Teachersday Special

Life Beyond School

It was at one of our editorial meetings. The small group was at its best throwing up random ideas and brainstorming for our subsequent issues. It was then we felt that for our September Teachers’ Day issue, we needed to think beyond the classroom.

All too often, teachers are bogged down by their everyday class routines. There is an erroneous impression that educators do not have the ability or perhaps the time to do anything very different from what they do all day — that is, teach. But we also recognise that to be a passionate teacher, one has to be good at planning, organising, performing in front of people and children, be imaginative and sensitive, and above all else be professional. So clearly, there is more to being a teacher than meets the student’s eye!

So we thought, why not help teachers to rediscover themselves, find out the person they are apart from the face they present in the classroom. We asked teachers to tell us what they do outside working hours, what makes them happy, what fills their hours. So here it is: five interesting responses from our committed teachers. Get a glimpse into their real selves. After the school shutters are down, what are these teachers like, what do they think and what do they feel?

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Shakuntala Jaisinghani
Hallelujah! The end of the play for today
‘Let’s on to the Staffroom’ All the teachers say.
The tea is strong and tastes good;
The parched throats bask in its warmth
And bodies sink with sighs of relief
Into the welcoming seats …….
A few moments of peace
Away from the noise and the pace,
The never ending questions
And the marking that haunts
The waking and sleeping hours.

Ah! The relief when the bell rings and your teaching day is over! Do most of us feel that way, or does the teacher’s persona extend itself into her personal life? I, for one, have never been able to resolve this. The husband’s remarks, “stop shouting, you are not in your classroom” and your child’s protests, “you don’t know how to teach, my teacher told me to do the sums this way and she is always right”, tend to send conflicting signals.

I had once taken my class on a field trip and my two children accompanied me as there was no one to look after them at home. My son, who was only four years old, wanted something and he kept shouting ‘Mom, Mom’ but I did not hear him. My daughter who was older and wiser suggested that he call out ‘Ma’m, Ma’m’, which he did and sure enough I responded ‘yes, who wants me?’ The mother in me took a back seat when I was the teacher. In retrospect, I feel that being a mother taught me to be a good teacher and being a teacher taught me to be a good mother. I was able to relate to my children and my students because of my understanding of the needs of one relating to the needs of the other.

In any other profession, one tries to keep ‘work’ and ‘social’ life poles apart. But with teachers it seems that ‘birds of a feather flock together’ is the norm. Most teachers I know bond, even socially, with others of the same ilk. This may be due to the misconstrued view held by others that a teacher’s job is the cushiest-what with the holidays and vacations, resulting in envy on most counts. It’s only a teacher who will understand the stress and struggle involved in being a teacher. The holidays and vacations are truly a much needed respite in a teacher’s life so that she can face the next term/session with the same patience and endurance that is her modus operandi!

Earlier it was difficult for students to think of their teachers as persons with lives of their own. There was always an aura of respect surrounding a teacher which made her different from other mortal beings. I remember once as a child I saw my teacher in the market and I was so thrilled and astonished to see her performing mundane chores of a house wife such as buying vegetables in the market!

But today the whole scene of the teacher-student relationship has changed. Students see them as ordinary folk doing the job of a teacher. The younger students still think of them with great respect and awe, but as they grow older, that view changes. I have even seen students and parents regarding teachers as people for whom they have paid and hence should be subservient to them!

Being a teacher has been a reward in itself. What does a person look for, at the end of the day? A feeling of having achieved something worthwhile? That’s what a teacher feels – the other day after two decades I got an email from an ex-student who is now at the pinnacle of her career saying that she remembers me because I had faith in her and taught her to believe in herself! It sure made MY day. Fellow teachers, rejoice in the fact that we do ‘leave footprints on the sands of time’.


The author is an educational consultant in Pune. She can be reached at shakun.jaisinghani@gmail.com.

After School Evenings

Maya Menon
Triiingg! Ah the long bell! Walking out of my classroom after an enthusiastic but as yet incomplete discussion on the Origin of Life with 45 fourteen year olds, I thought, “Let me put away IX F’s books in my locker, can’t lug it around Chandni Chowk. Wonder if Sujata is still in the Science Block, hope she’s not forgotten…”.

