expect the students to do exactly what I want them to, and how I want them to? I know whatever I am imparting to them is right and useful to be competent and successful in life. I do so because I have only the best interest for them in my heart.”
The second episode relates a student. I came to know about this through a colleague during a gossip about our past students. At one point he casually told me that ‘this student’ had said I was little too unfair with him. He had said I used to pick on him even for a small mistake all the time; I had sent him out or humiliated him by making him stand in the class throughout the period, etc. etc. It made me uncomfortable. I kept quiet in acceptance of what the student had complained. I wished I had known this while I was still teaching him.
These episodes, I accept even now, led to the change in my approach and attitude towards teaching and dealing with students as my journey progressed. Growing up under the strong influence of a strict and disciplinarian soldier father, I sometimes tend to show streak of sternness and demand discipline from students. This is what I realize now, but take these qualities as the gifts from a parent. I may have demanded discipline and perfection in my pupils, but, I am sure, these qualities are prerequisites for addressing the demands of genuine learners.
Furthermore, these two episodes have made me realize these: first, to be idealist and to seek perfection is desirable but not practical. One has to firmly plant the feet in reality and accept it, desirable or not. If the effort you put in to make the reality desirable yields otherwise results, the effort is more meaningful. What we read and find in the books are the products of best minds. They are developed in supposition of ideal conditions where all the pieces fit with one another in harmony.
Second, as a teacher, your aim has to be to motivate students towards finding their own voice, their potentiality for creativity and self-exploration. By this, they will find what they are good at and will feel good about themselves. They will realize their worth, which will provide a solid foundation for their growth and success in life. To achieve this goal the teacher has to less emphasize on rules, discipline (mind you not to forget them altogether). And, sometimes you should reasonably bend the rules if it helps. You should allow them to feel free to be themselves to work constructively. They need to feel respected for their effort and contribution. Then the instructions, textual knowledge, and good results will follow suit.
I do not know how far I am successful in implementing what I have realized. We all know preaching is easy compared to practicing what one preaches. I love to remain ignorant about how much impact I have made in this profession. I just want to value being able to help young people grow, and continue the profession with the best of my sensibility and diligence.
“Ay, sir. You must be punctual.”
“I’m sorry, I was stuck on the way. A public bus is sometimes ridiculous, you know. And I come from Kirtipur.”
“No, you can’t have excuses! See, everyone here comes by a local bus from somewhere as far as that.”
“But, not everyone comes as early and regularly as I do, do they?”
“No, you must be responsible. I have the right to say this. If you can’t be punctual, you can go.”
“Oh, so you want me to leave? Do you think I will stick to teaching such imprudent and uncompromising people as you?”
This was a dispute between a B. Ed. third year student and myself in Mahendra Ratna Campus (MRC), Tahachal. The day was 14 November 2000.
I was invited to teach Teaching English Literature at MRC immediately after my appointment at Kathmandu University (KU). It was my choice to be in two university systems simultaneously. Besides, how would I miss the chance to teach a higher level course in literature while, as a full-timer in KU, I was teaching general English at the Intermediate level only?
In MRC I would begin the class with about a dozen students but end it with more than a hundred. So, there always was a flow of them coming in almost every twenty seconds. Mine was the first period at 6 a.m. The class was unforgettable – for everything ranging from the poor doors and windows, dusty floor, dirty blackboard to the influx of those unfamiliar faces, and the noise inside and outside. I wouldn’t mind a thing assured that minding barely made any difference. I was interested, and excited, because the general response of the majority audience was positive. I was not unwelcome to teach literature though many would still have loved to mention that I was a pure “Arts” guy teaching “Education” students.
On this particular November morning I happened to enter the class a few minutes later than 6 a.m. but apparently much earlier than a majority. That student, whom I had never seen before, interfered as soon as I had stood on the dusty podium. As he dared even to tell me ‘you can go’, my teacherly self saw it futile to stay in. After all, I neither needed to stake my dignity nor would expect any sympathy from anyone. But I tried to calm myself for a while, waiting for a general response. Other students were silent, perhaps confused, because everything was so sudden.
“I did not expect this. Pity you’re going to be a teacher!” I said this and walked out of the class.
I could fight and still continue because my few minutes’ delay was insignificant compared to the general delays and absences our government colleges are known for. I was in fact disturbed not because of this new comer’s imprudence, but because the rest did not respond. I had an instant feeling that I had failed to teach well, otherwise someone would intervene.
I decided to walk out of the main gate and never return. But, contrary to my earlier impression, a number of students came running after me, requesting not to leave. They knew I would not only leave the class for the day, but forever. They knew I taught in KU, and MRC was only a part-time place that I could comfortably forfeit. They knew I had not gone there but was invited to handle the course someone had mishandled before me.
“Sir, you should take that some people can be crooks. But wise ones have to be even wiser at such times,” one frowned.
“There’s a motive behind this. Someone wants to replace you. He’s only a pawn. You know it happens in government colleges,” claimed other.
“No, there’s none behind. He’s only trying to impress us for the upcoming Union election,” some others remarked.
I was in dilemma. There was a commotion of a sort. Students were divided in groups, furiously discussing, god knows what. I said to the ones who were requesting to stay, “It is shameful to continue if he doesn’t apologize.”
“But, he’ll regret. Anyway, sir, don’t you think our request is more significant than his apology? And, he may not come from tomorrow. Such people only come sometimes, just to disturb.”
A group of students had already caught hold of and chided him. He might have apologized with the classmates. He came to me with a sullen face and said he had joined my class for the first time and that he didn’t know me.
