Teaching Calculus

As a TA, I am getting to teach Calculus to a class of freshmen this semester. I was really glad about it-well I still am- because teaching is one of the things I am passionate about, and also one of the things I am good at. Well, I should be glad, because really, how many people get to do a kind of a test drive of something they think they want to do for the rest of their lives?

So anyway, I have been doing this for a month now, and here is what I have learnt so far-that a teacher faces three challenges-

a) to keep an interested student interested,

b) to make an uninterested student interested

c) and to keep herself interested in meeting the above two challenges.

Well, the third one is not unique to teaching. It’s a challenge I guess everyone has to face, whether or not we have followed our calling. Even if we are doing something that we have always wanted to do, and still want to do, even if we can never imagine ourselves doing anything else, it might still be a bit of a challenge to be enthusiastic about it everyday. I wouldn’t know-I have not reached that point yet, but I think that routine, however beautiful it might be, is still routine.

The first one-that may not be very difficult either. It may require hard work, but it is essentially not a difficult problem.

The second one is the one that has really set me thinking : making an uninterested student interested-that I find very, very tough. What do you about a person who is not even listening to you? How do you get through to such a person? You may have the most interesting examples, and stories and things to share-but how do you tell them a I-couldn’t-care-less-about-you-or-anything-you-say listener?

Part of the answer lies in ‘catching them young’,as they say. But I would like to think that that’s not the complete answer. If that were the whole answer, then teaching undergraduate kids would be like fighting a lost battle, especially in a country like India, where going or not going to college is not a choice kids make-its a decision made for them long before they are even aware of it.But I do hope it is not. I do hope that if I were a really, really smart teacher, I could make my class interested in me and what I had to tell them. I’ll consider myself successful only if I could create my match in a class, no matter what the raw material.

I don’t have even an inkling of the answer yet, but I’ll keep trying, and keep looking. This is but the beginning, and even if everyone told me what I am seeking to do cannot be done, I think it would be horrible to accept it. Maybe I am asking for too much from myself, but I am young and I can afford it. So, I’ll keep trying and keep pushing at this wheel with all my strength, and surely someday, it will turn.

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3 Responses to Teaching Calculus

  1. For b), you may want to take your time – if you can afford to, that is – and try to grab their attention by talking to them about something entirely outside of academics, say, a popular topic of the day.

    • oh yeah.. but when you are a TA given 100 minutes a week, all the kids want to talk abt is “what will be on the quiz”.
      or maybe i just don’t do it the right way.. i am still learning and things are not so bad now..anyway i liked teachers who did that-so it is probably a good idea.
      as always the god is in the details.

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