A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops’, said Henry Adams. The truth of this is validated with my experience, as I walk down memory lane to the august environs of my alma mater. Nostalgia hits me in a torrent and a desire to relive the times awakens in me. The discipline and ambience maintained in the school precincts owed credit to the simple yet strict nuns and the other equally trained teachers, some of whom were alumni of the school, famously referred to as ‘the convent school’.
I was part of a fun-loving group of girls who combined play, pranks and study as a matter of routine. It tickled us when one of the nuns used to warn the target recalcitrant student that she would end up with a big zero, pronouncing it as ‘seero’ with a churlish look on her face. There was another ‘Miss’ who was so lazy that she would ask us to take turns to clean her the staff room cabinet. Our group loved doing it as it meant one arduous civics class escaped. There was the venerated headmistress called “Mother” who looked lean and hard but had the heart of butter. She taught the fine nuances of grammar from the famous Wren and Martin pages and also took it upon herself to educate us on good morals.
There was another teacher whose name invokes distaste to this day. Once during Holi celebrations, our group of 12-year-olds lived up to the spirit of the festival at a corner of the school premises after class hours by splashing colours on one another. The class sneak reported the incident to this teacher, who felt it was a punishable offence and made the entire group kneel down outside the classroom for a full day, notwithstanding that two of us were the toppers. Adding insult to injury, she proclaimed that we were the devil incarnate. The other teachers, though appalled at her attitude, were mute spectators as she was considered a terror. Down the years, the news reached that this teacher had quit following psychiatric treatment. Following in her footsteps was another who would apply the cane or belt remorselessly on first and second standard students. Finally, judgment day arrived for her too and she was removed from service.
These two may be exceptions in my recollections, as otherwise I remember each and every teacher with fondness. There was the science master who would suddenly break into Urdu poetry while teaching the intricacies of metals and non-metals. His favourite gobbledygook was to ask us ‘kaun bola’ to which we had to answer ‘hyperbola’! Yet again, how could the teacher who took care to bandage my ‘sore’ eye be forgotten, and likewise the Hindi teacher, who despite her asthma, taught us excellent language? The visiting music teacher did her bit trying to instill some musical notes amidst our amateurish cacophony. I remember the Physics and Chemistry teacher-buddy duo we referred to as burette and pipette in accordance with their physical stature. Alas, the mathematics tutor, despite his brilliance, failed miserably as a teacher and his lessons sounded no more than claptrap to us. Indeed, as opined by Peter Drucker, the teaching profession seems to rely on the naturals, the ones who somehow know how to teach.
A tribute to a visiting ‘Father’, who conducted sensitivity workshops, would not be amiss. His shrewd eyes noticed something amiss in me. On learning that I had become withdrawn after losing my father even as my crucial board examinations were drawing near, it was he who bolstered my spirits with advice and quotations, one of which is etched in my memory, ‘the darkest hour is just before dawn’. Verily has Carl Jung said, “One looks back with appreciation at the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child”.
Thank you, teachers, and a salute to you all on this day!