By Jaasindah Mir
The best teacher I ever had wasn’t a teacher by profession. At his early morning tuition class, teaching a hundred odd twelfth grade students, he once said that he had always wanted to be a teacher. He had recognised long ago that this was his calling but when he went for an interview for a teacher’s job more than a decade ago, he couldn’t get through. Yet, it didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion for teaching mathematics to students. Today, he is a director in one of the government departments. A man who has nothing to do with the teaching professionally, but works so hard at teaching his students that we would find him taking classes as early as dawn to as late as after dusk.
I was never an early riser, but at that point of time in my life I would attend his classes before Fajr prayers, only not to miss even a moment of intellectual growth. Back then, he was my only source to learn and to grow; the only teacher I looked upto in my 11th and 12th class. It wasn’t just calculus and matrices that I learnt from him. I learnt values and ideas that made me a much better person. To me, he was the epitome of knowledge and intellectual growth.
When we would tell him that the teachers at school weren’t quite keen to teach, he would say that it wasn’t their fault. Because when the people who don’t want to teach and do not have any passion towards it are pushed against the wall and asked to teach students, the end result is: “You wouldn’t need to sit here if all the teachers were passionate.”
Back then, I understood what my teacher said. But I didn’t know that the actual understanding only came from experiencing it. And when you begin to see things in a certain light, you realise your previous experiences taught you the same. Well, that’s what happened to me. In my plus two, I gradually began to let go of the idea that teachers were as good as your parents and that they did an equal effort of hand-holding a child. I didn’t get any guidance in my 11th and 12th class from anyone at school. All I was seeing was hatred, contempt, disrespect and malice for students. And by the time I was at college, I had totally given up on the belief and my time in college strengthened it. Teachers pushed against the wall to teach do not teach. They do everything else but teach.
There was a time when King Philip II of Macedonia had to rebuild an entire city so that Aristotle could be the teacher to his son Alexander. But there could be an Aristotle only after a Plato had existed. Helen Keller would have been as unknown as any other specially abled person if it wasn’t for Anne Sullivan. Buddhism would have had an entirely different history if there wasn’t a Buddha for Ananda. Where would Amir Khusro have been if there wasn’t a Nizamuddin Auliya?
It might sound surprising to many of my generation if I say that there was a time when a teacher would be the dearest to a student in the world – more than his parents. A student could die for his teacher. If you have heard of or read any of the songs and poems that Khusro wrote for Nizammudin Auliya, you would know. But those were teachers of that stature.
If I today talk of loving a good teacher genuinely, the idea is ridiculed. It would be an alien idea and absurd to say that a teacher could be significant to a student, let alone being the be-all-and-end-all to him; because our generation had just not seen anything like that. We haven’t seen teachers who changed our lives. Very few lucky ones have got that chance. Very, very few indeed. Today, the teachers we see are the kind that Confucius would have committed suicide about if he had a prophecy about them. Today I walk up to a teacher with a doubt, and she chides me saying that she is yet to have her lunch. I walk up to a teacher asking for some study material for the coming exam and he demands a hug in return. In a discussion when I put an argument that goes against the beliefs of my teacher, he calls me an ignorant fool, a heretic. Yet, he wouldn’t miss a chance to hit on me. If a teacher reminds me that I am fat, another wouldn’t stop glaring when I pass by, and another would scare me to death for entering the staffroom if she is inside, and another would scream at me and throw my notebook at my face when I would say, ‘I don’t know’ to a question in the viva-voce and another calls up asking me to either fall for him or find him another girl. For heaven’s sake, what am I supposed to do? Does the great lament of the teachers about ‘students being disrespectful’ still have any validity?
Teachers were supposed to be the father figures; builders of the nation. I fail to understand what will a nation do with such corrupt builders? I wish we could only get those teachers who would want to teach their students with all their passion, and love them like their own children. There is a lot of duality and bigotry creeping into this noble profession. It would not only harm today’s generation but many more to come, because when today’s students become the teachers of tomorrow they will replicate the same behaviour with their students. I wish we had more teachers like my mathematics teacher in plus two.
There is a dire need for a change in the system of education and recruitment if anyone expects a better change in society. Let’s face the bitter truth – we cannot be pushing people into the teaching profession just because they couldn’t be of any use anywhere else. Someone said that nations are built in the classrooms, and the hollowness of a nation will inevitably be revealed when it falls because of bad teachers.
—Jaasindah Mir is the author of The Escaped Moments and is a final year student of Functional English at Government College for women, MA Road, Srinagar.