She changed my world

Sudha Mahajan

‘One book, one pen, one child, one teacher can change the world’ said Malala Yousafzai rightly.

My heartfelt thanks to my parents who sent me to the Loreto Convent School, Tara Hall in Shimla where each teacher was a remarkable educator. Though all of them were dedicated to their work, it was Mother Bernadine, my teacher in class 10, who helped me become what I am today.

If I am asked to write an Acrostic poem for my teacher, I would write the following:
Terrific
Energetic
Able
Creative
Humble
Enthusiastic
Remarkable

First meeting and everyday learning
Sitting in my classroom in class 10, the senior most class of the school, we felt we owned the world. It was Monday morning and we were chattering non-stop, when the door gently opened. The room went silent, and we all looked up and saw standing at the door a tall, middle-aged, fair, smiling, Irish nun. She said “Good morning, I thought I should wish and meet the senior most class of my school.” We all understood that she had heard the ruckus from our class but had a brilliant way of disciplining us. Mother Bernadine had joined as the vice-principal of the school and we learnt that she was going to teach us English. It wasn’t the best news for a class that was known for being naughty.

The next morning, we reached the school, to find Mother Bernadine at the gate welcoming the students. She gave the broadest smile that I had ever seen. We walked into the school hall for the assembly and Mother Bernadine said the morning prayer and introduced herself to the students. We learnt she had come from Loreto, Kolkata. We all sang the school anthem and Mother concluded the assembly by asking us to consider whether we were living as true Loreto girls. I walked back to the class analyzing myself, ‘Am I a true Loreto girl? Am I living by the ideals of Loreto Convent?’

It was the third lesson of the day, all the girls were glancing at the door. When it opened, my heart missed a beat. Mother Bernadine entered, I could not take my eyes off her, she walked in with her infectious smile and we all wished her ‘good morning’. She wished us too and asked us to be seated. She then asked us to introduce ourselves. We had to tell her our names, how many siblings we had and our favourite subject. One by one everyone introduced themselves. Mother spoke softly but firmly: she said that as we were the senior most class of the school, she had a lot of expectations from us. We were role models for the juniors. We would soon be moving into a world outside the four walls of the school and everyone would look at us as a Loreto girl, that is, one who lives by, ‘high ideals of purity, of duty and truth.’ You could hear a pin drop, such was the silence that prevailed as we all realized that we had a duty as Loreto girls. Mother then added that it is a woman who nurtures the next generation and therefore being born as a girl is a special blessing of God. She then spoke to us about the importance of education. For the first time it dawned on me that to be literate, one had to know how to read and write but to be educated, one needed to have a good character, be gentle and treat all human beings with respect. The bell rang to indicate that the lesson was over. Mother knew the names of all the girls and made sure she addressed us with our names at all times.

Every day, class 10 started waiting for their English Lesson. It was memories of her lessons that taught me how to capture the attention of my students. She always became the character she was teaching us about. She answered our questions as many times as we asked. There was never any hesitation in her class, everybody spoke their mind. After our lessons we could walk up to her to discuss any personal problem, to which she listened with full attention and seemed to have a solution to all our problems.

The true meaning of secularism was learnt through teachers like Mother Bernadine. All festivals were celebrated in the school with alacrity. We all learnt to participate with equal enthusiasm. We lived in harmony without segregating a person of any caste or creed.

When it was time for the annual day of the school, Mother suggested that the students could perform a musical play, ‘The Wizard of Oz’. A few girls and I were not so happy as we could only croak. The auditions started and as expected I was not shortlisted. Our teacher could see our disappointment. She called us to her office in the afternoon and told us that we would be in charge of the light and sound effects as the show would be a failure without them. Through this task she taught me to value myself and look for what was good in me and not be disappointed because I could not do some of the things. There would always be something that I could do well. It was even more heartening when the audience made a special mention of the light and sound effects as being perfect.

Lessons for life
Mother taught us Lessons for Life. She always said, ‘Success comes before work only in the dictionary’. This became my mantra for life as I understood that one has to work tirelessly if one wants to succeed.

Another important lesson taught was, ‘Do your best and leave the rest to God’, this helped me to do my karma without any expectations. Even today, at times my family, friends or colleagues question me as to why I keep doing good to someone who has hurt me. I just smile and say I believe in doing what is right and leave the rest to God.

‘Always stay true to yourself’, is what Mother continuously emphasized. She would say be who you are, do not change because someone else wants you to change, change only if you think you need to. ‘Listen to your conscience’, it never lies, whenever one does something wrong our conscience always reprimands us; therefore to be a good human being, listen to your conscience was another lesson learnt for life.

Never had I imagined that I would become a teacher but I did, a decision I am proud of today. I have always enjoyed being an educator and being with my students. Once when I was leaving a school because of my husband’s transfer, my students asked me if I would teach at the new place. I jokingly said, “No, now I want to just enjoy!” My students looked at me disappointed and said, “Ma’am, never give up teaching because you don’t just teach a lesson but you teach us lessons for life.’

I thanked Mother for helping me become the teacher that I am today. Sometimes I sit back and think, would life have been the same if I had not been taught by Mother? I don’t think so, she cemented my character, I learnt to work hard, give, listen to my conscience, be true and live by the high ideals of purity. If today my students remember me as a teacher it is because of the lessons I learnt from Mother, she transformed me into a good human being.

Mother is no more but she lives in us in all the ideals she has taught us to live by. A teacher par excellence who did not teach us values but lived them and therefore I always tell young teachers and parents that one cannot teach values, one has to live them and children learn when they see.

The author has been a teacher, a coordinator and principal during her journey as an educator for the last 25 years. She is now a freelance education consultant conducting teacher and student development programmes. She can be reached at [email protected].

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