Sometimes we have to come down hard on our children and colleagues to attain the high standards and outcomes that we all desire.
I WAS seated in a South Indian restaurant in Taiping some time ago, when I saw an elderly Punjabi man arrive on his bicycle to buy two pieces of chapatti for himself.
I heard the waiter asking him if he wanted the chapatti to be heated.
The man nodded. Soon, the two pieces of bread were placed on the round griddle used to make roti canai and thosai.
The man then took it upon himself to take a wad of tissue from the counter and using this, he began to press the chapatti on the hot pan.
Every now and then, he inspected the chapattis. Only when they had both been thoroughly cooked to his satisfaction did he allow the waiter to have them packed.
I smiled when I saw this as I understood his actions.
Anyone who enjoys a good chapatti must understand how it is cooked.
When it is on the griddle, not only must the griddle be hot, the chapatti on it must also be pressed to ensure that every part of its surface comes into contact with the hot surface of the flat pan.
In expert hands, this takes micro-seconds!
When I began making chappattis at the age of 13, my eldest sister taught me how to identify the areas to press and how much pressure to apply.
On top of that, I had to be pretty quick to prevent the bread from getting burnt.
She also cautioned me to handle the areas of the bread which swelled carefully.
Puncture these by accident and you will get a hand scalded by escaping hot air!
People always say that practice makes perfect but I have learnt from my time in the kitchen that perfection is actually the result of the “right” practice.
Getting it right
You have to do the “right” thing over and over again to get good results.
Even in cooking this flat bread, I had to painstakingly learn how to be both effective and efficient.
As you can see, mastering the art of using the right “pressure” requires regular practice combined with skills derived from experience.
I met a doctor recently who is a father of two boys aged 13 and 15. He complained that some of the young teachers in the school his sons go to, come across as “half-baked” to him.
“My children are the ‘victims’ when they are taught by such teachers,” he bluntly told me adding that he had to incur extra costs by sending them to private tutors.
I must say that not all teachers are like the ones the parent mentioned.
Older teachers who lack the right attitude and aptitude add to the problem too.
Whther they are young or old, teachers who don’t do a good job at teaching, cause much anxiety to both parents and students.
When you come across such teachers, you can be rest assured that what they really need is to be “grilled” further.
The question is why aren’t they?
When I was the head of the Science and Mathematics Department of a school before, I had to come down hard on two teachers who were chosen to become head of the Science and Mathematics Subject Panels, respectively. Both my protégés were young.
Unaccustomed to high expectations, they were tardy and lackadaisical. They handed in half-completed work and never even bat an eyelid.
I took them to task for it, explaining that their youth and inexperience were not barriers in performing a task well.
While I was friendly enough for them to approach without fear, I began to pressure them.
This might have seemed easy, but it wasn’t. If I pressured them too hard, they would rebel. But if I were too “soft”, they would perform their duties perfunctorily.
The same went with my students. I remember a bright lad whose project report I returned because I felt it could have been better.
Frustrated, he came to me with this question, “Why are you so hard on me?”
I told him that his report was only passably good and did not reflect his potential.
I told him that he could submit the report as it was or submit an improvised one with my suggestions. He took the report back.
Last year, when I presented a talk in a school, I discovered that the head of the Sci-ence and Mathematics Department was none other than one of my protégés.
She complained of the difficulties in handling the teachers under her wing who were not performing as well as they should.
I then related the chapatti story to her.
As for the boy, he went abroad and had later e-mailed me to say: “You used to press me to do well in school, but now that I am in varsity, I have to push myself to succeed. It’s not easy but I plan to do my best.”
He is right. Pressure, be it internal or external, affects outcomes.
For instance, without the right pressure exerted in teacher selection, training, monitoring and evaluation or the “no-cutting-corners” emphasis on quality education, all of us will have to contend with “half-baked” goods.
As for the upcoming voting day, it would help to remember the words of American linguist, historian and political critic, Avram Noam Chomsky, who said: “To some degree it matters who’s in office, but it matters more how much pressure they’re under from the public.”
Like I said, it would be good to put some pressure!