Let’s admit it.
It’s hard to make a difference as a teacher.
There are many factors you don’t have control over, and despite your best intentions, things can go wrong.
Does that mean you can’t make a difference?
That’s not true.
You surely can.
And I know you’re up to the challenge.
Because for you, teaching is more than just earning your bread and butter. It’s an opportunity to share your wisdom and compassion with your students.
Stay with me, and I’ll show you exactly how I did it so that you can do it too. (Believe me, you have what it takes to make it happen).
But before that, let me give you a little context to help you understand things better.
You see, this blog, avdheshtondak.com is the result of a loving connection with my students at Subharti University, Meerut where I conducted personality development training classes in 2010.
Who Am I and What’s My Story?
Well, first of all, I am not a teacher.
(You did not expect that, right?)
Let me explain.
I never went to any teachers’ training college, and I don’t possess a professional degree in teaching. So, I am not a teacher per se. Whatever I learnt about teaching was kind of ‘spontaneous.’ And so, what you’re about to read is my experience talking.
How I got started was quite interesting:
It was March 2010.
One of my cousins had plans to sell media packages to North Indian colleges. And since I had been working in media as a voice actor, he thought we could work together.
So, he invited me to discuss things over dinner.
The idea was to work something out to benefit both of us monetarily. After the discussion, he asked if I knew any personality development trainer. (He had connections with a software training company in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, and they were looking for a trainer to deliver personality development classes at Subharti University, Meerut).
At that time I was recording some educational stuff with a female English trainer. Her name popped into my head, but I wasn’t sure if she would be interested. I assured that I’d talk to her.
And boy, can I forget that night!
I could not sleep. A kind of restlessness had gripped me–I was tossing and turning in my bed like crazy.
My gut wanted me to take up that assignment, but my logical mind was not agreeing.
I had always been a socially shy guy–I rarely participated in any speaking activity during my student life.
Teaching Wasn’t My Cup of Tea!
But I am into meditation for quite some years now. And so, I trusted my intuition and said yes.
My cousin passed me on the mobile number of the concerned person. I talked with the guy, and we finalised everything.
He requested me to start the classes from the very next day, but I wasn’t ready. And also, I was curious.
‘Why they need a teacher at such short notice?’ I thought to myself. 🙄
He gave me the mobile number of the teacher I was replacing and requested me to talk to her.
I called her up hoping to get some insights about the students. And apparently, I was the first person to inform her that I was taking her place. She was shocked.
After the greetings, I asked about her experience as a teacher with students at Subharti University, and she sounded disappointed.
“Oh! You can’t handle those students. They just don’t listen to you. I don’t know how you would manage.” And then she elaborated a bit further.
Well, I thanked her for the ‘encouraging’ words and disconnected.
Later I came to know that her teaching style was kind of ‘different.’ Most of the times she used to talk to the students in English. Now, you see, Subharti University is in Western Uttar Pradesh which is predominantly a rural area. And guess what, English is not even a 3rd language in the region.
So, basically, there was a communication gap between the teacher and most of the students.
I also belong to Western UP, and I can understand the situation the students were in. If there’s something that scares us the most is not a ghost or Jinn, it’s English, or “Ingrejji” as we jokingly call it. And that’s normal because the dialect of Western Uttar Pradesh is Khadi Boli which has nothing to do with English, not even a tiny bit.
Since the students and the teacher were not on the same plane, there was an atmosphere of mistrust. When things didn’t work out, students approached The Dean and offered two options – a) Refund the extra fee students had paid for personality development classes, or b) Arrange a new teacher.
That’s how I came in the picture.
My First ‘Lecture’
March 10, 2010, was the day when I delivered my first lecture.
(I don’t know why the college preferred the term ‘lecture’ over ‘class.’ Don’t you think it’s almost impossible to lecture to young boys and girls?)
On my way to the college, one of the female teachers asked, “Sir, how would you teach today, do you have some sort of strategy?”
“Ma’am, I feel it’d be a waste of time to prepare the key in advance without having a look at the lock. I am ready with what I’d teach today, but I’ll decide the ‘how’ only after meeting my students.”
