I had always been the middle bencher, throughout my school life and through most of my college days. Unlike the front bench ‘geeks’ and the back bench ‘freaks’ that get the limelight, the middle benchers often belong to that category of introverts with a skewed relationship with teachers who manage to scrape through without being noticed.
My very first imprint of teachers was much of discomfiture. They wore sarees, with hair tied in a bun and held a cane in one hand and a book in the other and walked about with an air of extreme stiffness. They mercilessly gave out orders, beat the table with the cane – at times it stung through your flesh – and were tyrant-like autocrats who claimed to know-it-all. My strained relationship with teachers thus begins as early as my first years in school. I always kept a distance and if at all I did converse with a teacher it would either involve the teachers’ monologue or my telegraphic response.
Once during my elementary schooling, I happened to be part of a dance team picked up by teachers. After we proceeded with the first few steps over a week, the teachers made a decision that increased my hatred towards the lot. I happened to overhear one of the teacher’s remarks. “She is less girl-like and too dark for the ‘Barbie girl’ dance!” But my little egoistic mind couldn’t bring myself around to accept it and so I continued the drama of practice at home as my loving parents encouragingly cheered my gimmicks until that day arrived. My heart pounded heavily on that day; my mother helped me with the make-up and dressed me up in a pink frock. We stepped out, walked past the lawn, passed through the gates and then I stopped abruptly, looking at my excited mother. I blurted out that terrible truth in fits of sobs.
Those days, it was prestigious to be a ‘prefect’. Sometimes the teacher chose someone or at times it was put to vote. Either way, I never made it. But the stars favoured me on that day in third grade and I was elected the new house prefect of my class. I couldn’t contain my excitement as I kept mumbling about it with pride to every passerby. I had more reasons for joy as I was to take charge officially on the day I was turning eight. I wore my best dress and carried my merit chart my mother and I had carefully made the other night. In the class, I was busy showcasing my prized possession. I felt unhappy as the rainy day halted the assembly and prevented me from carrying out my first task. In the classroom, no sooner than the teacher came, one of my studious classmates raised a concern.
Girl: “Ma’am, Mahima is talkative! Why have you made her the prefect, then?”
Teacher (After a moment’s pause): “Very well, Fathima, you can be the green house prefect.”
That evening I walked back home, my bag felt unusually heavy, the crumpled chart was pressed close to my heart.
As I moved into higher grades, my distance grew and I secretly had a disdain for the entire breed. The tailoring class was a disaster. While I was still trying to get the thread into the microscopic hole of the needle, my classmates were already busy knitting; while I started hemming the sides, my friends might have stitched letters onto their handkerchiefs. The teacher stood staring and commenting on my poor tailoring skills. I would sometimes be made to stand on the bench or at times kicked out of the class. The day she checked everyone’s work to enter the scores, mine were the worst. She would give that contemptuous look, and sneer at me. “That looks like it came out of the cow’s arse,” she would snarl at my helpless face.
What could be worse than the math class? I was scared of my math teachers. As I never quite understood the language of math, my score was consistently C. In my grade card, this C hung like a sickle above my neck amidst other As. I feared the math exams and mostly the day when the results were announced because the teacher wouldn’t mind openly rebuking my version of mathematical theories and results in the answer sheet.
My relationship with teachers still continued to be official and distant even as I joined college. Unlike in the schools, they were less autocratic. While some were kind enough as they hardly bothered about anyone other than their books, some were excellent spies and specialised in amassing students’ histories. Some were preachers who never practised, some practised but never preached, some elaborated on their epic achievements and some were automated information booths while some were friendly enough. I avoided deep conversations and encounters with teachers but caught myself in trouble sometimes justifiable and once or twice for my own fault (Of course, I am not devoid of faults).
However, it would be improper not to mention those few teachers with whom I was able to make some sort of connection. The motherly Rekha ma’am, the friendly Vidhu ma’am, the one and only teacher with whom I had an intimate talk when I was in trouble. And the teacher Sharon who taught me the art of dedication in teaching. Well, she never taught, I learned by observing her as she was my colleague!
Yes, I chose to teach despite how strained my own relationship with teachers was. I want to be the teacher I always wanted as a student no matter how hard it is for me. Teaching is an art which needs artistic and aesthetic sensibilities. Even though the teachers learn child psychology and philosophy, in reality, it is only a few who practise it. Become a teacher for the love of teaching and never for the sake of it. (P.S. Applicable to me too.)
Featured image is a still from ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’.