28 April 2016

Tribute to a great teacher....

I wanted to post this article on Teachers Day. But as they say, better late than never.

Those were the late 70's, I was studying in Class 12. In Kerala of those days, it used to be called Pre-degree.

I was in an aimless phase of my life. Having confined to the strict precincts of a boys school till my 10th, I had suddenly found freedom in the college. Since I did not have any goals in life, wasting the new found freedom was very easy. I was lazy and irresponsible and rebellious.

I had good scores in my 10th exam and for Pre-degree, I could choose either of the two main options, Maths-Physics-Chem (called 'PCM', the path chosen by students who had interest in pursuing Engineering) and Physics - Chem - Biology (called PCB, the path chosen by people who had interest in pursuing medicine).

Since Biology involved dissecting frogs and stuff, I had chosen PCM, without realizing that I was terrified of Maths. I found it a difficult subject to master. I could learn by rote all the other subjects, but Maths? that I had to learn!! It consisted of breaking down complex problems into simple  logic and I couldn't figure out how to do that. More over the subject was very conceptual. My god, all those permutations and trigonometry and algebra and probability !!

Man, they were impossible.

In Kerala, we have public exam in both the 1st year and the 2nd year of Pre-degree. For the purpose of higher education, the marks obtained in both 1st and 2nd year are totaled and the total marks scored is used as the evaluation criteria for admission to higher studies. Total Marks for the three subjects put together was 450. Those who scored above 380 stood a chance to get into one of the six engineering colleges in the state. The rest had to pursue other courses like BSc (Bachelor of Science), BA (Bachelor of Arts) etc. In the economic situation in the country of those days, finding a job even with an Engineering Degree was difficult, talk about if you do BSc or BA!!

I did very badly in all the three subjects in 1st year of Pre-degree. If I remember, I scored 37 / 60 in Maths, 28/40 for Physics and 24/40 for Chemistry. With such scores, I had no way of getting into engineering. No way !!.

I blithely continued my lackluster and lazy  lifestyle nevertheless. One of the reason for this was that I did not have confidence about my Math skills and was sure that I was not going to do well in that subject. And if I get into Engineering? It will be more of math.

Then I discovered 'Namboothiri Sir'.

He was an Engineer who was teaching in a college near our house and like godsend, he came to live bang opposite to our house. What was even better he was giving private tuition on what else, Math...
As my second year exams neared I was panicky. I did not know what to do about my lack of Math skills. I had decided that the problem was me and not the subject. I can't learn Math, even when I tried, period. That is what I told myself day in and day out.

Outwardly, I put in an air of insouciance and acted all nonchalant. But inside? I was freaking out inside.

My father forced me to join Namboothiri Sir's tuition. Since I was convinced that problem was with me, I resisted. I was convinced that Namboothiri sir will call my bluff. He will find that I was not that smart and confident as I acted.

Joining tuition was the best thing that happened to me. Namboothiri Sir was a great teacher and like any great teachers, he had this knack of simplifying math problems. He loved solving problem. He will break them down into tiny logical steps and like an architect building a castle, will put these steps elegantly, one on top of another till he solved the problem.

No problem was complex for sir. In addition to his interest in solving math problems, he had this beautiful handwriting and while writing the steps, like a musician humming a difficult tune, he will keep reciting the steps as he was writing them down. One could literally visualize the various steps of the problem juxtaposing together to form the final solution.

In the two months that I attended tuition, I hardly solved any problem on my own. I was only watching the master in action. Even when he asked me to solve a problem, at the first sign of doubt on my part, he will jump in and solve the problem on his own. I was like a music student, sitting in front of a maestro who liked the sound of his voice.

Into my second month of tuition, I suddenly realized that I had an instinct for math. I realized that my mind had the ability of logically sequencing the steps of a math problem, just the way sir was doing. Till now I had not known how to break down a complex problem into logical, sequential steps. Watching sir solve the problem, I learned to elicit the logic out of math. I was fascinated. I wanted to solve problems like the way sir did in that beautiful handwriting.

Once I learned the logical approach, I did not need any further support. I discontinued the tuition. But I had learned the approach to solving math problems. I had tasted blood.

I purchased the recommended text book. In the next two months or so, I completed almost all the exercise questions in the text book, all without any help. My dream had been fulfilled. I was able to solve the math problems the way sir had done and since I had done a lot of writing, my handwriting also had improved tremendously.

Did I do well in Class 12? Did I get into engineering?

Check out my LinkedIn profile.

No comments: