Written by Brinda Radhakrishnan on 05 August 2021
Be it in any field, once a person decides to be a teacher, she would end up learning the nuances of teaching, slowly or quickly, depending on her comfortable pace. I would have definitely learnt those nuances at some point in my life. But this is where I’m grateful to the Shankar Mahadevan Academy. It helped me gain such experiences so quickly – yet at the right pace – by giving me different students of different calibre in a short span of time.
How do I look back at my experience so far? As a teacher, I understood that patience is the key. I would always first listen to a student’s question, analyse how to answer it, and then answer it even if it takes a bit more time than usual.
If the question was about a raagam (a specific sequence of musical notes in Carnatic classical music that expresses a specific emotion – also called raag or raga in Hindustani classical), I would make sure to highlight important points of a particular raagam and talk about it in a language the student would understand. I would use terms like formula, technique, tricks, etc. I reckon that would make the student feel like it is a shortcut to knowing more. And they would feel more confident that the raagam could be easy to crack.
I remember Meenakshi Skandarajan, one of my very good students, who felt that Saveri raagam is pretty tough to understand. I made her get used to the raagam just by telling her that this is exactly what every student goes through – including me. That statement worked wonders :)
I could see Meenakshi’s shoulders release the tension as she thought it was not just her who faced that challenge. By the end of the lesson, as a teacher, I felt fulfilled when she said, “Thank you!" It was because I made sure I astutely explained to her each and every nuance of the raagam, and I did not give up on her when she wasn’t correctly getting a particular phrase of the raagam.
Abithu Dodda, another student of mine, once told me that she doesn’t really care about singing. Initially, I almost gave up thinking that this child isn’t really keen on learning music. But my eyes were soon opened.
At the annual Teachers’ Owned Retreat (an annual meetup held by Shankar Mahadevan Academy for its teachers), Dr Prakash Sontakke, Advisor to the Academy, shared a beautiful story of how he initially didn’t pay much attention to a student, and it turned out that she was the one who sang perfectly on stage. That story really inspired me. It put the thought emphatically back into me to kindle Abithu’s interest in singing. I took that up as a challenge.
There were a few classes where I would just talk with Abithu about her interests in life, and try to mould the lessons according to her interests. For instance, she shared with me that she liked playing the piano. So I would ask her to practise the lessons on a piano and send me a recording. Abithu reached a stage where she confessed to me she actually likes singing. Just igniting interest inside someone, who had once said just the opposite, meant a lot to me.
I have often wondered about how I would seem as a teacher if I put myself in a student’s shoes and try to see things from their point of view. Well, there have been a handful of experiences I've had, which made me feel that I have taken the right decision of being a teacher.
One of those moments was when a student, Abhi Khandala, at the end of a class very sweetly specified that he really enjoys doing class with me. A few classes later even his mother asked me if I would continue as his teacher – just to make sure that it is just so. When I see not just students but also their parents feel safe and headed toward the right direction of learning – and enjoy that process too – I definitely feel accomplished as a teacher. Similarly, seeing some of my other students – in particular, Prerna and Pranati Bankupalli, twin sisters – yell in glee when they got to know I would be their teacher in their next course gave me a lot of happiness.
I make sure parents are equally involved in the process so that they are completely aware of the progression of learning, and understand if the expectations of the course and mine are being met. It gives parents an assurance and a sense of security of seeing their kids having the right interest and headed towards something positive, in this time and league of so many negative distractions.
I have always noticed my Guru involving each and every student in a batch of 10-15 students, and giving attention to everyone equally. That degree of attention always boosted the morale and enthusiasm of every student, which in turn would bring out the best in everyone and build a strong relationship between Guru and Shishya. The Guru-Shishya parampara is all about this (Guru is Teacher; Shishya is Student; Parampara is an uninterrupted succession.)
Though in today’s time a Gurukul system (kula is home or family) is almost impossible, we can always take the good from that system and adapt it to our lives, to give our best in that 45-minute session in class and keep students glued on until the next session. Getting to know their interests and making ourselves a part of their lives by not intruding too much yet building trust is what I feel is the foundation of building a lasting relationship with students and their parents.
About the author
Brinda Radhakrishnan — Musician, Human, Indian. Period.