The days when I used to slap students are gone. Nowadays parents don’t like even the teachers raising their voice.

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Manohar Subbiah, 66, is a private Mathematics tutor since nearly five decades, apart from being a voracious reader, and health enthusiast. With a B.Sc in Statistics and Mathematics, he also teaches French. In conversation with A.Radhakrishnan, he talks about his rich experience in teaching, and the mettle of students today.

Why did you decide to become a tutor? How long have you been tutoring?
Teaching always interested me since my schooldays. I began giving tuitions since October 1974, as I was not in a position to do my B.Ed., due to financial constraints. You needed that degree to get jobs in schools; so the next best thing to do was what I liked, take private tuitions. My personal satisfaction and happiness were more important than just making money. I wanted to do what I loved to do. I am happy with it and never harboured a desire to take up a comfortable, corporate job. I always got tuitions through word of mouth.

Your take on the criticism that private tuitions are just money spinners, and it defeats the purpose of education.

To each his own. No profession is free of unscrupulous elements.

Which would you root for, home education or standard school education?

Both have their strengths and weaknesses. When attending school is not possible, home education is better than no education. As we have to live in a society, however, school education would be advisable. The child has to learn how society functions, how one should work as a team and take decisions, interact with others and make friends who are always a support system in their later days. No man is an island by himself/herself is a famous adage.

What is the bane of the Indian educational system? Does it need an overhaul? How do you stay abreast with the latest educational trends?

There are a lot of problems. Though rote learning in some cases is necessary, insistence on the student to answer ad verbatim, should be discouraged. In many state board schools, the number of students in each class is large and unmanageable. There should be more schools, smaller classes, and more teachers.

What is the major reason for and the solution for dropouts from school?

Poverty and girls’ sanitation happen to be the main reasons. Tackling these problems through providing free education could reduce this problem and of course recruiting dedicated teachers, and not the ones who look upon it as a job, would be essential.

How does online tutoring differ from normal tutoring? How do you stay aware with the latest educational trends?

It is the same, except that the students are miles away. Students normally update me with new trends in education and I am also a voracious reader.

What subjects do you teach? Do you believe in team-teaching or co-teaching?

I teach Mathematics up to the 12th standard for all Boards, Statistics to undergraduate students, and French up to the 10th standard. I was always a loner and have no experience about other methods like group teaching, co-teaching or team teaching.

What’s your philosophy of teaching?

I have always worked according to the student’s strength or weakness, for everyone has a different level of understanding. I always explain the basic points by solving some problems, mostly the difficult ones, and then make the student solve the problems without any help, but am always there to help with their further questions and doubts.

What’s your biggest challenge as a tutor? What are the skills to implement to make teaching more effective?

The biggest challenge has always been to remove the fear the student has of the subject. After patiently explaining all the questions, I move ahead only after the student has understood everything and is confident. This requires a lot of forbearance. It takes time to build up their confidence to eventually make them like the subject. A tutor should be friendly, patient with his ward and be able to allay the student’s dread of the subject. He should be regular and punctual, though very often punctuality suffers because of traffic snarls.

What is your greatest strength?

I guess my greatest strength is the patience I exhibit while teaching; trying to explain something till the student understands and is able to grasp it. I have always encouraged my students to help their friends to solve problems, so that they themselves understand their own strength and weakness.

How can you make teaching effortless?

An excellent command over one’s subject is a must always for the tutor. One has to keep the students’ interest in mind, always encourage them, and teach them to think. The student should always be able to openly ask his doubts and he or his feelings should never be hurt.

How creative are you with your tutoring?

Creativity lies in making the student understand and have a good comprehension of the subject. I see and study the problem from different angles and make the student think.

What are the exploratory classes you prefer for a student and why? How do you prepare students for standardised assessments?

I would prefer students to exercise, join yoga classes and take part in some sport. They should always have good health and learn things which not only buttress studies, but also make them good human beings. As for standardised assessments, I first make them solve all the problems from their textbook, and then solve additional ones from other books.

How would you handle a ‘weak’ student? Your approach if he/she does not do well?

Lack of interest, disobedience, and unwillingness to do the homework are paramount issues. Weak students take more time than other students, but if they are willing to work things out, it’s just a matter of time.

Which is the best way to deal with students?

It varies from student to student. There’s no best way as such. Just tell the parents about the problem. The days when I used to slap students are gone. Nowadays parents don’t like even the teachers raising their voice.

What are the challenges in handling the modern day students?

Although better informed, present day students are more distracted and reluctant to undertake certain norms which are necessary for studying and understanding a subject. High achievers are sometimes difficult to handle and you have to listen to a lot of what they have to say. However, they take less time to learn new problems.

Explain what are the changes you would like to see in students you have taught?
I like it when students learn to think for themselves, can confidently discuss a problem, and solve problems correctly in a comfortable way.

How can you generate interest among students for the subjects you teach? How would you engage a reluctant student?

They do get interested once the trepidation disappears. However, it is difficult to din interest in a disinterested and reluctant student. There is no choice but to convey it to their parents, as there is no point in wasting their hard earned money, as well as time.

If you realised a student was being bullied in his school, how would you deal with the situation?

I will take strict action, involve the bully’s parents, and counsel the victim to not take things lying down, and take it up with his school.

What would you advise students regarding exams?

Study, work hard and smart, and do not repeat your mistakes. Be calm. Don’t rush to finish your question paper. Better to lose two marks than twenty in the hurry.

What do you think of the role parents hold towards their wards? How can a teacher involve parents in the students’ progress?

Parents hold the most important role. Discipline is one thing which should be taught and strictly enforced by parents. They should always be informed about the child’s progress and made aware of the child’s strength and weakness.

What are your other interests?

Apart from reading and exercising, I regularly attended the gym till osteoarthritis set in. I have also learnt German, and am an exponent of Gojurio karate and Tai Chi, and was into stick fighting, yoga and jogging.


A.RADHAKRISHNAN

A.RADHAKRISHNAN is a Pune based freelance journalist, short story writer and poet, who loves to make friends and share humour.

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