Magician in the class

Damayanti Mukherjee

At a gathering of acquaintances, after the preliminary ‘How do you dos’, the inevitable question is, ‘What do you do?’ When I reply ‘I am a schoolteacher’, many a time, a slightly pitying glance answers my response. ‘My god, it must be so boring’ It’s my turn to look inward and smile… it has not been boring at all. Life has been a myriad of experiences: new faces each year, new things taught and so much learned. I remember how it all began.

I entered the classroom – neatly placarded 10C – a waft of aftershave welcomed me and as I timidly stepped inside, 30 pairs of eyes bore into me and a few sniggers followed. I was all of 5 feet and at least half the class towered over me, as they lumbered to their feet to wish. The girls had 20 times my élan. The roll call was a disaster…. grunts, mumbles, silence, and a few ‘Yeah, te ach’. I thought longingly of the scholarship for higher studies that I hadn’t qualified for and had therefore opted for ‘this noble profession’!

The syllabus had indicated a good amount of poetry and I had come armed with a speech on the Romantics (my favourite people), some pithy commentary , a carefully chosen collection of representative poems, but without a clue about ‘ school kids of today’. I had assumed mouth gaping fascination, I was met with skeptical squints; I had envisioned a dreamy waltz with these great poets, I met utter disinterest; I had expected ‘previous knowledge’, I was astounded by complete incomprehension. Thank goodness the bell rang to end the class and my misery.

I spent a truly sleepless night wrestling between the idea of submitting my resignation and the instinct for self-preservation. I recalled my B.Ed teachers assuring us “You are the magicians…” I desperately needed a J K Rowling!!!

I marched into the class next day and without bothering about attendance, printed on the black board: ‘A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a Heaven for?’ There was pin-drop silence in the class but a very heavy one. I put on my smartest expression and asked “Any comments?” A willowy fourteen-year old said, “Byron?” I said, “No, you…I want to hear what you say to that line.” A wad of gum was pushed away, a blurry voice commented, “Are you talking about ambition?” Voices started piping up, a fiery debate upon reality versus aspiration ensued. Is it wise, I asked, to aim higher than one’s capacity? Does it not doom one to failure? No, no, some said, that’s ambition and progress! No, said others, that’s frustration and defeat. What about hope? What about despair? You’ve got to be practical! You’ve got to have a dream! We discussed gender expectations, we talked about peer pressure, we talked about generation gap and economic disparity. The students were mostly Khasi, sons and daughters of timber lords of the North East – they spoke with candour about the backwardness of their community, the matriarchal structure of society and its implication in the present day, the government apathy and their anger. They spoke about all these in their own words, with splintered grammar, at times lapsing into broken Hindi, a few American four- letter expressions also strayed in, but their eyes sparkled even as they tried hard to express their thoughts. And I whooped in delight within myself as I joined in with full vigour, adding to the rising decibel of the class. The bell rang and my students paid me the greatest compliment….. they groaned! I turned back to the same willowy fourteen-year old and said, “Robert Browning: Late Romantic. We shall read him tomorrow”.

That was 17 years ago. I love being a teacher, and no, it’s not at all boring being one… after all we are the magicians.

The author is a International Baccalaureate Programme Coordinator and IB English Examiner, Indus International School, Hyderabad. She can be reached at

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