Smiling Teachers Connect Better!

Teachers are like parents; they need to be pleasant approachable and fun to be with!   They need to have a face that is always smiling! Teachers who are smiling all the time are more likely to be successful! It goes without saying that good teachers are those who inspire confidence in their learners.

It is important for teachers to be approachable and definitely not intimidating. Students who dread and fear their teachers will never come to them with their doubts and queries. Their teachers forge ahead through the syllabus not knowing that serious gaps exist in their students’ understanding of key concepts. Exams and tests are only a few tools for testing students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts. A better real-time tool for assessing student learning is the constant feedback they get from students who feel at ease while talking to their teachers to get their doubts cleared.

In today’s times where learning in schools is more student led, it is very important for teachers to have the patience and the pleasantness to listen to all kinds of possible answers, and certainly not to snub students for wrong answers. In fact, wrong answers are a wonderful excuse to address new learning and to iron out common mistakes.

Smiling teachers connect better with their students, and it is this connectedness that builds up a relationship of trust, honesty, and sincerity. It is OK for teachers to smile at their students with genuine feelings, to make their students feel welcome and happy in the presence of their teachers. While climbing the stairs, to go to a class on another floor, I was lost in my thoughts about an issue when I was accosted by one of my students. She asked me, “Why are you so serious?” And I stopped in my steps and returned, “Oh, nothing! Just thinking about something!” The expression that a teacher has affects his students very strongly. There are teachers who are able to guide their students through their expressions.

Some of the common types of teachers and the expressions they wear include:

  1. Don’t Mess With Me! They have a rather caustic expression on their faces and are always scowling (They are more likely to get worry lines and wrinkles prematurely). They don’t like to be contradicted and are least likely to engage in a dialogue with their students not even a warning about submissions of notebooks for corrections.
  1. Miss Vulnerable: these are teaches who display their emotional vulnerability in a negative sense before their learners. They are afraid of facing their students, they are nervous and will make mistakes, each one works than the previous one, they end up tangled up in a mess no one would want to be in. Students can smell vulnerable teachers, and sure, they will go for the kill! These are the ones who will break in front of their students. They are lonely, lost in their own worlds of self-defeat and self-deprecation. I would say that they are suffering from the “I am missing Mommy” syndrome.
  1. Miss Flamboyant – they have all that jewelry flashing from all directions and are more likely to be more popular as page three divas, albeit past their prime, but nevertheless with aspirations of hogging the limelight. Unfortunately, their flamboyance might be a great distraction for students and an annoyance for other teachers, (“Who does she think she is, Chamakh Challo! Hindi for Miss Glamour). They are also in some cases the dainty ones.
  1. The Sloppy One – they are married to their subjects, least bothered about their appearance. They are the happy go lucky ones, absent-minded, and not aware about the breadcrumbs sticking to their shirts. They are fixed to their blackboards and go on with the lesson in a monotone voice often without being aware of students slipping in and out from the back door. Some of the more daring students might even launch a few missiles at their backside, a few of which might strike intended targets! My advice to them would be to let down their hair sometimes, visit the parlor, take a few classes on personal grooming after all the best is yet to be, one never knows there might be silent admirers from the fraternity!
  1. The Friendly Ones: they are teachers who get too close to their students and get their fingers burnt in the process. They will do anything in order to gain popularity amongst students, and they might also be more likely to ascend up the ladder of promotional success. They are so friendly that they know about the fights taking place in their students’ families, they know about the dishes that are being cooked in their students’ homes, and they are likely to know that Vera ran away with the milkman only to return a sorry figure after a day.
  1. The Firecrackers : their bark is as bad as their bite! Spewing fire and vitriol, they are best avoided from a distance. Learners quake in fear when the Firecracker arrives in class and woe betide those whose answers are not according to the set pattern. They are slaves to processes patterns and railway tracks (pun intended). In this case, there is a complete role reversal as it is the Firecrackers that launch missiles at cowering, hopeless victims whose work is “not up to the mark!”

