When a teacher becomes a front bencher

Anuradha C

It’s been a long while since I did anything special for Teacher’s Day. Over the years, the day has just been coming and going without managing to draw my attention. I was submerged in my jet-paced corporate life in the IT industry. We techies barely have time for life’s essentials like lunch breaks or family events. So remembering Teacher’s Day is indeed quite a long stretch away.

This year I am writing this article to celebrate Teacher’s Day in my own little way. As an ode to my beloved teachers who recently gave me a memorable life experience, by turning into my students for three days!

Let me recount how it all happened. By a lovely twist of fate, I got an opportunity to visit my alma mater recently. I had actually gone to enquire about admissions for a relative. Like always, I was in a perpetual hurry, so I had no plans of visiting my professors. However, while attempting to make a stealthy exit, I bumped into a couple of them.

It’s difficult to decide what stunned me more – that they recognized me instantly or that they smiled and welcomed me into their fold without a tinge of recrimination. It’s been 19 years since I passed out you see. And that was the first time I was setting foot into my college since I passed out!

After the first flush of excitement in swapping life stories, we came down to ground realities prevalent in the college. Apparently, the college reputation was on a downward slope in the recent years. That impacted the quality of students being admitted, and the campus placement record for outgoing students.

After a prolonged hearing, I had some definite views on what was ailing the college. And my professors largely concurred with me. They decided that I need to be duly presented in front of the principal to air my views. And the added bonus was that the principal was also from my department, so he would be mighty pleased to see an ex-student returning after ‘making a mark in the industry’!

While systemic and procedural changes would take time to become effective, there was one urgent action on which all of us agreed. Teachers of science and engineering technology have a constant need to upgrade their skill sets, since the change curve in these areas is quite steep. The teachers in the organization were all mostly old recruits, so their expertise in modern subjects was superficial and inadequate.

There was little incentive for teachers to keep themselves abreast with the subject. They were mostly content with textbook teaching and covering only practical exercises present in the lab syllabus. But subjects such as computer science are impossible to grasp without sufficient hands-on practice.

An added complication here is that both the student and the teacher have access to the same knowledge base about the subject – the internet. So teachers struggle to handle student’s queries on latest technological developments. Since projects and internships are an important part of the curriculum, teachers find it difficult to guide students in these practical aspects.

The solution is obvious. Periodically get experts from outside and build the knowledge base in the institution. Since I was in the business of corporate training, it was decided that I would conduct extra-curricular sessions to cover the lacunae. I assumed they were suggesting student training sessions. But no, they were actually proposing faculty training sessions!

In the industry, it’s quite common for senior members to attend trainings conducted by juniors. But in the academic world, there is a definite line drawn between teacher and student. I was not sure how the teachers will be able to breach this barrier and turn into students for a while. My professors seemed to take it in their stride, they even thought it would fun to be on the receiving end for a change.

On sensing my continued reluctance, the principal made a profound statement. “If you enlighten a student, it benefits only an individual. But if you enlighten a teacher, the entire generation benefits.” Left with no room for doubt, we made detailed plans for the faculty development training. Since we were not bound by curriculum restrictions, we decided to make it an ‘on the job’ training.

There was great fanfare about the much publicized program. Since the program was voluntary, we expected some of the teachers to drop out as they may not be comfortable learning from a student. But when the training day arrived, there was a full house. When I ascended the stage, it was a sight to behold. Barring a few of my teachers who had retired, all of the others were seated in front – proud to see their student on stage, eager to learn from her.

The next three days were a whirlwind of activity. While I expected a somewhat silent audience, they turned out to be boisterous and gay! They were loving the practical programming sessions and case study presentations. They were seeing the science from a new dimension – how it is employed in the real world. That added perspective strengthened their theoretical concepts.

Some of the more poignant memories I hold from those three days are of a few doubts the teachers asked. Without fear of exposing their ignorance in the subject matter, they plucked the courage to ask some very basic, but pertinent questions. Once their doubts were cleared, they were visibly thrilled. They however admitted tongue-in-cheek that they wouldn’t have dared to ask those questions had any of the present batch of students been present in the hall!

Once the session concluded, we all agreed that the idea was worth repeating and we would henceforth repeat this exercise every quarter. While it was natural for them to praise the speaker and thank me for my efforts, I thought their wholehearted participation was more commendable than my role in the whole episode.

There are a few key take-aways from this experience that I will always carry in my heart.

  • Just because one becomes a teacher, one doesn’t cease to be a student. So never let the learning stop.
  • Reluctance to expose one’s ignorance in public is the greatest barrier to learning. Once we breach this barrier, we can learn from anyone, anywhere.
  • The unconditional love and care that a teacher bestows on a student is a precious gift. No wonder teachers are placed on the same pedestal as a parent in our culture.
  • Student alumni are a key asset of every institution. Systemic and policy level provisions must be made to leverage this asset towards betterment of educational institutions.
  • Students complete their education and venture out in search of a career, a life. But most of them never turn back towards their alma mater. If only we take the time out to go back and share our success with our teachers and pledge our support to institution building…

HAPPY TEACHER’S DAY EVERYONE!

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at [email protected].

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