Teachers Day Thoughts: What They Taught in School and What I Learnt!
By Sreekumar Raghavan
In the early 1970’s once I finished kindergarten, I had to attend a small test
and interview before getting admitted to I Standard in Arya Central School in
Thiruvananthapuram. I was asked by a teacher to write something and also answer
orally a few questions. It seems I didn't do well. But I managed to get
admission because my brother happened to be the favourite student of that teacher.
Later, whenever I caused mischief at home, my brother used to say "don't
forget you got into school only because of me!". So that was an important
lesson for me- in India you can survive even if you don't have merit but have
the right connections or as they say 'Influence'.
In II standard I was a victim of intense bullying by boys which I had to suffer silently while all the girls would giggle at my plight. Those guys even used to put cockroaches and lizards in my tiffin box and told everyone that I was bringing all these to school not food. I tried to complain to teachers. But I realised that these boys had taken bail giving a totally different version from what had happened in class. Then the teachers would say I am fit only to remain outside the class.
Gandhiji said live by the truth and take only genuine cases to fight for. But he forgot to tell us that even if we are right we need a strong advocate to argue our case and lucky to get witnesses who don’t become silent.
Interval sessions were nightmares
as the bullies would either make fun, kick or harass me. This is when you
realise the one 'Bollywood' hero thrashing a dozen thugs is just a joke, it
can't happen in real life. Moral: You
laugh and the whole world laughs with you, you weep and weep alone.
By now you must have realised
what a wonderful start I had at school. And it was natural that with low
self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, extreme loneliness I failed in II Std
which was a kind of shock for my father and mother. I was promoted from I Std
only because of the no detention policy. Normally, only school drop outs fail
in early classes. I had to sit again in
Class II and luckily the fellow students were friendly although they knew I had
failed and also about the experiences I had gone through.Yet a few years later when I was in 6th Standard, two of the bullies who caused most trouble to me in II standard were caught for copying in annual examinations in the same examination hall in which I was appearing for the exams. Yet I didn't feel happy about them being caught but felt sympathetic when the Principal arrived and tore their answer sheets into two, gave them a beating with a bamboo cane and announced that they are being dismissed right away. Despite the binary digits (0s & 1s) I got for most of the exams since Standard I, I never thought of copying or cheating and those values have always stood by me. The teacher who caught them was my English teacher (I forgot her name) whom I was fond of because she had always encouraged me to read and write more perhaps thinking that was my only hope for doing anything meaningful in life.
English was my favourite subject but there again I couldn't understand why we had to repeatedly do cursive writing. However well I wrote, the teacher would find some mistake with the slant of 't' or capital 'G’ wasn't round enough! I felt disheartened when told to repeatedly write while some of my friends got 'good' and 'excellent'. Somehow with a poor handwriting I managed to complete post-graduation but I realise that the English teachers who gave 'impositions' were right- many people find it difficult to decipher my writing even now. Sometimes, I struggle to read what I write!
I could never master mathematics - I wondered how some of my friends would
solve a problem in seconds bringing something to the denominator and cutting
some zeros from the numerator and denominator. And there you have the answer! Even more perplexing
was the (a + b2) = a2 + 2ab + b2. Then there
were lot of theorems such as the Pythogoras. Here to find dimension of a larger
side of a right triangle we have to draw two squares. Then prove that the sum of the area of the
two squares equalled the side opposite the right angle. Just as in algebra we
borrow from one place and put one number on the other to complete a
calculation, they drew some more lines or boxes to a triangle to prove some theorems. Why take so much
trouble, I wondered!
I remember going for tuition classes in 9th standard taken by a retired maths teacher Kurien Sir. One of the students was already getting 100% marks but he wanted to ensure that he got it in the final examinations too! One day Kurien Sir said in a melancholic tone "you don't even know the fundamentals, how can you understand all these?" . That ended my tuition classes also. I learnt another important lesson in life, success in any field depends on attaining a good foundation.
A Delicate Balance
Chemistry was a terror for me. I didn't understand the basic concept of balancing an equation. How am I to know how many atoms of hydrogen can balance so many atoms of carbon or oxygen? Just as I wondered how fisherwomen dance-walked on the streets delicately balancing the basket full of fishes on their heads. The chemistry lab always had an offensive smell while I looked amazed at the 'top rankers' who went about enthusiastically clutching test tubes in their hands saying they got the 'salt' right- acidic or alkaline or whatever. If Chemistry was offensive, I couldn't make sense of what you find through glass slabs and plane mirrors in the Physics lab. Heat, energy, light, boiling point, freezing point all would made my heart freeze.
Biology would have been easy but
for trouble of drawing the animal organs and plants. I couldn't even draw the
petals of a flower properly nor the finer details of a heart or kidney. And the
teacher would say when you dissect an animal the actual size of the organs
would be much smaller. Luckily, in the final examination we didn't have to
dissect any animal or I would have damaged all the organs. A frog was cut open in a table and we only had to identify
Geography and history indeed opened a new world of excitement telling us of the world wars, emperors, kingdoms, the freedom struggle and of course the mountains, glaciers and oceans.
I chose a career that partly depends on my writing skill apart from communicative and analytical abilities. Therefore, many people mail me manuscripts or short documents asking me to look for mistakes. And I usually make the corrections and return. But when they ask me why a particular sentence is wrong, I draw a blank. I am not familiar with grammar rules in any language but by intuition I understand that a particular sentence structure is wrong. This made me understand an important lesson in communication- grammar and rules are not that important as the ideas you want to convey! Hindi, our national language, was again a bit tough for me because a word that is masculine in one context can become feminine in another sentence. Luckily, at that time the concept of transgenders was not known to mankind.
I remember fondly Bhavanikutty teacher who taught Malayalam and Hindi. At the end of every class she would tell a story from the Ramayana or Mahabharatha and rendered the dialogues of Hanuman , Rama or Ravana with such effect that we eagerly looked forward to her classes. Years later when I started writing articles and features I took cue from her and tried to bring in some well known English novel or story or from our epics to illustrate a point.
Renowned writer, novelist and director K A Abbas had noted in his memoirs that at school during intervals he remained in class as he did have the physique to go out and excel in sport. My case was the exact opposite. I longed for the bell to ring and run to the play ground for cricket or kabaddi. After going home also I would quickly vanish to the playground with some of the eagerly waiting neighbours. I wished one day I would become a cricket player and play for the Kerala team. But that didn’t happen. (Incidentally, Ananthapadmanabhan who played for Kerala and was an Indian cricket team probable was my immediate senior at school and we used to play together.)
I had to struggle in school not only because I was not good at academics but being constantly compared with my brother who was a topper in his class. Some teachers used to openly say in class, how come both of them have come from the same family! So that brings us to an important lesson in life- don’t send siblings to same school if there is a wide mismatch in their academic capabilities.
Message for Teachers Day September 5, 2019: Education is not just what the teacher teaches but also the result of what you observe and reflect on what is happening in the class and the world around.