A Student's Admiration
Professor Praneshkumar Chowdhury, best known as PKC Sir, was born on April 6, 1940 in a remote hamlet in Netrokona district. He did his Masters in English in 1962 from the University of Dhaka with distinction. I had the great opportunity of being his student in my HSC class in Gurudayal College, Kishoreganj. He is an erudite and an enlightened human. He taught us English eloquently in our classroom. He was also a great freedom fighter during our glorious Liberation War in 1971. After long 44 years, I suddenly met this septuagenarian great teacher at his residence in Kishoreganj at the winter evening on January 22, 2016. He was found so emotional to receive a former student like me. We were so nostalgic that we made so many reminiscences of past events of his classes. His teaching method is inspiring and a reminder of what makes the teaching profession so worthwhile. "A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning," as said by Brad Henry and PKC Sir is more than that.
We know that good teachers display enthusiasm for their subject and a desire to share it with their students; they know how to modify their teaching strategies according to the particular students, subject matter, and learning environment. Good teachers encourage learning for understanding and are concerned with developing their students' critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and problem-approach behaviours; good teachers demonstrate an ability to transform and extend knowledge, rather than merely transmitting it; they draw on their knowledge of their subject, their knowledge of their learners, and their general pedagogical knowledge to transform the concepts of the discipline into terms that are understandable to their students. Good teachers set clear goals, use valid and appropriate assessment methods, and provide high-quality feedback to their students; good teachers show respect for their students; they are interested in both their professional and their personal growth, encourage their independence, and sustain high expectations of them. PKC Sir is a versatile genius Professor in English Language and Literature and in many other fields of education and a very enthusiastic teacher. Like ex-Indian Scholar Scientist and President APJ Abdul Kalam, he strongly believes: "Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre, and future of an individual. If the people remember me as a good teacher, it will be the biggest honour for me."
Paul Ramsden, a noted researcher on teaching and learning, along with several co-authors offered this description of good teachers: "Good teachers are also good learners; for example, they learn through their own reading, by participating in a variety of professional-development activities, by listening to their students, by sharing ideas with their colleagues, and by reflecting on classroom interactions and students' achievements. Good teaching is therefore dynamic, reflective, and constantly evolving. Paul Ramsden's words are truly appropriate to Pranesh Sir.
PKC Sir believes good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. It is about motivating students not only to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful and memorable. It is about caring for your craft, having a passion for it and conveying that passion to everyone, but mostly importantly to his students. "A good teacher, like a good entertainer first must hold his audience's attention, and then he can teach his lesson" as spelt out by John Henrik Clarke, and these were Sir's motto in the classrooms.
Good teaching is about substance and treating students as consumers of knowledge. It is about doing students best to keep on top of their field, reading sources, inside and outside of their areas of expertise, and being at the leading edge as often as possible. But knowledge is not confined to scholarly journals. Good teaching is also about bridging the gap between theory and practice. It is about leaving the ivory tower and immersing oneself in the field in talking to, consulting with, and assisting practitioners and liaising with their communities. By right, he was a great teacher of substance. Present Honourable President of Bangladesh Abdul Hamid was his student. Professor Pranesh Sir retired from Gurudayal College, Kishoreganj in 1998. He has been living in Kishoreganj Town for more than a half century and now passing a retired life there. But he is still very active in socio-cultural activities there. Despite that, he at all times keeps a very low profile. He loves to live in solitude.
PKC Sir has an unshakable belief that good teaching is about listening, questioning, being responsive and remembering that each student and class is different. It is about eliciting responses and developing the oral communication skills of the quiet students. It is about pushing students to excel and at the same time it is about being human, respecting others and being professional at all times. Like Godfrey Reggio, he definitely knows: "Having been an educator for so many years I know that all a good teacher can do is set a context, raise questions or enter into a kind of a dialogic relationship with their students."
Good teaching is about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. It is about deviating from the course syllabus or lecture schedule easily when there is more and better learning elsewhere. Good teaching is about the creative balance between being an authoritarian dictator on the one hand and a push-over on the other. Good teachers migrate between these poles at all times depending on the circumstances. They know where they need to be and when. And he has been walking through this righteous path since long.
Good teaching is also about style. Should good teaching be entertaining? You bet! Does this mean that it lacks in substance? Not a chance! Effective teaching is not about being locked with both hands glued to a podium or having students' eyes fixated on a slide projector while they drone on. Good teachers work the room and every student in it. They realise that they are the conductors and that the class is their orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies. A teacher's job is to develop skills and make these instruments come to life as a coherent whole to make real students. And he did so throughout his life.
This is very important, good teaching is about humour. It is about being self-deprecating and not taking yourself too seriously. It is often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at students' own expense, so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere where teachers, like them, are human with their own share of faults and shortcomings. PKC Sir has always been a very good teacher. His teaching style was about caring, nurturing and developing minds and talents. It is about devoting time, often invisible, to every student. It is also about the thankless hours of grading, designing or redesigning courses and preparing materials to still further enhance instruction. Good teaching is supported by strong and visionary leadership, and he has that much of leadership qualities.
He has served as a teacher or trusted counsellor. His teaching is about mentoring between senior and junior faculty, teamwork, and being recognised and promoted by one's peers. At the end of the day, good teaching is about having fun, experiencing pleasure and intrinsic rewards like locking eyes with a student in the back row and seeing the synapses and neurons connecting, thoughts being formed, the person becoming better, and a smile cracking across a face as learning all of a sudden happens. It is about the former student who says his course changed students' lives. It is about other telling students that their course was the best one he has ever taken. Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers could not imagine doing anything else and Professor Pranesh Sir is nothing but possessing such rare qualities.
Over the years, the role of the classroom professor has been defined using various descriptors. Some regard the professor as coach, trainer, mentor, facilitator, or presenter, along with a multitude of other titles all designed to indicate a master purveyor of knowledge. Regardless of the name chosen for the professor, certain fundamental characteristics and traits form the foundation of a truly effective professor - a professor that touches not only the intellect but the very heart and soul of the students. All faculty members, especially those with limited teaching experience, can gain valuable insights into improving their teaching effectiveness by simply emulating the styles of outstanding professors - master teachers. The question becomes one of identifying the defining features of these outstanding professors. From a completely different perspective, associating the term "leader" with an outstanding professor helps identify specific characteristics and traits of these professors. Pranesh Sir is unquestionably a master
professor. (The next instalment will appear tomorrow)
Anwar A Khan is an author