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.