The dictionary defines ‘teacher’ as a noun – meaning, a person who teaches. Wikipedia spells it out more elaborately – “A teacher is a person who helps others to acquire knowledge, competences or values. Informally, the role of a teacher maybe taken on by anyone.” And I rightly go by the last line believing that life is the greatest teacher of all. I do not know about others but my account on how a teacher has influenced my existence can be divided into three compartments – personal, formal (read: school) and professional.
The ride begins with the personal chapter and my first educators as my parents. Life is an institution in itself and what we learn in our daily lives is an apt example of an ‘on the job training’! As I said that my first education began at home, I did not mean my elementary learning. My parents’ initial teaching was that good behaviour is more important than scoring better marks. They always told me that my neighbours will remember me if I maintain a cordial relationship with them and not if I am a topper in the class. However, I took this piece of advice so seriously that I never topped my class! Coping up with the ‘food of thought’, I realized that I was ready for marriage without even knowing the ABCs of kitchen. Then came my next teacher – my husband who not just ensured that I learn to cook but perform like a chef! My youngest teacher is only three years old and she happens to be my daughter. Evenings are about us learning – I teach her the alphabet; she imparts me patience.
Formal education came in three strata – school, college and university and no wonder I had the best memories in school of all. Fifteen long years in one school and I accumulated a chest of treasures – we call it memories. It will be unfair on my part to appreciate one teacher in my school when all of them have played their roles so diligently. However, I have a special corner for Madam Cynthia Mukherjee who is no longer in this mortal world but has left an indelible mark on my existence. I was not good in English then (not that I have mastered the language now) and I am talking about my first standard in school. Madam Mukherjee spoke to my parents that I need special attention in the subject and requested them that I stay back after school twice a week and attend her extra classes. Before you assume this to be tuition, I have to scream and say, ‘no’, it was not. She did that completely free of cost and also ensured that I was fed with a heavy lunch from her home before studying. I mean who does it now – I don’t do it either (sigh).
College was a little boring initially because teachers never had one-to-one communication. When I complained about this to my mother, I remember her sternly telling me that I am now an adult and must not expect a ‘school like atmosphere’. If I am not mistaken, by the end of the first year, I was already popular with my department (that happened to be English) professors and they seemed to like me a lot. And the reason was never studies – I was so naughty that they loved having a girl like me around them. As I write, I just took a minute’s break to answer a WhatsApp message from my college principal who shared a joke with me. Now that’s what I call a student-teacher equation.
University finished even faster and since my subject (mass communication) was a technical one, I had to be professional. Again, all my educators played their part well, but like before, one man stood out of the crowd. He was an old gentleman with years of newspaper experience but gave me the best knowledge on life. Biswajit Matilal Sir turned out to be a father figure and till today we can text our everyday nuances in the most casual fashion.
I started off work at a tender age (while I was doing my post-graduation) and that too as an intern with a reputed national English daily. Coping with work and University classes was really difficult and it was getting worse because I was not learning the newspaper job as fast as I should. Soon a senior who was a little different came to my rescue. In the beginning I found her to be strict and curt but like before (all my past experiences) my attitude towards her changed. Earlier I was scared to go to her with my report but when I learnt to write better (like a journo) and was appreciated by her, I realized ‘strict teachers are sometimes the best educators’. Now I call Sudakshina (that’s her) my true teacher in news reporting lessons.
After a short stint with the newspaper, my internship days rolled along with the camera movement. Yes, I was assisting a senior television journalist of a national English news channel and this man who was considered very serious, reticent and utterly professional by his colleagues has turned out to be my mentor in life and beyond. Sougata (Mukhopadhyay) da, as I call him, has taught me to be serious at work and take up any task with responsibility and finish it on time. With all these accumulated teachings by my side, I was already working for more than half a decade when life took a sudden turn and I was offered the role of a college teacher. Not knowing how to deal with students, I was traumatized by their actions. Then my department head rose to help me. Subha di (Subha Das Mollick) explained to me how to handle students who behaved like adults and yet knew nothing about life. I learnt from her how easily a teacher can remove the stigma of being a senior and become a confidant to the students. And now when I teach senior secondary students of a school, I do not find any difficulty in handling them. I can now boast that I know most of my students so well on their personal front too that they request me to join them for a movie outing.
In this life-long journey, there have been so many educators and their teachings are brilliant examples in how my life has shaped up as a teacher. But, as a teacher today I owe all my success to my students, near and far, for accepting me with my flaws and teaching me every now and then that probably I can do justice to my profession.
The author is a teacher of Mass Media Studies, Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Kolkata. She can be reached at [email protected].