‘So how was it?’
‘Okay…’ Vivaan said in a voice that lacked the usual jingle.
He dragged himself, with his bag dragging behind him, to his room and slumped into the chair.
‘Mumma, I didn’t make it for winning, I made it for her. I wanted it to be nice so took a little longer than the rest of the class.’
‘She didn’t even look at it. Just kept it aside and very sternly said that I was late.’
A hug and kiss was in order. The ‘big boy’ didn’t mind the cuddling then.
I just brushed it aside and told him, ‘You know what, I think you did a fantastic job. Too bad if she didn’t see it. Her loss!’
A few more hugs later he regained the ‘I-am-a-big-boy’ demeanour and stuck his chest out.
‘I don’t care either Ma. Just telling you, that’s all!’ and with that he proceeded to ransack his room for the paper plane he had folded in the morning.
Ah! We are back! Well nearly so. I know that the little one was hurt. He had spent the entire evening yesterday practicing the pop out card he wanted to make for the Teacher’s Day card making competition at school. Two hours, ten sheets, innumerable trips to my room to show what he was doing and a room full of glitter, glue and paper shreds later, he had the ‘final’ design ready. With a proud smile he had declared, ‘She is going to love it ma! I don’t care for the competition but I think she is going to like it.’ Sadly the teacher cared more for the competition than the theme.
I, the mother was obviously outraged and I, the teacher was confused. Teachers are not supposed to just complete the syllabus! They are the moulds that shape the little bundles into what they will be decades from now. Then what makes them forget their true calling? A single word of appreciation, one glance of approval is all that it takes to get these little kids going. Right from their aptitude to self-esteem, every aspect of their being is influenced by the person they hold in highest regard (mostly above their mums!) Ask a pre-schooler and he will tell you that a teacher can never be wrong. A misspelled word is correct even if the dictionary too reiterates the fact, if the teachers has ticked it right! One golden star in the diary from the teacher for being a ‘good boy’ makes them take that diary out the moment they enter the gate at home and rush to me to show it! The twinkle in the eyes and the pride in their smile are indescribable!
I understand the need for discipline. Ask my boys, they feel that I should be wearing a uniform and their room should look like bunkers to give the whole thing a truer feel. But I have never understood the need for being insensitive. Time and again, I have come across instances in the boys’ academic life so far, as well as kids of other equally exasperated parents, where the teachers seem to be acting more out of anger or frustration rather than reason. And when, after much deliberation, I very courageously yet gently brought it up at the much dreaded PTA, I was mercilessly shot down! The usual dismissive response is ‘You have no idea how tough it is to manage a class full of kids’! I almost ask them (obviously, ‘almost’ being the key word) what were they thinking when they decided to be teacher? That it is going to be a private tuition class with a group of four kids quietly sitting?
Imagine a doctor saying ‘You have no idea how difficult it is to deal with people coughing all over you.’ Or a soldier saying ‘You have no idea how tough it is to be constantly vigilant at the border patrol’ That’s the professional choice you made knowing fully well what was in store! Deal with it! Yes, it must be chaotic and yes they must be sucking sanity out of the teachers but as teachers we cannot take that as an excuse for belittling the students or labelling them. When I tell a child, ‘You can never dance or write or draw’ I am making sure that he never even attempts it.
All through my growing years, I had the opportunity, like all of us, to learn under a vast variety of teachers – all of them influenced me in one way or the other. To be told that you are spoiling the entire group’s dance performance doesn’t exactly motivate you to do better! It just makes you excellent at successfully avoiding all forms of dance throughout school as well as college and beyond! On the other hand, I can never thank one of my teachers enough for developing the love of writing in me. I might not be a writer per se but expressing myself in words has never been a problem. Ask my family, they feel I am a tad bit over expressive! I still remember her face lighting up every time she read something different we wrote. ‘A paragraph on a ‘Rainy day’ should grab my attention from the very first line,’ she used to say. And then she would gently point out mistakes and suggesting ways to improve. Each one of them has left an imprint, a mark. I don’t remember any of them for being excellent teachers of the written word as prescribed by the NCERT, but for the impression they left on me, for the change they brought about in the way we see the world, the way we reach our potentialities, and the way we are as teachers or parents.
I don’t feel sorry for Vivaan today for having been hurt by the callousness of his teacher. I feel bad for the teacher since she has lost a moment – A moment when years from now, on Teacher’s day he’d be seeing his kid all excited about the day and he would think back to his days as students, remembering the ones that mattered and not the one who thought that his card was ‘late.’
Having grown up in a family of teachers, I have seen them reach out beyond the books. I have seen their students acknowledge their effort and I have seen the satisfaction on their faces when they saw their students expanding their potentialities. Teachers do make a difference, to the studious child and to the mischief maker alike. They are all little birds waiting to take off, waiting for that one push in the right direction. It is up to us, the teachers to show them the limitless skies or the treacherous abyss ahead. I know at times it gets tough, frustrating but then who said it was going to be a breeze? Before saying something like ‘you can’t do anything properly’ look into those earnest eyes. They are trying to live up to your expectations and a pat on the back goes a longer way than a smack on the face or worse, on their minds.
So, all you teachers out there take a deep breath. I know the burden on your shoulders and responsibility on your soul are immense but no one can do it better than you. The lumps of clay in front of you are yours for the making and come with only one label ‘Handle with care’ not ‘nalayak, ‘clumsy’ or ‘good for nothing.’ If I sound patronizing, I don’t mean to. I truly believe that we are a significant thread in the web of society which goes on to determine how strong it is going to be, how well it is going to hold in the face of storms.
All you teachers out there (me very well included!) need to take a bow, for all the lives you have changed for ever and we need to take a vow to be better at what we do, to help these fledglings take to the skies.