Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Reluctant Teacher

Also published on Huffington Post India

I come from a family of educationists. My Mom was a high school teacher, my Dad principal of a reputed public school. Yet, I had no desire to be part of this field. Like many others I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in life. My parents would try their best to sow the seeds of ambition in my head and failed spectacularly. I found studies dull, Maths terrifying. Decades later while going through my daughter’s textbooks I found out why. Textbooks prescribed by schools are written by academicians with an expertise in making even the most interesting topics mind-numbingly boring. If I had to quote an example of how not to write, I’d use school textbooks as examples.

It also makes you realise the importance of good teachers who rise above textbooks and ignite a passion for learning through inquisitiveness and exploration. Blessed are those to have teachers with the ability to think like a kid to get into their minds and make learning as exciting as it’s meant to be. Our children definitely do not need harsh men and women who never shy of castigating them for not being good enough. It’s not as if I did not have good teachers. In fact some of them have influenced me deeply. But I’ve also lost count of number of times when as a student I was shamed for asking a question that the teacher deemed silly, punished for arguing because it made her look bad in front of the class. I can still recall vividly the fear I felt in the pit of my stomach when my Math teacher approached me menacingly and slapped me on my face because I did not know the correct answer. I was in class V. I am sure she has forgotten me but I never forgave her.

Life has a way of making you eat your own words. Even though I was adamant I’d never get into this profession, I joined a school as faculty after my daughter was born. I’m not ashamed to admit that it was less for the love of teaching and more for the love of the work hours – because that allowed me to spend more time with her.

It’s not as if I hadn’t taught before but it was more as a hobby then. Just after I’d given my final year exams in college, I started teaching spoken English in a privately run management institute. As a fresh out of college girl, it was as much a learning experience for me as it was for my students. These were men and women eager to attain fluency in a language that’s an entry ticket into the swish circle of the corporate world. Walking up and down the classroom, I felt their exhilaration as I coaxed out their thoughts and views in freshly mastered words and phrases.

Years later when I walked into a roomful of 14 year olds, their eyes sparkling in anticipation of the many pranks they’ll get to play at my expense, I realised how much easier it was to teach students who were much older to me. Unlike last time, I could not take their attention for granted and had to work harder to get them as excited as I was about flowcharts and computer coding. Class after class as I shouted myself hoarse to be heard among students determined not to let the petite newcomputer teacher speak, I would recall my own schooldays when I did the same. This time I felt the new Economics teacher’s hurt as she ran out of class XII D that thought it was cool to rag her mercilessly and then brag about it.


When I finally lay claim to their flickering attention spans, I felt like Edmund Hilary who had just conquered the Everest but with no Tenzing Norgay for help. I started enjoying teaching when my students started enjoying learning from me or maybe it was the other way around. A teacher derives her energy from her students. Their inquisitiveness challenges her to read more and learn more to keep pace with them. Had I worked as hard as a student as I did as a teacher, I would definitely have been the daughter my parents could brag about.

When some students start confiding in you their anxieties and fears, you realise the enormity of your role in their life. It’s scary to be the one whose advice the child values more than her parents’. To be the first one that he gives his heart to. To be at the receiving end of their new found machismo. It’s not that easy to make sense of the adolescent angst and be okay to discover that the ones you get hopelessly attached to are able to forget you in a jiffy. As a teacher, you are not only their guide, but sometimes their confidante, friend and inspiration. You may unwittingly be at the receiving end of their resentment as well.

I’m sure the senior boys did not take kindly when their teacher dragged them by the collar from the canteen to the computer centre. I’ve lost count the number of times I lost my temper when,despite my best efforts, all I got was indifference in the classroom. The resistance to learning becomes a more visible trend in senior classes.

In retrospect, perhaps I was wrong to be hurt with their callous attitude towards studies. Even more wrong to take it personally. In this dog eats dog world, where even a 1% dip in your total percentage can change the course of your life, kids tend to concentrate more on marks and less on learning. With the focus on getting into professional colleges, their evenings are a blur, running from one tuition class to another. And it’s scary to see middle school kids doing the same. Little wonder they are exhausted emotionally and physically by the time they reach school. They learn to prioritise and treat the rest as an unnecessary inconvenience.

It also makes you think whether the rise of coaching centres reflects the failure of our system. Is it the teacher’s fault who cannot pay individual attention to all her students? Do we blame the institution for burdening her with extra duties and back-to-back classes in her timetable so that by the end of the day she can barely drag herself home? Or overzealous parents who treat their offspring as projects that must succeed and end up robbing them of their childhoods. Interestingly, no one wants their child to grow up to be a teacher. We all want good teachers, yet none of us want to be that teacher.

