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By TUNE IN TO THE LATEST FROM THE WORLD OF EDUCATION What makes some teachers so very popular? Dola Mitra finds out the secret of their success
  • Published 23.03.05

It?s a rainy Saturday, but one of the classrooms in Calcutta University?s English department is in full attendance. Sangita Das, PG II, has a slight temperature, but she didn?t want to stay home. ?I hate missing her classes,? she says of Professor Krishna Sen?s lecture periods. Ask any of her classmates ? Jhuma Bhattacharya, Tania Biswas, Nisha Caprihan or Soumak Mondal ? and they?ll tell you the same thing.

Every college campus across the world has its share of classes that are so magnetic they seem to pull students. If you walk down the corridors of Calcutta?s colleges and universities, asking students what it is about a class that draws them, the answer that crops up most often is that more than the subject being taught, it is ?the way it is taught? that makes all the difference.

Says Saptarshi Bhattacharya, UG III student of International Studies at Jadavpur University, ?One of our subjects is economic development and it could have been one of the dullest, if not the most difficult, had it not been for the way it is taught.? Saptarshi feels that Prof. Shibashis Chatterjee makes the subject enjoyable because ?instead of dictating a series of running notes, which you can get from any reference book, he takes the trouble to explain each abstract concept in simple, easy-to-understand terms, drawing parallels to everyday situations, so we can grasp them.? And that, he says, is what makes the teacher so very popular.

Teachers who score high on the popularity stakes are inevitably those who do not give a high priority to taking down notes. And while professors themselves may not be consciously aware of this pull they exercise on students, many of them do admit to being against pedantic teaching. J.U. English students appreciate the method of Prof. Ananda Lal, for instance, who teaches theatre and makes students enact plays in class. ?Visual representations are very important, especially in a subject like drama, because it tends to be a more effective way of conveying the essence of a play, ? Lal explains.

The opportunity to be able to participate in class, to ask questions and share ideas, also figure high in the list of priorities enumerated by students. In fact, part of the secret of Sen?s success is her insistence on her students thinking for themselves. ?I like to deconstruct the idea of hierarchy in the classroom,? explains Sen. ?I want to be a catalyst for my students to discover their individualities. I want them to expand their minds.?

Little wonder that Lopamudra Ganguly has this to say of Sen, ?She moves away from the text, taking you to all these faraway places, telling stories about the people and their culture, all the while cracking jokes. And when she comes back to the text, you feel like you?ve been on a tour around the world. A professor can do that only if he or she has a lot of scholarship.?

Indeed, erudition, which in the words of some students translates into ?charisma?, is also something that the breed of popular professors have in common. ?They dazzle you with their knowledge, and draw you in with their oratorial powers,? says one J.U. student dreamily, speaking about her favourite professors.

Pallabi Biswas, a journalist and an ex-student of Prof. Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, a universal favourite among students of Jadavpur?s comparative literature department, points out, ?He had this knack of making the most abstract concepts appear simple. During a post-colonial literature class, for instance, he would give you a glimpse into existentialism, structuralism, postmodernism and a gamut of other theories and it would seem that all he did was share a few stories and some jokes.?

Humour is also something that goes down very well with students and helps give teachers that added zing. ?It is only when we enjoy ourselves that we learn because only then are we moving, absorbing, changing,? says Bandyopadhyay, who has taken a two-year break from teaching since November 2004, to do research at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.