Teaching just fell into my lap and I took it up as a profession some eighteen years ago. Whether I had natural flair for it or not, whether I needed to take training for it or not, whether I could be a good or/and successful teacher never crossed my mind. So, a couple of weeks ago, when my colleague Hem Raj Kafle requested me to write something on teaching experience, my initial reaction (to be honest) was of total loss. My head crowded with questions like: What to write? Can I produce a piece worth reading? Do I have something inspirational or beneficial to share with a large audience?
As I started to grope for answers, I was bound to retrospect the years that had slipped without my realizing what they made me. I simply wanted to judge myself as a teacher. I had never done this before and it was a daunting task. What I have realized after such retrospection is this: I have managed to come so far without even once thinking seriously of changing the profession; I don’t recall any noteworthy complaint from the students and my administrators about my teaching (If any which I am unaware of, then let me continue to be in bliss of ignorance!); so, I can regard myself as a fairly successful teacher.
I am not an exceptional teacher to stand out in the teaching community, exceptional in the sense that some students would pick me up as the type ‘who changed my life’. I go about my job quietly. I perform my responsibilities as sincerely as possible. I believe in simplicity, so I try to keep things plain and accessible. Common and basic values of punctuality, regularity, honesty figure in my conduct of class and treatment for students.
However, now at least two episodes keep flashing across my mind like films clips. The first concerns the beginning stage of my career. It was during the lunch-break in a conference. I was with some of my old classmates and professors. We were zealously narrating our experiences of being teachers, pointing out our students’ general apathy towards studies and their failure to meet our expectations. Hearing our ‘hue and cry,’ one of our gurus remarked, “Fresh out of the university, filled with all the isms of great philosophers and scholars, you young lot are too idealistic. Do not expect things to come perfect as in the books. There is a vast gap between the world of books, university classrooms and the real world outside.” I was a little taken aback to hear this. I thought: “Is it wrong to expect perfection, expect the students to do exactly what I want them to, and how I want them to? I know whatever I am imparting to them is right and useful to be competent and successful in life. I do so because I have only the best interest for them in my heart.”
The second episode relates a student. I came to know about this through a colleague during a gossip about our past students. At one point he casually told me that ‘this student’ had said I was little too unfair with him. He had said I used to pick on him even for a small mistake all the time; I had sent him out or humiliated him by making him stand in the class throughout the period, etc. etc. It made me uncomfortable. I kept quiet in acceptance of what the student had complained. I wished I had known this while I was still teaching him.
These episodes, I accept even now, led to the change in my approach and attitude towards teaching and dealing with students as my journey progressed. Growing up under the strong influence of a strict and disciplinarian soldier father, I sometimes tend to show streak of sternness and demand discipline from students. This is what I realize now, but take these qualities as the gifts from a parent. I may have demanded discipline and perfection in my pupils, but, I am sure, these qualities are prerequisites for addressing the demands of genuine learners.
Furthermore, these two episodes have made me realize these: first, to be idealist and to seek perfection is desirable but not practical. One has to firmly plant the feet in reality and accept it, desirable or not. If the effort you put in to make the reality desirable yields otherwise results, the effort is more meaningful. What we read and find in the books are the products of best minds. They are developed in supposition of ideal conditions where all the pieces fit with one another in harmony.
Second, as a teacher, your aim has to be to motivate students towards finding their own voice, their potentiality for creativity and self-exploration. By this, they will find what they are good at and will feel good about themselves. They will realize their worth, which will provide a solid foundation for their growth and success in life. To achieve this goal the teacher has to less emphasize on rules, discipline (mind you not to forget them altogether). And, sometimes you should reasonably bend the rules if it helps. You should allow them to feel free to be themselves to work constructively. They need to feel respected for their effort and contribution. Then the instructions, textual knowledge, and good results will follow suit.
I do not know how far I am successful in implementing what I have realized. We all know preaching is easy compared to practicing what one preaches. I love to remain ignorant about how much impact I have made in this profession. I just want to value being able to help young people grow, and continue the profession with the best of my sensibility and diligence.