Life is not bad in spite of the struggle in it, the life of a teacher is full of challenges and disruption. It is very important for teachers to enjoy their profession and to grow with their students. Being with young students can be a most empowering experience. When you meet your students with a smile, it smoothes out your journey. Teaching is a sublime profession, it is a spiritual process and one should treat the profession with good grace! A positive attitude, combined with the right amount of humility,  vulnerability and the desire to learn will make you enjoy the teaching profession. To make pedagogy effective, you need to first connect to your learners. Your superior subject knowledge will take you nowhere unless students love you!

A Sneak Preview into Escape from Athabasca, a Collection of Short Stories and Poems

About the Author

Rodrick Rajive Lal is the author of Dew Drops, a Collection of Poems, The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time ( A Collection of short stories), and The Science Fiction Romance Novel, The Other Side of Love, Beyond A Shadow Of Doubt. He is vociferous reader and a keen observer of life, who likes describing stories that draw inspiration from the myriad flavours of life. Born in Addis Abeba, the Capital city of Ethiopia, he now lives with his wife and two Daughters in Gurgaon (Delhi NCR) India and teaches English to high school students.

About the Book

Escape from Athabasca: ‘A Collection of Short Stories and Poems’ deals with a wide range of themes taken from everyday life. The book describes life as a complex mix of the mundane and the extraordinary. Would it be a big surprise to hear about how someone who has never flown a plane before manages to fly one with great success? While some of the stories and poems in the book deal with the mundane – domestic issues there are others that highlight the importance of friendship, risks and dangers in space travel, or even the impact of virtual game shows on young people. Just because we live secure lives  far away from conflict zones, it doesn’t mean we are shielded from the possibility of a nuclear war. Human life however is also about hope and inspiration, as is proved by the story of the bravery and persistence of a girl who conquered the Everest with one prosthetic foot. The poems in this book provide a poetical rendition of a world that is sometimes offset by bereavement or at other times the comicality of a roadside barber trimming and shaving the hair of his clients unperturbed by a disturbed world that rushes by.

Preview

Vineet wrapped the ring in a tissue after looking at it for some time, and then placed it on the dressing table in his bedroom. The next morning he woke up early in the morning at about five, grabbed the ring and drove on to the bridge over the Yamuna river. He stopped his car and then opening the tissue, he gazed at the ring one last time. Tears flooded his eyes, he wanted to keep the ring, a keepsake that would remind him of the woman he had loved so much, but then he was firm about what had to be done. He folded the tissue back over the ring and whispering, ‘Good bye Shalini!’ he flung the ring as hard as he could, over the railing into the Yamuna River.

Joseph Conrad’s short stories contain instances of determinism and existentialism

