Education and Careers

Nurturing and shaping young minds

Today is Teachers' Day

Years ago, I read in The Reader's Digest that a school teacher in China was so dedicated to his noble profession that every day, he'd swim across a river to teach his ten poor pupils and never did he take a single day's leave. He lived in the hinterland of China which was far away from the mainland. Such teachers are really a rarity nowadays. 

A teacher is the builder of a nation. He builds the character of his students and goes far beyond being a mere teacher. Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who himself was a great teacher and whose birthday (September 5) is commemorated as Teacher's Day in India, used to say that, 'A teacher not just teaches a specific subject. He or she teaches a whole spectrum of values and inculcates those in his students.' A good teacher is a friend, guide and mentor to his/her students. A committed teacher leaves an indelible imprint on the impressionable minds of the young students. Sir Carveth Reid, one of the greatest rationalists of all time, used to say, 'Books gave me knowledge. My teachers gave me insights into that bookish knowledge and taught me how to use it practically. I learnt pragmatism from my teachers.' So very true. A true-blue teacher is a repertoire of wisdom and he gives it to his students sans any reservation or prejudice. To quote Urdu poet Sikandar Ali 'Wajd', 'Ustaad wahi jo nisaar kare, apne shaagird par ilm tamaam' (He is the true teacher who bestows upon his student all his knowledge and wisdom that he gathered over the years). 

To teach is to reach, reach out to those who're eager to learn. In Upanishadic guru-shishya (master-disciple) tradition, a guru or master is one who wants to see his/her students become greater than the teacher. Safi Al-Hiraaz writes in Persian, 'Yoon aan ustaad cheest man khoob/Yaan valid zia'st inqaaf ba'roob' (An ideal teacher/master is also a student who wants his pupil to finally become the master). A teacher is a torch-bearer. The ancient Greeks had a word for a teacher: Afiardo. It means, one whose sole purpose is to brighten the paths and lives of the students.

In Zeest-e-Alamgir (Life of Alamgir) written in Persian, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb acknowledged his debt only to one individual in his long life: His history teacher. Alexander the Great called Aristotle, 'The biggest influence on his life.' Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great.  Wishing his son (then fourteen years old) to study with the best teachers available, Philip sought out Aristotle and invited him to educate Alexander. Scholars believe that Alexander's mother (who reportedly learned to read when she was middle-aged) also favored the selection of Plato's brightest pupil.

Alexander believed that appointing Aristotle as his tutor was his father's wisest decision in life (see Alexander the Great, by Robin Lane Fox). It's really a matter of great luck to have a good teacher who can strike a lifelong cerebral rapport with his student/s. The very word 'tutor' came from the Greek root 'tute', means 'to inspire.' Verily, a teacher or tutor is one who inspires and motivates. Yours truly came across some of the greatest minds in his student life who shaped his destiny and mental make-up. I shall forever be indebted to teachers like Dr Zaifa Ashraf, Umberto Eco, Dr Edward W Said, Jacques Derrida among others. A lifetime is not adequate to learn from these masters. To quote Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri, who himself was a great teacher who taught English literature at Allahabad University,‘Sanwarti hain aane waali sadiyon/Faqat ek sabaq saadiq-e-ustaad se' (Just one lesson of a genuine and truthful teacher augurs well and paves the way for the ensuing centuries).

Such is the impact of a great teacher. On the Teacher's Day (September 5), let's acknowledge the debts of all our teachers who made us what we're all today because in the words of Arthur C Clarke, 'All teachers are good. No teacher is bad. Because even if a teacher is 'bad', his/her badness is a lesson for the students as to what must be rejected as bad and accepted as good.' Very sagacious advice indeed.