Saturday, 31 January 2015

Thank Your Sir R. K.!

Alas ! Sometimes we take intense interest in people only after they leave us forever.
Thank Your Sir R. K.!
[A Tribute]
Had it not been for the ‘Pocket Cartoons’, I would not have been a loyal TOI reader. I know my childhood cartoons can never match to the level of your skill but I will surely try to make my attitude and my actions match to the level of your size.

I was just 9 or 10 year old kid when I started playing with colours. Like other kids of my age, making sketches and colouring them soon became my favourite pastime. Though I did not claim to be another ‘M. F. Husain-in-making’, still I used to feel delighted of my creations no matter how disastrous they looked. I used to marvel how can one make cartoons and caricatures? I even tried my hand on making cartoons and sometimes tried my artistic hand in making caricatures of my teachers (luckily never got caught during a running lecture and usually made one symbolic ‘horrible’ face just to represent all those ones who were somehow not in my good books or may be vice versa).

Well, I still wonder upon this piece of creativity on paper i.e. a cartoon. I really look up to those ‘gifted ones’ who manage so well to put their minds on paper and that too so impressively. And among this revered lot, the one who stood apart and the one who stimulated me to look at the social-political scenario in a bit different way (since my-early-childhood-‘Times of India-reading-days’), is none other than ‘Sir’ R. K. What completely floored me was his most appealing visual content. (Now you might be figuring it out if I have borrowed ‘Sir’ from Sir Jadeja, then your guess-work is more or less right.) And this is my way of displaying my unconditional respect for the man who made my newspaper reading way more engaging with his ultimate ‘Hasya Rasa’ through his flawless creations along with his daring approach on the topics covered.

I will have to confess that perhaps that front page ‘The Common Man’ cartoon (as they say the 'pocket cartoon') was like a delicious starter to begin with. That everyday encounter of ‘wit and wisdom’ did play a significant role in making me a committed newspaper reader (who once started newspaper reading just to improve my English as per the guidelines of my visionary father). Had it not been for the ‘Pocket Cartoons’, I would not have been a loyal TOI reader. No doubt, that big, fat bundle of papers did seem pretty tempting with a cartoon somewhere in front. Sometimes I would get a little low after not finding out that most cherished part on some days. Subsequently, the same bundle (without the pocket cartoon) looked as a textbook filled with complex charts, difficult diagrams and tough theories.

To me, Sir R. K. was like a catalyst that secretly and yet successfully encouraged millions of avid newspaper readers just like me. When the news of the demise of this ‘Uncommon Man’ broke out through social media, I just could not stop myself in devoting my time to know a little more about him and his personal life. Alas! Sometimes we take intense interest in people only after they leave us forever. And to my surprise, knowing him as a person left me indeed inspired and truly grateful. Thanks to Professor Google! It was such a wonderful revelation that I read about him over and over again. Though I had the tiniest little glimpse of what they call a ‘life-of-an-icon’, the more I knew about him, the more heartening it felt.

Sir R. K. was born in 1921 in Mysore to R V Krishnaswami, a government official. He was the youngest of eight children. Once he was asked by his class teacher to draw on paper. When it was his turn to show his work, his teacher asked him, “Did you draw it yourself, Laxman?“ He was frightened and stepped back, expecting a shower of blows. Fumbling for a safe excuse, he replied, “You asked us to draw, Sir... I sat there and drew...” But to his great surprise and joy, the teacher held his slate up before the class and announced, “Attention! Look how nicely Laxman has drawn the leaf.” He turned to him and said, “You will be an artist one day. Keep it up.” He was inspired by this unexpected encouragement. He began to think of himself as an artist in the making, never doubting that this was his destiny.

This is how a self-taught artist, Laxman found his calling early in his childhood. As he grew older, his talent found an outlet in the local press, where he illustrated, among other things, the stories of his famous novelist brother R. K. Narayan. Keen on acquiring formal training, he applied to Mumbai’s premier art institution, the J. J. School of Art, but was rudely rejected on the ground that he 'lacked the kind of talent to qualify for enrollment”. It didn’t bog him down and he didn’t lose his heart either. Determined to make it as a cartoonist, Laxman left Mysore after his graduation, shuttling between cities and assignments. And as a twist of fate, he started his ‘no-looking-back-break’ with The Times of India in 1947. Well, I am hugely appreciative of the fact that years later, at a J. J. function, he was invited to be the chief guest.

