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Tutoring Troubles

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops - Henry Adams

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I read that statement a long back. Don't know where or how. But it stuck with me since then, even though I never knew the author's name till I purposely searched for him. It stuck with me since I knew it was the truth. Even today, substantial portion of my beliefs, traits and behaviour, I can trace them back to my first heroes and teachers.

Knowing is one thing. Realizing is another. In an interaction with arguably my closest associate, professional colleague, friend and confidante, Sundar Raman, he was pointing out the extent to which people like us, the tutors or teachers, have "influenced" the students attending our classes. "We pretty much shape their thoughts on almost everything - right from the way they learn, what they study and learn, their views on the subject and profession and a whole lot of things." 

It is true. People like us have influenced and defined the way many students think and take their professional life ahead. You can pretty much find this in the way many students actually react and respond. In fact, I taunt and tease Sundar pretty frequently over how he has been "influenced" from a set of teachers, and where he got that speaking style from.

If we are at that level, with the kind of influence we can exercise, have people like us done justice to our overall job? Have we given the students the right knowledge? Have we given the students the right method of studies? Can we say with absolute certainty that we have succeeded in our job? Or is it that we have failed somewhere?

Admittedly what we are doing is "exam centric tutoring", but we still are entrusted with helping the student understand. The potential failures (or actual failures) are pretty much on the following lines -

1. By repeatedly telling students not to digress from the so called purpose i.e. clearing the examination, most of the tutors have killed the "understanding ability" of the students. This works as long as the exams are repetitive with very little or no new questions being tested. But the primary purpose is always defined by the syllabus, and not the past exam questions. As long as the discussion meanders away from the question in hand, but still within the realms of the syllabus / topic under discussion, it should be encouraged, or atleast acknowledged.

Moment the question paper charts into hitherto untested territory, the primary skill a student needs is ability to think beyond his photographic memory. As long as it is a question from the class, student progress. Else, it is all muddled up affair, since the focus inside the class has been on a particular problem in a particular format / approach. With little freedom to choose the methods or approaches or ask counter questions, the basic stimulus for taking the "understanding the idea" route is lost.

2. Playing Nostradamus is arguably the biggest menace which people like us (including me) can probably do. Teaching the idea is one thing. Asking the students to focus on a "few areas" to get a guaranteed result is another. Having played Nostradamus more than a couple of times on the "shameless act of predicting" the exam questions, I have come to realize that by default there are lot of students who religiously follow these "predicted" questions. Thanks to Law of Averages, I have had my share of success. The share of failures have been equal as well. Success will give you that "I Told You So" smirk on your face, and the failures will leave us scurrying for cover at best, or some insanely stupid excuse (this time there is a conspiracy or I told you study the entire area, with special focus here or something equally silly) as to why it didn't work out. 

By resorting to such atrocious tactic, under the pretext of helping struggling students gain confidence, people like us have definitely failed. Statements such as "Without gaining strength in these areas, you can never be sure of your results." or "This question / idea is such an important one that it has been tested a grazillion times in the past, and mark my words, will be tested yet again in your exams", may sound great and prophetic, but the sad reality is that we are pretty much directing the attention of the students to a few areas for a "quick success", rather than helping them gain a lasting knowledge and understanding.

And funnily we the faculties have neither the access to such question papers before hand or authority to set any question papers. But that doesn't stop us from the rolling the dice and predicting the future.

3. Rote Learning is something I have always detested, and I have never promoted cramming as the way to succeed in exams. The statements "knowing is more important than understanding", or "do the last five year's question papers, and you shall meet success", are reserved choicest swear words that I can ever use. And I know quite a few faculties who go big on rote learning, and explain its virtues. 

I have blogged earlier here on the menace of rote learning, and where we, as a Nation, stand. Simple googling on "Rote Learning on India" will throw a lakh plus results / articles / blogs. None of which even remotely regards rote learning with any degree of respect. And when some of our faculties and senior professional members maintain publicly that "Remembering is Better or More Important than Understanding", I am pretty sure we are irreparably damaging the minds of the students. Even if such statements are made purely from an examination perspective, they are reprehensible. 

