The life of a teacher is not easy, for teaching is not confined merely to the four walls of a classroom, nor do the working hours cease with the ringing of the bell. Teaching is a constant process of upgrade, where every moment you learn new things, not only as a teacher, but also as a human being. As Robert John Meehan said, ‘Your life as a teacher begins the day you realise that you are always a learner.’ I learnt my first lesson as a teacher within a few weeks of the commencement of my career and I have no qualms about admitting that it not only made me a better teacher, but also a better individual.
At the onset of my career, I was obsessed by the fact that I should come across to my students as a ‘no-nonsense’ type of person. My entire focus was towards being a strict disciplinarian as maintaining decorum in class was a Herculean task. Since most students were from a rural or semi-urban background, they made sure that a fresh appointee and a convent school-educated teacher like me felt ill at ease among them. They would intentionally speak in chaste Haryanvi and often use vocabulary that sounded Greek to me. They did all in their power to make me feel like a fish out of water.
My last lecture ended at 2.30 in the afternoon. Some of the students would approach me pleading to let them leave 15 minutes early as they had a bus to catch. My permission resulted in a lot of commotion and restlessness as half of the class stood up to leave. They all had buses to catch! Unable to differentiate between the genuine ones and those playing truant, I put a ban on anybody leaving before time.
One evening, while on way to the market, I spotted three boys from my last class at the bus stop. I stopped my scooter and called out, ‘You constantly harangue me about allowing you to leave early because you have a bus to catch and here you are still loitering around at 5 pm!’
Respectfully and humbly, one of the boys replied, ‘Madamji, the bus leaves at 2.30. If we leave the class at quarter past two, we are able to make it. In case we miss it, the next bus to our village comes after three hours. Right now we are waiting for it. At this hour, the bus will be overloaded and we will not even get a seat.’
I was full of remorse. The next day, when I went to meet my last class, I asked all the students who had a bus to catch to write an application, get it signed and leave whenever they wanted, without seeking my permission. I learnt the first lesson of my life as a teacher — learn to empathise with your students, for they would learn better from you when they respect you than when they fear you.
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