Stepping out of the staff room I bumped into Sujata, my colleague, an art teacher, in the corridor and together we strode out into a cool, crisp, sunny December afternoon in Delhi towards the school bus parking lot. We boarded the school bus going to North Delhi. This was the early and mid 80s – an innocent, more easy-paced era, before the internet and personal computers and mobile phones or even faxes!

We were a pair of young footloose and fancy free teachers, wholeheartedly immersed in our teaching responsibilities at school – that included editing the school magazine, directing school plays, taking students out on nature trails in the scorching summer in the Delhi Ridge behind the school. But after 2pm we managed to pack in an equally interesting life.

So this December day we were headed out to Old Delhi – to Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid and lunch at the famed Karim’s. We wanted to scour the alleys of the Old City to look for amazing bargains amongst the so-called antiques that are commonly sold on the streets. Karim’s wasn’t anything posh – it was tucked in an overcrowded alley on the first floor of a dilapidated looking building. I was then far less finicky about hygiene and ambience and the food was its redeeming feature – authentic Mughlai khana.

We walked tirelessly, bargained unabashedly and returned home, before it got too dark and cold, proudly carrying treasures to give away as gifts or display at home. I still have an engraved copper tumbler and bowl and a brass owl from that day over 20 years ago, prominently placed in my living room. Our respective parents were very tolerant of our newfound independence and light-hearted indulgences.

Our afternoons after work were our time to chill out, let our hair down, visit art galleries, go to the latest matinee shows or have extended lunch and coffee sessions at Nirula’s, when we discussed school, hobbies and the world at large. Often we’d drop in at the Janpath office of Neelu, a close school mate of mine to chat up with her and brighten what we considered, her grey government office life, with our anecdotes from the classroom. We would often joke with her that the only bright element in her office was the red fire extinguisher!

Looking back on those years – evokes warm pleasant memories. Our traipsing about the city wasn’t all frivolous – we chased dreams and made plans – big meticulous plans of saving up and travelling the world. We wanted to see the world before we turned 30! In 1983-84 I went back to being a student in evening school and enrolled for a Diploma in Journalism. I embraced this new phase of studenthood with a clarity of purpose that had been missing during my undergraduate years. It was almost as if that as a teacher I had discovered the joy of learning. In the late summer of 1985 Neelu and I decided to go on a memorable uplifting Himalayan Trek to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. This spurred us to be bolder next year and plan a 3-month travelling stint all over Europe and the US inspired by Arthur Frommer’s Guide of Europe on 10$ a day. And we did ourselves proud – we travelled in less than 10 $ a day. We stayed in youth hostel dorms and used a Eurail pass to travel across six countries in Europe. Single Indian women travelling by night train were a rarity those days and generated friendly curiosity and interesting discussions. Our parents were resigned to letting us go on our ‘risky’ world travels – but they cheered us on too with pride (their trepidation notwithstanding!)

I always returned from these sojourns enriched by memories, photographs and tales to tell my students. I even earned the sobriquet of having wheels on my heels!

My parallel life after a busy teaching day at school contributed to my own growth and education as a person. I sometimes wonder how my life after school would have been if I had been married, before I became a teacher, like so many of my colleagues. Would my domestic pressures have stifled all the joy, wonder and quest that kept me fi red and interested as a school teacher? Perhaps that’s what happens to so many of us!

The author is Founder Director, The Teacher Foundation, Bangalore. She can be reached at mayamenon@teacherfoundation.org.

A Time for Renewal

Meeta Mohanty
Life after 3’ is hardly conceived by a teacher as her personal time. It is not unusual to see teachers carrying loads of notebooks or paper bundles for correction almost every other day. Although teaching is considered a half-day job, it is actually challenging and exhausting as most teachers will confess. Every year – a new group of 30-40 children and the ownership of their education lies completely in the hands of the teacher who is supposed to have a magic wand and understand each child’s potential, hone their skills, groom them on good values and turn them into sensitised citizens. Phew! the list is unending when it comes to expectations from the teacher.

However, it is noteworthy to have a close look at the teacher and what kind of support mechanisms s/he gets to nurture the individuality of children. How much of his/ her individuality forms a part and parcel of the school system? I would certainly like to add that though schools have begun to pay attention to the teacher’s professional development in the form of organising seminars and workshops for his/ her enrichment, personal development still remains a road unexplored in many schools.