“Sir, I have been teaching in this college for quite some time now. And I must caution you that these students belong to rural areas–they are not articulate enough, and it’s no use frying your brains working on them. You just pass the time talking some random stuff. Don’t’ waste your energy on them!” She advised.
“Ma’am, had passing time been my motto, I could’ve done that in Delhi only. Why cover almost 150 kilometres a day to pass the time? There are many beautiful parks in my vicinity. I could’ve taken my girlfriend there to pass the time chatting with her.”
“You see, I am here to help my students. Isn’t that’s what a teacher must do?”
“Moreover, I am not doing them any favour; in fact, they’ll be doing me a favour by listening to me. Nowadays, how many students are even interested in what their teachers have to say?”
“I am getting paid to help them, and believe me; I shall not leave any stone unturned.”
“And forgive me for being a little blunt, but ma’am, I think you should consider rethinking about your attitude. Do you really believe you’d do any good to your students or yourself with this kind of attitude?”
And so it began.
My first ‘class’ was in computer science branch (B.Tech 2nd year).
A male staff member from my employer company accompanied me to the classroom. He wanted to stay while I delivered the class, but I was feeling uncomfortable because of his presence. I requested him to leave, and he honoured my request.
So there I was – standing in front of 55 students.
How were the students?
Oh! They were anything but quiet. And I was wondering if they ever heard the phrase “pin drop silence.”
My Students Were Not Paying Attention
I can still recall that moment–to the minutest details–in full colour.
Backbenchers were busy with mobile phones.
Other students were busy talking, while some others were staring at me as if I was some devil with horns on my head.
So, it was crystal clear that getting their ‘undivided’ attention was going to be hard.
And I was a little nervous (I mean my legs were shaking inside my pants).
It was probably my first time standing in front of an audience that big. At first, I tried the conventional method–yelling!
Didn’t work out.
Then, I changed my ‘teaching methodology’…I mean my approach. 🙂
I composed myself and stood there quietly for about a minute. It seemed to work. The chatterboxes slowed down a bit.
After about 2 minutes, there was complete silence. All of them were staring at me.
I asked one of the students, “What do you understand by ‘self-esteem?'” He replied, and things started to roll.
I Realised that ‘Coaching’ Was About Them, Not About Me
I have a small, beautiful book on ‘coaching’ which says that coaching is about the students, not about the teacher.
That’s quite an insight.
From day one, I started learning to get into my students’ shoes to understand the problems they were facing in personal growth. I also started reading books on motivation, self-growth and human growth potential.
So, that’s how I got started. Now, let’s dive right into the tips you can use to make a difference as a teacher.
#1: Make Your Students Laugh
This one is pretty simple–make them laugh, use laughter as an icebreaker.
It works like a charm.
And you know it from your experience, don’t you? You know that when you laugh you get more open to whatever you’re about to listen or watch, right?
You can apply the same thing with your teaching. The more open your students are, the better their understanding of whatever you’re teaching them would be.
Laughter makes both the students and teacher comfortable, and eventually, teaching becomes fun, not a burden.
So, I had a collection–jokes, one-liners, witty incidences and Shayri. A lot of stuff. I was a funny and cool teacher, you know. 😎
The idea was to make the students comfortable before getting into teaching and learning mode.
And it worked. Every. Single. Time.
#2: Accept the Fact That Not All Students Want to Progress
I know it can be hard to accept that not every student wants to progress, especially when you’re doing everything goddamn thing under the sun.
The fact is, the majority of the students want to excel and do better.
But then, there are others who are not interested in anything. Studies, sports, personal development–nothing matters to them.
And it’s quite natural (as a sincere teacher) to start blaming yourself for the situation.
But, it’s not your fault. And you can’t do much about it.
All you can do is not to let such students disturb the interested ones.
I had this concern from day one. And so, in my introductory class, I made classroom rules clear to all the students.
I explained that I was there to help those interested in helping themselves.
I said, “I am not a teacher or trainer; instead, consider me your friend. And this class is not about you or me. It’s about us. We’re a team, and we shall achieve our goals together. Anyone who’s not interested is free to leave. No questions asked.”
