“Sunoj, a graduate of the University of Kerala, discovered his passion for teaching while assisting fellow students during his MSc program.”
Raghavan Sunoj, an esteemed ‘night teacher’ at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, is set to receive the prestigious National Award to Teachers 2023 for Higher Education in Mumbai. On campus, he is renowned for his proactive approach to teaching, often bypassing the traditional waiting game for student queries. Instead, he takes the initiative to visit hostels and the mess hall, dedicating countless nights to resolving students’ doubts, particularly in the lead-up to exams.
Interestingly, precisely 23 years ago, his mother and greatest source of inspiration, K Vasantha Kumari, was honored with the National Award to Teachers for her exceptional commitment to primary school education in Kerala, making it a remarkable family tradition.
Sunoj’s journey towards becoming an educator began during his pursuit of a master’s degree at the University of Kerala when he started assisting his fellow classmates. “In the second year of my master’s program, I began instructing my peers and received positive feedback. It was then that I first realized the joy of convincing someone of your point of view. Witnessing the expressions on their faces as ideas took root was truly gratifying. I became even more enthusiastic when they started posing questions,” shared Professor Sunoj with TOI.
Driven by his passion for both teaching and research, Sunoj sought to strike a balance, and the system at IIT Bombay provided him with that opportunity. “Here, I’ve had the privilege of teaching some of the brightest students, including JEE top scorers and Olympiad champions. I foster an environment of discussion and debate, treating them as respected co-learners. Remarkably, their intellectual vigor knows no bounds. I choose to delve into far more challenging questions than what the curriculum demands, and they tackle them head-on, returning with solutions. This is the joy of intellectual fulfillment. I’ve also had the opportunity to guide students who grapple with the subject matter. I engage with the class, attuned to their needs, discerning them through eye contact, and adjusting the pace and examples accordingly,” he explained.
In a stark departure from the social media and WhatsApp trends, Professor Sunoj maintains that his students are always within reach on campus. “While students often approach instructors with questions, I take it a step further and visit their hostels, asking, ‘Do you have any questions?’ I’ve been following this practice for years. As an empathetic listener, I also serve as a mentor during challenging times. I invest a substantial amount of time outside the classroom to ensure my students are never hesitant to ask questions. I encourage open communication,” he affirmed.
Yash Sanghvi, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, fondly recalled Professor Sunoj’s dedication to teaching the CH105 introductory chemistry course for first-year students. “The night before our CH105 mid-semester exam, I distinctly remember the buzz in the hostel. It turned out that Professor Sunoj had made a surprise visit to address the anxieties of the freshmen and answer their questions before the crucial exam. This is just one of the many reasons why his selection for this award comes as no surprise.”