Many people, with some years of work experience, show a craving to teach in a b-school. Similarly retired persons, from nearly all walks of life, defence, business, trade, bureaucracy or police also want to teach in b-schools. They want to do it for altruistic objectives and the fun of it. They usually get invited for a guest-session wherein they share their episodes of success. Such sessions are lapped up by the students as examples to emulate and contemporary information (usually mistaken as knowledge and wisdom) to be imbibed. No harm in returning to the classroom and speaking with the young minds. This helps the seniors to rewind and review their own lives as well as offer icons for emulation to the youngsters. B-schools are also happy with such interludes, for they bring in the glamour of corporate connections, students’ delight and ‘realism’ to ‘theoretical’ teaching.
Given the shortage of teachers business schools face, quite a few of them are able to enter the fray as visiting faculty or guest faculty taking on the responsibility of teaching full subjects. Such engagements usually come tagged with decent financial benefits as well. But their honeymoon is too short. Either they leave the arena frustrated or the business school politely refuses a second chance. What really goes wrong with such well meaning and good intentioned initiatives is not too difficult to understand.
Teaching is not about knowing the subject matter and the experience in the field. It is more about the ability to facilitate learning by the students using the capability of knowledge and experience. Unlike school education where most teachers are trained for teaching, formal training in teaching at higher levels of education does not really exist. It is common therefore to come across expressions that one is a good teacher while the other is not in spite of their high capabilities in knowledge and experience.
It may be a good idea to articulate therefore, the competencies that teachers at professional levels of education need to have. The more obvious of them are:
- Knowledge of Content and Skills Areas: A thorough knowledge of the subject matter, its organisation and contemporary developments are a must for a good teacher.
- Knowledge of Learners and the Learning Process: It is essential to know the students, their academic preparedness or background, and the manner in which they learn. Typically, the students have learnt through lecture mode in a linear fashion in their schools and colleges. A lateral learning process at the business school is new to most of them and they do take time to pick it up.
- Instructional Planning: Knowledge needs to be organised by its recipients. Assuming that the students can do it on their own, especially when they had not done something like that before can create alienation. The instructor has to plan the instruction to help students organise their new learning.
- Use of Instructional Strategies: Instruction has to be aligned with learning objectives and processes. Lateral education brings in challenges for the learner and often times the student is unable to connect new learning with previous knowledge and expectations.
- Learning Environment and Classroom Management: A classroom has to simulate real life. Students should be free to commit all their mistakes inside the classroom. The onus of creating a non-threatening environment where every student gets necessary opportunity to ‘dirty his hands’ and receive support and encouragement from the teacher is a must.
- Use of Communication Strategies: Communication is less about what is shown or said and more about what is seen or heard. This requires a serious care on the part of the instructor. Let us remember the famous example where different students in the same class visualised a ‘chapaati,’ satellite dish antenna and the earth in a circle that the teacher was showing them.
- Assessing/Diagnosing/Evaluating Strategies: Teachers need to assess and evaluate the differential levels of learning performance both for purposes of grading as well as diagnosing the reasons of differences to provide support for slow learners.
- Use of Motivation Strategies: It is not uncommon for students to lose heart for various reasons during the course of learning. Providing motivation to them to continue with the task of learning rather than giving it up is a necessary responsibility of any teacher.
- Use of Problem Solving/Decision Making Strategies: Lateral education requires ‘deciding for one self’ more than mere ‘awareness about the decisions’ of others. The primacy of decision orientation and problem solving in such education cannot be ignored.
- Home-School-Community Relations: People’s homes and their schools are a part of the larger community that we all belong to. Any education that ignores home-school-community interdependency is likely to attract less empathy from the learners.
- Use of Technology: If technology is all pervasive in every walk of life, can education continue to be primitively postured? Besides facilitating, technology also has element of novelty that grabs attention.
- Use of Multicultural Gender Fair Strategies: With students from different cultural and geographical background converging into same class and with more female students joining in, the teacher needs to be perceptive to individual differences and sensibilities.
- Professional Characteristics/Personal Qualities: Students always look up to the teachers for providing iconic imagery. Would students settle for sub-optimal icons? Conversely, can teachers scale heights of professionalism and qualities befitting the icons? The dilemma is complex.
Teaching is a complete craft. The art side of it improves with practice and experience of teaching. The science side of it improves through continuous education, exploration and experimentation. Great practice of business can lead to a good artisan or craftsman but not necessarily a master craftsman. Further Master craftsman can only train the apprentices in the trade and not the managers of the complete trade.
Guest sessions are like the proverbial ‘tadkaa’ in the ‘tarkaari’ that improves the taste and appearance of the ‘tarkaari’ while cooking, but they are not the ‘tarkaari’ themselves. They are spices to be added in a dish but they are not the main ingredient in the dish. It is quite plausible to use the main ingredient as a spice in some dish but very difficult to use a spice as the main ingredient.
Friendly appearances and item numbers cannot and do not make the whole movie.