“Teachers are more effective, when they know their subject”

Perhaps this headline seems self-evident. “This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich….”

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Most people who work in education can point to a specific teacher who changed their life.Any teacher whose name can be recalled ten or twenty or fifty years later with admiration could be described as both memorable and effective, but it is difficult to define these traits beyond particular examples. The transformative power of an effective teacher is something almost all of us have experienced on a personal level. If we were particularly fortunate, we had numerous exceptional teachers who made school an exciting and interesting place. Those teachers possessed a passion for the subjects that they taught and genuine care for the students with whom they worked. They inspired us to play with ideas, think deeply about the subject matter, take on more challenging work, and even pursue careers in a particular field of study. Some exceptional teachers achieve celebrity status, such as Former President of India, Dr. Radha Krishnan or Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, who inspired thousands and millions of students, but thousands of unsung heroes go unrecognized in their remarkable work with students on a daily basis.

A teacher is an artist…

Let me illustrate with an example of an accomplished musician and an experienced science teacher having something in common— they can both make complex performances look effortless. The great jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, would take song requests from the audience then reinvent the piece as he played it by changing the key, tempo, and mood of the tune. At the right time, he would back off the melody to let another player in his ensemble take charge, then listen for subtle rhythmic cues that it was his turn again to take the lead; his fingers would dance over five octaves on the keyboard while he gazed out at the crowd, smiling. Peterson had a deep understanding of the fundamental structure of the music, but knew how to improvise and shape the experience for the audience as well as share the production with others in his band.

Similarly, the experienced science teacher is no less an artist. Consider a “simple” high school laboratory activity that begins with the teacher placing a mass on a scale at the front of the classroom. The scale reads “20 kilograms.” He then produces a large bell jar which he places over the entire scale and attaches the jar to a vacuum pump. “Can anyone tell me what the scale will read if I pump all the air out?” he asks the class. Over the next 20 minutes he orchestrates a flow of discourse with his students that compels them to hypothesize, suggest thought experiments, make reasoned connections, to try out and justify explanations with one another…in other words, to think. He poses questions that probe the mental models his students are beginning with, assessing how elaborate these models are, how generalizable, whether they refer to observations or to theory. During this time the teacher constantly judges whether the discussion is moving the students toward a scientific way of thinking about the phenomena. He must decide who has “pieces” of the scientific explanation and how to help students put these together for themselves. He is strategically scaffolding the thinking of the students and assessing group progress on a moment-by-moment basis. In addition to all this, he monitors whether students are following the classrooms norms and the degree of involvement, puzzlement, or frustration of individual students.

The wonderment of teaching, lies in “Aha.. moment” when a child “gets it,” is one of the most rewarding and seemingly elusive benefits of becoming a teacher. To bring this “Aha …moment” in the classroom, it’s possible only when the teacher has good command over the subject; if you are going to teach a subject, then you should really know a lot about the subject, right? Certainly in high schools, where teachers often specialise into one or two subject areas, there is a real emphasis on the subject matter knowledge of the teacher – which is why, the claim goes, that if you want to teach history, you should first learn a lot about history, and if you want to teach mathematics, then you should get a degree in mathematics.

Dear Teachers, the finest hours of life are not those spent among groups of people, but in good conversation with a few, in reading great books, in listening to great music, wandering in a forest of giant sequoias, peering into a microscope, unravelling nature’s secrets in the laboratory. The teachers who have the most to give their students are those who have enriched their minds and hearts in solitude.

Dear Teachers, the finest hours of life are not those spent among groups of people, but in good conversation with a few, in reading great books, in listening to great music, wandering in a forest of giant sequoias, peering into a microscope, unravelling nature’s secrets in the laboratory. The teachers who have the most to give their students are those who have enriched their minds and hearts in solitude.

Manjula V is the Founder of Pipaltree Education, established in the year 2010.A self-made entrepreneur, she has a mission to make a difference. Her innovative social engineering “quality education to all” manifests through personal volunteering while harnessing CSR into the power of giving. She has close to a decade and a half of commendable experience in teaching, administration, content creation, training, coaching and relationship management.Her experience of being a principal of leading CBSE schools gives rich experience comprehensively. She holds post-graduation in Arts, Science and Education (MA.,MSc.,M.Ed) and has trained over more than 25,000 teachers and is achiever of South Indian Women Achievers Award 2019.