Comrades in Arms
A good relationship with your professors can really boost your college and
B-school experience — Shrey Byala
Poemcrazy. No, it's not a typo. It's a word. A word concocted by the weird and wonderful Susan G Woolridge. A word that is the title of her book, and the centre of her world. A word that dispels beyond any shadow of a doubt that a great teacher can change your life. Woolridge is a writer of poems, and such poems as the world needs to see. She conducts seminars and workshops in any and all manners of places, and shows people how poetry can come from anywhere at all. Apart from being an exceptional book about poetry writing, it is testament to the impact a teacher deeply in love with her subject can have.
Have you ever wondered why the bulk of movies that are churned out year after year in Hollywood are teen movies? Yes, they're fun to make and watch. Yes, huge amounts of money need not be invested in trivialities such as plot and casting. But all these movies have a guaranteed paying audience somewhere, and that's in the age group of 14 to 22 years. The reason for such an incredible productivity rate is quite simple: There is no dearth of material. The time in a person's life which is spent in middle school, high school, and college is such an eventful period. Potential career maps are charted, along with fluctuating hormones. Cultural experiences impact nubile young minds like never before. Students discover more about themselves through conscious thought and experimentation, and it would take a special teacher indeed to be able to channel all that frenzied growth in a direction that is productive, and ultimately, a
catalyst for more growth.
That is no walk in the park, I can assure you. Even more than in high schools, the quality of your academic life is influenced by your college lecturers. Having a good rapport with them in school can make smoother sailing of what is traditionally a confusing time. If your teachers can understand and appreciate you as an individual, and vice versa, the entire experience evolves into something markedly different. It becomes a more natural and enriched learning process, where you aren't always at odds with your environment and don't have to coerce yourself down paths of study. Scientific studies conducted on pairs of identical twins have determined that whereas the learning potential is genetically determined, the realisation of that potential depends on the environment around the student. For underperforming students, this bond can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure. These students sometimes need to be coaxed and cajoled until they can work through intellectual and emotional inhibitions, as the case may be. An appraisal of the student, coupled with a firm conviction to not let them fall by the wayside, can do wonders. Apart from skills honed and practiced, one of the biggest contributors to success is confidence. And to a student otherwise shorn of self belief or confidence, having a qualified adult worth his salt believing in your ability and proving it by judging you as fairly as your peers can instil a little
self-belief where there is none.
Alternately, for exceptional students, a good understanding with their lecturers can open doors for them through the benefit of vast experience. Exceptionally talented students need direction just as much as average students, sometimes more so, because there is always the lurking danger of a self destructive turn of thought or just plain old burnout.
But once they get to college, professors have all of that to do plus the unenviable task of finding common ground with a large body of students about whom they know absolutely nothing. Not having seen them grow up puts them at a serious disadvantage, because for every student who is proactive about a good teacher-student relationship, there will be two more whose interest will have to be sparked. And it is unfair to expect someone to have an inspiring new insight into the young minds sitting before him or her every day. The balance is found when there are enough times that somebody's imagination is caught and set free. It is a wonderful feeling, to suddenly see clear as day what you can do. And the person standing before you can help you get there. Good teachers ask a lot of themselves and their students. John Stuart Mill once said, “A student of whom nothing is asked that he cannot do, never does all he can do.” The best teachers push students beyond their normal limits. Rabbi Jacob Neusner writes in Reaffirming Higher Education: “A good teacher is someone who can enter into the mind of another person and bring to life the mind of that other person. A good teacher does the work by arguing, pressing, asking questions, challenging answers, asking more questions. The life of the good teacher is expressed in giving life to ideas, imparting meaning to what appears to lie entirely beyond intellect, making the obvious into an adventure. A good teacher is argumentative, disorderly, prepared for confrontation everywhere, all the time, with everyone, on everything -- all for the sake of the vital mind, the freely inquiring spirit.” (1984, p. 106)
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE LIMITLESS.
Whether it's a teacher who has to find ways to grab the attention of a group of distracted toddlers whose mood patterns probably reflect the entire colour spectrum, or it's distinguished and established academics and gurus who are renowned far and wide for their achievements, there is a common thread of thought. And that is, communication.
The thing is, in today's world, students' attention spans are shorter. It's a proven fact. And all the necessary components of good teaching aside, all your organisation and
lesson planning is rendered useless if you can't find a way to effectively communicate with your audience. Students' expectations can be very high, or conversely, very low, but crucially, they are rarely indifferent to the academic standing before them, notes in hand. And this can make all the difference in the world. Let's face it, not every teacher has it in him or her to be a source of inspiration for the assembled body. Chances are, they'll be a little stuffy. A little unapproachable. A little biased towards a particular peer group. Well, they are only human, and prone to human error. But the student must keep in mind that these people who they are predisposed to mock or ridicule are the only trained and motivated people who turn up day after day. They are standing before them because they have something to offer to their wards, who would do well to listen.
Indian mythology is awash with stories of the beautiful bond between gurus and their young shishyas. Dead Poets' Society, a movie which is among this writer's favourites, shows us the impression a passionate and fiery young teacher makes on a handful of boys in high school. The material is endless, because there is always a new dimension to this relationship. Whether you're an avid watcher of the show Glee or whether To Sir With Love is one of your favourite books, the message is the same: Getting to know your teachers and trying to learn from their lives will teach you more about yourself and the world around you than any honours course will. As students, we sign on for college courses because we are interested in them, but from the day we arrive in class, our curiosity about the person at the head of the class outweighs that of the subject matter. It is the teacher's responsibility to recognise the eagerness for what it is and answer the students' unasked question through their actions. And that question is: Why did you choose to teach this subject, and will we feel the same way about it in a few years?
The answer lies in both their hands.
Together, teacher and disciple can conquer worlds. Apart, they may struggle to find a
reason to show up the next day.