4 years ago

Discovering the XSEED Super Teacher

“I want you to close your eyes and listen.”

Twenty-five children fall silent as the teacher moves around, repeatedly opening and closing a sketch pen. She asks students what they heard. Her eyes scan the many raised hands and stop at a girl who says, “It sounded like a pen being opened and closed.”

“What was the sound you heard?” the teacher asks. She pauses to allow the students to think.”A soft click, click, click,” is a response from a boy whom the teacher asks because he has raised his hand rather timidly.

The teacher quickly divides the class into five groups. Each group gets a phrase describing a sound – a ticking clock, a creaking door, a crunchy cereal. The groups have to identify the letters in the description that will help them imitate the sound described. We hear children experimenting with the phrases while the teacher pushes them to think about the specific letters that mimic the sound described. The groups isolate letters like the “cr” in “creak” and “crunch”. Next, the students listen to a recording of a poem, “The Sound Collector” where they hear descriptions like the “purring of a kitten”, the “popping of a toaster” and the “swishing of curtains.”

The children have an aha-moment when the teacher finally connects what they experienced in the activity to the term “onomatopoeia” – a tricky construct that denotes words that are similar to the sounds that they describe.

Cassandra Fernandez, the English teacher from Point Calimere International School in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, orchestrating this outstanding lesson, went on to win the “XSEED SuperTeacher” India award on 10 August 2019.

XSEED SuperTeacher is a first-of-its-kind talent discovery program to find India’s best of the best teaching professionals. There is often talk about treating teachers with respect and bringing them on par with other professionals. However, there is almost no opportunity for the best teachers to demonstrate their professional skill and given public recognition. The XSEED SuperTeacher contest has been conceived to bridge this gap.

We witnessed an overwhelming response to the contest. Over 7000 teachers drawn from close to 1000 schools across India competed in the 1st round. These teachers represent schools located in both large and small towns and serving children across the socio-economic spectrum. To raise the bar on quality, we created an objective & rigorous selection process. Teacher applicants went through four gruelling rounds of MCQ-based assessment, classroom video submission and personal interview and finally an in-person observation of a live classroom by a panel of experts.

At every step, we encountered truly motivated, skilled, and innovative teachers. Hands-on activities that brought difficult concepts like Air Pressure or Fractions to life, participative children asking probing questions and real-life application tasks showed how well these teachers had mastered their craft.

It is no wonder that Cassandra Fernandez, Kamali Ravichandran and Batul Ladjee, the three finalists, have become real celebrities in their school communities. The trio’s performance on the evening of the LIVE-Finale was truly spectacular. They taught a challenging lesson, planned only the night before, to a group of students they had never met, all within a tight twenty-minute time limit. A live audience of over twelve hundred fellow educators and an expert jury were evaluating the performances, made their task even more daunting. Before-and-after assessments showed a dramatic improvement in children’s conceptual clarity scores. These teachers succeeded in delivering results not often visible in classes taught in less demanding circumstances.

Commenting about her India’s SuperTeacher award, Ms Cassandra Fernandez remarked: “When you teach from the heart, it makes a lasting impression in the mind of a child. Education is my way to make an impact and better the lives of the children.”

We have got outstanding teaching talent. We need to find our best teachers, nurture their skills, and reward them with professional growth opportunities. Only then we can open the doors of learning for every child.