Unlike what was expected, he did not miss any class afterwards. He was curious, eloquent, critical and creative — the type of student that helps make a class on literature productive.
It is nearly a decade since. I recently read my diary page and came to know that I had been very angry that day. But if I had reached the class on time that day, my brief service at MRC would have been less meaningful. The student first to stop me from walking out of the gate wrote a text book as soon as he had taken the third year examinations. He acknowledged me as his first source of inspiration and guidance.
I have lost touch with all of my students but this one, the boy who had a row with me. The truth is: I had begun to like him from the following day.
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.
An Interesting Teaching Anecdote
Lekh Nath Sharma Pathak
This happened when I was teaching at Buddha Bhanu Saraswati College in Shillong, India, a college initiated and established by Nepali Community there. I was teaching a class of over 200 students in what was then called Pre-University level. When I finished taking attendance and was about to start the topic, the class was booming with murmur. 200 students whispering and murmuring produces noise sufficient to make teaching impossible. So, I thought of a way to get the class quiet so that they would listen to me and I could start the class. I knew that if I simply announced, “Now, class, keep quiet so that I can start teaching,” it would not work. I had to do something more effective. For a while, I paced back and forth on the ‘stage’ – a raised platform for the teachers so that the students could see the teacher. The whole class was watching me doing this. Then, I suddenly turned to the students and yelled like a military commander, “Stop!” with the index finger pointed up in the air. And the next thing I said, quietly, was, “Just look at the tip of this finger” and the whole class went silent and really looked at the tip of the index finger. They found this quite amusing and some of them were about to smile and say something, but I intervened: “Now don’t speak anything and listen.” And the class quickly came under control and the rest of the hour went on smoothly, with the students talking when they were expected to do so.
Choutari: How does our effort for promoting professional communication relate to NELTA’s goals and how might we be able to enhance them?
Mr. Gautam: First of all, I would like to appreciate the efforts of our young colleagues Shyam, Bal, Prem and Sajan for taking initiative to begin the NELTA Choutari forum which has offered a professional platform for the NELTA members to share their ideas, arguments, views and their observations. This effort is directly related to the NELTA goals. As mentioned in the NELTA constitution, the two key objectives (among five objectives) of NELTA are: (2) To provide a forum for individuals, institutions and associations having similar goals and (3) To foster the exchange of ideas, resources, information and experience among people associated with ELT and for the last one year you have been trying to enhance the professional communication among the members through this forum. This is indeed a big achievement and we need to continue this in the future. However, the readership network of this forum is still limited and we need to discuss how we can expand the readers’ network and make sure that they read and contribute to the discussion.
C: How do you think we can increase engagement/contribution to networked discussions by NELTA members who have access?
G: This is indeed a key concern for all of us and we need to work collectively on this issue. One of the strategies could be to use the quick communication channels such as facebook/twitters etc. to publicise about this forum and motivate people to read and contribute. For example, if someone posts a quick note on the facebook that s/he read the article posted in NELTA Choutari and make a very brief comment on this on the facebook and link the site on it so that people get motivated to read and contribute. Similarly, we can also put the notice in the NELTA newsletter and make announcement in the NELTA conference. Also, we could have a brief presentation on this in the forthcoming NELTA conference. We shall be happy to have a brief webinar on this if you would like to make a short presentation on this.
C: Do you have any suggestions for conducting networked discussions in better ways so that branches and members can contribute better?
G: Friends, this has been a great challenge for us and we need to find ways to engage the branch members in the professional discussion. I think we need to find a contact person in each branch who has internet/email access and work through that person. Some branch members have already started doing so on individual basis now we need to institutionalize this in all the branches. One of the strategies to promote this could be through the regional network that we plan to establish. Birgunj has already started the regional conference and Surkhet is holding the next. Similarly, we could have other branches from different regions to initiate this kind of activities and the lead branch that organizes the regional event could work as a satellite to disseminate this information. We have proposed this modality for the next English Language Fellow (ELF) when we submitted the proposal to the US embassy. (I have attached the proposal for your reference to give you detail picture of what this is about). These regional centers can be mobilized to promote communication among the branches. Perhaps we can start this on pilot basis.
C: Do you have any practical suggestions for us to collaborate with NELTA in its efforts at increasing professional communication on and off line?
G: Some of you have been very generous to offer your time for the NELTA journal. On behalf of the NELTA committee, I would like to thank you very much for your contribution and I can see that there are a lot of places where we can work for NELTA breaking the distance barrier. Some of the things that I can talk about now are:
a) Our members include teachers, trainers, researchers and various ELT practitioners. A large number of our members are also trainee teachers who at some point carry out research in various aspects of ELT. In order to support them with the resources, can we set up a site on NELTA Web page, or Yahoogroups or NELTA Choutari or maybe in all of them where we can hyperlink the academic research sites and also upload the articles from the US for our students so that they can have access to the materials? We can also include these materials in the discussion forums.
b) We would like to put all the Master’s Thesis Titles and Ph.D. thesis titles on the NELTA web so that students can see what has been researched so far. It would be nice if you could also find the link from other universities where our students can see what kind of Master’s thesis are produced in other parts of the world.
c) As I and Shyam talked on the phone, we could assign someone from NELTA to liaise the NELTA committee and groups like NELTA Choutari or individuals who contribute to NELTA on the Web. This will make the communication much easier and quicker.
Finally, I once again thank the team that has managed NELTA Choutari very professionally and I also take this opportunity to say Happy New Year 2010.
to leave a comment, click here (editor: Bal Sharma, Shyam Sharma)