Conrad’s deterministic view of what makes the story of mankind tragic is because in spite of all his genius and intelligence, he is an unconscious victim of nature. As long as one is not conscious of this fact, life is easy, but the moment one realises how one is enslaved to this Earth, things become painful! Joseph Conrad’s short stories, a few of which I will attempt to examine, question the very meaning of life, in a civilized society, especially when we are fed the concepts of religion, propriety, youth, ambition, love, and brotherhood. Unfortunately, the moment one steps out of the protection of a civilized society, things begin to change. Take for example the case in the short story and Outpost of Progress where Kayerts sees no purpose in returning to the civilized world because his exposure to a primitive world, unmitigated savagery, and the primeval instinct that he sees hiding beneath the veneer of a civilized culture have proved to him that he is just another savage.
Another story by Conrad, The Lagoon, questions the purpose of life when one is deprived of the company of his beloved. Ultimately Arsat’s sacrifice of his brother for the sake of eloping with his beloved, and the risk he takes in eloping with Diamelen, a woman belonging to the ruling family end in the moment when he states to his western friend, Tuan, ‘In a little while I shall see clear enough to strike-to strike. But she has died, and …now…darkness.’ Arsat had sacrificed his brother, he had involved him in the plan but had to abandon him so that he could flee with his beloved, while his brother was overwhelmed by their pursuers, the ruler’s men. The final words describing Arsat are poignant enough, ‘Arsat had not moved. He stood lonely in the searching sunshine; and he looked beyond the great light of a cloudless day into the darkness of a world of illusions.’ Arsat’s romance ends in tragedy, and grief, and a descent into a realm of darkness and a world of illusions. If all the struggle, all that planning, all that risk, and the guilt of choosing Diamelen and leaving his brother to die, even when he called out for help was in the long run worth it. Earlier, immediately after his beloved had passed away from fever and illness, Arsat said to his western friend whom he called Tuan, ‘Now I can see nothing – see nothing! There is no light and no peace in the world; but there is death – death for many. We were sons (His brother and him) of the same mother –and I left him in the midst of enemies; but I am going back now.’ Romance has ended up in giving him a sense of emptiness, life will end up in a sense of guilt for having abandoned his brother. Death, for Arsat is the ultimate reality!
Conrad’s short story, Youth attempts to examine the meaning of youth especially youthful visions of success. In some ways, it even brings out the emptiness of the visions that young people have about future careers of success, building up business empires and making a mark on the professional front. In the short story, Marlow describes how he looked forward to his first Voyage to the East, and his first voyage as second mate on a ship named Judea. He had high hopes of it being a successful voyage. His vision of the voyage and its future benefits are described in his own words, ‘It was one of the happiest days of my life. Fancy! Second mate for the first time-a really responsible officer! I wouldn’t have thrown up my new billet for a fortune.’ Unfortunately, the ship turns out to be a jinxed ship that barely sails. On its final journey, the coal in the holds of the ship catches fire and the whole ship sinks. There something rather tragic about the way the ship lingers on, and how Captain Beards stays on board the doomed ship till the last moment, attempting, as it were to salvage whatever can be saved for the underwriters. Ultimately, the survivors board their life boats and manage to reach Eastern shores where they tie up their boats for the night at a jetty.
Twenty years after the whole episode, Marlow recounts to his gathered friends the whole story and he analyses the emptiness of that vision of youthful adventure and excitement and opportunity that his appointment as second mate on board Judea had given him. In his words, the East is ‘contained in that vision of …youth.’ His trip to Eastern shores made Marlow understand the paradox of life, that within that vision of youth, to which the East is connected, ‘a stealthy Nemesis lies in wait, pursues, overtakes so many of the conquering race, who are proud of their wisdom or their knowledge, of their strength.’ Marlow had thought that he would be a swashbuckling second mate on an English ship and that he would go to the East Malay and win all that he saw. It was a truly romantic vision of success and adventure. In Marlow’s own words, ‘And for me there was also my youth to make me patient. There was all the East before me, and all life, and the thought that I had been tried in that ship and had come out pretty well.’ He was young and the vision was young, the words on the ship’s stern spurred him on with the exhortation, “Judea, London. Do or Die.” What starts with a bang for Marlow ends with a whimper when he sees what he had once thought to be less cultured than him look down at the exhausted sailors as if in pity. Marlow describes the moment to his friends in the following words, ‘And then I saw the men of the East – they were looking at me. the whole length of the jetty was full of people..I saw brown, bronze, yellow faces, the black eyes, the glitter, the colour of an Eastern crowd.’ It is this defining moment that challenges Marlow’s vision, he had though he was going to bring civilization to the East, but here were people who were perhaps more civilized than he was, this was a culture that was ‘so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise.’ Who knows how they perceived the survivors of the Judea, perhaps they were savages to them!

