I never thought I would be a teacher. It was that phase of my life when I was exploring various career options, preparing for various competitive exams. My mind conjured up images of a satisfying and rewarding life as a banker or a civil servant. I happily worked hard towards my goal. But soon I realized that banking was not my forte and civil services seemed to be a farfetched dream. Sensing that I was rudderless and confused, my mother, herself a teacher, nudged me into teaching. Once into teaching I realized that it was God’s will that I carry forward someone’s legacy – the legacy of a caring, creative, dedicated, determined, excited, graceful, innovative, motivated, passionate and above all a resourceful teacher who is still so unassuming about himself that he does not want his name to be mentioned here. So, let’s embark on a journey down memory lane.
We were a bunch of energetic pre-teens in a boarding school from diverse backgrounds but similar learning levels that could be rated as below average. As we gathered near the notice board, curious to see our new timetable, almost all of us ended up frowning. The reason for our instant anxiety was our new English teacher Mr. A. L. Our seniors had mentioned him many a time in their ‘mentoring’ conversations in the hostel. They had described at length about the more-than-extra amount of hard work that the students in his class had to put in and the long afternoons spent in the writing tasks and punishments he assigned. So, we walked into our class cursing ourselves and thinking why the Almighty had chosen us for the grind. Well, I had forgotten about all the rigour and stress we had gone through at that time. It was about 20 years later when I got an opportunity to work with children as a teacher and was faced with the daunting task of teaching English to children from a rural background that I recalled my long lost teacher and his innovative methods to realize what a master craftsman he was. It was then that I started to dig out the details of how he had groomed us into expressive, fluent and confident teenagers. Now that I was a qualified educator I could relate to why he made us pass through that difficult dark “tunnel of learning”.
Long before CCE was even conceptualized, our extremely devoted teacher was implementing it in his own way with the sole aim of making his students master the language. He never scolded or reprimanded us but he was very particular about work.
Well ‘work’ was a great deal of work!
Our academic session was divided in two terms and he made us complete our textbooks in the first two months! The NCERT textbook chapters were distributed to us in groups. Each group was provided sheets that carried flowcharts of the summary, sequence of events, vocabulary and other support material. After that for about two to three days we would discuss the chapter, story or poem with the group and make a presentation to the entire class. After this presentation the other students could ask questions. By the end of one month we had almost finished studying one book and I think we knew more about the textbook and everything it had to teach us. I must confess we enjoyed this process. When we presented our work which was mostly in the form of mini-acts or role plays, Mr. A L would not interrupt but diligently note down grammatical or syntactical errors that we made in neat columns on the blackboard. And once we were done we were given high-fives and explanations for the errors that were up on the board. If we were not able to rectify our errors even after repeated guidance, he would reinforce the concepts of grammar like tenses, prepositions, etc., with the help of interesting grammar games. Even after this if we repeated common mistakes either while speaking or writing we would all have to write it 10 times and then a 100 and 1000 times if we continued to repeat mistakes.
My fellow educators would surely understand the ‘catch’ in it. We would read and re-read our own texts and of the others too to look for any ‘common errors’. We would practice our presentations time and again and would patiently listen to our peers many times before we decided we were ready for the class presentation. So, we were discussing, practicing, revising, improving all the time whether it was in the mess or the playground, the long walk from the mess to the hostel or in the washrooms, the time before dozing off or before the assembly would begin. We were put by our ‘not so wonderful’ teacher into auto pilot – auto learning mode!
Another gift that he bestowed upon us through his innovative methods was the habit of reading. To qualify to sit in our term end English exam, we were supposed to read not one but 12 books from the library. Therefore, as we departed for the summer break we all carried a bagful of storybooks! We could not escape just by knowing the story; we had to read between the lines. To test us he would open the book randomly at some page, read a few lines and then ask three questions in relation to the passage he read, for instance, “What happened after this ?” or “What is the particular thing or place being described?” Thus in five minutes and three questions he was able to judge our level of understanding and recall. The scariest of all his tasks, for me, was the one minute extempore talks which were a part of our assessments. He would sit with us in the last five rows in the auditorium and we would pick a slip with a topic written on it. The only time we would get to think was the time it would take to walk to the stage. In the beginning many students found it difficult and would fumble or get stuck. So one day he demonstrated how to gather 8 or 10 points related to the topic in that short time. Most of the students then learnt the trick but I was still not comfortable. I tried to bunk his class or would just speak a few unintelligible sentences and rush back. One day I was absolutely tongue tied, my mind numb and as I took my position on the stage I broke down. It was quite embarrassing. I ran out to my classroom and wept. Days rolled by, he never mentioned anything about it in class and I heaved a sigh of relief. As the next extempore class started approaching I started praying for a miracle. AND the MIRACLE did happen!
In the next class our topic was centered around “If I were …” Students got different topics like doctor, soldier, engineer, Prime Minister, etc. When it was my turn he himself handed over a slip which read ‘If I were a teacher…’ and in a tiny font below there was a clue – ‘I would never….’. He patted me on my back and half-heartedly I started off with a shambling gait. As I started moving forward, so many ideas started popping up in my mind that I was amazed! I did not even realize how that usually dreaded one minute passed and I poured my heart out mentioning all the things that he did as a teacher as the things I would never do so that my students would be happy.
He did not feel insulted. The whole class was dumbstruck for they did not know what to do. But he started with a clap and then everyone followed. The glass ceiling was broken. I got a standing ovation for being honest. He often rewarded students who did extraordinary work with jalebis. Hats off to the truly extraordinary emotional quotient of our superb teacher; that day was a feast for all of us – a toast raised for my achievement. From then on we shared a special bond. The following year I went on to win the inter-school debate and won the award for the best speaker. He became a father figure and a guiding light for me. Weaving magic with his wise words and kind gestures, he gave me some of the most profound lessons in life. To this date, whenever I have to address a gathering, his simple tricks of good public speaking reward me with thunderous rounds of applause – each one I dedicate to him.
Now, that I have been in this profession, his influence shines through. I have made sure that the school we have established has one of the richest libraries in the area. Library work, the concept of common errors, role plays, grammar and vocabulary fun games, etc., have become a part and parcel of our methodology. My students find it unique and different and the compliments that we get from elated parents are my tribute to my “wonderful teacher”.
The author is Principal, Tulsi College of Education for Women and Academic Consultant at Tulsi Public Senior Secondary School, Ambala, Haryana. She is a Ph.D. in Education from Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. She can be reached at [email protected].