4. Another bigger menace is the time that is being spent inside the class, and the quality of time being spent by the faculty. The scale of the syllabus and the size of the discussion on various subjects of the CA course demands a great amount of time inside classes. The discussion time includes the time it would take a faculty to explain the concept, repeat an idea, and time taken for the student to taken in that idea and appreciate the same. It doesn't end there. Further time is required for really testing the idea inside the class, to ensure completion of the learning process for that idea.

And when you try to complete the syllabus within an farcially determined duration, the faculty focusses only solving a problem, and not teaching an idea. A subject which takes two hundred hours cannot be completed within eighty hours. With the kind of obscene money that is charged for private classes these days, if a properly determined minimum hours are not being spent for a subject, we are truly into an exploitative commercial set up, and not into any learning institution.

The moment the teaching faculty focusses more on demonstrating how to solve, showcases his fantastic ability in presenting an answer or making some quick fire computations, and students are finally given that glorious instruction "Now You Can Make A Note of the Solution", - each of us, the teaching faculty, need a nice hard slap on our face. Atleast I deserve it. What we are doing is not teaching, but showcasing our perceived super human abilities. What the student gets is not learning, but a presentation. What the student sees is the destination, and not the path.

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There are a lot of other areas where most faculties have potentially failed. Most notably not preparing for the classes. Not visualizing the complete picture about the subject / discussion points. Not being helpful in clarifying the doubts of the students. Not knowing an area at all (My personal experience is blogged here on this site). Too much tom-tomming about the past success rates and how people have succeed only because our suggestions or training. And you can add a few more. But these are the ones that I can think of where the teaching faculty has failed miserably. I can personally hold myself as one among the accused in three of the above cases (except for rote learning), and few of the reasons listed in this para.

Admittedly, lot of people would argue that the purpose of such "Private Coaching Centres" are "Success in Exams", and not "Understanding / Learning for Life", and it is for this "Object" that students typically come to your place. But what I have never been able to make them realize is this - "Understanding / Learning for Life" doesn't mean the student will fail in his exams. But focussing only on "Success in Exams" is a sure shot way of ensuring the student to fail in life.

With the above failures, the faculties pretty much ruin the student's professional life for good. With the kind of influence we have on the students, half the time students aren't even aware as to why they have not been successful in their life, and still look at us with the same great regard. And therein lies the tragedy. 


Srinidhi said…
Amazing article sir !!!

Yes you have been a strong influence on me as a teacher & I'm grateful to you :)

As far as Tutoring goes
The Hyundai sonata guy never really thought us anything in the class .
He just torchered us with long speeches about his achievements .
But he did fill us with a lot of false confidence

At the end of each class he used to measure the marks he thought us "students, today i have thought u 5 marks for exam "
How ridiculous is that !!!

The Honda City guy was a whole different ball game.
He's Probably the Father of Rote learning !!!
Infact i used to call his classes "The Magic show"
In his class Conceptual Learning goes for a Toss .

I always liked your method of teaching .
it's been about a Year since i finished my coaching under you.
I started studying derivatives yesterday ...& My brain could easily remember everything ...i haven't revised it at all in the past one year.
I remember it because i understood the concept , Not memorise it ( like a typical chennai student ).

The Mindset of students (especially in TN & AP ) is to score the highest marks possible & get a rank.
To hell with conceptual understanding !!!

& as you said... such a Mindset is derived by the Influences of their teachers, which is a real tragedy .

Frankly speaking sir, with tons of applause for your teaching methodology,
this article has completely penned the criticisms and scant regards which run through the minds of students like us, taking tutions for professional courses from people who call themselves "teachers" but are actually a "scanner with solution" made alive.

They don't give a damn to what we want to know neither do they ask us if we have understood the concepts they have taught or is there any doubt in our minds (may be because they haven't prepared a pre-planned bookish answer for our "unpredictable " but many a times valid doubts).

It's been hardly a week of ur classes but I find myself more comfortable with the concepts at least in the areas you are taking (no flattery, as it's not gonna help me in any way).

And I also appreciate the fact that being in a profession as stale and monotonous as this (capable of killing anybody's sense of humour) you still have a really good amount of sarcasm and humour in your articles...

Really loved to read a few of ur articles, especially the ones which bring out the practical problems we (students) are facing..

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