A walk down memory lane…

Simran Luthra

Some are brief, others are more detailed. Some are funny, most are profound. The memories that a few teachers shared of their own teachers come in various hues and shades; but one thing common to all is how much teachers influence us. The impact of teachers on those who then grow up to become teachers themselves is even more significant and meaningful. There is considerable research on teacher socialization that says that teachers very often model themselves subconsciously on their own teachers or memories of their own teachers.

This Teacher’s Day, we have teachers going down memory lane and recalling life lessons they learnt from them.

Sharbani Dutta has lived and taught in Pune for the past 25 years. She retired a few years ago but continues to teach young students through home tuitions. Concern extended by a teacher at her new school made an impression that she remembers even after decades.

In my years as a student there have been teachers whose kindness and understanding has influenced me deeply as a teacher. Of all the outstanding teachers I had, one stands out: Sheila Jacob.

We had come to Pune in 1970 from a small town in West Bengal. The only language my brother and I knew was Bengali. In Pune, we got admission in an English medium school where my brother and I stood out like sore thumbs.

I was in class 3 then and spent most of my lunch break in the classroom to prevent embarrassment and bullying. My class teacher, Ms Jacob noticed this. One day I found her sitting in the classroom with me. She asked me kindly why I did not go out like the other kids.

I started crying and somehow conveyed to her the reason. From then on it became a daily routine for both of us; she would sit with me, converse with me in English and insist that I reply in English. This continued for a month, at the end of which I could comfortably communicate with my classmates and teachers in English. Since I had learnt my tables in Bengali, she never forced me to say my tables in the class. Instead, she gave me a chance to write them down on paper. There are numerous such seemingly small occasions when she expressed her kindness and built my confidence. In my later years as a teacher, it helped me to understand my students’ learning difficulties better.

Raveena Ray teaches at D Y Patil School in Pune. She remembers how her history teacher taught her the importance of laughing at oneself.

Our class 9 history teacher was also our class teacher. She was from southern India, and had an accent. Not very kind of us, but my friends and I used to imitate her quite often.

Once on a school trip to Essel World we were at it again! This time she overheard us and approached us, asking us to repeat what we were doing. We were shifty and uncomfortable. Then, she looked at me and asked me to imitate her. I was scared and really thought that I would get into big trouble, but she insisted. I summed up courage and imitated her. To our utter surprise, she laughed heartily and remarked that I had spoken just like her.

She made me realize that the ability to laugh at oneself is truly something precious. I have been a teacher for the last four years and always keep in mind how important it is to accept others and myself.

Ahona with Mrs Shaikh

Ahona Krishna is an ex-TFI fellow. Her vivid description of her loving and forgiving teacher is a warm memory of her childhood days.

My parents were in defence, so we kept moving a lot and I think by the time I was in the seventh class, I had already moved about five schools. By the time I reached the 8th, my marks started dropping, especially in maths and my family decided to put me in a boarding school.

Having been raised in a small town like Kanpur, it was extremely difficult for me to cope with the fact that my parents would want me to move to a boarding school. Anyway, the day had come and I had to move to my new home in Panchgani. I remember the first day, the first lesson, the first period, I was greeted by a beautiful, warm, charming woman.

I remember I had this really bad habit of not wanting to attempt to write essays and they would come with this word limit, and I could never meet the requirement, especially given the time. I was one of the most hardworking, dedicated, obedient students who was always in the teachers’ good books. But this one time when we were assigned essay writing for Hindi homework, I forgot to work on it the evening before. At night, when I remembered, I decided that I would wake up in the morning and complete it. But as it happened, I overslept and it didn’t get done.

I told her that I was unable to do my homework. But I was confident and assured her that I would finish it by the next day. That evening there was a birthday party in the hostel and being distracted, I failed to complete my homework. I hid my notebook and told Mrs Shaikh that I had written the essay, but that my notebook was lost.

She soon discovered that I had not spoken the truth about having completed my homework. But instead of scolding me, she simply expressed her disappointment at being lied to. And that broke my heart. I learnt a huge lesson that day and I don’t think I’ve ever lied to any teacher.

Mrs Shaikh was my best friend, my confidante and my go-to person back in school. She has transformed my life in many ways and made me who I am today. What is really sweet is that she still calls me on every Children’s Day and on Teacher’s Day as well.

Jayashree Raveendran is the principal and a teacher at Vidyadhiraja School in Mumbai. She shares briefly, but beautifully about her teacher who is responsible for who she is today.

I studied in a small school, well known for notoriety. Fights, bullying, games, dance and music all came under the umbrella of ‘fun’ and that’s what school meant for me until a new HM was appointed. Shree Gajendra Gadkar was old, strict and aloof.

