The kids are bored. How do I ‘un-bore’ them?

Posted: January 11, 2013 in Education, journalism, students

I did not think I would feel this way, but I do. I hope it’s just a phase, but after five years of doing the rounds of classrooms in media institutes around Pune, I am bored.

Yes, I am bored, standing in front of students while I talk about reporting and editing and about events unfolding around us, weaving facts about journalism around incidents from my career and life, often egging the students to indulge in a heated debate – just to be met with a wall. Education is difficult!

Sometimes I feel like I am talking to myself. There are those few stray voices who ask questions, but very few. I don’t know how to change things. Maybe I need to reconsider how I am doing this. If that doesn’t work, I’d welcome suggestions from the kids themselves to understand what they want – at least in my classes.

In the past five years and I’ve had some pretty invigorating classes where students who’ve got mad with me and have even used the F-word because they disagreed me. I’ve never bothered to take action for that because at the end of the class, they know that I was just provoking them. We’ve had slanging matches in class too, and then gone to the canteen for tea. I like that kind of response.

I got the feeling that I was losing it, after I recently corrected answer papers of students. As I read answer after answer, what surprised me was that most of them had not even bothered to read what I had given them. And it wasn’t rocket science. Just the basic “what is the profile of a reporter” kind of a question. Frankly, it was depressing.

When I discussed this issue with a former student of mine before I wrote the blog post, she said, “Even to sit through a classroom lecture you need a fire in your belly. Half the kids sit there because they don’t know what they want to do, and try as you might, they will remain unresponsive. To be able to do something as simple as read a paper, you need to know why you’re reading it, and what eggs you on. To scores of students in a journalism class, the newspaper is something that they pick up two days before an exam.”

There’s a general apathy in classrooms to everything that requires a little effort and which is disheartening. What kind of journalists are we churning out? When they come for admissions they give the standard answers about their “passion” for journalism without understanding what the word means. But then you think, these are bright young children, they will change for the better. After all, these were the handful who got in from the thousands who tried and failed. So, they will shine as they go along. Let’s wait and see.

There are the exceptions, but one can count them on the fingertips. Even then I revel in their success. I could name those handful of kids who are doing a great job of their careers, but I’d rather not. And not all of them have ended up in journalism. Like this young man who is teaching underprivileged children and genuinely believes that is his calling, and not journalism – at least not at present. I admire his dedication and his single-mindedness. I told him that he was one of my best students, much before he had even reached his final year.

There are a few kids who are focused about becoming photographers or getting into advertising or PR. They’ve sat through my classes and one young lady in the second year came up to me and said “I enjoy your lectures, but I am not interested in journalism. I am going to become a photographer.” I’ve seen her picture and her self portraits and she’s going to become a brilliant photographer one day. Then there was this attractive young girl in journalism class who ended up acting in a movie! I had once told her she was in the wrong place and should be either modelling or in the movies!

I remember, a couple of years ago in a class with PG students I was stopped from taking a lecture. The students demanded a discussion on an issue that they were worked up about. The same thing happened in a UG lecture in 2011. I think it was on Anna Hazare. A young lady had a heated argument with me and thought Hazare was the worst thing to happen to India. There was a verbal free-for-all that day, but I enjoyed it, and so did the class. But that was two years ago. Since then, such exchanges have been limited.

In 2005 I took a break from journalism and returned five years later totally focused about the fact that I was good at only one thing – journalism! Some months ago, a good friend offered me a job in his company on a pretty impressive salary. I refused. I live and breathe newspapers, and when I turned down the offer, there was no doubt in my mind, why I did so.

After five years, maybe, it is time I take a break from teaching, if nothing works to make it more interesting. Any ideas, anyone?

  1. Manoj Bandivadekar says:

    Mo, I’d love to attend one of your lecture if you permit me to sit in your class as a student.

  2. Some SIMC Guy says:

    I don’t know all the media institutes you teach at, but I am a student of yours at SIMC and I’m going to speak to that.

    The problem here is that the selection criteria, despite the repeated assertions of our staff and management to the contrary, are not nearly tough enough to prevent misguided students wandering in to the course. 80% of the people in the batch have no clue why they are doing what they are doing. They picked SIMC for a a number of different reasons but it certainly wasn’t the one the gave you in the interview.That leaves a small minority of passionate students, who are divided among 4 different streams. End result, you have two or three people in a class who are actually passionate and into journalism. Not enough to get a debate going.

    Frankly, I love a good debate. But there’s been a fair few times in class when I was just itching to say something but kept quiet or confined it to an aside to a friend because whatever I had to say would be lost on the majority of my classmates and would merely end in a slanging match with a bunch of ill-informed people. There’s no satisfaction to be gained from besting them and since they usually argue with popular notions and not facts as their basis, it is pretty much impossible too.

    You can try whatever you want but I don’t believe you can really change the situation. If you want an intellectually stimulating classroom, you’re definitely not going to find at in a mixed media institute at the undergraduate level. I have no idea how post-grad journo students compare, but you’d probably have much better luck with them.

    If you absolutely want to hear the opinions of your students, and I really don’t know why you’d want to do that, there is one surefire way to get them talking. Give the debate a structure, and tell them you’re going to be marking them. It’ll be lame and forced and most people still won’t talk, but at least you’ll hear enough utter shit to convince you to abandon the experiment and go back to the silence.

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