Regardless, it’s the child that is the victim.

After a decade of teaching, I left my job not because I did not want to teach anymore. Rather I loved it too much and did not want it to turn into a chore, into something that I keep doing mechanically, like a robot. When something you once loved ceases to make you happy and instead fills you with rancour, it’s time to move on with no regrets. It’s your only chance of finding a new you.




62 comments:

  1. Hi Purba. You teach best what you need most to learn - a quote that has stayed with me. Wouldn't our kids be happier if they had no boring textbooks to learn from, bear endlessly droning teachers and get stifled in the examination halls! Sigh! When will it happen?! Enjoyed reading about your journey at the other end of the desk. Nothing to beat the satisfaction of successfully inculcating love for a subject through one's teachings. The last lines were the clincher for me :)

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    1. As parents we play a huge role in inculcating the love for reading and not treat their curiosity as yet another inconvenience.

      Let them argue, rebel and form their own opinions.

      Delete
  2. What a lovely post Purba. Only a teacher could have written it. I too was slapped by my Math teacher in grade 6. That is, perhaps a reason for my Math phobia because no one ever slapped me. I still remember that fleshy palm and my teachers name - Sir Awasthi.
    Why, only yesterday my school friend, a Vice Principal told me that she is quitting because there is no joy in teaching anymore. Sad.

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    1. The teacher-student relationship is changing. We can no longer take their respect for granted.

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  3. I love the last line about love and passion that ceased to be...time to quit. I worked as a secondary school teacher for a year, replacing in various schools. There were the good, bad and ugly. I fought a system of conservative Heads but finally realized that it was not for me. But, there are teachers who are passionate about their jobs and respect teachers.

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    1. Thank god for those men and women who are still passionate about teaching! They deserve our gratitude and appreciation.

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  4. A beautiful post, Purba and takes me back to time I taught at Naval College of Electrical Engineering ! I joined the Navy to seek adventure but the first assignment I got was to teach after passing out:) It was as if a ton of bricks fell on me till I got into the groove!

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    1. Hahaha..I can imagine! But the satisfaction you get is incomparable.

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  5. What an interesting post purba!!
    You have so beautifully captured both sides of the spectrum...of being a student and a teacher...yes no one wants to be a teacher and thats a global phenomena!!

    I think teaching is an art n science rolled into one... and only few peoplw have the aptitude for it... and its those who leave a lasting impression...rest we forget!!

    www.myunfinishedlife.com

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    1. Sadly, the few people who have the aptitude for it are becoming fewer.

      Delete
  6. Great post, Purba. It is a pity that as students we don't have the maturity to see our teachers as humans - their anxieties, joys, angst, and what have you.

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    1. Insensitive teachers beget insensitive students, or is it the other way round?

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  7. The agony and the ecstasy of a teacher!As students we never realize how our behavior affects them.Many things taught by my teachers have been ingrained in me since my childhood.I wonder if they realized this.

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    1. Certainly, if you went back to tell them how much they meant to you during your growing up years.

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  8. I taught Hindi for a year to 2nd to 5th grade and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was hectic, very tiring, frustrating and sometimes felt thankless too. The high points were the respect I got from parents and staff. Quit after a year though when I was expecting my second boy. I am in awe of good teachers. I have had a few that influenced and shaped my life. My English teacher in school who molded my love for the language. My Maths Sir who inspired me to score 100 test after test, exam after exam. My social studies teacher who taught a way to remember maps. My Chemistry prof during graduation who was just a few years older and really a friend. You could go to him with any angst and what a hugely motivating guy he was. My Finance prof during MBA who was strict as hell but so knowledgable. I could go on and on. While teaching as a profession needs to be better paid, we also need better training and updation of skills for teachers. Some teachers I come across in sons' classes make me squrim -- no imagination, not much understanding of child psychology, no interest or spark to make a change. But good teachers, we never forget them or stop feeling grateful for them. And that is the biggest reward of this profession.

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    1. Teaching primary and middle school kids is the most rewarding. The moment they step into highschool and start fancying themselves as grownups they start behaving differently. Understanding the child psychologically and dealing with them accordingly will only be possible if the school has a 20:1 student teacher ratio.

      Also, the introverted children end up being completely ignored.

      Delete
  9. Thanks Purba, for writing about teachers even when it's not a teacher's day.


