Today (September 5) is Teachers’ Day in India, and I dedicate my blog to all the teachers that I have known and also to those unknown and very often unrecognized.
A toast to us… Cheers!!!
And to celebrate the day, I would like to start with a question — why did you decide to be a teacher? My story …
On completion of my graduation the obvious question was — What next?
I wanted to be a Radio Announcer. Those were the days of Melville D’Mello and All India Radio. My father rejected the idea as he felt that I should do something secure. So B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) it was. The choice was not based on any passion; it was just a safe choice. And that is how my journey into teaching began. The best part of doing my B.Ed. was the Practice Teaching Lessons, putting into action the methodology of teaching practices along with the gift of communication and connecting with students. Some of those lessons are still vivid in my mind. Don’t for a moment think that every lesson was excellent or even good. Some were bad!!
However, the seed was sown. I got married soon after and moved to Uttar Pradesh, where I began to take my first baby steps in a profession that I have come to love and enjoy. On coming to Bangalore a few years later, my journey took various twists and turns and there were a few roadblocks too. I started with primary and middle school, moved on to teaching Political Science at a collegiate level.
However, some of my best years professionally were when I taught at a Junior College of Education. I believe that I got retrained as a teacher while I taught others to be teachers. Those were the foundation years for me to look into and understand the fields of Child and Adolescent Psychology on the one hand, and Education on the other — and to bring the two together. These years of work were the gateway to my subsequent work as an Educational Consultant and Trainer, covering rural and urban schools of all 3 Indian Boards. I continue to work in this space.
What I have said so far is just to give the context to a few incidents which resulted in my learning experiences. These incidents may seem inconsequential, but for me they were eye openers, reflective and life changing.
I will start with an incident that brings me cheer even today. A school student at a workshop asked me how she should address me. I told her she could call me Miss or Ma’am. She said that I was not like a Miss or a Ma’am. I asked her if she would like to call me Phyllis. She said that would be nice. Lesson: Be a friendly, approachable teacher.
Coming to incidents in relation to Corrections, the bane of every teacher’s life. I feel blessed that today I do not have to go through notebook after notebook and answer scripts too.
- I was correcting cursive writing books, actually over writing on poorly formed letters. One of my 2nd standard students was keenly observing me and then said, ‘Miss, you are doing cursive writing’? I stopped — nonplussed. Was she trying to exchange roles? She did become my teacher. That statement of that child made me realize the utility and futility of corrections. Lesson: Corrections need to be purposeful and growth oriented. This holds good for any kind of correction.
- On another occasion, I was going through the lesson plan of a Teacher Trainee. I remember it was a poem and I love to teach Poetry. I used my red ink liberally all over the lesson plan, not in correction but with my ideas. At the end of it, the student quietly said to me, ‘Miss, the Third World War has been fought on this paper.’ Lesson: Allow the teacher to take ownership of her / his lesson — empower the teacher. Have discussions, suggest ideas, provide guidance, listen, and at the same time do not rob them of their right to plan and execute the lesson — enable responsibility and accountability for the outcome.
Life is full of dilemmas and sometimes we are put to the test:
- This incident troubles me even after 40 years. I had been asked to change the marks of a 6th standard student who had failed in many subjects but had done very well in mine probably because he liked me as a teacher. The Principal thought he should be detained. I refused. After the announcement of the results this boy met me and asked me whether he had really done so badly in my paper. He knew he had worked hard and done well. His marks had been changed without my knowledge. Now the dilemma — Should I be loyal to the institution or should I be honest and tell him the truth? I remember giving him some vague answer that did not convince him or me. Lesson: Stand by your values. (This is of course an individual call)
- In another school the learning experience was in handling the corruption of the management. The marks of children of influential and rich parents were changed. These students were apparently called to the office and made to rewrite answers. When I hit a wall with the principal, I took it up with the manager of the school. I was told that I should not tolerate it and should resign in protest. I realized that he was hand in glove with the Principal and wanted me out. I stayed on, a thorn in their flesh, and it was definitely not made easy for me. I worked for almost a year where communication between management and me was only through slips of paper or through circulars. Lesson: Do not be afraid to be an activist if the situation demands.
Moving on, have you ever been struck dumb by a question or a statement? While conducting a workshop with young teenage girls, one of them suddenly stood up to ask me a question. It was out of context but apparently bothering her and she just had to ask the question and get an answer. This is what she said, ‘Ma’am you can see that I have rabbit teeth. I am teased about it. I know that I have got these teeth from my father. I am angry with him and have begun to hate him.’ I did not know what to say, any banal answer or platitude or preaching was not going to help her. I closed my eyes for a moment in a silent prayer, and out of nowhere, popped a story I had heard, 3 lines of poetry written by a young girl.
‘I am me! And I am good!! ‘Coz God don’t make no junk!!!
She looked me in the eye and said, ‘I knew you will give me an answer.’ Lesson: Seek help!
I could narrate many such incidents but there is one which was a real life changer. This was when a student committed suicide. This student would often talk to me. While I was on leave for a few days she committed suicide. A traumatic time as I felt I had failed her. At the end of the academic year I resigned thinking that teaching was not my field. I did courses for self-understanding, introspected and by the end of the year understood that I was running away from a difficult situation. I went back to teaching. I also trained as a counsellor. Lesson: So yes, no journey is straight. There are twists and turns and roadblocks. What matters is how one handles it.
In conclusion, the seed to be a teacher that was sown in 1972, took root, grew from stage to stage and is now an old mature tree. I told my story …. I encourage everyone, whether teacher or otherwise, to write your own, even if it’s for yourself. It opens up introspection, reflections that will bring on a smile, or tears or regrets — what if? For me these incidents and many more, have taught me lessons. However, there has been so much more to this journey of learning and growth that it would be remiss if I did not show my gratitude to all who have touched my life. Thank you!
Once again Happy Teachers’ Day and every day.