I used to be a part of an alternative school system where a lot of personal attention was paid to the ‘making of the teacher’ in the real sense. A year and a half ago, I was a facilitator at The Heritage School, Gurgaon which happens to be a school with practices in favour of teachers and students. It is important to upgrade the quality of living of teachers to actually impact the quality of learning in classrooms. Below I have highlighted only a few examples of some teacher-support mechanisms –

Induction support: As a teacher ushers into a school, s/he is usually clueless about the school system and takes time to settle down and understand the classroom processes. At The Heritage School, Gurgaon, this need is understood and every teacher who enters afresh is given a settlement time to know her/his duties, observe the class – s/he shall be responsible for. A peer-teacher acts as a mentor in guiding the new teacher about the class and introduces her to the parent community through emails, meetings, etc.

  • Peer-observations: Teachers at The Heritage School, are free to observe each others’ classes and gain from such observations. Peerobservations are an ongoing voluntary mechanism and do not involve any stress or performance pressure. There is room for all to learn from his/ her errors.
  • Retreat: Besides ongoing professional development, there are retreats organised for teachers. These retreats span over two to three days and are planned generally in natural spaces where some adventure sports can be organized for teachers. During the retreat, teachers from different class segments commune together as a group, unwind and share their experiences. A lot of resources are invested in personal development and in building teacher community as a coherent whole.
  • Collective lesson planning and problem solving: This forms the backbone of the teaching community at The Heritage School. Collective lesson planning and reflective sessions, interspersed with hot debates on education, on righteousness of content, pedagogy, etc. form the core component of the teaching-learning process. Day-to-day lesson planning, theme planning, and problem solving is key. If one teacher is facing a difficult situation in her classroom, the entire group/ cohort of teachers support him/ her in troubleshooting. There is support from the management in troubleshooting problems. Every individual is given space to grow, learn from his/ her errors and not operate under any kind of pressure.
  • Teacher Leadership: The concept of teacher leadership is completely visible in the school –where s/he has a free choice to plan lessons, be him/herself, plan the day, think and discuss what is best for children. Undoubtedly, curriculum in this school is developed by the teachers and assessments are also formative in nature-with portfolio assessment forming one of the key ways of assessing in primary school.

Only an empowered teacher can bring about empowered classrooms. Learning can only take place when teachers and the whole system undergoes transformation. To expect a teacher who is shattered or disintegrated in an obtrusive, compulsive system to bring about change and develop personalities is too demanding a situation. Thus, systemic changes are important and mandatory in the wake of a call for learning-centred classrooms.

The author works with the Oxford University Press, New Delhi. She can be reached at meetaprabir@gmail.com.

Tea and Reflection

Monica Kochar
What do I do after 3 p.m … That is a good question!

First of all it is 3:40 for me, for I work in one of the ‘IB (International Baccalaureate) schools’. What the rest of my day will be like depends a lot on what my day was like before 3:40 pm. How the classes were. Was I satisfied with all the work I did during the day?

Did I hurt any child unnecessarily?

Was I cool most of the day?

Was the teaching of good quality?

My evenings are generally spent reflecting on how my day was spent in the school.

I can’t seem to disconnect from teaching even after I come back home as teaching is my passion and I always like to give my best, or bestest as the students say! A job done well – a class where the children had a good time, an emotional trauma handled sensitively, a lesson planned well or good team work with colleagues – is the high point of the day.

The morning starts at 7:45 am and till 3:40 pm there is generally no time to remember who I am and why I am on this planet! I exist for the children and the principal. Either of them can need me anytime and usually it is ‘very urgent’. Meetings during breaks with either of them, watching over the kids during lunch…. I am often requested by mothers to see that their children finish their food since some of them are poor eaters. The children are so clever that they try and fool me into believing that they finished their lunch even before I could join them at the dining table. (Did they really say in the ‘body awareness workshop’ – “become aware of every morsel you eat and chew it with full awareness?” I am sometimes not even aware of what I am eating!)

So, evening is the time to put up my feet with that welcome cup of tea and two biscuits, pick up the newspaper and … breathe deeply. The day is always emotionally surcharged, for I work with the middle school children. Their emotional issues, so simple for us, so important to them! One wrong word, a smile at the wrong time, no smile when I was supposed to (!) and someone is devastated! As I breathe and unwind, I reflect on the day. (Do I need to apologise to anyone tomorrow I wonder?)

