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Beyond the Cognitive: Reflections from my Teaching Experience

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” is the guiding philosophy of the school (name withheld) where I went for my School Experience Program. The ethos of the school reflects the ideals of Maharishi Dayanand and Mahatma Hansraj. It reflects the “Value System” prevalent in India which aims at nurturing our socio-cultural heritage as enshrined in the Vedas. Learners are imbibed by these values so as to develop them into good human beings. To this effect; the Vedic ritual of performing ‘Havan’ has a place of pride in the school’s curriculum and is performed regularly to purify the air and environment. The education in the school is an amalgamation of ancient Vedic values and contemporary scientific temperament. Along with the intellectual development, the school aims to promote the traditional Indian values with due emphasis on competence, creativity and inculcation of scientific outlook and aesthetic appreciation.

I taught Social sciences to class IXth and Psychology to class XIth. The majority of students in class IXth were boys whereas in class XIth it was the other way round. Though the students were full of energy and enthusiasm, their curriculum permitted little time for self-reflection, but I felt a need to re-channelize their energies. Interestingly, even though the boys in XIth std were less in number and got sufficient attention from the teacher, they were still reluctant to study and attempted different means to distract the teacher in order to avoid participation in the classroom. Exploring the issue further, I learnt that Psychology was offered as an option against Political Science. Perhaps it was because of a limited choice of subjects rather than the interest that compelled them to opt for Psychology. On the other hand, the girls looked forward to share their personal experiences which enriched the classroom discussion. This made me wonder whether the girls were more intuitive and inward looking or were they simply more interested in studying Psychology?

At the end of the term I felt a need to evaluate myself viz.-a-viz. my teaching and my interaction with my learners. I asked both the classes to fill a feedback performa which consisted of ten indicators of teacher effectiveness. Besides these indicators, there were a few qualitative questions. One of the questions required them to answer what they had learnt from their teacher. Quite a few of them wrote that they learned to control their anger. They mentioned that many a times they would try to provoke me, or enrage me, but I remained tranquil and composed.

I was both perplexed and touched by their responses, and what amazed me the most was that a similar feedback was received by not less than 12-13 students from both the classes. They perceived anger as a negative trait and, admired the teacher and her management of anger. This experience laid a path for a self-reflection of my journey as a teacher. I wanted to understand the way in which my learners conceptualized anger, why they expected me to be angry and how was I different from the other teachers? I was overwhelmed that I could make them aware of their anger and kindle a need to manage it.

I reflected on this underlying yet essential difference between the relationship they shared with me and the relationship they shared with other teachers. Before my School Experience Program, I had already reflected on the kind of relationship I wanted to establish with my learners. I viewed my learners as sentient beings who deserved respect and dignity. I encouraged them to share their thoughts and opinions while my focus remained inculcate sensitivity and tolerance in them. I don’t claim absolute tolerance but I never thought of using anger as a tool to establish control or discipline in the classroom.

I was amazed that the learners were aware of their naughty behavior and deliberately tried to elicit an aggressive reaction from their teacher. Not receiving the expected reaction made them perceive the teacher as different from the rest. While pondering over these issues, I began to read Krishnamurti and got many answers from him. He believed that there is a peculiar quality to aggression which is isolation. Even I feel that an aggressive person is alienated from the world. This alienation is twofold: one is when the world distances itself from him. Second is when the person is frustrated from the world and develop resentment towards it and creates a psychological barrier which prevents others from entering. When as teachers we get aggressive in classrooms, the students develop a fear for us and consider us as different from them. Students show their non-acceptance in the form of noncompliance. At times, this leads the teacher to develop a negative opinion about the students and distance herself from them. As far as my context is concerned, I still wonder whether I was able to form a personal connection with them at the affective level where a mutual understanding of others’ emotions prevailed or not.

I think that this is similar to what power and authority does to a human. When you are in an authoritative position you generally tend to look down upon others as less knowledgeable or less capable than you. A most common fallacy in which the teachers lead their entire life is that of supremacy. This sense of supremacy has emerged from our religious and cultural milieu which privilege gurus to enjoy supremacy even over God. Because of the prevalent norms around the conceptualization of guru it is being incongruously equated to teacher which gives her undue power. Although a teacher may feel a sense of pride to be considered as supreme but the underlying authority completely disengages the teacher with the learners. The role of teacher is reduced to passing knowledge and no deeper engagement is possible.

To my mind, for a teaching learning process to be effective, some amount of transformation should take place in the teacher as well as the learner’s personal transformation is initiated by the realization that you are capable of looking into your inner self. While I was reading the feedback of my students I felt as though I was undergoing some kind of transformation. Though I had an idea about the kind of relationship I will establish with my students I never consciously behaved in a subtle way or masked my anger. At that point I realized that it was not that I was trying to overcome my anger or control it. It was that I did not feel the emotion of anger at all. Krishnamurti said that you become what you fight. I think this happens because when you have to fight or control anger consciously, there will be an urge to keep on thinking about the ways to fight it. In this manner, the emotion of anger would still persist in our minds and no meaningful transformation would be probable. One may question that how can one get rid of anger and transform oneself.

I believe this can be arrived through self-awareness when one can attempt to delve deeper into oneself and try to comprehend the cause of anger. But this must be done objectively as a third person who witnesses. If we initiate a dialogue between ourselves and our anger, we tend to defend and attribute reasons which will not let us view it as it is. The problem of anger can be solved when we look at it without condemning it or passing judgments. Self-awareness is the first step forward on the path of personal transformation.

The transformation which we undergo would not be worthwhile if it doesn’t reach others. Would my transformation be meaningful if it was just restricted to me? I wouldn’t have considered my behavior as noteworthy if my students wouldn’t have learned from it. This experience became significant only because of its power to transform me as well as initiate a transformation in my learners. Though the transformation was implicit to me, it was effective as it was able to bring me closer to my inner self and my learners.

Therefore, I believe that personal transformation can’t take place in seclusion. It will lose its significance if social transformation would not follow. The personal transformation I experienced was a result of my deeper engagement with not only myself but also with others.


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