As his glorious career proved, the lack of academic training didn’t turn out to be a stumbling block for him. Once on being asked about the stress of producing two cartoons a day for years on end, he quoted classically (and this is what impressed me the most about him as a professional), “Let me tell you one thing. Just because I have drawn for so many years, it does not mean that I can just come into this room and dash off a cartoon. Every day is just like the first day; the agony, the pain. You cannot tell yourself, today I’m going to be first-rate, tomorrow second-rate because I’m tired. No. You may owe it to nobody else, but you owe it to yourself, to your conscience, to be consistently excellent. The predatory animal of Time is following you, and the Damocles sword of the deadline is hanging over your head but you cannot let down even for a minute.”

I would like to believe that Sir R.K.’s life is an enormous encouragement in itself. And his life taught me three most important life lessons. First, follow your heart and be in charge of your life. Sometimes it’s good to follow your heart. Trust in what you are made of and follow where it leads you. Second, never ever give up on your dreams even when the whole world gives up on you. Whether you make it out or not, there is something what separates a dream from a daydream and that largely comes down to you: your attitudes and your actions. And third, ‘do not let yourself down even for a minute’. Greatness is not possible at the push of a button. One has to dream big and act bigger. I know my childhood cartoons can never match to the level of his skill but I will surely try to make my attitude and my actions match to the level of his size. Thank you so very much for this and for everything. As they say, ‘Jest’ in peace, Sir R. K.

If you like this blog post and wish to share your experiences/ remarks/ views with Gaurav Misra, you are most welcome. Write to him at Like him on by Gaurav Misra. Follow him on Twitter@pdpbygm.  

Monday, 19 January 2015

Above & Beyond My Feedback: A Talk

 Above & Beyond My Feedback: A Talk

Recently, I got nominated for 'Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Awards, 2015 (held at International level). I feel 'fortunate' to have an excellent feedback for my track record as a PDP Trainer so far. Well, for me, what is important even more than my feedback is a sense of self-satisfaction with the job at hand and a positive contribution to the people around. And this blog post is the transcript of my talk at an FDP (Faculty Development Program) conducted not long ago on “Perfection in Teaching Profession” where I shared my insights and perspective as a teacher cum trainer.

“Good evening one and all,

Well, I have deliberately named my presentation ‘Above & Beyond My Feedback’. And I would like to reveal the reason behind it by the end of my talk.

Recently Abdul Kalam, whom I’ve been following for long on FB, quoted an insightful message on his FB wall, “How do we, as educationists, teachers and parents, make science taught in a way that it appeals the young mind?” And this question in particular hits the right button. In my opinion, every student has an inherent curiosity to know more, to seek more, to learn more. And if we as educators are able to ignite their interest in our subjects ‘the right way’, I think the battle is already more than half won.

I am not a subject expert on ‘How to teach’ or ‘How not to teach’. I take this opportunity not for a serious preaching of any sorts but just to share my insights and my perspective as a teacher cum trainer.

O.K. quickly, let’s get to the point! As some of you know that I am not only a teacher but a trainer also. And teaching cum training is not just my profession, it’s my passion. On paper, I have been into teaching & training for last 7 years. But technically, I started teaching since I was in High School. I used to tutor students junior to me and earn just to facilitate my own education. Because I never wanted to make my education a burden on my parents at that point of time when we were really not very well off. And I just don’t know how and when teaching became my sole passion and learning with sharing became my solo hobby. I don’t hesitate by saying that when I am in a classroom filled with young minds (or conduct a training session), I feel in the seventh heaven.

Well, I’m sorry to say this. But from a trainer’s point of view, it’s not about Pedagogy. It’s actually about Andragogy. Today, we are dealing with a ‘fast-food generation’ equipped with smartphones, with ‘I-Know-It-All’ attitude and with very little patience. Treating them like little kids doesn't make sense to them and in fact, it really doesn't make sense at all. Ask their parents, and they will tell you that even they don’t know how and when this generation started behaving like ‘grown ups’ in no time with an excessive dose of media exposure and internet usage.

