Finding hope in the classroom

Indumathi S

Most of us have stories of how teachers have left an impression, guided us on our life paths, mentored, suggested or directed, taught both implicitly and explicitly, even scolded and punished us. I would like to recall not just one teacher but many teachers who taught me, guided and mentored me at different points in my life.

I fondly remember my English teacher – Shenbaga. She was my class teacher for many years and taught me English from class 4 to class 8. In the way she read out the stories and poems to us, she brought the images alive. I still have a vivid memory of one of them, ‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn’ vividly. I can recollect parts of the stories – sections on how Tom Sawyer was made to paint/wash the wall and the journey of Huckleberry Finn in the boat and many more. She would create an atmosphere of suspense while reading out certain parts and then urge us to read by ourselves. It was not just her ability to create magic with words but her warmth and ability to connect with students as well that made her affable.

Teachers would often remind us about our uniform, tying our hair up, etc. I had a new haircut and many teachers warned me on flaunting my new hair style. After a week or so, Shenbaga Miss called me and said, ‘please tie your hair’. I said, I would do so, since she had told me and also, she said it with love. I guess this has stayed with me. The qualities of listening to students, to be warm and approachable, I guess she has taught me implicitly.

She once asked in the class if anyone would choose to teach or take up teaching as a profession. I partially raised my hand and replied that I would like to be a lecturer or professor. She asked, “Why not a teacher in a school?” I was shy at that time, but now if I meet her, I guess I would proudly say, “I am a teacher”.

I met many more teachers who guided me and challenged me when I started my course in M.A Education when I was in my late 20s. I would say that I am happy to have met one of the finest teachers in my life through this course, Prof. Chayanika Shah.

I was a student of science and a science teacher and had just started my exploration in social sciences and education. At this point she helped me examine my own notions of science. The question she raised and made me think about was, ‘Is science objective’? Her lectures, discussions and the materials she used were provocative. I was so intrigued by these that I started my Ph.D. on questions related to the nature of science. I would say that her questions around objectivity and subjectivity gave me a new lens through which to look at life. Questions around science led me to explore the ideas of tentativeness. I am happy that I did it. I am open now to new ideas, questions and challenges.

Prof. Nandini Manjrekar is another person who challenged and pushed my limits. I was in awe of her knowledge and understanding of different subjects from history to science, political science to mathematics. Her lectures on sociology of education made me understand social justice, democracy, inequality, and many more ideas and their relationship with education. She has read so much that in a one hour lecture she would quote and suggest at least five authors/books to read. She would set hard deadlines and, in many ways, I am thankful for that. Through her guidance she made me think through my research deeply. Her feedback would be so detailed and every line would have comments. My goal while writing and sending the drafts would be to have a minimum number of comments. Her standards were always high and it really helped me to go deeper and sharpen my understanding of education.

Prof. Padma Sarangapani was another person from whom I learnt to ask more and more questions. Her discussions and lectures were highly engaging. She would ask hows and whys and try not to give direct solutions. She made me think and find my own answers. I remember, during one of her lectures I had a strong opinion on examinations and said something in the class. She asked, ‘Indu, why do you say so?’ I tried to respond to her and this question made me think. I gave some answer and again she asked, ‘How is that?’ She spent a good ten minutes with me asking these hows and whys a couple of times and helped me understand my own assumptions. I realized that it was not reasonable for me to hold any unverified, unexamined views about learning and teaching. This made me think deeply about education. I try and emulate her and aspire to be a teacher like her. I try and make my students think and find their own answers. ‘Whys’ have become a part of my every day conversations and I bug my family and daughter with these.

These three teachers and many more of them whom I have not mentioned here helped me ponder on education, teaching and learning. I moved from being a student of science to becoming a science teacher and later teacher educator. I am happy that I have been exposed to social sciences and education. I now try and push people and student teachers to think deeply and take education and teaching as a serious profession. I would say that I found hope in classrooms, while teaching and while interacting with students. I end with a few lines here as an ode to my teachers –
Classrooms are the only hopeful places,
I find hope when I enter classrooms,
I find hope in the questions that are asked,
I find hope in the curiosity that is aroused,
I find hope, a germ, a seed that we sow,
I find hope when there is dissent, an argument in the class,
I find hope when there is critical engagement,
I find hope when there are mistakes and
I find hope when there is chatter and noise in the classroom,
I find hope, a possibility of dialogue in classrooms,
Let’s keep this hope alive, only teachers can keep it going.

The author is currently a member of faculty in a teacher preparation course at ‘I Am A Teacher’, Gurgaon. She teaches and mentors teachers. She is hoping to finish her Ph.D in Education soon. She has been a science teacher, researcher, curriculum developer and teacher educator in different organizations. Her interest spans across science education, gender and teacher education. She can be reached at mailindusow@gmail.com.