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Published in the 16-30 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Education & Careers
A good teacher is a teacher by choice

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

Certain relationships continue to be charming and enchanting long after they have ceased to be and one such is between the teacher and the taught. How often we remember a particular teacher and cherish the memory as a treasured one! Imagine almost fifty faces peering at you, some alert, some intelligent and inquisitive and others with mischief writ large on their faces, some giggling, a few indifferent and lost in their own world while a few feeling drowsy and ready to sleep! A teacher’s job is of multiple roles. It’s a real privilege to be a teacher—someone who can touch so many lives. 

A good teacher always takes care of basically three things—his subject, students and the professional ethics. More than being a profession, it is a mission. The pupil’s eye-view of a teacher goes through many phases. To the little one embarking on his or her school life, the teacher is an omniscient being and a role model. 

Is it possible to judge the influence of a teacher’s words? This quote from the Sutra literature defines the greatness of a teacher: Guru Brahamma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo. Maheshwaraha, Guru Sakshat Para Brahamma, Tasmai Sri Guruve Namaha (A teacher is equivalent to God, and he should be regarded and respected). In fact according to the Indian traditions, a guru has been in the image of God. Even Lord Rama and Lord Krishna had a guru.

Their tomorrows are affected by what we do for them today. Even a few words can change, kindling light unto dark hearts. And this the most significant reason prompting us to teach. Their imaginative faculties have to be honed, inner potentials drawn out and moral, aesthetic and spiritual philosophy awakened. For carrying out this mission, the teacher must be patted on the back by the management and supported in all manners by allowing him a fair amount of autonomy to act and experiment with freedom. 

When you enter, their hopeful eyes welcome and follow you and the most cherished moment is the one while explaining a lesson, there is brightness in their eyes. How nice it looks if you infect them with whatever is best in you, be it your wonderful handwriting, speech or skills at music or games. They adore you like nobody does! The greatest satisfaction and a true sense of achievement comes while you see personalities develop. 

You get your reward when you see that on the solemn occasion of farewell to the outgoing students once tottering kids of the kindergarten, turn into pulsating, confident and charismatic personalities. It is one occasion that every teacher loves to hate. Most teachers on these occasions see their eyes well up with tears. But these tears are quintessential of joy of the completion of a mission of moulding clay into gold.

Whenever you see a "child" of yours, you feel a warm glow in your heart. But do they really go or leave you? No! After dormant memories are nudged awake, you see them all. Your "children" find you at the airports, in ministries, on trains, in libraries, at exhibition grounds, stadiums, clubs, hospitals, joy parks, newspaper offices, shopping malls, universities and in fact every nook and cranny to baffle and greet you—may be to embarrass you if you don’t remember their names after they wish you, "Good morning sir! Do you recognize me?" When there’s even a little bit of hesitation, they may start like this, "Sir, I am…" If you don’t remember their names correctly, there is a sense of guilt. 

In the primary sections they worship you or fear you. In the middle school they adore or ridicule you while in the senior sections they assess or esteem you. But one thing is sure that they never can be indifferent to you—simply because they know that you are an inescapable and inevitable part of their existence. 
You feel that he is the torch that has its source in you as lamp that has lighted so many other torches to do away with the darkness of ignorance. You feel both youthful and old and of course you feel sorry for those who staunchly believe a schoolteacher’s life as a pathetic one. Truth is that I bear no grudge for not being an advocate, a doctor, an engineer, an IAS officer or an editor as I am shaping generations. My friends who are lawyers, doctors, journalists or chartered accountants, often ask me, "Why did you join teaching? What’s there in it? You wasted your education… "I always tell them that I am fully satiated in what I get. It’s a contentment that eludes even some of the greatest celebrities. Teachers might not roll in money but their contribution is greater than anyone or everyone.

When we were young and studied at school, some of us harboured dreams of becoming teachers one day. But what about my students? Their response for over one decade and half has corroborated what I never wanted to know. Unfortunately the teaching profession these days doesn’t attract bright young people any more as it was a few decades ago. A bitter pill to swallow is that it does not attract any one these days—at least at the school leaving stage. Perhaps there may be valid reasons for that.

One wonders what makes some teachers so memorable while some others fade with time. It is an uneasy feeling that today’s children have few teachers whom they can look up to. True? Teacher’s day every year is not merely the occasion for the pedagogues to receive cards, awards or bouquets, but an appropriate time to introspect and speculate if it seems romantic or foolish to teach in these cynical times when everyone is busy worshipping Mammon God. So September 5, for all of us the—schoolteachers—is a day of self-analysis and stock taking of our performance as teachers. 

(The author teaches at Modern School, New Delhi)

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