Making the transition from college to the hallowed portals of a university is a crucial one. It’s a clarion call for change in more ways than one.
Like any other parent, I too was a little apprehensive on the first day when my eighteen year old started her journey at University of Auckland. However the minute she got home, she couldn’t stop talking. Not so much about the warm welcome the university had rolled out for the first year students, as much as about the economics professor, Gamini Jayasuriya. By the time it was day ten, she was still talking non-stop about him.
Funnily, I realised that whenever anyone asked her how she was doing at university, she hardly needed any encouragement to relate to everyone who cared to listen, how Gamini Jayasuriya has been teaching economics for the last fifty years. That he is 73 and has taught economics all over the world! By day forty, I also knew which brand of soap he uses for the last thirty years, making him an irrational consumer; I heard how he gives out his phone number to hundreds of students during preparation time before exams just in case they need to get in touch with him; and the fact that he loves relaxing by playing poker with his close group of family-friends; Gamini’s life is an open book with the students, as I soon discover that years ago when he was teaching in Europe, Richard Branson was a hippie on the streets. It was his risk-taking ability that eventually made him a high-flyer on the rich list. By which we can safely conclude that entrepreneurs are people who take risks while those who don’t, continue to teach after all those years – like Gamini does!
Suddenly I found myself even listening to the sound bites of the economics lecture recordings that students have a 24-hour access to.
I realised I had to meet the teacher extraordinaire whom I knew so much about from his spending habits to his prowess at the subject and how it broke it down to interesting nuggets of information which were cleverly interlaced with anecdotes to inject the students with enthusiasm and a sense of eagerness to know more.
He certainly seemed to have worked his magic to inspire teenagers who normally are devoted to texting and Lady Gaga rather than listen to someone lecture about the price index and the value of money! Strangely, he has succeeded in inspiring a vast cross-section of students and infuse them with a passion for something as dry as micro and macroeconomics.
In the equation of supply and demand, it’s obvious that Gamini Jaysuriya is certainly in great demand, thus undeniably tilting the balance in his favour.
The minute I walk into his 6th floor office at the well appointed and beautifully designed Business School, it’s evident that the seventy plus Sri Lankan lecturer had more energy than the six hundred students put together!
For those of you who haven’t met him as yet, he is used to students raving about him. Every year there is a gaggle of wide-eyed fans that want his autograph, photograph and send him endearing emails about how much they enjoy the subject, thanks to his inherent skill of making it extremely interesting and enjoyable.
Why, he even has a student fan club on Face Book, where the generation X has posted comments like, “Jayasuriya rules,” “He’s the man,’’ “The guy is cool, I love his lectures in particular his awesome stories.”
Another student writes, “ You made long run cost curves, supernormal profit, the Prisoner’s dilemma an epic tale of adventure every Monday, Weds and Fri.”
A widely experienced teacher of several branches of business economics for almost nearly fifty-one years, Gamini Jayasuriya has taught in different parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Holland and Sri Lanka. In Auckland, he also teaches at Massey University and the MBA students at the Auckland Institute of Studies, apart from the University of Auckland. Some time ago, he was teaching at AUT as well. But he thinks that the real challenge is teaching the first year entrants who are fresh out of college.
“Most lecturers prefer teaching an older class of twenty-five rather than facing six hundred students, many of whom are shouting, talking or jumping over chairs. It’s common for your knees to buckle when you have to control kids like that and get them to maintain pin-drop silence,” laughs the teacher who has mastered the art of having students under his spell as they listen to him with rapt attention.
“It’s always the first two minutes on the first day itself that you have to make an impression. How you establish yourself is vital. I normally introduce myself and explain how exactly I am going to teach. I always tell the students that this is not college where attendance is compulsory. So if you have to talk, go to the cafeteria. Don’t disturb the other students who want to listen. Besides, I make my lectures interesting by bringing my personal experiences into the class and relate it to economics, which have the students sit up and take notice. ”
He insists he is “just a facilitator and not God,” though he does get a tremendous kick out of teaching. “I cannot tell you how much I love teaching economics. It’s my life, it’s absolutely fascinating,” smiles the much respected lecturer who once dabbled with a construction business in Sri Lanka, decades ago and turned it into the third largest company in six years. “Both my son’s who live abroad have often told me to retire, but I tell them if I stop teaching, I’ll die. Whilst most of my friends hate Mondays, I really look forward to it so that I can do what I love doing most,” says the prolific teacher as he is quick to add that he loves spending time at home with his wife of 39 years, as well.
Opening up, he shyly admits that he loves his devoted wife even more now than he did when he first married her! He reveals, “Every evening when I return home and just as I am about to park my car in the garage, I can see my wife standing at the window giving me a big smile. It’s that smile that helps get rid of the day’s tiredness in a split-second.”
Teaching can be exhausting when sometimes you are talking seven hours at a stretch! Like the accomplished lecturer does when he is teaching the MBA students. “ The course is quite intense,” he points out, “But I do believe it is more exhausting for the students to absorb so much than for me.” Occasionally, he even works on weekends. If you’re wondering where he gets all that energy from, he says, “In order to maintain my fitness levels I walk ten kilometres every single day come rain or sunshine, and however late I return home.” He says he even suffers from a permanent teacher’s throat. But has found a remedy for that.
“Every night I keep half a glass of water with sugar in it. That gives me great relief at around midnight.”
Next morning, he is takes off to the temple of knowledge, his second home where he moulds, motivates and inspires young minds to touch new heights and reach the nadir of success.
Like they say, “A teacher affects eternity; you can never tell where his influence stops.”