My Most Unforgettable Guru

What do the best teachers really teach? Five answers for Teacher's Day


What do the best teachers really teach? Five answers for Teacher's Day

A Good Sport

I was seated in a corner of the fourth-standard classroom, feeling lost. My parents had transplanted me from my old village school, nestled in the verdant Sabarigiri Hills of Kerala, to this fancy boarding school in Bangalore. I missed my old friends; there was now no warm home to rush back to after class, no one to share tales with.

Just then there was a loud cheer from my classmates-a tall, slim teacher in a shirt and starched skirt came by and announced that the maths teacher was absent and that we'd have a free period. She then suggested we do some "activity" on our own without making a racket. I soon learnt that this was Miss Thomas, better known as the Sports Miss.

The girls soon huddled in small groups. Some chatted or giggled, others read books or were seen writing. With nothing better to do, I pulled out a sheet of paper and doodled-hills, swaying palms, the path that led to my old school, my teacher with her long plaited hair. As I was intently drawing my old friends one by one, I found Miss Thomas standing by my side. She swiftly grabbed the paper and went to the teacher's desk.

"Girls, do you see this picture?" she asked. "We have a little artist among us!" I nearly died of embarrassment. She then made me come up and describe my drawing. With great hesitation I managed that. "Now, everybody congratulate Suchitra," Miss Thomas told the class.

Many of them then came forward, shook my hand and smiled at me. By interval time, I found the world to be a much better place! Actually, my art was nothing extraordinary. But Miss Thomas's spontaneous gesture broke the ice and gave me a confidence that never left. I continued in the same school right up to the 10th standard, always with our Sports Miss as a guide, finishing off as the Best Out-going Student of my class of '71.

Today, four decades on, my schoolmates from Baldwin Girls' High School remain my closest friends. Our bonds are unbreakable. I'm a gynecologist and, if I have achieved anything in life, I owe it to my school, its loving teachers and especially to Miss Thomas, a sports teacher who came to me by chance one morning. DR SUCHITRA SUDHIR, Mattanur, Kerala

Sleepless in Coimbatore

Hordes of students hurrying to tuition centres before dawn is a common sight in Coimbatore's Sai Baba colony. Six years ago, while in the 12th standard, I was one of them. Up by 5am, I'd rush for chemistry tuitions, and then attend school between 8am and 4pm. I also had Dr N. Periaswamy's physics tuitions at 7pm. Since I couldn't go home and be back in time, I used to sit at a bus stop reviewing lessons or walk about aimlessly till nearly 7pm.

Dr Periaswamy would explain concepts in physics with enthusiasm. And although they were very interesting, I would often struggle to keep myself awake. Once, I woke up to find my classmates and the teacher laughing. I must have missed one of Dr Periaswamy's jokes, I thought-until it dawned on me that I'd been caught napping!

"All this while I thought you were listening to me with interest," said Dr Periaswamy. "Meet me after class."
I was ashamed and scared. Will he scold me, report this to Dad, or expel me from his classes?

Later, I stood before him expecting one or all of those, but to my surprise Dr Periaswamy was calm. He offered me a seat and asked me whether he had to change his manner of teaching to keep me interested.
"No," I said.
"If not, what's the problem?"
Dr Periaswamy listened patiently as I described my situation. He then pulled out a key. "Here, take this," he said. "Come here after school, open this classroom and rest."

I couldn't believe what had just happened. Then, as I was leaving, he joked, "If you sleep again during my class, I will have to kick you out."
Dr Periaswamy's kindness and concern had a big impact on me. I started working very hard and grew from being a 65-percent scorer to a 95. I finished engineering, started working and, as I write this, I'm about to leave for Buffalo, New York, to do my master's in electrical engineering-all with Dr Periaswamy's blessings. I just wish that every student finds such a teacher.KUGAN VELUSWAMY, Coimbatore

Friend Indeed

In 1952, I was in the 9th standard. That was the year I became friendly with Rajdeo Singh, a boy who lived in one of the villages surrounding our small town of Tekari in Bihar. The son of a small farmer, he was the first member of his family to go to school. Although a year older than me, Rajdeo studied in the 7th standard at another school.

At school, I did well in all my subjects except one: I failed regularly in Sanskrit. I found its grammar difficult, and wondered how learning the language would ever be useful. It was a real problem, and next year if I failed in Sanskrit, I'd not pass the matriculation exams. Rajdeo noticed my anxiety and made me tell him what was troubling me.