(I know it was not appropriate in a conventional sense, but think about it–if you let the uninterested students stay in the classroom, would they listen to you? They’re not even interested for Ramji’s sake. And you can’t make somebody interested in something they don’t care about, can you?)
“Once the class is in session, I’d assume only those of you who’re interested are present. If you’re not interested in personal development, please take the liberty to leave because if you stayed, you would disturb others. And that’s the last thing I’d want. I respect your freedom to leave.”
“But sir, if you complained to the head of the department about our absence we’d have to pay a hefty fine.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to complain.”
I had formulated a secret code: “I need to go drink some water.” I expected uninterested students to approach me after I took the attendance. The moment a student spoke the code, I’d knew he/she’s not going to come back.
I never forced anybody to attend the class because I knew interested students would benefit from what we were exploring. And I also knew I needed to avoid pushing the indifferent ones.
Not every student wants to progress, and that’s a fact.
Accept it, my dear.
#3: Listen with Patience, Teach with Authority
Give your students ample opportunities to express themselves.
Listen to what they have to say.
Pay attention to what challenges they’re facing.
Empathise with them. And see things from their perspective.
Listen more, speak less.
And when you speak, be authoritative.
You’re the teacher–the authority present in the classroom.
Always remember that.
#4: Begin the Class On Time
I used to wait until all the students were present (after the lunch break). And many students used to be 10, 15, and even 20 minutes late.
One day, while waiting for others to arrive, a student suggested, “Sir, don’t you think that we must start the class on time? Waiting for latecomers means wasting the time of the punctual students, isn’t that so?”
“Hmm, you’re right.”
I realised my mistake and that day onward I started classes on the scheduled time-even if only one student were present.
No student was allowed to enter the classroom after the scheduled time. That approach made non-punctual students changed their habits.
#5: Treat Every Student, Every Class With Integrity
One particular day, my very first class was quite troublesome.
Students were making a lot of noise despite my best efforts. I got a little frustrated that day.
And when the students in the next class asked why I looked upset, I gave them a hint about how bad my previous batch had been.
Later, I realised I had breached my students’ trust. I shouldn’t have discussed a challenge I had with a class with another. But that was the first and last day I did that.
From that day onward, I resolved never to address issues of one class with another or the problems of one student with another student.
Every class and every student is unique. And as a teacher, you must respect it.
Never discuss issues you may be having with a particular class or a specific student in front of other class or students.
That’s unethical. And also, against the professional integrity of a teacher.
Try to understand the problems and offer help. That’s the best you can do.
#6: Teach Your Students the “Crux”
I own a book titled “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield that teaches success principles.
I learned a lot of useful things from that book during my metro travel time and later passed on the information to my students.
The students used to raise questions, and I had to find solutions which also helped me–I went from being a problem seeker to a solution seeker within 15 days. It was a long-awaited transformation for me as an educator and also as an individual.
Read as much as you can about your particular subject and then pass on the essence to your students.
This strategy will help you expand your knowledge. And it’ll also make you an exceptional teacher in the long run.
#7: Go the Extra Mile to Help Your Students
The conventional setup in most of our colleges is not what you’d say adequate for true learning.
And that’s why you need to take some extra steps to help students overcome specific challenges.
As you know, ‘regular’ teachers treat their work as a means to an end–they don’t take extra stress.
Their attitude is like, “My job is to teach them X. So, I will do that. Nothing more, nothing less.”
There’s nothing wrong with that as such. After all, they’re performing their duty reasonably well.
But we’re not talking about them; we’re talking about you–the teacher who wants to make a difference, right?
And I know that you always keep looking for ways to do better than yesterday. That is why you must be willing to walk that extra mile.
The most significant challenge for my students was unexpressed energy. And that was the reason why they were so noisy in the classroom.
One fine day, my class was in session.
I had cracked a joke, and the students were laughing hysterically–there was a lot of noise. Suddenly a female teacher (who was notorious for being one of the most strict teachers in the college) entered the classroom and almost ridiculed me, “Sir, what are you doing? These students are disturbing the entire floor. Why are they making so much noise?”
“What do you think of yourselves? If you don’t behave, I’ll complain to the principal and all of you will have to pay fine.” She warned the students.
