Interview: Anmol Kumar (Civil – 2014)

State and explain your current profile. Please elaborate on your previous profiles as well.

Current profile: Currently, I am working as a Project Manager at Khan Academy. I am part of the School team whose job is to implement Khan Academy in Schools. Khan Academy has awesome tools that help teachers identify the learning gaps amongst their students and assign them the right content for practice.

Previous profiles: I transitioned from Content Creator to Project Manager recently. I had been creating Maths content for Khan Academy for the past three years. Before joining Khan Academy, I worked for BYJU’s as a Math faculty and Product Development Associate. I started out as a Civil Engineer at VA Tech Wabag in Istanbul in 2014. I was a site engineer there. I learned a lot as a civil engineer, but I was always interested in the education system and transitioned into it eventually.

At what point did you realize that a career change would be appropriate or effective?

When I joined VA Tech Wabag after my on-campus placement, I was very enthusiastic to work for them and build my career around Civil Engineering. After working for a couple of months, ten months to be precise, I decided to change from Civil Engineering to the education sector. 

What motivated you towards a career as an educator?

I always wanted to talk to people. I liked being on stage, teaching others. Even when I was at the construction site, I used to lecture the other staff members about the safety and other guidelines to be followed at the site. I used to take Hindi learning classes back in college and was well appreciated by the audience and faculty. But I never thought that I would consider teaching as a full-time career. In retrospect, when I decided to quit my site job, these were the moments that motivated me to start an actual career in education.

Explain how the club culture in NITT helped you in your journey. To what extent is your education in NITT helpful in your career path?

I love this question. Before college, we feel that college is just for studying and getting a good-paying job. That’s how I selected my college, based on its past placement records. In reality, it’s not just that. I realized that college is not just an institution to study, it’s a place where I defined myself, where I learnt my true skills. Clubs at our college help build those skills. I was a very active member of the Hindi Cell, Aayam. The things I did as a part of my duty for the club – I still cherish them. The thing is, we don’t realize this in college, but I can definitely vouch for it now. It helps. One of my biggest motivations to switch careers came from my club experience of teaching Hindi to non-Hindi folks.

With a lot of confusion and fear in navigating between different career choices, not many find what suits them best. What steps did you take to make sure your decision and the path you’ve taken were right? 

Frankly speaking, it was a risk. I sought my seniors’ advice regarding my situation, but all in all, switching careers at a very early stage was indeed a bold move. That’s what life is about. At some point in time, you have to take the risk to grow, to improve, and it can be in any form. My suggestion is: take calculated risks. I knew that I could teach but was not sure whether this would be the right career choice for me. So, I started taking a few classes and experimented with my teaching style. I started enjoying it, got good feedback from my students. By the time I left BYJU’s, I was the Math faculty who delivered the maximum number of Math lectures.

K-12 education is regulated in India at both the central and the state levels. How influential or impactful is it? And do you think that enough steps are being taken so as to make/allow the education system to evolve into a merit-based one rather than having one’s age as a factor as well? 

Kids learn at their own pace. If you give them sufficient time, you can see wonders happen in front of you. Trust me, they are smarter than we think. Thinking where they lag is never taken seriously in schools. With time, this lag becomes huge and forms ‘Swiss-cheese gaps’ in their education and understanding. To prevent this, the system should evolve in such a way that it can identify these gaps and promote better learning.

Elaborate on your routine, throw light on the various aspects of making a lecture. What steps do you take to make the lectures more understandable and appealing to a large group of students?

I ensure that the content is focused and talk directly about the meat of the content in plain and simple language. The idea is to deliver what the students are looking for, rather than wasting their time with unnecessary details. I ensure to break down the entire lesson into various skills and impart one skill at a time. I believe that it is important to ask all possible questions while making the content and encourage our learners to do the same.  It is important to incorporate friendliness in teaching in order to make a better connection with the learners. Concepts should be understood and not mugged up.

What aspects concern Curriculum design? How do you decide and separate topics into necessary and additional information?

In India, especially in CBSE schools, the NCERT textbook is the Holy Bible. Teachers and students are ardent followers of this textbook. The common phrase used is – ‘Pehle NCERT karo, fir kuch aur karna, (Do NCERT first and then try something else).‘ So, whatever is in NCERT, you definitely need to cover, making NCERT’s content necessary. In online education, the attention span is less, compared to class, so the teachers need to make every second count and be very mindful of their time.

What are your opinions on the method(s) of delivering lectures in NITT? In what ways do you think ‘creative learning’ can be implemented into higher education?

I feel that irrespective of whatever we are studying, the feeling of being connected with the content makes us grasp it and understand it in the long run. There are different ways in which a teacher can make the students feel connected to the content – by empathizing with the students, giving various analogies, connecting the syllabus to the bigger picture, giving real-world examples, giving contrasting cases, etc. Most of the teachers try to be creative, but if they can be better at being ‘normal’, students will take care of the rest.

Do you think it is plausible to extend the K-12 concept to higher education such as UG, PG, etc.?

The mindset of the students contrasts starkly in K-12 and in higher education. K-12 is mostly about building a strong foundation for diverse fields that one might want to pursue later. Higher education is based on the learner’s field of interest. At any stage, teachers should set the right expectations and be close to reality, and communicate this to their students as much as they can. The learners should be free to choose the institute, the field of interest and the methods employed to educate them without any apprehensions. 

How do campus placements fare with respect to off-campus ones? What route is advised for placements out of campus?

On-campus placement is like struggling in a protective, family-like atmosphere. The students know that there are people in the campus who are trying their best to call companies to get them placed. So, they don’t need to start from scratch. Out of campus, the game is different.  There are enormous options out there. Students start knowing things and always feel a need to grow more. The fear of ‘what lies ahead of them’ keeps troubling them at all times. They see their friends growing and flourishing in their careers and start losing patience. This is where having patience becomes more important, much more as compared to how much they had in college. A lot of other factors add up to their careers. Building contacts and establishing strong relationships becomes inevitable. 

Is there something the T and P cell can do which does not even come under its umbrella currently, but is important?

In the past couple of years, numerous companies have come up with diverse roles. As students, it’s nearly impossible to be aware of all of them. Most of the students aspire to be good engineers in their branch of specialization, but there is more to building a career. The sooner the students understand the space out there, the better choices they would make. I think the T and P cell should educate the students about the various career options and diverse roles. This would especially be useful to folks who are not a part of any club, do not have a good GPA, but come from the mindset that a government job is all they need to secure a good future. 

What are some things about your career path you wish you knew in college, in retrospect?

I wish I knew that the scope after college is not limited to bagging a good job and starting to earn. I feel that the right time to go for higher studies is just after finishing college. Students should not follow the footsteps of others blindly but carve their own unique paths. Fail early and fail fast. Be brave and take risks. Set the end goal and backtrack. Students should make a career path for themselves and whatever they do, they must link it to that vision. It can change for sure, but at least they would not be wandering from one goal to another. When it comes to career,  it’s always advisable to go from one defined path to another, rather than moving randomly in an unplanned manner. 

Would you describe the teaching career to be as rewarding as it’s deemed to be, in the philosophical side of a career?

There is a lot more to teaching than just imparting education. It is about helping students learn something new and forming special bonds that they would cherish throughout their lives. Teachers get to build trust with students they have not known earlier. Students spend their valuable time listening to what their teachers have to say. Students consider a good teacher their hero, as a person who has the potential to change their lives for good and who would never let them down. Teaching is rewarding because it involves coaching, counseling, managing, learning, and growing with kids who would always be thankful to their teachers for bringing about a change in their lives.

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