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This Teacher’s Day, Let’s Celebrate The Spirit Of Two-Learning In A Classroom

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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.

A Serendipitous Happening

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.

Lessons As A Teacher

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.

I’ve learned many valuable lessons as a teacher, of which gratitude has been the biggest learning and takeaway. Representational image.

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.

 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.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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