School of life

The school I studied had a ‘special section’, supposedly taught by ‘better’ teachers, and only for good students. The idea, perhaps, was that only good students deserve the tutelage of good teachers. I was not a part of this special section. Maybe, mine was the case of sour grapes, but I strongly believe that all students are good and deserve the tutelage of ‘better’ teachers. Fortunately, there was no special section in the school I became a teacher. My experience tells me that compassion and care are the two attributes a good teacher must have.

If I am ever asked, what is the most flattering description of a teacher — a hero, or a role model — I would always go for a hero. A role model impacts our life for a shorter period. Once his role is over, he disappears from the scene. Heroes remain with us for a very long time. Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, two of our greatest teachers, are our heroes.

Effective teachers know that the learners are different, and thus are careful to address their needs by differential instruction. One of my colleagues was a very bright student, but he could not understand why some students take so much time to understand even simple things. He always tried to move faster in the class than was required. Some students could not keep pace with his speed. The senior teachers advised him to move a bit slow. He agreed, though reluctantly. He gradually learnt to move with the class. He understood that some students need time to understand even simple things. He learnt to be patient. A good student became a good teacher.

One of my colleagues was an average student, but he was one of the most popular teachers of the school. Naturally, all the liked him. This raises the question—can a mediocre ever excel?

I believe a mediocre can’t excel, unless he overcomes his sense of mediocrity. An opportunity, if well-utilized, can take an ordinary to an extraordinary level. One suddenly doesn’t become extraordinary. The seizure of opportunity transforms one from an ordinary to an extraordinary. A mediocre tale may not appeal, but the tale of a mediocre can be inspiring.

We all know that drawing is different from tracing. When we draw, we encounter discontinuities. These discontinuities disappear when we trace. But many like to live with a few discontinuities. These discontinuities form their driving force to take them to their destination.

My profession has taught me another lesson. Everything is not for everyone, and everything is not for sale. If something is available for free, it doesn’t mean one should have it. If someone is paying my bill, it doesn’t mean I should overspend. There is another perspective. This perspective tells us that our internal reward mechanisms are very powerful. Often they guide us to take the right path. They help us to overcome dishonesty.

Friends, it is true that we act selfishly if the act maximizes our own payoffs. But it is also true that we are sensitive to the costs that our dishonest ways impose on others. Our dishonesty has a rider. We behave dishonestly enough to profit, but honestly enough to delude ourselves of our own integrity. We are careful that our positive self-view doesn’t get spoilt.

It gives me great satisfaction that I am a teacher. I have known that teacher’s commitments to his students, and the students obligations to his teachers extend well beyond the classroom and formal schooling. My students, to a great extent, are responsible to prepare and shape me for what I am today.

One may ask, what will change everything? A teacher would perhaps say, the end of conventional centralised and age-stratified schools. He would want to see some schools opened where each child follows his personal learning track, at his individual level and rate. I know opening such a school needs another level of determination and resources, but I wish to start such a school—The School of Life.

In this school of life, knowledge will not be a burden, no problem will be trivial, learning will not be dictation, incoherence will be heard, mutants will co-exist with the clones, and there will be hope that dreams can become reality. In this school one can root out his insecurities and self-doubts. In this school a mirror will turn into a window.

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© 2017 by Dr Purnendu Ghosh