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Love is Special! A Review of “The Other Side of Love, Beyond a Shadow Of Doubt”

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Love is special! In its best form, it defies the ability of Science to analyse it. Love is all in the heart and not the mind, so when it comes to shooting your beloved for the sake of saving the world, what would you do? It is said that even the powers in Heaven look down with pity when they see a beautiful relationship ending in grief. But then, wait – is it possible that there might be another solution to the whole issue? Is that when inspiration shows you a way out? In this relationship between two young people, is one of them hiding a secret about being half human and half alien? Is there a hidden plan behind this seemingly random meeting between two young people? Although the book is based on the typical “boy meets girl story,” but then it however goes deep into the Chemistry of love. The complication in the story is brought out by the possibility of an alien involvement in their affair. Can Rohit somehow save the whole world and retain Neena, the only girl has ever loved and is likely to love, since none other will ever do? The nightmares are real, and the dangers loom high over the two people. Gradually two more people become victims of the violence unleashed by the alien parasite residing within Neena, they are Mr Sinha, her estranged father, and the Mahant Biswas, the in charge of the Maha Bodhi Ashram. Set up in the context of modern day times in Delhi, “The Other Side of Love” will provide light reading for those who would like to take a welcome break from their hectic schedule. Written as a small book that will easily fit into one’s purse or college bag, the book can easily be taken out while travelling in the metro, and it can be read at one go or in bits. It contains elements of the science fiction genre along with modern day romance and will appeal to those who prefer reading the two different genres. “The Other Side of Love, Beyond a Shadow of Doubt will soon be available online on: WWW.Amazon.com, WWW.Flipkart.com, WWW.Barnes&Nobles.com and many others. A special thanks goes to Joe Anderson, my PSA at Author Solutions, Bloomington, and Antoniette Saints of Partridge Publishing for their patience in attending to me, and their high level of professional workmanship!

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A Glimpse into the, “Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time”

Andromeda

Dear friends and book lovers, this is a preview of my second book titled, The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time.
The Andromeda Connection is the culmination of an idea that the author had many years ago, of writing interesting narratives in prose. He had always wanted to write short stories and had even made a false start, one being a story written from the perspective of a deer living in the in the jungles of Africa! The scrap – book is lost but the desire to narrate a story remains. Many years later, the author was able to publish his collection of poems, although he had never dreamed of writing poetry! Poetry somehow came naturally to him and he used it as a suitable vehicle for communicating his perceptions about life. His priority has always been to write short stories and novels, and this is his first offering in the prose form.
The author does not claim to have written a collection of short stories, or discursive pieces, or even a novel – the book combines the stream of consciousness with linear narration. The Andromeda Connection – A Journey includes biographical elements which might suddenly move on to the more fictional style of writing. A combination of recollections of childhood memories of life in an African country in the first part titled: The African Connection-Memories of Childhood which is dominated by the autobiographical genre, the reader is introduced in this part with the voice that he will find throughout the book. The second part, Titled: The Asian and Western Connection – describes the immediate past flowing into the present. Although the reader comes across the familiar voice of the narrator, he will notice a clear shift in the writing style from that of the autobiography to that of narrative fiction based on different genres based on adventure, suspense, mystery, and fantasy. The third part titled: The Andromeda Connection the Future where the genre changes completely to that of Science Fiction. The predominant use of the third person narration might suggest a degree of maturity and the healthy detachment of a leader of a group. Readers may find the shifts in the narrative style sometimes perplexing, (The author begs them to bear with him!) but here, the author would like to state that the idea is to provide a rainbow experience of reading without being bound to read each story in a chronological order, something very oriental a way of describing the complexities of life with varied themes, stories and writing styles.
The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in time is available on Amazon, and Flipkart in both soft cover version and E-book version. Published in association with Partridge Publications, I am indebted to Antoniet Saints and Joe Anderson for helping me bring out this book. I would like to acknowledge my family for supporting me in my endeavour, and my students for insisting that I should write my stories in a compiled form! The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time is the result of two years of writing short stories, anecdotes and reminiscences on my blog titled:http:// rodrick writes.BlogSpot.com. My advice to all aspiring writers is to write their thoughts and ideas in a form that would be accessible in later times. In times where writing in long hand has become tedious and time-consuming, it makes sense to use a blog as a diary to save a resource of material that can be used in later times when the aspiring writer might decide to publish his or her work.
I sincerely hope that my friends enjoy reading The Andromeda Connection, A Journey in Time as a compilation of short stories written in different genres. I look forward to the support of all my friends and acquaintances in making this book a bestseller, not because I tell them to do so, but because of the merits of the book!

