Legacy of a great teacher

School days are the golden days of our life. They symbolise the days of our carefree childhood, outwardly impossible dreams, sharing tiffins, those funny chalk-drawing of the teachers on the blackboard or hitting each other with pieces of chalks. But, the ‘golden days’ become the haunting days for many of us because of the ‘bad’ experiences one faces in school in terms of bullying, humiliation by teachers or discouragement.

Sadly, in the ‘career options’ in India, teaching is supposed to be the ‘last choice’. If you haven’t made it anywhere then you choose teaching. Most of the teachers are there not by choice but by ‘no alternative’. And that’s why our schools are filled with teachers who are not proud of their profession or committed to their students, rather the very profession itself remind them of their failure. This is a bitter truth. And this inferiority leads to another evil — Discrimination.

I had once a social science teacher in class 8th, and she had this particular bias towards students who were fair and pretty looking. One may dismiss this as fancy of a child’s mind, but as was often the case, the teacher would never reprimand the class monitor who happened to be one of those ‘wanted’ girls in our section, while another girl, a dark complexioned malnourished girl Sarita was known to be the punching bag of that teacher whenever she was angry at something. Not only this, she was also too kind with students who were from affluent classes or who carried imported school bags and bottle or brought pastries and french cookies in their tiffin-box.

A good teacher is a like a god gift, he is like that chef who brings out the flavour in a dish by minding the right proportion, making the right combinations and adjusting the right heat. It is all there, your talent, your potential and your weaknesses, but it is only a good teacher, your guide, who will turn the weaknesses into strength and a talent into an asset. So many times it happens that we see an astronomer or a Councillor or some other successful professional and wonder, ‘Wow this could have been me, only if I had the right guidance’. Yes, I wanted to be an archaeologist, or a social scientist, or an anthropologist, or an administrator, the wishes are endless.

I chanced to read an article about Indian-origin scientist, ecologist and ornithologist – late Navjot Sodhi. Recently, a bird species, first seen in Sulawesi, Indonesia was named after him, ‘Muscicapa sodhii’.

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      As I read further, I was surprised to find that not only this species but many other animal species were named after this great scientist; and he didn’t discover all of them but still they were named after them by his students or collaborators whom he had mentored or taught. This shows what important role Sodhi played in the career of his students. One of his students recalls his mentoring style: He was easily the coolest and the most ‘laid-back’ professor we knew. His mentoring style was just as unique. ‘I don’t care if you danced naked, as long as you get the job done’, was what he used to tell students. Many of his former students have gone on to make successful careers in conservation and Sodhi continued to advise and support their careers. He was like an Academic father to his students.

I was really enthralled by this wonderful but ‘rare’ bond between a teacher and his students. Teaching is no less than philanthropy, it is a complete surrender. You just cannot be a true teacher if you don’t give yourself wholeheartedly to the duty. Yes ‘DUTY’ not ‘profession’. But for many (teachers) it is just a target-based exercise. Focus is on getting the high-percentile, making them cram-up those set-notes which they are dictating year-after-year from that personal diary with yellowing pages. Very few try any innovation. Either they are ignorant or a fool for not knowing the power of this most far-reaching tool — Education. If a box-office hit can create a cult following of a movie star, then imagine how deep an impact a teacher can leave on his pupils with his methods of study and ‘approachability’. Not only that, he has the rawest element at his disposal — the young and uncorrupted minds. And that’s why School teachers play a more important role than the College professors.

The expenditure on countless government employment schemes, food-security programmes, health schemes, anti-criminal measures can be saved once and for all if every teacher, from day 1, starts performing his duties selflessly.

It is not that a person is successful because he has more talent than you….maybe he had a better teacher than yours.

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