“Sir, you need to work on classroom behaviour management. Please make a list of the students who were making noise and give it to me if they don’t behave.”
“I surely would, ma’am” I assured her.
She had a point.
And so I decided to meet the training and placement officer the next day to find a solution to the ‘noise’ issue.
I Requested to Conduct an Experiment
I suggested to the officer that we should allow the students to make noise for the first 10 minutes. The students should be free to laugh, scream or make any noise they wished. That way most of their unexpressed energy shall get released, and they shall remain calm and centred for the next 40 minutes.
My suggestion was ‘overruled’ with the reasoning that it would disturb the adjoining classes.
I couldn’t understand the logic. And I still don’t understand.
I was suggesting letting the students having fun for the first couple of minutes so they can remain calm for the remaining time. That would have been more productive, instead of them making noise for the whole classroom time.
Okay, you tell me. What’s better–allowing the students to release their steam within 10 minutes, or letting them disturb the whole floor for 50 minutes?
You must be willing to go that extra mile for your students. I cannot guarantee that you’ll succeed, but you should try it. Who knows you might get lucky someday.
#8: Don’t Lose Heart (Even When Things Go Wrong)
Remember the first paragraph of this article where I said, “There are many factors you don’t have control over, and despite your best intentions, things can go wrong?”
Things went wrong for me.
Some students had complained to The Dean that I wasn’t good enough, and they needed a replacement. Since I was the replacement of the previous teacher, the person from my employer company sharing the feedback was concerned. And worried.
Failing to address the issue would have meant losing the contract. And that would’ve been a bad thing, like really bad, because the college could have blacklisted the company forever.
I assured him I’d handle the situation.
I knew who those students were. They were the backbenchers that never took an interest in anything. They were there just to pass the time. One student always had his earphones on because he wasn’t interested even a single bit. I asked him to leave the very first day, but he said he wouldn’t disturb anybody so I allowed him to remain in the classroom.
There was a total of 250 students in 5 different classes, and I was leaving no stone unturned to help them grow.
The news was disheartening, but it affirmed my decision not to force the uninterested students. Now I just had to make things clearer to some students.
The next day I explained again, “I am not forcing anyone to sit in the classroom and anybody not interested is free to leave.” And the dust settled.
Be careful to help interested students as much as you can.
Also, there will always be some faultfinders in every class. Be ready to handle them.
Above all, don’t lose heart.
#9: Believe in Your Students*
The pressure to perfrom well in academics can have its toll on the students. There will be times when your students will feel like giving up.
Well, guess what, it’s human.
But that is when you (the teacher) is needed more than ever.
When your students are feeling low, and their belief is shaken, stand firm and tell them that you still do believe in them.
A little push, a kind gesture, a couple of encouraging words is all they need to go for their dreams.
Be there for them.
*This tip was suggested by Kim Griffith (One of the authors of the book ‘Gifted’) Check out her website https://readgifted.com
#10: Start a Blog
My students were concerned about staying in touch once the classes got over.
And I also wanted a platform where I could share new things with them. So, I started this blog.
You too can help your students with a blog. (This detailed post by Neil Patel on how to start a blog will give you all the necessary information).
A blog can help you stay connected with your students. They can read what you have to say without you being physically present. It can be of significant help to your students because they’d have useful advice ready for them whenever they need it.
You shall be required to express your ideas with clarity, which in turn can help you sharpen your teaching skills. It’s a win-win situation for both the students and you.
There are a lot of ideas that can help you as a teacher to bring about positive changes in the classroom. And in this article, I’ve shared just some of them.
You can also brainstorm with fellow like-minded teachers to get some more creative ideas to grow yourself into an influential teacher–someone students admire like anything.
And remember, when nothing else works, love does.
When things go south. Be more loving. Towards your students, and yourself.
And everything shall fall into place.
Let me tell you one last thing:
Nothing can be more blissful than a student hugging you with profound love and respect – whom you just ran into – at a place you weren’t expecting.
(I am having goosebumps while writing this, and also tears in my eyes).
Thank you for reading what I had to share. You’ve been awesome.