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Teaching Higher Order Thinking through Discussions-The relevance of the Socratic Method of teaching literature and writing in higher grades

In times of extensive research into the best possible methods of teaching, educationists have come up with their preferred styles which include, learning by doing, experiential pedagogy, problem solving, experimental learning (which is distinct from experiential pedagogy), the traditional lecture method, and, of course some are ready to swear on the effectiveness of Socratic Pedagogy! In simple terms, Socratic Pedagogy deals with debates and discussions based on the defence of a particular point of view. In many cases, Socratic Pedagogy deals with the negative method of eliminating hypothesis, the same as used in the preparation of a Research Paper. In a research paper, the scholar sets out with a hypothesis which he ends up proving or disproving by the end of the paper. Many teachers, either consciously or unconsciously resort to Socratic Pedagogy, especially in senior classes where students are expected to have some basic knowledge of principles and concepts. For the English teacher of the senior grades, eighth to twelfth, the Socratic method of teaching could prove highly effective in the teaching of Opinion Writing, research writing, and the teaching of literature which includes poetry, drama, fiction, (Novels and short stories), and non-fiction (including factual descriptions, processes descriptions, travelogues) and Journals, scientific or discursive.

The Socratic method of teaching based on discussions, questions and answers searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion. For the students of class twelve studying the Literature section of C.B.S.E. English Core Syllabus, the concepts and themes of Linguistic Chauvinism, exploitation of marginalised communities by mainstream communities, child labour, the dichotomy between the laws of humanity and the laws of patriotism, escapism and day-dreaming, the irony of teaching slum children in an elementary school that too without first addressing their economic plight, are all highlighted in the short stories an and poems in the prescribed textbook. These social issues need to be discussed at length in class and this can take place when there is a healthy discussion which is properly moderated, and interspersed, from time to time with good, leading questions. During such lessons, it is a good idea for the teacher to introduce the Plenary, or a question whose answer encapsulates the central theme of the lesson. Value based topics that connect the lessons to the wider world could benefit a lot from a Pedagogy based on Socratic principles of critical thinking and a dialectical approach to the theme that is being taken up.

Developing the dialectical approach in students at the higher grades would be of great value while taking up Higher Order writing skills which include the writing of discursive and descriptive essays, speeches, letters to the editors and even report writing. In all these cases, the students’ grasp of the topic, his or her ability to develop a logical argument, and the ability to develop a particular stance or the ability to consistently support a particular point of view, all depend on the students’ ability to think critically! The use of rhetoric and logic to convince and persuade the reader to accept one’s point of view is the result of being exposed to the Socratic method of teaching. Effective opinion writing and persuasive writing are highly dependent on the students’ exposure to the dialectical method of presenting thoughts. Value based learning is almost entirely based on the quality of questions presented during a discussion session.

Many teachers make use of dialectical or Socratic Pedagogy in day to day lessons, and the lesson plans developed by most teachers contain these elements. One common general objective mentioned in lesson plans by most language teachers deals with the student’s ability to “critically analyse” a particular action or incident in the lesson. The critical analysis could also include the mention of advantages and disadvantages of a particular decision by the author. One poem that comes to mind is the Poem, “The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost, where the poet mentions choosing one of two roads, early in life. The student could be asked to critically analyse how the poet’s decision to shift to England benefitted him, and their answer could be supported by the line where the poet states that when he looks back, he realises that his choice has made all the difference! Many teachers include discussion in their lesson plans as one of the important activities to be undertaken while teaching a particular topic to students in class. The discussion however has to be initiated with an apt and carefully framed question. This could also be in the form of a hypothesis. To add a twist, the teacher could introduce a null hypothesis in class to initiate the discussion. The inclusion of thought provoking, open ended questions in the lesson plan is another good way of improving the quality of teaching taking place in the class room!

