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I wrote a note a few days ago, on my Facebook page, titled, ‘To the child writing exams’. It struck a chord with the people who read it, especially parents and teachers. These people observe the stress that children go through, when it comes to exams, assessments, assignments and see their dread. Almost everyone who read it mentioned or expressed a concern that things needed to change. And it’s a bit disconcerting that we’re still talking about ways to reduce pressure in 2018! What happened to the love of learning which is the very foundation of education?

Of course, I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I didn’t confess that I’ve gone through the exact gamut of emotions when it comes to getting my kid to study. In my case, asking my daughter to study for her tests/exams almost invariably would wind up with both of us frustrated and at least one of us in tears. It was exhausting and what was worse? It didn’t help her study. At all!

Until I stepped back earlier this month and learnt a few important things. Some of these things come primarily from my own experience, growing up. Others from watching and observing how Gy responds to different ways of being told the same thing. Yet others come from my years of experience,as a teacher. It’s surprising how I’ve never connected any of these dots before. Perhaps it needed time for it to happen.

First, a bit of background about me. I hold a Master’s degree in English language and Literature. For as long as I can remember, I have loved reading, all things books and losing myself in the beauty of language. But did you know that I also studied Advanced Math/Optics/Mechanics in my A-Levels? (That’s Grades 11 & 12 in India). And did you know that I fell in love with Math in Grade 10 after I had detested it all through school? Let me explain how this happened.

Anyone can learn

I came back to India for my tenth grade exams and was flustered to realise that most of the syllabus for the year had already been covered in the previous year! I was at sea and pretty much in tears when I walked into school that first week. Panic set in and so did the terrible cluster headaches that would plague me for the next four months. But that was all set to change.

Enter Mrs. Thilagavathy. She was my tuition coach for Math and I recall with crystal clarity the day I walked into her class, looked down at my feet and said, ‘I am terrible at Math. I am not a Math person. I can’t do it. I have no way of knowing how I am going to get past this year.’ She waited for me to stop speaking, asked me to look her in the eye and said,

‘That is not true. There is no such thing as a Math person. In fact, every subject becomes extremely easy if you know how to approach it. Anyone can learn if they are ready.’

Naturally, I didn’t believe her. She was a teacher. She was supposed to say these things to motivate the kids. She sensed my disbelief and went on. ‘Tell you what. If, in six months, you don’t bring up your grades AND fall in love with the subject, I will agree with you and refund all the money you’ve paid me. Deal?’

I couldn’t pass that up. So we shook on it.

In six months, not only did I get my grades up, I topped the class in Math! I stared at my paper in disbelief and took it to show her while she grinned with an ‘I-told-you-so’ look. And my love for Math grew so much that I ended up taking it in my A-Levels.

(The fact that I was the only student who took both English Literature and Pure Math caused scheduling Hell at school but that’s a story for another day!)

To this day, I attribute my thirst for learning and the constant yearning to grow, to that teacher and her methods.

How did she do it? How did a teacher make me believe that anyone could learn anything?

5 Ways to nurture a love of learning in your kids. #Parenting Click to Tweet

Exercise Patience

Every time I took a problem to her, she’d ask me to work it out on my own, after she’d explained the concept. If she noticed that my eyebrows were furrowed with confusion, she’d slow down, explain each step, wait for me to absorb it and then ask me to try again. She’d then ask me to work out 10, 20, 30 or 50 problems along the same lines, each time tweaking the sums so I would have to think out of the box and come up with solutions.

She never raised her voice but she was firm. She exuded this sense of authority that made me respect her and love her at once.

What I try and do with Gy: I tell Gy that it’s okay to fail, even repeatedly. What matters is picking yourself up and trying again until you get it right. The joy that comes from this is unparalleled. Kids learn this as they go along.

Get Involved

Mrs. T was a role model in the way she spoke to each student. We were, at any given time, a group of 25 people in her class. Yet, she took time to personally sit next to each student, mark the paper, go over the mistakes and point out where they could improve. Every single class, I have observed her doing this.

She taught me that in order to be truly good at something, you must get involved in the teaching and learning process.

What I try and do: Even if I am rushing against deadlines of my own, I make Gy a priority. I explain concepts as well as I can until I am sure she’s grasped them and can see the smile of understanding light up her face. And I do this without distractions from the online world.


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Love of Learning. Making learning fun by being kind, innovative, inspiring and loving.


Kindness

If there’s one word to describe Mrs. T, it would be kind. She exuded kindness like a beacon giving off warmth. Students who experienced panic attacks the day before a test would come in to her class and walk out with lighter hearts and minds.

She counselled them to stay calm even in the face of tough papers and tougher teachers.