    "When something you once loved ceases to make you happy and instead fills you with rancour, it’s time to move on with no regrets" ~ Maa Purba, to all her married disciples.

    ..move on to organize the shelf, she clarified.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It was a double-edged sword. I am sure Guruji was wise enough to get it.

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  10. I never knew you were a teacher. Until now, that is.
    My mother's been teaching English in schools for almost 35 years now and a few months back, she said the exact thing you said - she was lamenting how there was no longer joy in teaching and how she was thinking of retiring. At the same time though, every time a student from one of her older batches calls out of the blue or gets in touch, I've seen her face light up.

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    1. I feel the same way when out of blue a student I once taught sends me the sweetest note.

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  11. Just another of things that happen in India, on one side we say : "Guru Gobind Dono Khade Kake Lagu Paon Balihari Guru Apke Jin Gobind Diyo Milay" on the other side teaching is taken as the last of choices in career. But c oaching centers are a clear reflection on 2 things ... classrooms have something inherently wrong.. and private enterprise fills in the voids left by government

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    1. Private enterprises flourish when the government doesn't interfere.

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  12. "When some students start confiding in you their anxieties and fears, you realise the enormity of your role in their life."- I completely agree. I've worked as a teacher just after leaving the university. The high school students primarily didn't pay much heed to the lady who somewhat looked nothing more than their elder sister, but later they confide in her and, was willing to hear what she had to say. It was a learning process for me too and the interactions used to be interesting ones, both ways.

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    1. Interactions with students are always invigorating.

      Delete
  13. Hello Purba,

    One line that is resonating in my mind and will forever- Life has a way of making you eat your own words.

    Teaching is a big responsibility and you brought it into limelight in a very nice way.

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    1. I am not sure about the limelight but I learned a lot during my stint as a teacher.

      Delete
  14. ok let me put things this way.like we have bad cop - good cop,there is good teacher - bad teacher and bad-student - good student. we find good and bad behaviour or good and bad people in all professions but people point out at teaching coz there is more people to people interaction compared to other professions and teaching is considered as noble profession like parenting without actually valuing it.the reason why nobody wants to get into teaching is due to very less salary compared to other professions and coz of this its considered as 2nd rate profession in society.that too teaching is more routine compared to other professions.

    since its more routine compared to other profession,one's behaviour will become weary after teaching same thing over a period of time.if you want teachers more interesting,recruiter must pay more, recruitment of teacher and admission of students has to be based on psychological tests on teacher and students.

    since we live in a over-crowded country with least opportunities and resources,its more like goat/sheep herd. they just want to go in some direction where they can find livelihood. indian society and its institutions are influenced by unethical practices and poverty.when there is no governance and when you have few opportunities to flourish,then comes the competition and branding of superiority cuz people can’t pursue careers according to their instinct ..when a person goes with herd mentality against his/her instinct,he/she becomes inferior in the field where people are pursuing career of their instinct.

    there was an incident in my cbse school where 12th grade students attacked teachers with iron rods and chains for not allowing mass copying.this has led management to remove 11nth and 12th grades from school forever and it has now only up to 10nth grade. since my school belongs to union minister and governor,we had self-centre for board exams and they din't allow mass copying which they have promised before for not finishing syllabus.

    teaching will be a valuable profession when we grow as a nation in all sectors.

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    1. I wish schools would introduce life-skills as part of the curriculum so that by the time students graduate from school, they are able to fend for themselves. Why have straight-jacketed streams that do not allow students to study physics with say Pol-science. Subjects like moral-science, environmental studies, general knowledge are treated frivolously. This attitude needs to change.

      Too many structural changes are required. Also, our policy makers need to mull why 40% of graduates are unemployable.

      Delete
    2. my school had moral science,library,classical dance/music,drawing,physical health education ,gardening.just two classes in a week and a 150 minutes programme every week for quiz,debates,elocution,essay writing,group discussion,hangman,charades. but only one or two including me were interested in these things.others used to think that they are useless and my class teacher used to skip above things for special classes to finish syllabus for board exams.why one has to set a syllabus that can't be completed in regular classes.it doesn't make sense to rush things or burden students. physics and pol-sci can't go hand in hand cuz in a developing nation people mentality is bread n butter first and later the luxury of subjects where career is unpredictable.40% graduates are unemployable coz you don't get faculty to fill up vacancies who can meet current industry trends.its same british raj syllabus aka curriculum like we have babudom in govt offices where it takes lifetime to move a file.

      current education is lil bit superior but they are just english speaking hooligans who dunno how to behave.what's the use of education if a person doesn't behave like educated and is going to school to just earn livelihood. you can find these kinda people at pvr cinemas keeping legs on front seats or disturbing others by some means.

      will india change, a confident NO coz things got worse with time. i did change things wherever i went but greater change is not a one man show,its teamwork.where is that team?

