The Telegraph
Friday , April 18 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

Students play super subs in class

Peer teaching comes to town

Radhika Chandak, who has just appeared for her ISC exams from Modern High School for Girls, interacts with students of Class IX where she teaches geography as a substitute teacher. She is among 15 students who have volunteered to step in for teachers assigned to evaluate answer scripts.

She was a Class XII student last week. She is a Class XII teacher now.

Sharmistha Chatterjee is not alone. Modern High School for Girls has deputed 15 of its ISC examinees as teachers on special duty to fill the void created by the exit of teachers engaged in evaluating answer scripts.

The teacher crunch at this time of the year is an annual occurrence that has prompted at least two schools in town to follow a system prevalent in American universities, where postgraduate students are routinely deputed to teach the undergraduate batches.

The practice, adopted three years ago, not only helps Modern High and Frank Anthony Public School tide over the staff shortage but also gives the students deputed as substitute teachers invaluable work experience so early in their lives.

Sharmistha and her friends can’t bring themselves to sit on the teacher’s chair or share the main staff room, but they are each greeted with the familiar chorus of “Good morning, Ma’m” while entering a classroom. From planning ahead what to teach on a particular day to assigning homework, the girls seem comfortable in their new role.

Sharmistha Chatterjee teaches history in Class XII at Modern High School for Girls, where she was a student of the same class some months ago.
Pictures by Anup Bhattacharya

“Fifteen of our teachers are on assignment. Each of them takes five to six classes a day on an average, which works out to between 75 and 85 classes. Had it not been for the students who have stepped in for them, we would have had difficulty managing,” Ranjana Bhattacharya, vice-principal of Modern High, said.

On Thursday, Sharmistha taught the Class XII girls some similarities and differences between Nazism and fascism. Her batchmate Ritisha Mishra chose relative molecular mass as the day’s topic for Class IX.

Both draw on their own responses to various teaching methods. They don’t just read out from textbooks, the duo like to make their classes interactive. If correct responses to questions invite cries of “Excellent!”, Sharmistha and Ritisha are not shy of becoming assertive when they need to be so.

Modern High borrowed the idea of making teachers out of students from I.T. Myers, principal of Frank Anthony Public School. Myers had first assigned outgoing ISC students to take classes in middle school in 2012. “Being schools affiliated to the Council for The Indian School Certificate Examinations, we are responsible for the work it does. The school has to co-operate. When these students come and do some quizzing or revision, their juniors are occupied in a constructive manner and those teaching feel responsible too,” he said.

Modern High has gone a step further and deputed ISC examinees to teach students who are maybe just a batch younger. It is not just about keeping the class occupied, the students working as substitute teachers are required to help complete a portion of the syllabus.

In American colleges and universities, paid peer teaching is an established practice. Students doing their postgraduation have the option of becoming teaching assistants for some semesters. They are allowed to take undergraduate classes and become lab assistants.

At Modern High, the school acknowledges the contributions made by the substitute teachers with a memento each at the annual prize distribution ceremony. “It’s not a paid internship but it is a kind of internship for us,” said Surabhi Vatsa, who teaches Indian history in Class XI.

The period of service, which typically lasts two to three weeks, is voluntary.

“It is a mutually beneficial system. Those who opt to teach benefit from the experience and the students being closer to their age, there is little hesitation in asking questions,” said Devi Kar, director of Modern High.

Head girl Avani Agarwal, now chemistry teacher in Class XI, said she preferred to teach the way she liked to be taught. “As students, we know where we get stuck and so we can anticipate where our students would get stuck!” the blackboard rookie quipped.