Why did I do this? Why become a teacher?
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how it started for me because to credit a particular incident with such honour would be a disservice to other influences that have been as responsible in their contribution. A way to explore this, I suppose, is to recall the experiences I hold dear with respect to those who taught me or I inadvertently learnt from.
Rai sir, my Cricket coach from Grade 7 through 12, taught me everything from gripping a cricket bat to catching a ball. What I cherish most is not what he taught me but how – he would let me bat the way I fancied, wait for me to get out and swoop in right then to ask ‘why’ I thought I got out; he made me think each time I failed where failure was never a factor of the runs I had scored but of how I had scored them. Jacob sir, my Grade 11-12 Math teacher, brought each class alive with his sarcasm and wit; I can’t thank him enough for making math both fun and funny. From him I learnt that boring is a matter only of perspective. Renu Ma’am, my Grade 12 Economics teacher, was sweeter than a bowl of sugar; not once did she ever so much as scoff at me; she epitomised what they call a ‘good teacher’. To me she was a guiding light in times of stress – the post-board-result-admission-rush; I will always remember her indelible support. I shouldn’t discount the role of my mother here who provided the twin blankets of financial security and intellectual freedom, and thus fostered my individuality; not once did she impose her views onto me or expect me to choose a specific life-path. These people are my window to ‘good education’, yes, but there are several other influences I’d like to detail here.
To be entirely honest, I hadn’t dabbled with the idea of teaching until the beginning of last year. My aim in school was to attain great scores. My aim in college was to secure a great job. After the job I was ‘supposed’ to pursue a decent post-graduate degree, post which I would secure a yet greater job. It’s funny how you think you’ve got your whole life mapped out and suddenly you’re on the top of a flyover, in the middle of the road, cars swishing past you and you have nowhere to go! Everywhere I’ve worked – a consultancy, a call-centre, a construction site – I’ve faced misery and disillusionment; blatant concentration of power, appalling objectification of people, insatiable thirst for profit, utter lack of value or meaning have all led me to question my pre-mapped-path. Why do employees hate their bosses? Why do a majority dislike their jobs? If they’re happy with their jobs why do they run away from work the first chance they get? Why am I selling this product/service? Who does it really benefit? Why do we as a species crave this ‘more’? Why am I doing this and for whom?
As is quite evident, I was deeply disturbed, making associations I’d never attempted before and so I decided to read. Literature helped me comprehend the gravity of my ignorance and instead of finding answers I was burdened with more questions. Why do we work, for livelihood or passion? What is work? Do we have to work for someone? What is an identity, my identity? How has it formed? What is a political agenda? What is an ideology? Why does the dominant ideology prevail? What are children of today learning? I suppose I can blame my business background for such an ignorant world-view, but I’ll leave that for another write-up. The ideas of socialisation and conditioning although new to me then, immensely distressed me. I remember feeling incredibly restive and helpless. I wanted to do something, anything. I wanted to ‘solve’ the problem – evils deeply entrenched in society cutting across caste, class and culture were perpetuated by education I thought. I may have suffered the same evils in my education, but at least there was freedom, both intellectual and economic, to explore the other – can we say that about all our children? Children are being misguided, and taught false ideals; every child deserves a ‘good education’, no? It was as clear to me as day – I had to teach.
The first couple of months were really quite difficult; being rejected by children was a daily occurrence; I struggled to teach skills, values and embed in them the English language. Slowly but surely a whole lot of them started showing interest as well as academic improvement. I found my work worthwhile; of course it was something ‘my world’ needed. This is not to say all is hunky dory; there is this group of children who I’ve almost always ignored partly because they’ve never been interested in anything I’ve had to say and partly because I’ve lost the patience to deal with them and thus found it easier to leave them be. About a month before the summer break I engaged a student from this group in a conversation about his peeves with school. To my surprise, he was elated with school, didn’t even mind the bullying. A little probing led me to discover his mother was a victim of domestic violence. After a few minutes of silence he asked me to save his mother’s life.
And that’s when it hit me – what do I even know?
It’s only just begun.