TODAY -

The Guidance We Seek

Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam *

Nirmalabas School Imphal
A file picture of Nirmalabas School Imphal



"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings."
- Carl Jung


I stopped celebrating Teachers' Day in 2002. That was my final year at Nirmalabas High School, the last time September 5th held any special kind of excitement for me. It wasn't that I disliked all the teachers I met after my tenth class. A combination of factors, ranging from lack of emotional connection with the institution to non-celebration of the event at college, was responsible for my growing detachment. The older I grew, the less significant this day became. The fact that I had taken active participation in organising the function at high school began to feel unreal - a chapter from another person's life. This morning, I was jolted out of my passivity when two of my friends rushed off to wish our teachers. Within minutes, as though an entire decade of non-involvement hadn't passed, I found myself armed with wishes, but more than that, a sense of gratitude that surprised me with its genuineness.

Why surprising? Gratitude should be natural in such cases. The quality of one's life is enriched by education, and education is imparted by one's teachers. Books are just one side of the story; they beg to be complemented by people who can comprehend and explain them. As such, the role of the teacher can never be downplayed - a concept so easily understood that we needn't depend on a moral science textbook to spell it out for us.

Easily understood concepts are often dangerous. We get used to them without bothering to question their validity. Does our gratitude extend to all those who towered over us in the classrooms? Not really. There were teachers who emotionally abused us (or our classmates) and did it on purpose. There were teachers who hit us; others who resorted to verbal attack. There were teachers whose sole method of "educating" was to read out from the text. There were teachers who marked answers based on their length. There were teachers whom no one could take seriously, and others who were downright scary. Upon reflection, I realised that I was thankful, truly thankful, to only a handful, even at high school. The rest were authority figures I would soon learn to forget.

I use the word "towered" because it connotes a status of power. At school, the gap between the teacher and the students is made painfully clear. The rows of benches set off against the staunch desk and chair, the obligation to stand and greet, the fingers on the lips, the brandishing of the textbooks - none of these can be deemed as "innocent". In such an environment, the teacher becomes less of a guide. He or she assumes the form of just another adult, burdened with the responsibility to dictate to the ever-shifting mass of students, a task which must be daunting. How can one connect with over sixty kids who know so little? Where does the motivation to make the session interesting to every single one of them come from? It requires an amount of patience that cannot be measured.

For some, it is possible to have such patience. Not all teachers were bad to us; we also had those who astounded us with their knowledge. We had teachers who could make us laugh, teachers who did not have to depend on the text to make us understand the lesson. We had teachers who were generous with their praise, but also fair with their criticism. We had teachers we wanted to emulate, not mock once they turned their backs on us. We had teachers who gave encouragement instead of belittling us with comparisons. When the festivities are over, the presents distributed and the hall littered with paper streamers and tired balloons, those were the teachers we had really thanked in our hearts.

Where a teacher's role starts and where it ends is a topic which could probably fill a whole book. Having said that, I think it's safe to assume that most of us, whether in the profession or not, have a fairly good grasp of how a teacher must interact with his or her students. We can form opinions because we have all been "taught" by a variety of teachers. We expect them to have sufficient knowledge as far as their subject is concerned. We expect them to finish the coursework on time. We expect them to be impartial and non-judgmental.

Apart from such expectations, we also have certain wants. We want them to give us the freedom to question. True education cannot flourish where the mind is forced to sleep on doubt. A teacher who hinders a student from raising questions deprives both the student and himself or herself of improvement.

We want them to provide feedback as well as accept it. If a student has made an error, the duty falls on the teacher to show what went wrong. In the same way, the student must be given the right to communicate his or her dissatisfaction to the teacher.

We want them to be humane. Compassion is useful to everybody, no matter how old or young. A teacher who punishes a student for not completing homework without trying to find out if the latter needed help is doing nothing right. Nor is it productive to simply ignore students who score below average; neglect is just as bad as a harsh scolding.

Most importantly, we want them to be human. This is perhaps the biggest reason why my gratitude was genuine today. Once a teacher steps off the pedestal and faces you as a "person", the fear disappears. Once fear disappears, confidence appears. Once confidence appears, it gets easier to clarify, learn, absorb and apply.

As long as our teachers remain inaccessible to us, the task of education will be a half-baked affair. Consequently, the celebration of a Teachers' Day will happen merely for the sake of ceremony.


* Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao as part of "The Methodical Magpie"
This article was posted on September 06, 2013.


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