What I try and do: Earlier, with Gy, I would snap at her, asking her to focus and not let her mind wander. That worked terribly! If anything it made her more mutinous and prone to further distraction. Instead, I started telling her to focus for just 20 minutes and then take a break. Asking her to do stretches or a quick dance to break the stress seemed to motivate her and hone her focus!

Excitement/ Make it fun

Mrs. T made classes fun. She’d frequently narrate tiny anecdotes in the middle of a stressful paper to help us laugh and release the tension. This helped clear our minds and focus better on the task at hand.

What I do: I encourage Gy to break into crazy dance moves and extol a subject’s beauty like it’s the Mona Lisa. Excitement is contagious, have you noticed? It’s one thing I love doing, be it in blogging or parenting. It keeps the spark alive and the energy going. Ask my blogging circle. They’d tell you I drive them insane with my excitement. Gy would probably tell you the same thing.

Innovation

For this method I must give full credit to my husband. It was he who introduced the idea of fun learning through videos and encouraged Gy to ask questions. (More than the ones she already asks, I mean!) He scoured the Net for information and broadcast the videos on our TV so she could see the excitement that went into learning the Periodic Table or Algebraic equations!

She revels in the visual knowledge and soaks it up like a sponge! We then do a pop quiz to see how much of it she’s able to recall the next day.

I’ve always wondered how I feel equally passionate about writing tutorial style posts on the blog as well as the sentimental ones that focus on parenting. I love timetables, scheduling and ticking things off checklists. At the same time I love dreaming, conjuring up ideas, painting visual word pictures and creating fiction.

I dive into newsletter tutorials with the same energy that I throw into making pins for my posts. I love tracking Analytics as much as I love engaging with posts that awaken a feeling of home.

That’s when I realised something.

I am not a Math person. I am not a Literature person.

I am a learner and I love learning for its own sake.


*Recommended Reading: This book is something that I discovered a couple of years ago and I cannot stop singing its praises to every parent I meet/talk to. It will change the way you look at learning and education.

Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure

Get it on Amazon India: Kindle/ Hardcover/ Paperback/ Audio CD

Get it on Amazon.com: Kindle/ Hardcover/ Paperback/ Audio CD


Note: This post contains affiliate links to the Amazon Affiliate programme. What that means is if you buy an item on the site through this link, I will get a referral fee, at no additional cost to you. I recommend all items only after reviewing/ using them myself.  If you do buy through this link, I thank you for your support.

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Comments

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20 Comments

Akshata · March 19, 2018 at 8:17 am

This is such a endearing post Shailaja. I terrible at math too and was waiting to get out of school so that I can get rid of it. But over the years I realised probably my way of learning math was not ridht. My mom often got irritated with me which added to my misery. When I took up accounts after 10th most people were surprised as they knew I despised math but I am a Chartered Accountant today and love what I do. The tips here are really useful not just as a parent but as an individual too

    Shailaja · March 20, 2018 at 10:29 am

    I know, right? It’s the approach that matters honestly. I find that with the right motivation anything can be made interesting.

Nabanita Dhar · March 19, 2018 at 11:57 am

I think if we can make our kids love learning, that is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give them. It won’t be easy but you have shared some wonderful points, Shailaja.

I always loved studying as a kid. Let me be in a room full of books and I’ll be happy. As a parent, I certainly will look back to your post to see how I can inculcate this love for learning in M.

    Shailaja · March 20, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Thanks Naba. I’m glad people are finding this useful 🙂

Rajlakshmi · March 20, 2018 at 3:10 am

I wish I had a teacher like yours for maths and physics. I truly loved these subjects but could never score enough because some concepts were just too complicated. Chemistry on the other hand was a whole different case as I teacher was exactly like yours. Encouraging l, involved and patient. Excellent points Shailaja. Love how you are implementing these learnings with Gy. The learnings being carried forward to the next gen.
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    Shailaja · March 20, 2018 at 10:28 am

    The teacher really did make a difference in my case. How much they influence us, isn’t it? Thanks, Raj.

Varsh · March 20, 2018 at 9:30 am

Parents and teachers play a big role in making learning fun for kids. Every child needs a Mrs. T to reassure him/her that its alright to not like a subject or not perform well in it. There are many others to learn and explore.
This is good post, Shailaja. Going to come back to it when my son needs to hear the same things from me.

    Shailaja · March 20, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Thank you, Varsha. It’s a mutually helpful scenario when the parents a day teachers work together.

Rachna Parmar · March 20, 2018 at 10:18 am

I think there are so many challenges when we teach our children. I loved studying. I could grasp concepts very quickly. Was a topper throughout school and college and held a very high rank for my MBA entrance. I was and am equally good at languages both Hindi and English and Science and Maths that I had at graduation level. I see a lot of my own own strengths and inclinations and those of my husband in my older son.

