Published: 03rd September 2019
This primary school teacher from Nagapattinam won a national-level teaching contest. Here's why you should be inspired
Cassandra Maria Fernandez won the XSEED Super Teacher Search, a first-of-its-kind talent discovery programme, at a glittering grand finale held in Chennai recently
Bill Gates once remarked, 'Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.’ A teacher’s role in shaping a child’s life cannot be emphasised enough. Calling teachers the ‘catalysts of our country’s future’, XSEED Education, founded by Ashish Rajpal, conducted a national-level Super Teacher Search, a first-of-its-kind talent discovery programme to find India’s best teaching professionals, recently in which over 10,000 teachers participated. At the grand finale that was held at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall in Chennai on August 10, 2019, Cassandra Maria Fernandez, a primary school teacher from Point Calimere International School, Nagapattinam, emerged victorious, beating 8 semifinalists and 3 finalists who came from different parts of the country. We caught up with this ‘super teacher’ for a chat. Excerpts:
1) Can you recall the events that led to your foray into teaching?
After successfully completing my BCom in 2002, I started working in the ITES space almost immediately. I dabbled in sales, marketing, quality analysis and soft skills and even had the opportunity to work with some of the very best employers in the country like Aditya Birla Minacs, Randstad, Ma Foi, and i-POINT. But after my twin boys were born, I started looking for a career-shift; for a role that would keep me happy and at the same time fulfil me as a working mother. It was at this time in 2012 that Mrs Dinky Gomes, a retired teacher who runs Dinky S Global HR and Edu Consultancy, recommended me for a teaching job at Point Calimere International school (PCIS), Vedaranyam. And that’s how I landed my first teaching job as a Class 1 teacher.
With a lot of backing from my father and my husband, and a lot of hard work (burning the midnight oil to make teaching aids, prepare for classes, etc, as I had to prove that I was as good as if not better than all the ‘qualified’ teachers around), I was able to quickly evolve from a Class 1 teacher to Coordinator to Chief Coordinator and now, Vice-Principal of the Primary Block at PCIS. I think part of my success can be attributed to the fact that I never stopped learning — I am currently pursuing my Diploma in Elementary Education (DElEd) from NIOS. If not for the support and guidance of our Principal, Sirajunisa Begum, and the ‘man with the vision’, our Chairman, Sulthanul Arifeen, I would not have gotten this far in life.
2) What does winning a national-level teaching competition feel like?
I still cannot believe that I won such a big title! XSEED Education has given every teacher in the country an opportunity of a lifetime. I think the event was a fantastic platform to showcase talent in the teaching profession. It was such a well-organised and well-coordinated series of events for which I took a lot of help from my coaches, Satheesh and Arun. From the online test to the grand finale, the entire experience was so enriching. The team at XSEED is a group of refined and likeminded people who are so passionate about bringing/making a difference in the educational system in India. I feel so great to have been part of this initiative because as teachers, all we aim to do is get better at what we do so that the children get rewarded as an end-result.
All eyes on her: Cassandra during a live teaching session at the grand finale
3) How are your teaching methods different/unique?
Someone once told me that I am the personification of the word ‘flamboyant’. That is something that I've held close to my heart and I make it a point to bring a certain level of flamboyance and charisma into my classroom. I am a perfectionist when it comes to pronunciation and trust me when I say, there's that touch of flamboyance in that as well. I also think that adopting the ‘XSEED’ method of teaching has helped me connect better with my students.
4) What do you think is lacking in today's education system? How can teachers make it better?
We are totally oblivious to the fact that English is not everyone's mother tongue. Whichever way you look at it, it's a second language. And that's the approach we should adopt. We must begin from this point and create an environment for the same. Teachers must focus on continuous professional development as qualifications do not account for quality. With numerous online courses available today, they must constantly seek to better themselves. The classrooms of today should not be confined to the enclosures of its four walls. Classrooms across the globe can be connected. This is the new age. With platforms like Skype in the classroom, Edmodo and ePals, teachers must explore bringing the world to their students or help their students explore the world using these platforms and not just stick to bookish information.
5) What changes in policy do you think will help the education system in India today? What do you think about the government's draft NEP?
I do not consider myself an expert to comment on the government's draft NEP, however as a primary school teacher, I am very happy about the emphasis that is being placed on ‘Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), teacher capacity and the attention that is going to be given to struggling learners with the Remedial Instructional Aides Programme. It is imperative for kids to have a proper foundation in their formative years. It is useless to expect a fabulous outcome from students if they're not strong in their basics. I'm also curious to see how the change in the BEd programme is going to turn out.
Considering the age of digital learning, the role of a teacher is changing. All information is already available at the touch of a screen. Teachers are going to merely play the role of facilitators where they shed more light on what is already available. The world must be brought into the classroom and the teacher must be the facilitator. We must create global citizens. At the end of the day, whatever the NEP, we as teachers and parents must remember that through the ever-changing global environment, where we have not much control on prevalent policies and systems, we definitely exert a lot of control in shaping little hearts and minds to help them become kind, truthful, honest, humble, intelligent and most importantly, happy children.