      Delete
    3. my school had moral science,library,classical dance/music,drawing,physical health education ,gardening.just two classes in a week and a 150 minutes programme every week for quiz,debates,elocution,essay writing,group discussion,hangman,charades. but only one or two including me were interested in these things.others used to think that they are useless and my class teacher used to skip above things for special classes to finish syllabus for board exams.why one has to set a syllabus that can't be completed in regular classes.it doesn't make sense to rush things or burden students. physics and pol-sci can't go hand in hand cuz in a developing nation people mentality is bread n butter first and later the luxury of subjects where career is unpredictable.40% graduates are unemployable coz you don't get faculty to fill up vacancies who can meet current industry trends.its same british raj syllabus aka curriculum like we have babudom in govt offices where it takes lifetime to move a file.

      current education is lil bit superior but they are just english speaking hooligans who dunno how to behave.what's the use of education if a person doesn't behave like educated and is going to school to just earn livelihood. you can find these kinda people at pvr cinemas keeping legs on front seats or disturbing others by some means.

      will india change, a confident NO coz things got worse with time. i did change things wherever i went but greater change is not a one man show,its teamwork.where is that team?

      Delete
  15. Agree with Rachna about some teachers being inspirations and others making one squirm and in between are the average ones, whose aim is to complete the syllabus in time. My friend who taught business management to high school recently quit after several decades of teaching because she found the changed atmosphere in the classrooms too much to cope with. It is not about being teased or given a bad time as students are wont to, but plain rude behaviour. The same woman yesterday was gushing about some old students who still recognise her on the streets and greet her with affection and gratitude for standing over them, drilling the concepts into their heads. Times are changing for both the students and the teachers. It is very rare today to find teachers who can be tall enough to inculcate values in their students and students receptive enough to learn them when they are taught. Loved the post.

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    1. When I started writing this post I wanted it to be anecdotal. Ended up writing a serious post instead.

      We as a race are changing. We value fame, money and take loyalty, sincerity, passion for granted. In fact, being nice is taken as a sign of weakness.

      Delete
  16. A lot of the disarray in a classroom can be put straight if teachers try to get into the shoes of their students.

    My own computer teacher is so excellent in teaching that I hardly find the need to even revise the topics for exams. At the same time my chemistry teacher seems bored with his own subject, and I'm never able to make out how to learn it well. But I love them both equally simply because of their relationship with us. A teacher is after all a lot more than what they teach.
    It's beautiful what you said about moving on from what you loved once.

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    1. And I loved 'a teacher is after all a lot more than what they teach'. It's a quotable quote for sure.

      Delete
  17. I was also spanked for not listening in class. Another teacher just shamed me in front of whole class about my appearance...because I scored low marks in her subject? I haven't forgotten or forgiven this teacher or her subject. When textbooks makes one not want to turn another page, teachers can make us hate our existence itself. Education should never be like that.

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    1. I just don't understand this 'shaming' thing! What do they even gain by doing so?

      Delete
  18. Hi Purba,
    I was good at studies, but more so because my mother was very invested in my education and made sure that she explained things to me her way. But yes school textbooks are very important. Although i believe education is important, as parents maybe we should put less pressure on our children to obsess over this 'rattu tota' way of studying.

    I understand good marks = better colleges, but a confident child is a healthy adult.
    That in the long learn helps them do better in life and be better citizens of the world.

    Teachers in India are paid way to less and struggle from their own bad education. Very very few teachers inspire you to work hard, and fewer teachers teach you in a fun way.

    I think in the 18 years of my education i know only 10 teachers who have been amazingly inspirational. That too because I studied in Delhi. I shudder to think of the teachers who say 'A for Apil' and use the cane to stop you when you question.
    xxx
    www.aparnamudi.com

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  19. I also think in the same way... Nice Post :)

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  20. Perfectly said.
    I too found studies dull and Maths terrifying in school.

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  21. "When something you once loved ceases to make you happy and instead fills you with rancour, it’s time to move on with no regrets. It’s your only chance of finding a new you." Those are such beautiful lines and thanks for such a lovely post. Teaching is underrated and undervalued by many but in it lies the heart of our education system and the future of our country - the citizens we become. There are indeed, so few teachers who dont treat it just like a job, running through the course like an express train, without caring two hoots about knowledge or interest.

