A teacher is the first inspiration of a child. When I was young, I wanted to become a teacher too. Teachers have the capacity to influence a child’s life. While some influence children positively, a few negatively, and then there are those who make no impact. I believe teaching is a priceless profession. Teachers train young generations to become assets to the nation. Hence, they hold the power to build a society’s future. But school teachers often have a thankless job!
I was in fourth grade when I developed a fear of going to school. One day, after the bell rang after our third period and it was time for our Hindi lesson, our Hindi teacher entered the classroom and started with a new chapter. She asked the students to read turn by turn. I was terrible at reading Hindi. My heart started to beat faster as my turn was approaching. My teacher said in a deep voice, “Your turn.” I wanted to escape the class, so I did not look at her and acted as if I was too engrossed in reading. She repeated rudely. “Yaa! Here, you. It is your turn to read.” I stood up and took the book in my little hands. My legs started shaking and butterflies flew in my stomach as I tried to read.
I was conscious because 50 gazes were on me. Everyone before me had read perfectly. The thought of not being able to match their level was intimidating. Despite being familiar with the alphabets, some diacritical marks (maatraye in Hindi) seemed confusing. I read pedh (tree) as pade (lie down). Disappointed, the teacher rudely said, “Is it pade? Can’t you see it is pedh? Are you stupid?” She humiliated me. Her reprimanding tone instilled a feeling that I am useless and inferior to others. That day, I lost interest in the Hindi subject. I stopped paying attention, thinking I cannot improve anyway. Each day, as the bell would ring for Hindi period, I would get a very weird feeling in my stomach. My heartbeat would increase abnormally!
Gradually, I stopped studying Hindi. This was reflected in my academic performance too. I got three marks out of 25 in my Hindi unit test. The teacher distributed the answer sheets to students without noting down the marks in her register. She called out the students’ names and asked them to dictate their marks from their seats so that she could note them down. I was on the last bench that day. The teacher called out my roll number. I’d always enjoyed the reputation of being studious in the eyes of my teachers and peers. Hesitant that day to be the talk of the town due to my low marks, I shouted, “12.” Yes, I lied out of fear of humiliation. I did this because I did not want to be a victim of the shocking gazes while shouting my poor marks. You know how kids are, right?
In a middle-class family out of our outdated education system, we are fed the theory that ‘marks are everything’, they define your worth. Somehow, I thought 12 marks are not a serious exaggeration; they were at least enough to tamper my reputation in class. The teacher knew I was lying. She asked me to show my sheet. My legs trembled badly, but I went. She saw my marks, slapped me and shouted, “She has scored three marks only!” I did not know what to do. My eyes were tearful and I just bent my head down.
As I write this, I am crying. The memory of humiliation is vivid. She commented on my dishonesty, taunted me for scoring low, and asked me to go back to my seat. I put my head down and continued to weep. My classmates were not bullies, most of them were concerned about me, all of them were looking at me. They tried to help me by telling the teacher that I was crying, expecting my mercy. The teacher indifferently replied, “Let her cry! She has gained it for herself.” She said this in an insulting tone.
That day also happened to be my birthday. I was very excited and had worn my favourite dress to school. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be a nightmare. I knew I was at fault, so when I went to distribute toffees, I carried a sorry note with me. I handed it over to my Hindi teacher when I went to her class. She read it with a warm smile and said, “It is okay. It happens.” That warm smile did not help much as she continued to be rude with me in her classes.
I gradually developed a fear of going to school. I started missing school by using the typical excuse of a stomach ache before my Hindi lessons, so that I could flee to the school infirmary. Due to my good reputation, my stomach ache was taken seriously each time. Also, the Hindi teacher barely noticed my absence, or even if she did, she did not care to enquire why I was missing. Maybe, the marks culture was dearer to her than the mental well-being of a tiny tot. I used to sit unprepared for Hindi exams. I used to peep into my partner’s work to fill something in my answer sheet.
My parents never defined me based on the marks I scored. However, after these incidents, I started believing that marks define me. In our education system, in which extra-curricular activities remain “extra” (and useless), you are not respected if you don’t get good marks. As a result, there were instances when I forged my parents’ sign on my test copy whenever I scored poor marks. In our school, we had to show our answer scripts signed by our parents on the next day of receiving them. This practice ensured that our parents were aware of our performance. At the end of the term, I had no hopes, but surprisingly, I was promoted to Class 5.
Interestingly, in the next academic session, I started scoring good marks in Hindi because of my new Hindi teacher. Subsequently, my attendance improved. My new Hindi teacher was very sweet and helpful. She used to share tips on how to improve in the subject. By the time I reached Class 9 and 10, I was one of those students whose Hindi notebook would get circulated in the class. I was the only one to complete our Hindi homework. I became a Hindi topper, not to say that marks defined my worth. I am emphasising upon the effect of a positive and motivating atmosphere that improved my learning.
In addition, this change enhanced my overall well-being. In Class 11, I was recommended as the Hindi Editor in the Students Council of my school. The same child who would not understand Hindi diacritical now loved the subject! It was the magic of a teacher who made a positive impact on my life. After this, I never felt butterflies when going to school.
When I received the Academics Excellence Award for scoring the highest marks in Class 12 boards, I met all my teachers. I walked to my old Hindi teacher too. She was delighted to know that I will be pursuing law. I looked at her and wondered if she remembered that incident. She kept wishing me luck, but I was lost in my imagination. Amidst her whispers and talks, I relived the dreadful moment of the past. The scene of how she embarrassed me in front of my peers played in front of my eyes as if a movie was playing on a roll. That incident is still crystal clear in my mind.
Till date, I do not like her. She might have been a good teacher for others. She is admired by many students. However, to date, I am unable to forget what had happened. I am sure she must have forgotten about it. Maybe, for her, it was a usual day. However, for me, it was a depressing phase. I spent nights crying and moistening my pillow with the dreadful thought of going to school the next day. This may sound meaningless to many readers, they may feel this is an exaggeration, but this is how child psychology functions. Childhood memories, especially the unpleasant ones, leave an indelible imprint on a person’s mind. They always stay afresh, vivid. In the worst scenario, they hamper one’s development. This incident hurts me badly to date.
A major part of teachers’ training is learning child psychology. According to me, if a teacher fails in understanding the psychology of a child, they fail the profession! I am aware of my mistakes and I apologised for the same, but I strongly feel that the situation could have been managed better by my teacher. I want to thank both my Hindi teachers. Both incidents have offered meaningful lessons for life. One taught me what not to be, while the other taught me what to be. I have shared one instance from my life. I am sure each person, including my Hindi teacher, experienced something similar in school.
Dear teachers, you carry the capacity to impact a student’s life. We are not just the country’s future, but also its present. I hope you realise the power in your profession after reading this. Please do not dump your bad mood on a tiny tot. Do not develop contempt for a child for their academic performance. Be empathetic and try to understand what is hindering their learning.
Had the Hindi teacher wrote on the blackboard and explained the difference between pedh and pade, or had she endearingly conveyed the same, it would have hugely impacted my progress and well-being. Teachers preach it is good to apologise for one’s mistakes, it is time they practice it themselves. An apology should not be mere tokenism, but must be transformed into real action. On this day, I want you to ponder over your entire teaching career, recall such experiences, and be a little more sensitive towards your students. Wishing you a very happy Teachers’ day in advance!