Timeless teacher stories

Seetha Anand

“What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.” – Karl Meninger

In most professions, personal and professional qualities are well demarcated. Only skill, expertise and professional efficiency are considered valuable for the clients/institution/organization he/she works for. However, in the case of teachers, it is quite different. Teachers cater to impressionable minds. Especially when young, children observe and imitate physical and emotional characteristics of adults. Since teachers are a big influence on children, the way they dress, speak, behave – all matter and not just their knowledge.

I would like to share stories of a few teachers who shared a rapport with their students, those who were role models and inspirations.

In the early 1980s, Bhagirathi Srinivasan worked as a math teacher for upper primary students in a school in Chennai. She used to be patient not only while teaching but also while dealing with children. She focused especially on those who were lagging behind, who looked sad or seemed hassled. She recognized that the role of a teacher went much beyond academics. An eight-year-old had lost her father and would sometimes cry during lunch time in a seemingly discreet corner. Bhagirathi miss came to notice this. Not only did she console the child but also encouraged her to focus on her strengths and extended that warm love which makes a huge difference to young minds.

K.R.Saraswathy married when she was just 13 into an affluent family in the early 1950s. By the time she was in her mid-20s, her family was almost bankrupt. She passed her S.S.L.C (class 10) exams when she was 35 years old in 1968. She then did a Tamizh pandit exam and joined as Tamizh language teacher in a small school. In a couple of years she joined a bigger school, where she worked for 25 years. She passed her B.Ed a few years after joining the school. Widowed at 44 she continued working in the same school and then in her 55th year passed M.Ed. She was also an excellent Carnatic musician and had a degree in music too. She was a ‘B’ grade artist in All India Radio and took home tuitions for a couple of students. She was spiritually inclined and beneath her strict demeanor she was kind to her students outside her class. She took time to speak to students personally and mould them. She did her homework before each class and delivered the most memorable lectures delving deep into her subject. While teaching music, not only did she impart technical aspects of singing, but also taught the meaning of songs written in different languages and ensured soulful singing and not just technical correctness. A truly inspiring lady, who now in her 90s, keeps in touch with her students, lives by herself and even helps others.

Mrs. Xavier Pakiaraj worked as a teacher for over three decades from the seventies to the nineties. She taught English, history, geography, moral science and was also the class teacher for class 10 students. The students in her classes were going through their adolescent and teenage imbalances as well as the stress of appearing for the board exams. Every student felt comfortable with her and even shared their problems and challenges with her. She also kept a close watch on the students’ academic performance and gave them valuable tips to overcome stress and to score well in the Board exams.

Mrs. Shakuntala Sant taught economics to higher secondary students in an affluent school where discipline was a major issue. Mrs. Sant completely changed the notion that economics was a dry subject among the students. She would bring examples of current business affairs, share market dynamics and the class would become lively. Everyone began to look forward to her classes. She was also an avid cook and took it upon herself to revive the school canteen. She would discuss recipes with students and would even invite them over. So many students scored well in her subjects thanks to her.

Mrs. Pushpa Rapelli worked as a lecturer in a women’s college for 32 years. Her subject on her finger tips, her lectures left a long lasting impression, her appearance was dignified at all times, students were always attentive in her class and above all she went beyond teaching and reached out to each student in her class. Whether it was financial difficulties, relationship issues, issues with talent not being recognized at the college level – she would take up every problem as her own and find solutions. She personally helped many students with financial difficulties. She accompanied students during excursions and was the “coolest” adult to be around. After her retirement too, she has been keeping in touch with her students and offers sensible solutions if any of them seeks her counsel and remains a mother figure.

Did you know that ma’am is actually an anagram for Amma?!

The author works through Ananda Foundation as a Remedial Therapist and as an Early Childhood Teacher Trainer. She can be reached at anandseetha@gmail.com.

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