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The Class Act by Debashis Chatterjee

It was almost one and half year ago I met Prof. Dr. Debashis Chatterjee along with Dr. Priya Nair at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode (IIMK). It was during a team management training for the Senior Programme Managers of Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP) organized by my division – Lifelong Learning. I reached IIMK to deliver introductory address in the opening session of the training programme. After the training has formally commenced, Dr. Priya proposed to meet Dr. Debashis Chatterjee who was then the director of IIMK.

While entering his office along with Dr. Priya, I was expecting a typical management guy in full formal suit. To my surprise I saw there a very humble person in simple attire and with a solemn smile on the face. His conversation was like a pious guru. We discussed about the training and development needs in government and Dr. Debashis shared his wonderful experiences. At the end of our visit he gave me another surprise – 'The Class Act, Notes from the Diary of a Teacher' a book written by him.

Though I started to read it on the same day, the usual thing happened. I seldom complete my readings, it is not because of distaste for reading, but owing to my greater taste for thinking. Normally some words or ideas in a book will carry me away from the book and I seldom return to the book as the travel would probably end up in some other thoughts.

But two days back the unusual happened! and I returned to 'The Class Act' – again and completed reading it in one go. Now, when completed reading it, I feel I would have read it much earlier. ''Nothing is taught if nothing is learned"- is the idea from the book that echoes the most in my mind.

The basic fact that attracted me again to this book is his quite informal but beautiful way of presentation of great ideas in a very simple language. As the subtitle shows, the book contains his memories and thoughts as a teacher, chiefly. As this being an academic writing, initially I thought I should keep a thesaurus near while reading the book. But nothing of that kind was needed. I completed the reading by fully absorbed in the book.

In the preface to the book Dr. Debashis wrote “ I was lucky to have had some teachers who made learning truly adventurous. Their classes left indelible impressions on the mind. They touched my heart and stirred my spirit in a way that love for learning was ignited in me for a life-time. These teachers were, what I would describe as class acts”. While reading the book Dr. Debashis became such a teacher for me as well.

Even the chapter titles are strong enough to convey complete picturesque ideas. 'I can, therefore I teach', 'Can you teach a Zebra some Algebra', 'Good Teachers Explain, Great Teachers Enliven', 'Our Syllabus is More Crowded than Peak Hour Traffic', 'Teach a little, Learn a lot', 'Students are hosts, Not Hostages' and 'How much is the transmission loss between Teaching and Learning' are a few examples for such titles. The book has fifty six such chapters.

From his abundant experiences, readings and familiarisation with the experiences of others, Dr. Debashis earnestly examines the challenges of becoming a great teacher and the social stigma towards teaching. In a simple and very interesting story telling manner, he explains the different dimensions of teaching and leaning. About leaning he says ' An untrained ear hears what it just wants to hear. A trained ear hears the unheard and the unsaid”.

Definitely 'The Class Act' is a must read for all teachers, and of course, as the writer being a real management guru, it is also a must read for management students and professionals.

The book was published by IIMK in 2013. Later, an edited version of Class Act ,has been- published by Wisdom Tree in a new title: Can You Teach A Zebra Algebra?


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