"How strange!" he exclaimed. "I am weak in all subjects, except Sanskrit. I could help you." I just could not believe that a 7th standard student could help me, but Rajdeo pored over my Sanskrit grammar book and started teaching me. "Look at the verbs," Rajdeo urged, "first of all you have to learn their shabd roop and dhatu roop by heart."

I did as I was told. I crammed those verb formations as if they were arithmetic tables. Rajdeo had such a practical way of teaching, telling me about short-cuts and strange relationships in the rules of grammar, I was beginning to see Sanskrit much like I saw mathematics, which I liked. Rajdeo came home almost daily, like a tuition master, always prepared, without expecting or taking anything in return. Of course, Mother always gave him meals whenever he visited.

I started to enjoy and absorb his lessons so much that I got through high school with more than 70 percent in Sanskrit! I went on to become a veterinarian, later heading marketing and sales in a multinational pharma company until I retired in 1999. Indeed, I never needed Sanskrit at work, but learning the ancient language wasn't useless after all. Recently, when my grandchildren, too, found Sanskrit studies difficult, I could really help them out, the way Rajdeo did.

I've had many teachers through college, several mentors at work. Yet when I decided to write this account of a very good teacher, it was Rajdeo Singh-a student actually-who came to mind, although I lost touch with him and my hometown ages ago. DR SURENDRA KUMAR JAMUAR, Pune

Language Barrier

When Papa, an Air Force officer, got a transfer in 2002, we moved to Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. Coming from UP, all I could speak was Hindi. I was seven years old.
In my new school in Trichy, I felt isolated while my new classmates chatted happily in a language of which I didn't understand a word. I silently watched as teachers came and went, unaware of a new girl in class-until it was time for Mrs Susie Jacob's English period. "Good morning!" she greeted us, scanning the room.  
"Are you the new student?" she asked me, in English.
One question followed another and I answered with nods. Soon, realizing that I didn't speak English, she made another North Indian girl translate my answers from Hindi.
"Just say whatever you feel like saying in English," Susie Ma'am said. "You have to speak English alone in my class."
"Main nahi bol sakti," I said, which my classmate translated. "But I can't speak…"
"So you're getting what I am trying to say? You understand me," Susie Ma'am remarked with a smile. I nodded. "Then there's no problem. We are all here to learn. Just speak up, but remember, it has to be in English."
"What if I make mistakes?" I asked.
"We all make mistakes, but that's no excuse for not trying something. Don't worry if you speak it the wrong way, I'm here to correct you."
Susie Ma'am's calm words sparked hope in me.

Each time I said something wrong, she would correct me, often gently holding my hand. Susie Ma'am just wanted to give it all-all that she knew-to her students. Her hard work paid off the very next year, when I was participating in English skits and winning prizes for recitation, elocution and calligraphy competitions. Once, when I didn't do so well Susie Ma'am said, "Accept your failure and don't stop your good work."

After I got to the 5th standard, Papa was transferred again and we left Tiruchirappalli. A decade later, I'm now in the third year of a computer science engineering course. But, thanks to Susie Ma'am, every English teacher I've had since then was proud of my language skills. I often wonder: What if I had never met Susie Ma'am? (She remembers me well-I managed to get her phone number in 2012 and have called her every September 5th since.) What if I'd never been to Trichy and never got acquainted with Tamil culture? Looking back to my early days in Susie Ma'am's class, I realize it's not just language that binds us-it's all about the emotional bonds we share. RICHA BHARDWAJ, Jalandhar, Punjab

The Algebra Lesson

Mr Bhattacharya was taking an algebra class when he paused, put his chalk down, dusted his palms and moved towards the front row. "Tell me boys," he said, "after your student life, you will become doctors, engineers, advocates, a teacher like me… businessmen maybe. So, how will all this algebra help you?"

The boys-we were in a senior class-exchanged confused looks until Mr Bhattacharya broke the silence. "Listen carefully," he said. "We must first note what is given, next we should locate other formulae that are required, then decide how to use the given factors… If all these are rightly applied, the problem is solved."

All of us listened carefully-here, from Mr Bhattacharya, was something different from regular mathematics.
After a brief pause, he resumed: "In your daily lives, too, you will invariably come face to face with various problems and difficulties. When that happens, try and recollect how you used to tackle your algebra problems. What is it that you really have? What are the unknowns? How can you reach your goal by using what you are given? How, as in algebra, will you proceed in a logical, step-by-step manner?

"You will probably forget algebra, but this approach will help you in life, no matter what the problem."
I'm 88 today. Mr Bhattacharya's algebraic formula for living has stood me in good stead and helped me overcome many problems in life.