Vyaaptam Yenam charaacharam
Tatpadam Darshitam Yena
Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha.
Guru can guide us to the supreme knowledge of THAT which pervades all the living and non-living beings in the entire Universe. I salute such a Guru.
Sometimes, I go down memory lane: as a child, when my parents left home and we secretly got all our friends over to our house, pulled out Amma’s sarees, draped ourselves clumsily and mixed all the gooey-looking leaves and flowers into our playtime meals. Even then, after my role at home as a mother (I was the oldest, so by default played the role of a mother), I was a teacher, and held a stick in hand. Much later, it was my lecturer in college Mrs. Sundari Balasubramaniam who took away my application for a course in journalism and asked me to pursue a course in English literature and I listened to her. She even asked me to join Jyothi Nivas College, my alma mater, as a tutor after completion of my course. I did that as well. I wonder if I have always wanted to be a teacher, or if it was Mrs. Balasubramaniam who made me a teacher. I wonder whether being a teacher is a call. One can’t help but be drawn to it; I feel that it is not just another job, it is much more.
As I hailed from a middle class background with no pocket money, I wanted a little money of my own and as early as my eighth class, I gave tuitions for school children. I remember being very passionate about the way I imparted their lessons. I wanted it to be fun for them and to be empathetic. By empathy, I mean that we need to understand that every child or student stands at a unique place as individuals, and we need to accept this difference, along with the difference in the needs of children. To put everyone in one group and say that we are here to teach them this or that is wrong according to me and that is the first mistake mass education makes. A lot that we do in the name of education is not right according to me, but this is not what I intend to talk about and shall restrict myself to my role as a teacher.
When I began my tuitions and later when I was a lecturer, I began my teaching programme with this assumption that ‘not everyone sitting in front as a learner is keen to know what I am about to dole out in the classroom’. This understanding puts me in a very uncomfortable position, difficult too, because I can’t just take my book and start my lesson and end the teaching session in a robotic way.
Any sensible and sensitive person would know that we are always at loggerheads with what we have to do and what we want to do. Same here; I would tread the middle path. My standard question was to ask them what their minds were on that day, at that moment, in the English Language or Literature class. Some would say, “Ma’am we have a test and our mind is there”, or “I feel like sleeping”, another would say, “Ma’am, we don’t want class, so boring” and there are those who would glare at all of them, “Why did you guys come to this class then” and would say “Ma’am, take up the poem ma’am.” I am sure my principal who passed by heard all their views and wondered what kind of a teacher I was to even pose such a question! But, for me as a teacher, it was a very important query, pertinent to the teaching-learning process.
Difficult, yet challenging and I needed to address everyone’s needs, either to find solutions or try to resolve them in the best way possible. I have been loved and hated for this approach of mine which permeated into every sphere of activity as a teacher for over three decades.
A teacher known to me bemoaned that some of her colleagues didn’t do any work and how they were there as teachers only for the salary at the end of the month. I believe that we cannot be lackadaisical and perform in this manner. Teaching is a very mindful act. We are very conscious of our role, we stand right in front of our students as we teach, we cannot but be aware of the quality of our input as teacher or facilitator. We may vary in our area of expertise and competencies but we cannot be careless or callous in the manner we impart our teaching programme at hand.
At the end of each and every class, I contemplate about the teaching session just concluded. I rewind and think about my input, students’ response and I either derive satisfaction, happiness, even remorse, helplessness, disappointment at my own self; a kaleidoscope of emotions, feelings and response rush. These thoughts (after-thoughts) make me reflect and take note of the errors, inadequacies in the lecture, prepare better for the next class, see how to cope with a student, her/his attitude or disposition in class and many other related aspects. The act of teaching is a purposeful one and one grows, progresses both as an individual and teacher as days go by. One evolves into a better self, more human.
A teacher becomes more inward, moves into, if not a spiritual space, then at least a philosophical one where she/he views life in a deeper perspective. The word ‘teacher’ encompasses far more, take a glimpse of how a teacher is defined in Sanskrit based on one’s unique abilities:
• The teacher who gives you information is called: Adhyapak
• The one who imparts knowledge combined with information is called: Upadhyaya
• The one who imparts skills is called: Acharya
• The one who is able to give deep insight into a subject is called: Pundit
• The one who has a visionary view on a subject and teaches you to think in that manner is called: Dhrishta
• The one who is able to awaken wisdom in you, leading you from darkness to light, is called: Guru
Which of the above are we as teachers is a question that looms large. We cannot narrow it down to one or two; unless we are all of the above at one time or the other, we can’t call ourselves teachers. To me, the journey has been one of learning, a humbling process, a happy place to be in as it heralded a new me every day. A learner I was in my classroom of students who sat in front; hour after hour, day after day, year after year since 1984 till the last day of May 2021. I now know a little more than what I did yesterday. A reverie, a dream well lived for myself and hopefully did not damage the poor souls of the students forced into my class by an attendance register.