A student by heart

Natasha Punnoose

Have any of you ever wondered as to who/what first put those thoughts of working in a particular profession in your head? Is this choice that you have made influenced, granted, settled for or dreamt of?

My aspirations were like a bee buzzing from flower to flower or like the changing colours of a chameleon. At five, I wanted to be an actress and enjoy all the glamour, then I was fascinated with pop stars and their lifestyles. As I grew up, what I wanted to do kept changing, but one thing remained constant and that was playing a teacher to my dolls. All that playacting has now led to my becoming a teacher.

In school, I used to sacrifice my games period to tutor the slow learners. I felt responsible for them, and it was a win-win situation for me as well, for teaching them meant revision for me. Using anagrams, making songs out of answers, or creating mind maps came naturally to me even then. My mother used to watch me dress up as a teacher and change the tone of my voice to teach my dolls. As the daughter of a teacher, I had seen what it takes to be a teacher. The mountain load of evaluations, neck and back soreness, lesson plans, endless preparations, mark lists, progress reports, open houses, listening to parents about how great or hopeless their child is and of course the teacher’s throat. I had a whiff of it but not its taste until I became a teacher myself.

While this profession always had a pull on me, it was a brief teaching stint in my own school that helped me decide for sure that this is what I wanted to do. One of the teachers in my school was forced to take leave two weeks before the semester was to end due to an emergency. My principal called me up and asked me if I would be interested to fill in. I remember she was extremely encouraging. I had to start the very next day and I didn’t want to let her down so I made my lesson plan and kept my teaching material ready.

The next day as I entered the classroom, I looked at the first bench and saw my teen self with two braids, clad in blue uniform, sitting there. I last sat on these benches five years ago and today I was standing in front of these students as their teacher. My first realization at that moment – my pupils are no longer my dolls, they are 60 different minds with 60 different personalities having 60 different questions and that I needed to be there for all 60 of them. I knew I was amidst judgmental teens, waiting to catch me on the wrong foot. I was cautious, for a word mispronounced would be the talk of the school for the next two weeks. I watched them for a few minutes and then smiled; a smile can always melt people’s hearts and when they reciprocated, I knew that our flight together was ready to take off. Neither party realized how time flew. There were nodding heads, smiling faces, bodies leaning forward asking for more resonating experiences. We shared an easy camaraderie despite the little time we had together. This was the beginning of my teaching career.

When I decided that this was my calling, I was warned of the low pay and the feelings I would experience when I saw my friends earning three times more. Well, I believe that I am rich every time I see my pupils stand on their feet and respect themselves and the society. I live through them and they are handing down my words. This is my investment with no market risk. I am proud that I am responsible for not one but hundreds of young lives, that I can shape and mould them.

I started applying for teaching jobs, attended interviews and conducted demo classes until I finalized one school. But then came COVID-19 and schools stopped hiring. By June last year, it became clear that teaching was moving online. I even familiarized myself with the necessary digital tools, and yet no one seemed to need my services. When I was on the verge of rethinking my choice of profession, I came across a random advertisement for a secondary school English teacher. I was advised by people around me to accept the job even if I was offered the primary classes to teach since I was new to the profession. In a few days I was set for a meeting with the CEO and the headmistress of the institution. It was a very challenging interview. I had to tackle a variety of questions including writing a poem instantly on the interview. By the end of it, I had impressed them enough to get the job of the English teacher for the secondary section.

While B.Ed. had trained me to teach, I only became a teacher in every sense of the word after I joined a school. I had finally stepped into my mother’s shoes. I was a teacher and this time not just for two weeks. I am just one and a half years old in this profession, still crawling my way up, hoping to walk and then run in this field.

The author is a newbie teacher currently working at Mount Mary High School, Mumbai. She admires the writings of Maya Angelou and Kamala Das. She is a part time travel blogger and finds life in every little experience. She can be reached at natashapunnoose@gmail.com.

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