But when it comes to my younger son, it is a hit and miss approach. He is very different from me in his approach to learning. And despite using multiple aids including interactive learning online and teaching him using multiple approaches, we still struggle.

And that is where I have accepted that it is often not the approach of teaching but the phase that they are in that may affect how they learn. We can only act as facilitators. I have also noticed that sending them to an external person sometimes is more helpful than trying to teach them. And most importantly not every parent must try to teach their kids. It’s perfectly okay to outsource it.

So with him I am letting him be, most times just trying to inculcate good habits. He is good at Maths and Science which is nice.

And learning does go for a toss when one is confronted with our Boards and Professional exam system. Sadly, that is the truth of the education system in India. But I do see my older son really diving at the concepts and making the most out of his curriculum. But that has to be more to do with his individual inclinations I guess.

    Shailaja · March 20, 2018 at 10:26 am

    It’s true that it differs from child to child and of course, from parent to parent. For my part, I’ve seen this help with myself and Gy. Plus these are only guidelines. Not necessary that everyone must use them, of course.

    Agree that an external person helps. It did in my case. I just feel that even if parents cannot fully help a bit of involvement can definitely assist the learning experience. It’s the emotional investment that makes a difference.

Obsessivemom · March 20, 2018 at 11:44 am

I want a Mrs T for me as well as for the children! I love the way you and your husband partner together in Gy’s learning process. It is easy to run short on patience , specially when you realise that a very basic concept isn’t clear to the child or when he makes silly careless errors – those are the bane of my existence.
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    Shailaja · March 20, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Ha ha, we could all use a Mrs.T 😀

    I must admit that the patience levels have increased dramatically now after we have let go and allowed her to both face consequences and develop a pace that is comfortable for her. It’s a tricky balance and yes, can be frustrating when they make errors. Sometimes we don’t realise that what’s so ‘obvious’ to us is not as clear as it should be to them. Hence the concept’s lack of clarity.

Aparna · March 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Mrs. T sounds amazing! I also have some lovely Math teachers to thank for my love of the subject, and was fortunate enough to even meet one of them much later as she was later a colleague of my MIL’s at another school :).
Nodding my head to each of these Shailaja, I am so glad that many of us are trying to find the middle route as parents – in hoping for our children to enjoy learning for its own self and not just as a means to make marks. You have given some lovely tips, definitely going to try a couple of these the next time I need to help reduce the exam stress at home!

Shilpa Garg · March 20, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Well said, anyone can learn, if they are ready. Teachers like Mrs T are a blessing and so rare.
It’s so easy to lose cool or pull your hair apart at the child’s silly mistakes or lack of focus, but it’s at this very time that we need to have patience as a parent (teacher). Love the way you and your husband are working with your daughter for her studies. Great going!

Reema D'souza · March 20, 2018 at 11:16 pm

I definitely agree with you! When it comes to studying for exams it takes a lot of patience and understanding from both parents and kids. My mom never forced me to study but she always encouraged me to ask questions and learn something new!
Enjoyed reading this post because it took my back to the days of all my exams!
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Sanch @ Sanch Writes · March 21, 2018 at 5:09 am

The problem with the education system and the mentality in India while I was growing up at least, was the emphasis on marks and outcomes. My parents fell prey to that too and failing was really, really bad. Yet, I failed. I failed a couple of tests in Year 7, I failed an exam in Year 11. It was devastating. It’s only after coming to Australia and not having exams as much but instead, having essays and reports that I actually fell in love with learning.

The most important thing in what you’ve said is to encourage kids to try and being okay with failure. But to be honest, if the system doesn’t support that, kids are going to keep focussing on the outcome as opposed to the love of learning.
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Krystal Herrera · March 21, 2018 at 12:05 pm

This is such a wonderful and inspirational thing to read. It takes a lot of patience and understanding to build up that love of learning. Anyways, great read. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

Vidya Sury · March 21, 2018 at 11:55 pm

That’s one of the best books I’ve read! In fact I am working on a post around why failure is a gift.

It is a bit sad when people assume they’ve learned all they can when they step out of college and acquire their degrees. Learning has to be a lifelong process–in fact, that’s what makes it so enjoyable. I think I’m learning the most through my parenting journey–fresh perspectives and experiences.

Great advice, especially to Gy. Even today, we assure our son that it is absolutely fine to flunk and that it is the learning that matters most.

Kudos to Mrs. T! And interesting to know about your A level subjects! You also taught for some years, right?
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Leena Madan · August 10, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Great Post. Thanks for sharing valuable information.

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