Take a moment to pause

Aarti Mohan

“What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.” – Karl Menninger, American psychiatrist

My 4-year-old daughter was shocked to see her pre-school teacher at the mall. She gaped open-mouthed at her all through the five minutes that we exchanged pleasantries, and was unusually thoughtful on the way back home. “Amma, why was ma’am shopping? Doesn’t she live inside school?”she asked. The idea that teachers can have regular lives hadn’t quite settled inside my little girl’s curious head, but it isn’t far from the way we have always looked at our teachers, and they perhaps, at themselves.

My aunt has been a teacher for the last 25 years, and I have never seen her take a break, not once. She has something or the other to do, even during summer holidays, which is usually the time every other person in a job looks at school teachers, sighs and exclaims, “How lucky, you get a 2-month vacation every year!” She is constantly looking for new ways to teach science to eager 10-year-olds, thinking up innovative experiments, besides helping every kid that calls, messages or lands up at her doorstep crying, “Miss.” Even if she is taking a walk in the park, there’s a fair chance that she will be absorbed in collecting flower samples for her Botany class! All of us love her for her dedication and helpful disposition, but there is grave family consensus that it is time she took some time out for herself.

I have always wondered what it is about teachers and not being able to switch off, which I believe is true also of practising lawyers, good doctors and crazy entrepreneurs. A sign outside my daughter’s school that reads, “Children go where there is excitement, but stay where there is love,” gives me an inkling of an answer. Shaping young, unfettered minds cannot be anything but the work of unconditional love, a love that teachers give constantly and in abundance. A love – that gives children immense happiness in discovering something and always have someone to celebrate it with, that elevates learning to something above scientific principles dwelt on by the wise, that stays with you long after the process is complete and the details forgotten. It is a love that has brought you to their doorstep often in times of uncertainty, just for that reassuring nod that tells you that you can do it. You remember them for all the moments they sat patiently with you, how they never quite give up on you, for all their hard work in ensuring you can be a learner for life. You recall their work with quiet pride during those prized moments they always predicted will happen to you, and gratefully remember during difficult times their total belief in you.

Not surprising then, that if you toil in love and your work is in shaping young minds, no moment seems like quite the right one to take a break.

But that is exactly the point. What a new experience or stepping back from a current context does is that it gives you a new pair of eyes with which to examine everything, and that’s vital to a job as important as teaching. Time away gives one the opportunity to stand back and take stock, to draw parallels, to be inspired, to dwell on purpose, and to come back – refreshed and awake.

Taking a break could be simple things that do not require one to cross the chasm of deliberation or planning – going on nature walks, joining an organic terrace gardening, running, cycling or photography community or even volunteering with a group of committed lake savers!

Having an experience influences us more than we realize, but as Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioural economics, says, “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.” We plan our lives mostly to remember. The best part about taking time off to do things you like or interest you is all that you might not tangibly remember but most definitely absorb: meeting new and interesting people with diverse experiences and swapping stories, moments bound in togetherness around shared passions, and a chance to create something larger with someone. And in all, precious moments for the self.

Dear teachers, you have taught us what we know and everything we care about. You are our kaleidoscopic view to the worlds you are a part of and open out to us. We hope you are thinking of taking a moment to pause for yourself, just so you can show us more of that world!

The author is the editor of The Alternative, a new media platform on sustainable living. She can be reached at aarti.mohan@thealternative.in.