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    1. Can't just blame teachers. Too many things that are so wrong with our education system.

      Delete
  22. "Life has a way of making you eat your own words" How true! Loved this line.

    I think every one wants to be a teacher in childhood :), but ambition grows with age, 'teacher' word disappears. Once a teacher, I know that it's a big responsibility but it's equally satisfying!

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    1. Strangely, I never wanted to be a teacher.

      Delete
  23. Purba, here is someone, who wanted to be a teacher and the whole world conspired to stop him from being one. Of course, that is a long story, funny in most parts but tragic in the end all the same, a tragedy not an ounce less heavier than The Mayor of Casterbridge, or Tess of the d'Urbervilles, if you please.

    My daughters are at that crucial point in their lives where that 1% you spoke about will make or mar their lives, and if I may be pardoned, they are the modern day untouchables being 'Genera' Category' candidates, whatever that means. Yes, the coaching classes are a failure of our educational system, our society and the nation. The situation has come to such a reprehensible pass that those not attending the 'coachings' are treated as pariah even by the teachers of their regular schools.

    I am trying to avoid the common failing of parents of projecting their unrequited aspirations into their wards. Nonetheless, I have darkly hinted time and again to my twins that they would do well to become teachers, but as Jeffrey Archer would say, 'only time will tell'.

    It is a cogent, thought provoking post.

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    1. May your tribe increase, Uma.

      Also you don't need to be in the teaching profession to be a teacher. You can always mentor the promising ones in your organisation as their team-leader.

      Delete
  24. A teacher is most influential in a child's life. I come from a family of educators too. Mom was a TGT teacher, all my aunts were teachers and my uncle was Assistant Education Officer in Kerala. Many students get shamed for their not so good grades. I used to get shamed and humiliated for being a teacher's daughter. My correct answers were crossed and my book thrown across the classroom. It got into me so much that by the time I was in class seven, I had decided that come what may I will never become a teacher. And if God forbid I became one, I wouldn't let my kids join the same school. Every teacher must understand what she means to a student and every parent must teach the children to understand the teacher as well. I have had many good teachers, but the ones I remember most (or curse till date) are the ones who made it impossible for me.

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    1. I have heard similar accounts from friends whose mothers were teachers in the same school they studied in. They're also at the receiving end of resentment from other students when they get undue favours.

      I agree. Bad memories live forever.

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  26. A person needs to teach only if he has passion to ignite young minds and loves the job. Unfortunately in our country not enough importance is given in selection and it entirely depends on the student's stars to land in a good teachers class...a teacher can definitely make or break a student....

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    1. There's no way to find out out how passionate a teacher is about her profession during the selection process :-)

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  27. Wonderfully penned! Nailed it in the last para- "When something you once loved ceases to make you happy and instead fills you with rancour, it’s time to move on with no regrets. It’s your only chance of finding a new you." That is why I too quit my job. To find the new 'me'.

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  28. Like everyone else, I had all types of teachers--some good, some not so much. But there was one teacher I will never forget. She was passionate about teaching,and never partial to any student. It didn't matter whether you're a topper, average, or a trouble-maker. She loved every student.
    One day, one of the rowdy boys was rude to her, when she asked him a question. Not only did she handle him effectively without resorting to verbal, or physical abuse, she also continued to treat him with the same smiles, and respect she bestowed on other students. She never took any student's behaviour as a personal affront. We always considered her more of an angel than human.

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    1. I had such a teacher in college. Not only was she a great teacher but a wonderful person as well.

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  29. I used to hate most of my school teachers because they were just too draconian! They seemed so out of touch and rigid about rules that there was no joy of learning. Plus, we were just supposed to accept their dictum with no questions asked.
    I'm glad there are now more teachers like you even though it seems equally painful to care too much! It's sad that you felt that you could no longer work because of the whole environment! Their loss!

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    1. The husband had a huge role in giving the final push.

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  30. It is not easy being a teacher. A good teacher is definitely not the one who promotes learning by rote. But how many are there are who take their profession to a different level? And how many educational systems will let the teacher take a 'different' approach. It is tough. The role of a teacher in a student's life, you correctly put it, is that of a confidante too. And when that happens, I think the responsibility of being the 'guide' increases manifold.

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    1. It is a job that entails a lot of responsibility.

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  31. Everybody seems to know what a mess our schooling system is, yet it doesn't look like it's getting any better

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    ReplyDelete

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