“Are you a repeater?” the teacher asked. The little girl being addressed stared back incredulously, wondering if she had heard right. The teacher repeated the question and this time, the answer came out firmly, “NO.”
I can never forget that sense of embarrassment that overcame me when I was thus addressed with that most blasphemous of terms – “repeater” – St. Mary’s Convent lingo for someone who had failed a year and was repeating the same class. As a young girl in Class 5, I remember feeling a sense of acute disappointment that my teacher thought I could answer a tough question only because I had already heard the chapter being taught the previous year.
Today, being a lecturer myself, I can easily sympathize with the sense of disenchantment that must have prompted such a question from my school teacher. But eternal optimist that I am, I just cannot let that feeling get me down for long. For there is so much I have learned from my students ever since I became a teacher.
Teachers Day is an occasion when people eulogize their teachers. But maverick teacher that I am, I find myself more drawn towards using this occasion to talk of how my students, over the past 15 years, have helped me learn and grow.
A few months into teaching, I ran into a brilliant student who, I suspected, knew that I did not know much about the subject I was handling – Human Anatomy and Physiology. Of course, I may have misunderstood that hawk-like attentiveness because of my own insecurity but it drove me to prepare better for my class, reading up more than what was essential, to be equipped to handle any query that came my way. Thanks to all that effort, I think I managed to redeem myself pretty decently…and in the process, gained a lot of insight into the subject, too.
As a teacher, you learn quite a bit of students’ study habits from the way they frame their answers in tests and exams. I’ve classified students into two categories: the “muggers” who learn everything by heart and then regurgitate that into the answer paper. And the “understanders” who understand things and attempt to explain it in their own words…their answers are not perfect, but reading them, you know they have understood the concept. I’ve always had a fondness for the latter category. And from it came another student who, it turned out, was helping his father manage the family business after college hours. Attending college from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm, working at the shop from 4.30 pm to 10.30 pm and still finding time, energy and interest to really understand the complicated stuff we teach in Pharmacy, write lab records meticulously and almost never miss a single day’s class…Wow..That calls for a special kind of drive. Even today, I find myself quoting this example to students who suffer from a lack of motivation. In fact, I’ve used this to motivate myself too on occasions when I’ve felt lethargic.
And then, there was a student who I thought had it all together – class topper, intelligent, good looking, excellent communication skills, good friend circle..…the works …what more could someone want? But one day I was stunned to learn an unexpected fact from him….that both his parents suffered from an inborn hearing and speech impairment. Can you imagine not being able to hear the comforting voice of your parents? Can you imagine foregoing the joy that comes from them listening to you? And yet, this student did not exhibit any of the bitterness we tend to expect in someone who has been dealt an unfair blow by life. Often, at times when I’ve been in danger of slipping into a cynical dissatisfaction with some situation I’m facing, I’ve remembered the positive attitude of this student and tried to emulate it.
Another student I remember well is one who belonged to that category I dreaded being put into – repeater. He was still in college when others from his batch had graduated and landed plushy jobs about two years before. It was rumored that he was stinking rich and that information was kind of used by other teachers to imply that it did not really matter to him whether he finished the course or not. Once, when one of his new classmates did not have money for the college tuition fee, he was the one who stepped forward to bear the expense. From him, I learned the meaning of standing by a friend, through thick and thin.
These are but a few examples of ways in which interacting with my students have transformed me. To all of them, I’d like to say a big thank you for enriching my life thus.
I’ve had students who have
- Lost a parent mid-session and yet, gone on to complete their course with decent scores...they’ve taught me what resilience means.
- Had financial difficulties and worked at part time jobs to pay their way through the course.........they’ve taught me what strength of purpose means.
- Played the fool in class and provided precious moments of laughter in tense situations......they’ve taught me how to bear my burdens light.
- Transferred from an Indian language to English as medium of instruction after their 12th Std and are today marketing managers of leading brands of pharma products.....they’ve taught me of the rewards that follow hard work and persistence.
Over the years, I’ve moved from looking for that elusive spark of academic intelligence in my students to looking for the spark of humaneness …emotional intelligence, you could call it. Because I’ve found that the latter is what proves a stronger determinant of success and happiness in life.
Everyone knows a teacher does not “make” much…but the rewards you earn are mind blowing…
- Intellectual satisfaction when students experience an “aha” moment, understanding some concept you’ve explained.
- Joy and laughter, a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye after you’ve laughed with them at a joke someone has cracked in the lab or class.
- A sense of being trusted and valued when they share their troubles, secure in the knowledge that you will listen without passing judgment and maybe show them a way to cope.
- Immense respect that drives them to touch your feet (despite your forbidding it) when they leave college.
- The quiet satisfaction that comes with knowing they are doing well in life and that you have, in some small way, contributed positively to another human being’s life.
- The glow that lights you up from within when someone shyly says, “Thank you, Ma’am for EVERYTHING” or like a student recently told me, “Ma’am, please keep guiding me thus throughout my life.”
I cannot imagine any other profession providing such a terrific package…
This year, it is indeed a wonderful coincidence that Teacher’s Day is also Krishna Janmaashtami – the day we celebrate the birth of the greatest Guru the world has ever seen. On this auspicious day, I’m praying that He bless all of us with Jnyaana (Knowledge), Bhakti (Devotion) and Vairagya (Detachment).
Perhaps we teachers need more of these. Knowledge to keep up with the latest developments. Devotion to perform the duty we’ve been entrusted with – of creating good citizens. And detachment to avoid getting stressed when we find students don’t behave as we expect them to….