How does her garden grow?

Pragya Mathur Kumar

pragya I still remember her. Almost every time I write something, I send her a thank you note and a warm hug…

She’s far away, safely back home where we all will go some day. Yet, she’s got a permanent residence in my heart. My memories of her are still fresh. There may be times when I can’t remember exactly what she taught; but never do I forget how wonderful she made me feel! Almost two decades ago, there was a teacher who taught me more than what was written in the textbooks. She taught me to believe in myself. She inspired me to find my own way to explore and learn. She never ever made any of us in her class feel like a failure. She had respect for us. She earned ours. She had unlimited amounts of patience…unravelling the nuances of the subject, much like a magician. She was a performer of sorts and often made her class feel like a part of her stage. She was firm, in a loving sort of way. She inspired her class by her presence and left little room for distraction. The “weakest” (as labelled by some) were given a fair chance to prove otherwise in her presence. She had the passion that defines a great teacher. It was the joy of learning that she gifted to her students…she taught how to learn, and also ignited a spark that continues to inspire a romance with the written word!

In the memory banks of all successful people…doctors, engineers, scientists, artists, authors, businessmen, there is always a good teacher who is like a deposit that can always be counted on! Most often, even the good teachers have a role model who inspired them to choose teaching as a profession. There is no doubt that teachers are the architects of the future. They inspire, engage, enlighten and educate. There are good teachers and there are great teachers. Then, there are “teachers we can never forget”.

Passion. Love. Respect. Faith. Hope. Patience. Humour. Creativity. Enthusiasm. Accessibility. Commitment. Openness to questions. Flexibility. Innovation. Ability to be fair and just. To kindle a spark and inspire…willingness to go that extra mile…all in the pursuit of knowledge. Good communication skills. The list is really long. Yet, if I were to choose one word that describes a good teacher, it would be passion.

There are usually prescribed books and a specified syllabus. There is also usually a well-defined evaluation scheme and a time frame, hence a lesson plan. These are the “givens” for teachers in a specific place and time. There is a teacher who comes to class with a fixed agenda, gets on with the lesson right away, disciplines a few errant “dreamers”, finishes the job and leaves the class while the students are left grappling with a great deal of information they didn’t have before!

Then, there is also a teacher who instills a “passion for learning”. She loves her job. She loves the idea of sharing knowledge and creates an environment that inspires. She has the ability to engage her students and travel together in the pursuit of knowledge. She has a positive attitude and behaves like a learner too! She has the ability to transform the students into “self-motivated and self-driven”, inspired seekers of knowledge. Not only does she manage to complete the prescribed syllabus, but also inspires the students to go beyond. To explore and experiment. To share and discuss. To express and imbibe.

Striking a balance
A unique mix of technical knowledge (of the subject and methods of teaching), interpersonal skills (such as effective communication and empathy), positive attitude and pleasing personality makes a good teacher. Undoubtedly, mastery of the subject is a must have. The teacher should be aware of the content and context of what she is teaching. She should have the know-how to employ suitable teaching aids and make use of available technology in the present times. A tough task master without being harsh. It is with a deep sense of commitment that a person should choose the teaching profession. The students are like a potter’s clay. A teacher should interact with them with a great sense of responsibility. She must choose carefully how she handles them. There is so much potential in each one the students. It is the keen eye of a good teacher that can motivate and help students achieve success in the present and in the future.

The trickling down of values…
We often hear people bemoaning the “lack of values” among today’s youth. I wish we could trace the origin of the phenomenon and make a correction. Very often, students imbibe values in a classroom. These are not extracted from the lectures the teacher gives but from how she behaves.

In our schools, there is a need for that good teacher who can discriminate between a “creative, original, self-made project” even though it may not have a great finish and a “near perfect project” made by a parent and then be a fair appraiser. Many students who get a poor grade on that honest attempt, grow up with the experience of losing out to superior projects made by non-students. Their belief in honesty takes a bad hit. The curious mind dwelling in a slow writer, faces the wrath of the teacher for asking too many questions. Therein, a budding scientist begins to die a slow death. Asking questions gives way to quiet listening. The naughty but brilliant child pays a price for spontaneity of expression and gradually learns to subdue his inherent excitement; learning not to express an opinion that is divergent. Therein begins a slow death of an innovator perhaps. A good teacher must instill values that society wishes to nurture and cherish. It is the duty of a good teacher to let each student in her class bloom into a beautiful individual, rich and majestic in his/her own way.

Many roles, one teacher
There are so many roles a good teacher must play. It is important for the students to know they can trust her to step into the role of a friend, philosopher, guide, parent, coach, mentor…as and when required. In changing times, the teacher is no longer the lone fountain of knowledge; there are easily available sources of information in this age of the Internet. Rather, it is the role of a good teacher to facilitate the process of learning by teaching “how to learn”. Among the many roles, there is an overlapping element of care and concern for the well-being and healthy development of the student’s personality. Perhaps like a good gardener, a good teacher must nurture and nourish the budding talents of her students…with each retaining a unique and special persona.

Pragya Mathur is a corporate trainer and psychologist at Arunim Ankuran, an initiative she founded. Arunim Ankuran works to bring a positive change in the society though self-development. She can be reached at prakhar_pragya@yahoo.co.in.