“No, I’ll never teach; it’s not in my blood!” I completed college on that dramatic note. And at that time I fully believed in what I said. I got married to an Army officer, and after six years, I decided to take a plunge into the profession I had professed to dislike.
Little Flower Convent, Gurdaspur, opened its portals to me. I strode into class confidently with the children looking on with undisguised interest. I was wearing a sari to make myself taller and fatter.
I walked into the eighth standard and tried my eloquence on them. Fifty minutes, a dry throat and a dozen wisecracks later, I had convinced them that English is, indeed, a beautiful language (which I firmly believe from the bottom of my heart). I assured them, then and there, that they would not be subjected to that commonest of classroom maladies – boredom, for there would ne’er be a dull moment.
And so it proved! I summoned all my powers of narration, ticked my sense of humour, illustrated my lessons with sketches on the board (the more ludicrous the better!) and visual aids that no B.Ed Degree could have foreseen. And my children responded! They picked up the parts of speech (which already they had delayed enough) and learnt that grammar is spelt with an ‘a’ and not with an ‘e’. They tried reading with the correct pauses, and paused when really in doubt. Every time I could add some relevant piece of information to the patchwork of language forming in their minds, I did so. Their essays left the commonplace and widened out into realms of originality. Their letters sparkled with a few gems picked out of their own minds. They spoke, at first bashfully, and then with greater confidence. Finally I even had to stem the tide at times. But it was worth the effort.
I remember one particular boy who used to slouch onto his bag that was always on his desk. One day he was sitting at the back of his class, as busy as the proverbial bee. I stopped the lesson and watched with interest as he continued, engrossed in his task. The others caught on. “Ma’am, he has stuck a tail on the boy next to him.” I summoned him to the front and admired the tail. He had to stand with his ‘tail’ tucked in and explain the relationship between man and the ape. Not surprisingly, he was made the butt of many a ‘tale’ around school for many days. And in the process, I had added a fan to my circle.
Before long I had to quit Gurdaspur because my husband was posted out. The second terminals had just got over and my successor would take over any day. I was overwhelmed by the reactions of my children. I had been around only for two terms and they had found their way into my heart. My house was just round the corner and every day, I found hordes of students coming over to talk to me because they missed me in school. My fingers ached with the number of autograph books I wrote on. My heart swelled at the beautiful cards I received, cards I would cherish all my life. One of them read – “What do you have in common with the Mona Lisa, the Hope Diamond, the Sistine Chapel, the Parthenon and Shakespeare’s plays?” The answer – “You’re all priceless,” tugged at my heartstrings, as did the love that was so palpable and the warmth that made even the cold winter days bearable.
The day before I left school, one of my classes called me to say “Goodbye”. They gave me a farewell gift from the class. More beautiful than the gift were the sentiments they expressed. The monitor cleared her throat. “Ma’am, we enjoyed your classes even more than you enjoyed teaching us, and we will never forget you.” I forgot all that I wanted to say and could only blurt out, “Children, I love you!”
Maybe I will never get those days back again. Life does have a flair for shortening sweet moments, but let it suffice to say that though my students claimed that they were the ones who benefitted by my teaching them, I can only reiterate that, had it been in my power to stop and turn the clock back, I would have, for I learnt from these little children the art of appreciation, the art of love and, above all, the ‘he’art’ of teaching.