My Students are My Teachers

Teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

The chemistry teacher who teaches equations through her poems

A mosquito cried out in pain:
"A chemist has poisoned my brain!"
The cause of his sorrow
was para-dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethan

Equations, as simple as 2H2 +O2        2H2O, bring butterflies in many stomachs. And boring Chemistry lectures reflect themselves in the scribbles that decorate the note book. “Can Chemistry be ever made fun?” is a million dollar question. “Of course, possible, with a little bit of imagination in teaching”, says Ms Sumathi, the Chemistry teacher of Sir SivaSamy Kalalaya Matriculation School at Chennai. 


Before we could get into the details of “how”, a quick witty brain would have sensed the reason behind the placement of the poem on top. That is the methodology of Ms Sumathi who teaches Chemistry through her poems. The strategy is to use rhyming poems, metaphors and simile to bring fun and frolic even to chemistry learning.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge,” said Albert Einstein. Sumathi seems to have mastered this art. She says, you can teach students a lesson for a day; but if you can teach them to learn by creating curiosity, they will continue to remember not only the learning process but also the content .

The poem below pictures the element Oxygen to a student, easier than a Chemistry text book could, says Sumathi.

I'm element the eighth! I am!
'Tomic number eight I am! I am!
When I'm liquid, I am cold and blue.
My normal state is molecular O2!
I'm an oxidising element.
It's me that makes explosive stuff go BLAM!
In the periodic elements,
Element the eighth I am!

Sumathi writes poems in description of equations and concepts and thus registering them in the minds of the students.

“Most teachers have little control over school policy or curriculum or choice of texts or special placement of students, but most have a great deal of autonomy inside the classroom,” said Tracy Kidder.

Sumathi uses this autonomy to a great extent. She uses various innovative methods of teaching. Junior Lab, Activity Card, Magazine, Seminar are some of them. “I always wish to do something new in my subject and I keep experimenting new methods of teaching,” says Sumathi. 

While sharing some of her teaching methodologies with ED Matrix, she noted that teaching should be full of ideas and not stuffed with facts. “Presence of mind helps a lot for teachers. They can associate the concepts they lecture, with related stories or everyday incidents”. She cites her own experience of how she explained the Screening Effect through the method of association, citing the example of Pakistan and India border issue, with electrons as the Army, Pakistan as Nuclear force and India as outermost electrons.

To introduce a new concept, she recommends “Known-to Unknown” methodology. “When you teach children from what they know, they will not panic.  For instance, when you introduce the concept of photosynthesis, ask them questions about trees. They will mention roots, stems, fruits and leaves and when they say that leaves are green in colour, you can explain why they are green and introduce the concept of photosynthesis.”   

A positive attitude towards the subject will create interest in the subject, she tells her students. “If you think that a subject is boring, it will be boring. Open the book with a positive attitude.  Smell the new papers of the book and smile over the funny names of the authors. Now you will have the interest to read”, she adds.

When asked if she handles private tuition, “Teaching is my passion, not a business,” the words came like a slug, from this enthusiastic teacher, who started the career when she was 19 . Ever since she never earned extra money through extra tuition.

Sumathi had been a very dedicated teacher. The school where she worked earlier, recognizing her dedication, declared holiday  so that the students and staff could attend her wedding. Looking back she realizes that 20 years have gone by in using such innovation in teaching and she cherishes those moments when she received letters from her old students, in appreciation and gratitude.

To become a teacher was a dream. She requested the interviewer at the Bank exam not to select her, as she wanted to become a teacher. In her twenty years as teacher, she had never punished a student. She says, the more rigid you are, worse will be the repulsion to the subject. 

As a Chemistry teacher, she laments that only a meager number of students get into research. “Even if one or two of my students get into research every year, I will be happy. I wish my students carry my message”…..

Box Item (two columns)

Tips from Sumathi …

Through my experience I have understood that all students do not grasp the same way. Some learn through visuals. Some understand through application. To tackle this, I introduced the “Activity Card”. The card carries concepts explained through pictorial representation or application oriented exercises.

Depending on the interest of students, I divide them into groups and give activity cards with visual representation or application oriented description and encourage them to discuss within the group. This way they learn easily. I have been successful using this for the lower classes.  

  • To help students reproduce what they understand, I ask them to write in words, after teaching every concept. They write it and clarify their doubts then and there. This prepares them for exams too.
  • Having handled different students in different schools, I realize that the disposition of the students is very important when you teach. I attended classes recently in view of my M.Phil. programme and I do know how difficult it is to listen to lectures, continuously.
  • Usually, I take only two hours of my three hour classes and spend the third hour in implementing methods to develop their interest in the subject.  I wish there were sufficient breaks in between classes. If a child was punished in the previous class, he may not be in a mental state to listen in the next class. He needs enough time to recover from the shock. 
  • My teachers had been my inspiration and I want to be a role model to my students. If I expect them to be punctual, I should be on time, myself. In fact, my students are my teachers. I believe in the words of Marva Collins- Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first.
  • Joseph Jouster says, “To teach is to learn twice.”  When I refer and clear my students’ doubts, my knowledge improves.  Infarct, they are my teachers.

Besides these, I initiated Junior Lab, where students use plastic apparatus in their own classes. I also started a magazine for the class, to develop their interest in writing and painting. Periodically, I give some seminar topics related to Chemistry, for students to organise. I believe that students can do a better job than teachers. With such programmes they are able to shed their stage fear and improve their knowledge.


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