I'm drawn to a lovely quote by Albert Einstein, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”

Now the question is why it’s not (or it should not be) the Pedagogy?

Initially, all formal educational institutions were established exclusively for the education of children and youth. At that point of time, there was only one model of assumption about learner and learning. This was Pedagogy model (deprived from the Greek words, ‘ped’ means 'child' and ‘gogy’ means ‘leader’). This was a more ‘Controlled’ way of learning and teaching. Here the youth is taught and spoon fed like they are little kids. And you know spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.

But later on, research proved that there are major differences in learning style of a child and a young person. And this differentiated style of learning is called ‘Adragogy’. ‘Andra’ in Greek means ‘adult’. These days, a lot of research work is still going on in this area of learning. If we compare and contrast both of these styles of learning on five different parameters i. Attitude, ii. Direction, iii. Responsibility, iv. Motivation and v. Creativity, we find that pedagogy is more focused upon ‘PUSH’ strategy and on the other hand, andragogy is based upon ‘PULL’ strategy.

Pedagogy follows a few misunderstood preconceived notions like:
i. ATTITUDE: Students dislike studies, they find it boring, they will avoid whenever they can.
ii. DIRECTION: They must be forced to study and they must be pushed to make the efforts.
iii. RESPONSIBILITY: They will not accept responsibility, rather they must be directed.
iv. MOTIVATION: They are motivated mainly by fear or force.
v. CREATIVITY: They have a little creativity or no creativity at all.

And Andragogy gives way to an evolutionary methodology of teaching and learning which predicts that:
i. ATTITUDE: Students want to take interest in studies under the right conditions. In fact they can enjoy learning.
ii. DIRECTION: They will direct themselves towards a target that they accept.
iii. RESPONSIBILITY: They will seek and accept responsibility under the right conditions.
iv. MOTIVATION: Under the right conditions, they are motivated by the desire to realize their true potential.
v. CREATIVITY: They are highly creative if given the right opportunities.

Do you know that Pedagogy model of learning has resulted in high drop-out rates, low attendance, low motivation or no motivation and poor performance in academics? As opposed to this, Andragogy model states that students learn best through active participation. May be that’s the reason why Sugata Mitra, Education researcher & winner of 2013’s million dollar TED Prize with his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment says, “The Indian education system, like the Indian bureaucratic system, is Victorian and still in the 19th century. Our schools are still designed to produce clerks for an empire that does not exist anymore. We don’t need to improve our education system – we need to reinvent it. Well, teachers’ role in fostering links between children and ensuring discipline was very useful task in Victorian England and India about 200 years ago in a very boring setting – not any more. Teachers need to change their pattern of teaching."

Talking about Andragogy, JANE VELLE (2002) offered 7 Principles for effective learning and teaching and I always try my bit to incorporate them as much as possible while I teach or train.

1. Students should feel respected.
We know that this generation of kids have high aspirations and big dreams. When their inflated ego (or in better words their self-respect) gets hurt, they do feel offended. Even their parents are well aware of not using attacking words to them because they know the repercussions. I always make sure that I never ever use any derogatory language or rude words. And I really don’t mind in addressing a student by ‘Sir’ or ‘Mam’ if in case I forget their names during my very initial interactions with them and then later on, it changes to ‘Dear’. And my experience says that when you respect your students, they respect you even more.

2. Human touch helps learning.
This principle of learning is based on the fact that I must know my student more than a student. And that’s the reason why in my initial interaction itself, I deliberately give them assignments where they have to write about their life in general and share their dreams, their aspirations, their areas of interest and their areas of improvement as well. And this information really helps me to develop my content and the study material (to be used) accordingly.

