Ms. Lata’s voice was laden with myriad emotions- of happiness, pride, of being acknowledged and respected. “You remembered me! Thank you so much for taking time out and letting me know his marks!” It seems nobody else had called her. When I saw my son’s board examination grades, the first thing that came to my mind was to call up his teachers, to express my gratitude for all that they had done for him. They have no lofty expectations from the profession that they have dedicated their lives to. Respect and acknowledgment are all they want.
With the pandemic came online classes and queer stories about how some parents would sit put beside their wards judging the teacher, scrutinizing her, pouncing on the smallest of errors that they so cleverly detected and then even gleefully tweeted about the same! Sardonic jibes are common place, some of my friends exuberantly state their joy at “giving it off to that teacher and now she will be on track for a while”!
Ever since my tryst with Sister Connely, in grade 1, a deep-seated regard for teachers was initiated. She herself was always a work in progress, where teaching was concerned, emulating the lives of other prominent teachers from history.
I went to see her at a nunnery in Kolkata, after ages! Frail, wrinkled and gaunt with age, she sat near the window looking at the world go by. I knocked on the door thrice before she heard me. She squinted through her thick glasses. Of course, she did not recognize me. “I was your student at Holy Cross. You were my first-grade teacher 35 years back.” There was joy in those eyes, the windows to her inner soul that didn’t seem to age at all. She hugged me and we sat down on the old, woven cane chairs. One anecdote that has always stood out in my life took birth in Sister Connely’s class. It was that year a girl named Ananya Patel joined our school. She came from a very rich family and would bring fancy stationery to school. I have always had a fetish for stationery. One particular thing that caught my fancy was a ruler that she had. It was a 3-D one. Even in the middle of a lesson I would move from one end of the classroom to where Ananya was sitting, as if under hypnosis. The ruler would project a different image each time I’d tilt it. Ananya was horrid at number work, so she would tell me to finish a page of addition and in return I could hold the ruler for a few minutes.
One day when we were supposed to go out for our P.E. classes I excused myself and stayed back in class because the heat and humidity made me feel faint. I put my head down on the desk and as I closed my eyes, I remembered the ruler. The precious piece of stationery lay on the desk nearby. As if under a spell, I felt myself move towards it, took it in my hands and kept it in my desk. The next period was Sister Connely’s and Ananya threw a fit as she couldn’t find her ruler. I wanted to return it then and there but fear had overtaken me. In my six-year-old psyche the word “theft” had never even figured.
It was then that Sister Connely told us, “Taking somebody else’s things without asking them is a very bad thing to do. The principal might punish the person if he gets to know. Let’s do one thing, you will all close your eyes, and the child who has taken the ruler will walk to my table and place it there. If I find anybody’s eyes open, I will be very angry.”
All eyes were shut tight. My hands shook. I pulled out the ruler and placed it on Sister Connely’s table. However, even after that Sister Connely never changed her behavior towards me.
“Sister do you remember the ‘theft’ of the ruler? You never ever reprimanded me after that incident.”
Sister Connely quipped, a smile on her face, “Oh was it you? How would I know when my eyes were also closed?” It was an afternoon that taught me another lesson.
Some learnings are not merely bookish and teachers are way deeper than the random microscopes they are placed under!
Jacques Barzun rightly stated- “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
— Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @VpNavanita