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  • Writer's pictureKaren Divya Shekar

What I Learnt from Teaching Geography for Over 35 Years

I sat down with my Mom, who has taught Geography for over 35 years, to pick her brain about her experiences teaching this very offbeat subject.

In school, I found Geography very silly. Was the subject Chemistry, Environmental Studies, Biology, or Physics, or all four rolled in one? I preferred History and the Languages to it. However, as I have grown older, I have begun to get interested in Geography again because of my love for landforms and scenery.

My mom was well known for her teaching skills, hence I wanted to ask her a couple of questions about her time teaching this subject.

Here are some insights.

1. Define Geography. Not a bookish definition please!

Geography is the study of the earth, its functioning, and man’s response to the natural environment. In simple terms, Geography is about the man and land Interactions. Geography is a fascinating, and perceivable subject. Its content can be observed, admired and understood. It’s often perceived as boring and that’s because it is often read out from a textbook.

2. Why were you drawn to Geography?

My fascination for Geography began when I was in high school and the subject seemed attractive but was not being taught properly. I was then determined to become a Geography Teacher who would try to do a better job.

My friends looked down on my choice of career and scoffed when I said I wanted to be a Geography Teacher. My family had hoped I would make a better career decision. But I stood my ground.

Undergraduate studies did not impress me much, but the post-graduation programme threw up some great teachers under whom I had wanted to do my PhD. But that was not to be.

3. Is Geography a Science or a Humanities subject?

The debate about Geography being a Science or a Humanities subject has gone on for decades and Universities offer both Science and Arts degrees in Geography. I earned a B.A. degree and followed it up with an M.Sc. degree.

So that’s the reality of the subject!

Geography has a scientific aspect and undergirding but deals with human responses too. The workings and processes that govern the planet are scientific principles. Man-land interactions are based on human responses to the environment and its resources.

4. What can children hope to learn from Geography?

In studying Geography, children should develop an understanding of the earth and how it works and should appreciate the functioning of the elements of the environment and learn how to effectively respond to it.

Physical Geography is the “space” and Human Geography is man’s responses to this space. A study of Climatology gives an understanding of the day to day observances in the weather conditions. Students of Geography ought to be able to observe the elements and comprehend what is happening.

Any visit to an outdoor location is like a laboratory where you could see the natural forces at work, discover weathering effects, see what running water can do, watch the wind in action, notice Geography in action.

5. Do they benefit at all? If they do, give an example.

Children benefit from the study of any subject, otherwise, why teach it at all? Geography students respond to what they observe around them – the soil, the weather, the vegetation, the rocks, the crops, population and learn to understand the links that connect them.

On a trip to the Balasore area of Odisha with students, the ones who were studying weathering were most excited to see signs of weathering on the rocks in the region, and it was an opportunity for them to show the others what they had learnt.

When experiencing a cyclone first hand, Geography students are able to observe the weather changes during the build-up and see how it dramatically changes after the cyclone makes landfall. So, yes, children benefit greatly.

6. How do kids respond to Geography?

Most children view a subject depending on how it was taught to them. An outstanding Teacher creates interest, stimulates the imagination and stirs the desire for more. So depending on how the subject was dealt with over the years determines the response to it.

I have had fabulous Professors at the MSc level who were inspirational. Geography can be very boring when it is read out and explained. Who wants to know the list of crops that grow in South Africa or the minerals that are found in South-West Spain?

But a passionate and innovative Teacher can make even that sound so interesting with a little effort.

7. What’s the best way/method to teach children Geography?

There are a few techniques in teaching Geography, the best one is without the text book. The topic should unravel logically on the blackboard or with a map or on a field trip. Map work is taught by doing it in class along with them.

The Geography Teacher should have basic drawing skills, for that helps the students visualise what is being explained. Chalk and duster is quite a good way to teach, but with online teaching in the new normal, the subject can come alive with slides and photographs and videos.

What was once only a mental image is now on display and hopefully will make a strong impact.

8. What careers are available in Geography?

There are a lot more career options for Geography students now than there was in my time. For those good at mapping, there are options in map-making, Remote Sensing and GIS-related careers.

For the seafaringly inclined, there are careers in Oceanography, for Human Geography there are options in Urban Planning, Town and Country Planning.

For the sky gazers, there are careers in Climatology, Meteorology, and Space Research.

For the down to earth, there are options to study Geology/ Seismology/ Earth Science and join organisations that deal in exploration and research; for the academically oriented, there is the option of teaching and inspiring generations to appreciate the subject.

9. What would you tell aspiring Geography teachers?

If you have signed up to teach Geography, it proves you have the passion. For any vocation, that’s the main ingredient. Add the skills of logic, drawing, creating mind pictures, making observations, mapping techniques and you are good to go.

I hope you enjoyed reading the blog. Leave your comments below!

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