3. Learners must be made realize the need of the learning.
My fond areas are Career Skills, Second Language Learning, Communication & Soft Skills. Since the beginning itself, I try to sensitize my students of the fact that apart from the conceptual knowledge, they must also have a good hold over these skills in order to present themselves confidently in front of the employers, recruiters and selectors. And only then they will be able to secure a good profile, a good job and a good package. And that’s what their (particularly those ones pursuing their professional courses) ultimate objective is. And for this purpose, I share latest newspaper/ magazine articles on Employability and other related issues with all of them. They must understand that their goal is not just to become eligible with a degree in their hands but their goal is to become employable with an offer letter in their hands.

4. Sound relationship between teacher and learner and among learners.
I, myself, belong to a very humble background. And I have had my share of struggles, self-doubts and other complications regarding my personal as well as professional life. In other words, I have been there and seen it all. Initially, English was a challenge for me. And when I meet students faced with more or less similar circumstances, I do share my life-lessons with them. Even I share how I improved my English. Other than this, I form groups. For, I believe more in group learning. And the very first task assigned to them is to name their teams, decide their team logos, develop their team punch-lines and perform a team Advertisement in front of the rest of the crowd. And I always get surprised by their team spirit and their creativity through different tasks and interactivities. In my opinion, forming groups benefit the classroom scenario in various meaningful ways. Here comes an opportunity to gain learning from the peers too. And this attitude of appreciating the similarities and simultaneously respecting the differences among themselves begin here onwards. 

5. Easy Access to the Learning Material
For a smooth learning, learners must also have an easy access to the study material. And that’s the reason why I have posted all my presentations (with required explanation) and other content on my blog ( and they can easily access it anytime, anywhere. And with the advent of smartphones, now all the notes are on their fingertips. It not only saves my time and effort in dictating them the notes in the classroom but it also proves helpful to utilize my classroom time in having meaningful discussions, interactions, activities and in problem solving (if any).

6. Learning by Doing
This principle of learning is based on the fact that experience has a major role in learning. Experiential learning techniques are to be used here like role plays, simulations and others. And that’s what I generally do during my sessions. I believe if my student doesn't have enough interest in my lecture then that’s the failure on my part. Here, I would like to quote my own teacher (whom I consider my teacher-for-life Dr. Debashish Sen Gupta) and he aptly remarks, “Manage Less, Engage More”.

7. Assessment: How Do They Know They Know
My way of assessing my students or even my trainees is very different form the traditional assessment methods. I measure the progress of my students individually and group-wise both. I do not believe much in the concept of surprise test. According to Salman Khan, founder and executive director, Khanacademy, “It’s not because of lack of subject expertise, but of crucial skills, which are difficult to teach. Education has to be more than tests and formulas.” I think we do not need well-filled minds, we need well-formed minds. And that’s the reason why I conduct Quiz Contests, Group Presentations, Team Tasks and other activities and then I try to measure my students not on the basis of what they have mugged up, but on the basis of how they have performed. And, to me, their performance is what matters most.   

Well, I know that it could sound a lot of hard work, but at the same time, I must acknowledge that this much hard work is really worth it. As hard work never goes waste, my rewards come to me in form of messages either through social media or through in person. 
In the first week of this new year 2015, when I opened my email account and checked my e-mails (as I was out of station and was not much active online), I saw an e-mail from one of my students and realized that that was the best new year present waiting for me inside my mail-box. She wrote, “Sir, Thanking you again and again…This mail is for the thanking reason. The thing is …You have changed my life. You may not believe it but I have been a total mute in my school times, never get enough "guts" to speak in public. But it was you, and your sessions those built up the confidence in me. Your sessions are the 50% reason I am what I am today, The rest 50% , that I took the step...Would be an understatement- but thank you sir, for making my life, I would continue increasing the levels.”

Someone has rightly remarked, “It takes a special person to light that fire, to raise our children’s expectations for themselves and never give up on them, no matter how challenging it might be. All of us are here because, at some point, somebody did that for us.”

In a nutshell, my aim as a teacher cum trainer is not to direct or dictate, but to simply inspire and invigorate.

Thank You!”

If you like this blog post and wish to share your teaching or learning experiences/ remarks/ views with Gaurav Misra, you are most welcome. You can also ask for his ‘Spoken English Secrets’. Write to him at Like him on by Gaurav Misra. Follow him on Twitter@pdpbygm.