It goes without saying that the Socratic Method of teaching can help develop critical thinking in students at all levels. The idea is for the teacher to tell the students not to take everything at face value, but in fact to learn to develop the ability to think deeply before coming to the point. This dialectical method is not about giving answers to students straight off, rather it is about making the students come round to the answer or a particular point of view through a series of questions whose answers lead the students to the obvious! Let the students probe and explore the problem through a series of questions till they come to the answer. This is in no way related to the trial and error approach rather it is about intelligent learning, learning through an intelligent process of eliminating choices and options that don’t form part of the solution! In this age of advanced technology however, Socratic enquiry cannot be initiated through a Power-point presentation, rather it is based on a very strong dialogue between the teacher and the students. This is a method that can be used to nurture complex thought processes in learners required to develop an understanding of the complex world that we live in. For the Socratic Method of teaching to be effective there should be a good and healthy relationship between the learners and their teachers. A confrontationist attitude in the students or their teachers will compromise the efficacy of the dialectical method of teaching! An atmosphere of mutual respect needs to be created between both, teachers and students before one can even thin of embarking on the Socratic Method of teaching. We have talked often about the need to create an optimum balance between students and teachers during the lesson so that the lesson is student based and teacher based in equal proportions! The healthy sharing of ideas between both teachers and students will go a long way in ensuring that the lesson is interesting enough! To develop the Socratic Method of teaching to its optimum level would require thus a highly democratic environment within the class with, however, the necessary measure for preventing the discussion from degenerating into a free for all! The ideal teacher should moreover be ready to take suggestions from students that throw new light on the topic. It is about learning to look at a problem from multiple points of view. In many cases it would not harm the purpose of teaching critical thinking in students to introduce a statement that goes contrary to the expected learning outcome so that the learners can come around to proving the statement false by providing relevant evidence! In many cases, the teacher might have to become subservient to the learners in the interest of promoting proper learning.

The important question for educationists today is whether the Socratic Method of Teaching continues to be relevant today. In many cases where students are overloaded with information from the internet and other sources, it might become an overwhelming experience for the teacher to maintain a proper control over the discussion taking place in the class. In many cases, discussions are hijacked by the dominant group of students who might just want to keep defending a particular stance just for the sake of prestige. While it is true, very few educators have the exceptional foresight and logical reasoning of Socrates, it would however not harm one to develop the qualities of detachment, neutrality and patience as enduring qualities of a good teacher. Before setting out on a discussion, the prudent teacher should set out rules before the class. He or she should remind students that all students are expected to participate in the discussion, and he or she should ensure that this is enforced. Similarly, to ensure that an effective discussion does take place, chorus answering should be discouraged; students should to be told to raise hands before making a statement. Discipline, therefore is an expected element of a good discussion in class. The tactful educator should moreover ensure that he or she prevents the discussion from taking up heated proportions, or from digressing from the main topic.

Discipline during a discussion session can be ensured through the setting up of relevant and appropriate question. A good discussion does not have to be completely student based if the questions have been carefully framed by the teacher! The teacher can start with questions that are within the students’ grasp and then he or she can introduce those questions with an increasing difficulty level. Giving questions that have too many possible answers, or questions which are too easy might not further the purpose of entering into a discussion. For that effect, giving students questions which are beyond their understanding too defeats the very purpose of dialectical learning. One major disadvantage of the Socratic Pedagogy is that it is time consuming, and the discussion could very easily go in round circles rather than progress in a linear fashion. Often the expected learning outcomes might not match the final learning outcomes. This is a danger that Language teachers have to be aware of.