Good teachers are a blessing, but grateful students are an even bigger blessing. It is my privilege to be able to share one of my trysts with gratitude during my brief stint as a teacher in a graduation college.
I had just returned from the US in the mid of 2016. As soon as I landed, as destiny would have it, I received a teaching job offer. Within three days, I was teaching a management course to graduation and post-graduation students.
No experienced teacher wanted the headache of having to manage an unruly class of grown-up men and women. And so, as soon as I got appointed, I was assigned the role of the class teacher of the ‘most notorious class’ in the college. In hindsight, it was the best decision I took, as it not only helped me readjust faster in my home country, but it also allowed me to rejuvenate myself through my daily interactions with youngsters.
Before the end of the semester, students had to write one last internal exam. And in my generous mood, I used to correct papers quite liberally, overlooking minor flaws like grammar, spelling mistakes etc., which I am otherwise quite particular about. As long as they understood the practical concept, I’d overlook the rest.
After distributing their answer sheets, students started hankering for the maximum marks possible — including the one who scored the highest with 29 out of 30, and wanted ‘just’ half a mark more to make it a perfect 30. I congratulated the topper of the batch for what I thought was a well-written paper with some innovative answers. But I had to turn down his request as I couldn’t give him full marks for theoretical subject papers.
Anyway, I couldn’t blame the students. You know how it is with us Indians! We are born in a highly competitive environment where we are taught to fight for everything. In an educational setup, every single mark, or even half or quarter of it, matters. We are taught not to give up without a fight. It’s how us parents and teachers have trained our children to become. And so, we have made it a ‘dog eat dog’ world for them!
There was this one student in the class whom I watched from the corner of my eye, amid the teeming crowd that surrounded me from all sides. He was patiently watching and observing the ongoing proceedings, with his answer sheet clutched in his hands. After a long wait, it was his turn. Needless to add, he was the last in the line. But that was his choice. As he brought forth his answer paper, I asked him how I could help him. He replied, “Ma’am, I’ve not come to get more marks added. I’ve just come to show you my paper and tell you that you gave me more marks than I deserved. Thank you!”
I was speechless. This was a rare happening.
The grateful young man, one of the most intelligent students I’ve taught, was not fighting like the rest of his class to be first in line and haggle for extra marks. That incident will never get erased from my memory and will always pop up as a sweet reminder to show gratitude when one ought to. And I have to thank that young student for teaching me a lesson or two. Yes, we teachers learn from our students as well.
Gratitude is so important in our lives, but it should not be confused for what it is not. Often, I see people who make a tremendous effort in going to great lengths to express their gratitude, but only to people who hold influential positions and titles, people whose close associations will be beneficial to them. But this is not gratitude, this is opportunism. There is a subtle but huge difference between the two.
Sycophants love sycophants love sycophants. Arguably, we live in a sycophantic culture.
Anyway, that student was not the only one to express his love and gratitude during my brief teaching tenure. Class teachers, and teachers, in general, are treated like superstars in colleges. There were many students in the class I taught, each with their own style of expressing gratitude. Some expressed it through words, some with gifts and some through their thoughtful actions. But it is the intention behind those acts that holds a greater significance and meaning. Some did for a covert benefit, but for some, it came from a genuine place.
As I completed that semester, the students had given an overwhelmingly positive feedback to not just the Principal, but also me. Some said I was the best teacher they had right from their elementary LKG class. I’d fellow teachers with an experience of over a decade, who would watch me in action in the sidelines and enquire later in the staff room about my class as my methodology seemed interesting to them. I had no teaching qualification or prior experience — my lack of expertise, infused with a fresh approach to the classroom teaching style. So, to be able to make an impact in such a short time felt satisfying.
I must admit here that my motherhood experience helped me tremendously in being a good teacher. I taught my students and tried to make routine learning fun for them, as I did with my daughter. At least my experience of teaching my child came in handy and did not go in vain, I thought. Teaching and learning go hand-in-hand. To be a good teacher, you need to be a good learner. Most importantly, you need to be a good listener, patient observer, and a selfless giver.
I’ve witnessed fellow staff members scream, admonish, and insult students. Losing control is a natural human tendency, but in our role as a teacher, we must be the bigger person always, and have hope and faith in our students. Let them make mistakes, learn from them, and flourish in their own sweet time. Also, words have the power to either build or cause long-lasting damage to the students’ psyche and self-esteem. As teachers, we hold the power to create or destroy our students. The choice is up to us.
Teachers, like students, come in all shades. There are good teachers and bad ones. The bullies who misuse their power and authority sometimes go the extra mile to tarnish a student’s future. It’s easier to dump the blame on students, calling them unruly and poorly raised. But we must accept that our students are a mere reflection of us, and their parents, teachers and society alike, and it is our responsibility to enlighten them with our influence and not authority.
Also, there is a lot that goes behind the scenes as a teacher. When I stepped into a teacher’s shoes, I discovered that a lot of work goes unnoticed and is often taken for granted. A lot of preparation goes before each class, and a lot of physical energy is expended in teaching one class after the other, standing on your toes in a saree and speaking in a loud tone to a class of over 60-70 students. There is a lot of documentation work after teaching hours. And you are also spearheading extracurricular activities to enhance students’ personalities and give them a wholesome learning experience. It is a tough job, but also one of the most satisfying ones. I’ve learned that there is no greater joy than the love of learning and sharing knowledge.
In conclusion, I’ve learned many valuable lessons as a teacher, of which gratitude has been the biggest learning and takeaway. Gratitude is acknowledging and genuinely understanding the value of even the most minute blessings in our lives, and seeing hope and opportunity even in our darkest phases. Gratitude is looking at the proverbial glass, and seeing it as ‘half full’ — being genuinely thankful for the water as well as the opportunity to fill the glass to its full capacity.
Teacher’s Day is less about a paying tribute to the profession and more about the spirit of learning. I have so many real-life inspiring instances of gratitude that not only touch me, but also serve as a reminder to stay humble and thankful always. On the occasion of Teacher’s Day, I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to teach as well as learn from all my students. I have also learned from each one of my teachers and mentors throughout my academic and corporate life.
Do you have a favourite memory to share on Teacher’s Day? I’d love to hear it from you.