To Sir with love

Teacher’s Day is a day most, if not all of us, have celebrated at least once in our lives – for very valid reasons, mostly as students. While our parents bring us into this world, our teachers are the ones that bring us to life. Brian Fernandes pays tribute to this untiring band of people that actually shape the world.

The tag line of the hit 1967 film ‘To Sir with love’, starring Sidney Poiter, goes like this: “A story as fresh as the girls in their minis, and as cool as their teacher had to be”. It’s the story of a teacher who became one not by choice, but by circumstance, moulding a class of hyper active students rejected by other schools into achievers, and more importantly human beings. He remained a teacher for life.

While the world celebrates international Teacher’s Day on the 15th of October, India celebrates it on the 5th of September, which is also the birthday of the famous teacher, academic philosopher and the second President of India, Mr. SarvepalliRadhakrishan.

Once a teacher always a teacher, that’s how powerful the pull towards the vocation can be. But let me provide perspective through verse aptly titled “Despite Me” before I continue.

Its been so long since I’ve been to school
And I marvel now, that if I didn’t,
Would people think me a fool?
Maybe yes, maybe not,
Coz life too has taught me a lot.

But my parents weren’t all that cool,
And despite my protests they sent me to school
And all I can say, it started there
My learning of life, for life
My lack of ability laid thread bare.

I had thought I was really good,
Didn’t realise could be bad nor better,
Till my teacher one day,
Was terribly rude. I then asked my mother,
But what did I do?

At home till then, I was
a rising star, allowed my every mood.
Like a potter, she moulded me
Like a shepherd, she herded me
Leading me to where I’d be
Were it not for me.

I’m grateful now, for I’ve become
What once I thought I’d be
Because of her,
And despite me.

Our education begins in the laps of our mothers, those of us who are lucky not be abandoned. We learn about what’s right or wrong, short and long. That’s the phase we probably enjoy the most. For to our parents, we are the sun, moon and the stars and their world revolves around us. There is very little pressure other than the preparation for admission to the Lower Kindergarten! However the comparisons begin early, not so much between us kids who love playing, sometimes aggressively, sometimes passively, but between our parents – Mine’s better than yours – the message put across very subtly through talent and skill displays and discussions about milestone achievements.

Then it’s school time and the pressure begins. We have to learn to share and care. We also have to be disciplined in regard to time, clothes and work. The teacher is firm and fond, but she has a lot to deal with. Her own family and kids for one, and everyone else in between – the parents, the principal, and the playground. Imparting knowledge in a way that everyone understands it the same way to a bunch of 60 + kids is a humongous task. Each one of us kids is unique in shape, size and intellect and we all understand “A” for apple in our own unique ways. Some of us associate it with the fruit and some of us from more affluent households, with the phone – we know nothing of fruit. So the task of a teacher is really difficult. Some parents are supportive of the teacher in her efforts and some supportive of the child in his / her efforts to undermine the hard work of the teacher.

Along the way the teacher has to deal with our fragile emotional subsetswhich take umbrage at anything she / he does or says that is not in congruence with our world view, and parents who believe that their offspring are always right and the teacher always wrong. At this stage of our life, teachers do not represent a fear factor, rather a temporary replacement of parents, perhaps without the single minded love and worship that they offer their kids – for there are many many children that look up to them as parents in that short period they are with them, but it’s certainly half way there.

As we grow older and move to higher classes, our perspective changes. We fear our teachers and the consequences they represent for failure. We have to compete with our peers for their affection, and for their ignorance of our misdeeds and misconduct. That fear factor has now been diluted, with counselling supposedly being a better alternative to the cane. The fear of the cane among us kids is now replaced by the fear of the law and parents among the teachers, and the media and NGO’s of questionable character keep a hawk’s eye on this debate. A true revolution or evolution, call it what you may, but now that I’ve grown up with cane marks on my legs, I don’t think it helps any.

My school days are over, and respect has replaced fear. Respect for the struggles of my teachers to make me a better person. My first grade report card read “Studious and Industrious, but can do better”. All the teachers try to do is to make you a better person – at sports, at studies, at relationships and in your values. They don’t succeed in all of these all the time – there are many reasons – lack of time, infrastructure, multiplicity of tasks, lack of interest or willingness on the part of the student, and sometimes interference from the parents, but they don’t stop trying. Many would argue that they are paid for doing just that, but my experience both as a student and as a parent is that they never stop trying. For many if not all, it is a lifelong vocation, not merely a profession and I doff my hat to them.

In a land crazy about degrees and percentages with little respect for education and knowledge, a teacher who tries to impart the latter is often berated for his / her involvement beyond the call of duty by students and parents alike, but realization dawns much later, when lack of employability among the qualified but uneducated peaks. No doubt, as time goes on, the tribe of those who believe it’s a job vs those who believe it’s a vocation will increase to the detriment of the nation, because of the nature of India’s demography and economy, but I believe the government must make efforts through certifications, accreditations and rewards to sustain teaching as a vocation rather than allow it to deteriorate into a profession which at best can get you qualified, but will never qualify you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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