Circa 1974 September 5, Teachers Day. As I stepped into class, the blackboard adorned with words fringed by coloured chalk read: “You are a phantom of delight/ When first you gleaned upon our sight/ A heavenly messenger sent to be a moment’s ornament”. “With apologies to William Wordsworth”.
Circa 2019, Teachers Day. As I walked into school, the lyrics from a Bollywood bluster sprang in welcome: “Tunhe maari entreeyan toh dil mein bajee ghantiyan”.
So much for the guru-shishya parampara. Students have moved from subservient respect to affectionate irreverence. We have come a long way in how students and society perceive our role. Over the years, the essence of Teachers Day has changed, evolved and adapted to the cultural mores of the day. In the words of Khalil Gibran: Your children are not your children/ They are life’s longing for itself/ They are with you yet they belong not to you/ You may give them your love but not your thoughts/ For they have their own thoughts./ Which dwell in tomorrow/ Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams/ You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
The attitudes of students have changed. But have teachers remained trapped in a time capsule? Are their expectations, hopes and aspirations any different from those in the past?
Those of us who have made a choice to engage with learning believe that it is a calling and if properly conceived it is an art form. Great teachers do know their discipline. But more than that they know their students and they adapt their expertise to respond to the demands of the classroom. They are not only instructors but mentors and guides who can raise the confidence of their students, help them find a sense of direction and empower them to believe in themselves.
The mind is a garden that contains the seeds of understanding, forgiveness and love. It can also incubate traits that make us violent or peaceful, understanding or intolerant. Teachers help to water the positive seeds and weed out the ones that make us ignorant, cause fear and stoke hatred. A thinking educator can create a learning environment filled with compassion.
An enlightened educator looks dispassionately at his or her own personal vision and asks: How do I communicate? What pressures am I under? How do I respond? Do I inspire confidence? Do I give enough of my time? Am I mindful of the visions, goals and feelings of the children I interact with? Am I watering the right seeds?
Recognition — the ability to recognise a student’s individuality and value — is perhaps the most important aspect of nurturing. Among tribal communities in Northern Natal in South Africa, a common greeting, the equivalent of hello in English, is the expression, sawu bona. It literally means, “I see you”. A member of the tribe responds by saying, sikhona (I am here). The order of the exchange is important — until you see me, I do not exist. It is as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence. The same is the case with children. If teachers don’t nurture the individuality of children, many of their positive traits could remain invisible, and as they grow, these children are likely to embrace half-hearted causes, ideals and approaches to life and learning.
Education differs greatly account to the context. Every interaction of the teacher is bilateral and should be guided by love and harmony — ideals that nurture a child. In contrast, hate, injustice and violence are fostered by unilateralism. Teaching has no place for exclusivism.
A teacher’s life is a challenge. A teacher must hide private sorrows, for he or she is expected to be stoic. The play of temper must be curbed, for a teacher is required to be equanimous. We are not obliged to others but guided by our own sense of self-esteem to keep our smiles within the ambit of permissibility, our laughter to a decimal count and our tears to a milligram of a drop of admissibility. For, we must not seem to be weak or frivolous.
We are expected to relate to each student personally. But while we encourage and nurture every child, we should do nothing that indicates favouritism. We have to forgive, but not exculpate, give another chance, yet not indulge. It is these values that make an inspirational teacher.
The relational aspect of teaching becomes even more significant in current times when a lot of students have computers and learning platforms have become the norm in classrooms. Technology, digitalised classrooms, IT business sectors, and even the use of Google search, poses challenges to the teaching community. Substantial sections of it are gripped by insecurity — an identity crisis seems to have set in.
Let’s not reduce teachers to coaches, facilitators and data analysts under the ruse of democratisation of education. Else, robots will be receiving virtual cards and flowers on teacher’s day in 2020.
The good news is that teachers will always be the heartbeat of schooling. They are the ones who promise creativity, educate innovators of the future and create conditions for a caring and empathetic society. Teachers should have the scope and facility to dream big for their students. That’s my ardent wish this Teacher’s Day.
The writer is chairperson and Executive Director Education, Innovation and Training, DLF Schools and Scholarship Programmes