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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Rakhee Chhabria Is Bringing Teachers Together To Help Children Learn Better

  • IWB Post
  •  September 5, 2019

How much of our education system is based on rote learning and how much of it focuses on the overall development of a child? This question has been haunting our education system for a long time, and some educators are starting to address it on an individual level.

I have always been a curious learner, but that wasn’t always encouraged by my school. On the contrary, most of us were taught to not ask questions and instead mug up everything under the sun. Most importantly, nobody analyses if what we are learning has any practical purpose.

To solve these issues, Rakhee Chhabria started an online community called Teachers Help Teachers. Her aim is to bring educators together so that they can learn from each other and support fellow educators, thus finding solutions to problems in education.

Excerpts from a conversation:

What are some aspects of the education system that you find problematic?

When I started my journey as a teacher, I had zero ideas about how to handle students in the classroom. The coaching that is available for teachers just trains their mind, but they don’t teach you anything practical or help you develop your skills to manage the parents. What I see as a challenge is handling not only the children but the parents as well. I was fortunate enough to have good mentors and good teachers that helped me become a good teacher. I got to know that every child is different and what works for one child doesn’t work on another. Teaching is the most challenging profession, where every day you have to derive a method to teach the same thing. As an educator, you really have to be updated and aware of the textbook. These are the challenges which I feel that none of the courses are addressing.

Definitely. Is that why you went ahead and started this community?

Yes. What I feel is, there should be a community to fall back upon where every teacher is free to share her ideas and seek suggestions. Teachers should not fear to ask or to clarify doubts because they think they’re being judged. I started off with 200 members whom I knew, and then I added more people, and then they added their friends, and now we have reached 6,750 members. It keeps growing, and it’s great to see that if there is any query in the group people are answering it. This is the place where they can share information related to education, and also teachers’ education. Here, educators come together and work towards the change rather than complaining about the government.

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Tell us how teachers can keep themselves updated with the latest new trends in educational practices.

It’s essential for educators to be updated with technology and government policies. Through my group itself, I try to achieve this aim. I post a lot of TEDx videos which are related to teaching and help understand the behavior in classrooms. I also post a lot of articles, and now with my website being launched, the main aim is to improve teachers’ development. I conduct sessions where educators get together and we discuss strategies, and it’s more of an interaction where every educator shares their practices. We look forward to those sharing sessions because in schools there are very formal sessions where they have to jot down notes and listen to speeches, but in my group, it’s very informal.

But the present education system seems redundant. What do you think about that?

The primary solution would be just to match up the aims with the principals of child development.

You have done substantial research on the topic, in your opinion, what should be done to improve the education system?

One important tip is that educators can aim to solve their issues with simple things like parental involvement. If parents are equally involved with the school, then the educator will be able to achieve much more than they do right now, because if there is no respect towards the teaching community and there is no trust, whatever is done in school will get undone very comfortably at home. Once every month, teachers, parents, and principals should come together and have an interactive session.

On the same lines, tell us how parents can join hands with teachers for the development of their child?  

Parents play an essential role in education, and we can’t deny that. The first thing is showing trust in the educator and the school. When there is trust, there is respect, and if these two are in place, learning is enhanced, and students also develop respect towards the community and the system. When teachers are talking about children, parents need to be open, but they often become defensive. I would say that parents need to keep the channels of communication open between the teachers and themselves. The least they can do is develop a sense of gratitude.

You also met with Sheryl Sandberg to discuss the same.

In 2016, THT was invited by the Facebook group for the first group summit that happened in New Delhi. There we happened to meet Sheryl Sandberg and she motivated us. She knew everything about our group, it was a nice informal conference. The team members were very receptive and it was very warm. It was a fantastic experience meeting her and getting a pat on the back.

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How can teachers build a relationship of trust with the students?

I believe in systemic and straightforward solutions. I firmly believe that the real art, skill, magic, and science of teaching is to perfectly match your style with the individual student’s needs. Conceptually, many teachers know that this is the right way to teach. However, it flies in the face of what most teaching professionals practise. In many classrooms, students must either adapt to the teacher’s way of teaching or fail. We earn our students’ trust by showing them respect in the form of meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning activities that are worthy of their time and efforts.

Students in their early years of school are naturally trusting, and, please don’t take this the wrong way, but we abuse that trust in the name of socialisation and classroom management. In essence, we teach them to obey rather than to build confidence to explore. There is a solution to this: student-directed learning. As the name suggests, the student’s independence and choice are central to it. Teaching is just as much about taking risks as learning. A teacher has to take a chance on students and trust them enough to be independent learners. That can’t happen if the teacher is uncomfortable about tailoring the curriculum to multiple levels of student performance.

Tell me about your journey as an educator.

I started my journey as a kindergarten teacher. I always had support from my fellow educators. It was a fantastic learning experience, more than I learned in my course. But I self-stagnated for three-four years because educators are also required to do things apart from teaching, such as substituting and correcting duties, which don’t give them time to do what they want to do in the classroom, so that kind of frustrated me. I didn’t see myself as doing things over and over again, and that’s when I took the call. So, after due degrees, I taught children with learning difficulties while freelancing.

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