All the subjects sprang to life and poetry became music, maths became rhythm, Hindi became melody, geography became the land and sky, when he taught.

I went on to become the chosen leader from a notorious bully. What he saw in me I could not fathom at that age. He brought books into my life and got me hooked to them for life.

He took me to a big school in Chembur and showed me each and every section of the school and what it was meant for. I almost secretly wished to have a school of my own!

Today, as I look at the school I have served all these years, I know he was preparing me and showing me my future.

I have fulfilled his vision.

Archana Joshi is a trained architect, but chose teaching as her calling. She is a teacher and teacher educator and shares her memory of two teachers who had a profound impact on her.

‘A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart.’ This is so true for my dear teachers, Sister Regina Rose and Ms Mala Palani. Both these lovely human beings have inspired me at crucial junctures of my life. The former, during the difficult teen years while the latter, when I was working towards my second career.

Like most teenagers, I disobeyed all the rules, didn’t care for anything my parents said and was outright rebellious. But Sister Regina Rose was someone who never gave up on me despite never getting homework on time and forgetting books most of the time. She inspired me through all the lovely stories she narrated under the banyan tree during English lessons. I can undoubtedly say my passion for stories is because of her.

Ms Mala Palani has been a true source of knowledge. My journey into teaching was a difficult one. As a trained architect, I didn’t have the background knowledge to teach. As my mentor, she opened my mind and fired my passion for teaching through her training sessions. She would patiently listen to my experiments in class, would guide me and answer all my queries (even at midnight!) for the various teaching exams that I sat for. Her occasional message of ‘What’s the next milestone?’ encourages me to seek new learning all the time.

Sabika Abbas is a teacher-facilitator. She shares life advice she received from an observant and caring teacher.

My biology teacher in high school was a fun yet strict educator. When I was in the 12th, she no longer taught us but we saw her in school nearly every day.

A logistical problem had been bothering me for quite some time as House Captain. She noticed me struggling for a few days.

Around the fourth day, she walked up to me and asked me to spread my arms outward. She placed a glass on my palm and asked me to keep holding it for as long as I could. I did, and after some time my arms started aching. She then said, ‘Dear, sometimes, when struggling with problems, it is important to put the glass down.’

I still follow this advice in my everyday-ness. It is an extremely simple and profound reminder of what really matters.

Sanchali Saha is an English teacher in Kolkata. She shares a guiding principle that her teacher gave her.

The teacher who changed my life, was serendipitously, my English teacher of senior school, Ms. Z. Dalal. She taught me how to write eloquently and made Shakespeare’s plays come alive in the classroom. She had this unexplained faith in me that galvanized me as a student. What she taught me stayed with me in college and beyond: “If to do were as easy as to know what was good to do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s cottages, prince’s palaces”.

Piyush Thakkar is an engineer by training, but a teacher and educator by choice. He shares an amusing and heart-warming story.

We were in class 10. It was a time of the year when cricket fever was running high in the country – the crucial India vs West Indies match was on. We were at our math coaching class. My teacher, Tushar Sir, was teaching us with complete dedication and concentration when he realized that we were not focusing on math but thinking of the score.

He decided to play a harmless, but rather fruitful trick. He typed the match score on his phone and had us believe that the scores were out; that India was all out and had lost the match. Disappointed, all the students began focusing on the tasks at hand. None of us thought for a moment that Tushar Sir was fooling us.

Once class was over, he confessed that he had tricked us and that the match was still on. It brings a big smile on my face whenever I remember this loving and funny incident.

Joshua Werth is an ex-Teach for India fellow. He grew up in America and remembers his theatre teacher who instilled in him some deep values.

In high school, I ran the lights for the theatre. The faculty head of the theatre program was Mrs Ambrosini. She could be very unpleasant. She shouted all the time, pushed kids to work for extra hours after school, and generally acted like a demagogue in her little kingdom.

But she taught me so much about committing to a project, working with a group, and getting things done. She’s the one who taught me the old axiom: “Work expands to fill the time you allot for it.” She’s also the first person who really held me accountable and made me feel like there were real stakes to what we were doing. It’s easy to laugh it off now, since it was just a little high school production. But it felt like it really mattered, and we were always motivated.

The author is based in Pune and is currently pursuing her PhD. in Education from TISS, Mumbai. She has completed her Masters in English from Jadavpur University and Masters in Education (Elementary) from TISS, Mumbai, and taught Hindi at Stanford University, California while on a Fulbright fellowship. She is passionate about language, social studies education, human rights, gender and teacher education in particular. She can be reached at simranluthra@gmail.com.