Cuppa tea over, and I get up and stretchhhhh those muscles. The sudden silence around is so welcoming. I can hear the birds, the leaves rustling, sweet sounds that I don’t pay any attention to until this time of the day. Depending on the season, next it is a nap, check email and then walk (Delhi summer) or walk, check email and then nap (Delhi winter)! I switch off the mobile, pull out the wire of the intercom – a short, very necessary nap and I wake up refreshed, ready for the second half of the day.

Walking here is a delight. There are finished/unfinished/never started farm houses all around the school campus and one can walk on and on and get lost in the wilderness. I breathe in the fresh air after spending the day indoors in AC rooms. Look at the flowers, marvel at the greenery, dodge the stray dogs and pet cows and try to think the staring village men don’t exist!

Back home – time for an early dinner. I live on the campus, so I have a choice when it comes to cooking…I can eat in the school mess! And I can choose from a huge platter.

And then is the biggest luxury I have in my life – my ‘personal time’. A long stretch of quiet time for reading, soft music, reflection … one or all of them. The quietest time, when the door bell won’t ring and the boss won’t call! The phase when time stops and something else steps into the picture. The nerves tingle and relaxation seeps over me. Peace, silence, quietude with only the lizards making noise in the background.

Semi comatose…I move to the bed. End of another day. Begin tomorrow anew!

(Oh! If you are wondering where my dog, husband and children are…sorry! I am a happy single.)

The author is a math teacher in Pathways World School, Gurgaon. She can be reached at reachmonica@gmail.com.

The Learning Continues…

Hetal K Pandya
My days at school do not end with “Thank God!” or “Ah! Finally it’s over…”. My school is so much like a home where children come to spend time with friends and us for fun and learning that it never gives me a feeling of working away from home. I leave my first home (the school) at one pm and reach the second by two pm! Coming home after school is refreshing because I encounter so many unique experiences at school that my mind is always thinking of new ideas and things to do.

A day spent with children relaxes the soul, it is like food for the soul. My mind ponders over various issues related to my children and the class most of who encourages me to think of better alternatives for making each day beautiful and meaningful at the school.

After my usual nap, I generally work on my computer, check mails and look for interesting sites pertaining to education. The internet helps a teacher like me in many ways. I no longer have to spend hours in huge libraries looking for books that can be easily found a click away on my laptop at home. On weekends I frequent the local book stores to find something unique towards furthering the same thirst of knowledge as a teacher and a learner. I am particularly fond of books on J Krishnamurthi’s conversations with children of Rishi Valley School in the late 70s. Such books stir the soul and provide answers to so many questions that modern researches or case studies are not able to. Otherwise books on parenting and children’s education are the target searches for me!

I have a few friends scattered all over the globe who contribute to education in their own way. I interact with them through email sharing photos, information, experiences, etc., which makes us all aware of the different types of education systems in various cultural and societal contexts. This is a good way of keeping both our friendship and profession alive at the same time! In the past one year I have been able to rekindle connections with my previous professors who are themselves treasures of so much experience and knowledge.

I love to write about my children and other subjects too. Any incident or observation at school or a child’s behaviour motivates me to write in my diary on a regular basis. I have worked in three schools so far and I believe that more than the school, I remember and cherish my experiences with children. My experiences have helped me become a better teacher and love my profession much more then anything else. I write poems and short stories about children with illustrations or small observations made during hours spent at the school.

Once I am done with writing, I move to doing other things at home… yes, the household chores! I live in a nuclear family and hence the onus of making my home a heaven rests mainly on my shoulders. I cook dinner and watch my favourite English comedies and news on TV. If there is nothing worth watching on television I read books on management, novels or magazines. The day winds up mostly at 10 pm for me and I go to bed with a heart and body at peace with itself.

I was working in corporates before opting to teach again, mainly because the vacuum I felt in other professions is not there in the education line. I began my career as a teacher but left it midway for a plum designation and salary in a company. A few months of introspection made me realise the value of soul happiness over materialistic well being. Hence as a teacher I “do not teach”… I “learn” and come back home as a better human being. I owe this happiness to my children who give unconditional love and respect which is a blessing rarely experienced by any other professional. They have in fact taught me virtues of patience, love, helping, sharing, respecting, etc., by their behaviour. They are my true teachers indeed!

The author is a teacher at the Toddlers Jain International School, Hyderabad. She can be reached at hetal272@gmail.com.

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