Of Climbing and Falling

Teaching for 7 years is bound to give you countless memories of trials and errors and failures. And successes, too. (If you allow your dear heart to make a fool of itself, then some trillion laughable memories as well.) I loved teaching. I still do. But I am  not a teacher anymore.

I regularly surprise myself with thoughts like “I wish I could go back,” because teaching had never featured in my list of careers. It was a complete non-entity.  Fortunately, thankfully, I got into the profession and loved every moment of it. I am grateful for the times when people like the mind-numbing M asked me for the umpteenth time, “Ms. D, what does this mean?” Much to our relief, hers and mine, she opted out of German in a year. You fall sometimes. Yet you climb right back. And also for the times like when she came to me a few months after switching to a different language and said, “Ms. D, I hated your classes. I just could not understand anything. But I love you. I want you to know that it is not you because of whom I left German. I just don’t understand.” She was in grade 7, a ‘special child’ as they call them these days. I could never have the courage to say something like this. Even today.

The excitement of climbing, discovering new heights, and the fear induced by an occasional fall (or frequent, if you are me) is something that, for me, is unparalleled anywhere else. And so are the bounties of such a journey. The brilliant smiles, the Thank You, Miss cards, the I-am-going-to-die-if-you-don’t-listen-to-this conversations. And hurdles of disinterested faces, arrogant looks, I-am-not-doing-my-homework,-so-there attitudes add to the challenge so completely consuming, it is brilliant.

The only visual remnant of my shaky endeavours. I love it, because it brought the kids out of their shells. I love it, because together we coloured the white walls in the best shades of confidence and personality. I love it, because the kids told me they loved me for letting them ‘ruin’ the walls.

When I was typing “I loved teaching” above, I stopped for a moment to think of what the word ‘teaching’ meant. I do not know. If I do not know it, how can I love it? I do not have an answer to that either. Let me rephrase. I loved (and still do) interacting with young, curious, conniving, inexperienced, fresh, troubled, honest, minds. I loved to tell them what I was supposed to tell them, and much more besides. (Here’s a quick confession – “Have mercy, Lord, for I have sinned.” Yes, I confess there used to be ghost story sessions in my class.)

My relentlessly seeking being found a little rest with the children. It gave me patience. I loved the way they taught me patience, especially the younger age group of 10-12 years. I could not have learnt it on my own. They taught me to like what I accomplished. To feel happy in my small achievements. It was an incredible pleasure to see them pleased at my sight, even if they knew I was going to ask for completed homework. I loved teaching, because it encompassed all of this, and more.

It was in 2001, I think, that I began teaching. This is when my journey of immense pleasure and pain began. The children I met showed me how much could be done with simple interactions. Our failures together showed me exactly how much needed to be learned.

It may not be possible to reproduce the sense of accomplishment you get while seeing a budding adult with the knowledge that you watered his/her garden sometimes.

When I first joined a school as a teacher, I thought of children as mouldable putty. No, actually I didn’t. I thought of them as individuals with impressionable minds. People who sensed and felt and learnt with every single stimulus around them. I wanted to give them the freedom of choice. To make them see that I was the same.

It was a mistake. Or let’s say an incomplete theory.

SJ was a menace. Much to my delight and horror, he opted for German. Delight, because I really liked his funniness. Horror, because no sane teacher would want him in class. Sitting at the last bench, he’d shoot up like a dart when I entered the class. And begin singing a “Good Morning, Miss” song, which went on for what seemed like hours. And I wasn’t a Jane Austen-y smart girl. I laughed with the rest of the class. Even when he began his really annoying mimicry of a fart-bugle. Just when I began with my routine “Es geht mir gut, danke,” he’d begin his slow, mournful, soulful fart-bugle.  I tried talking smart, laughing, telling him it wasn’t on, but it didn’t work. One day, when the fart-bugle had finally become an epidemic in the class (I had feared that), I ran to my Head of Department. She assured me he’d get grave punishment this time. I hadn’t been the first teacher complaining about him that day. I just had to write a complaint, sign it and let her give it to the headmaster. I chickened out. Grave punishment? For fart-bugling? She looked deep into my eyes and said, “Make up your mind, Priya. You can’t afford to break down and act like a child.”

The theory had an addition now. I wanted to give the children the freedom of choice, but I also wanted them to see that it was happening on my terms.

Two more schools and five years later, I knew the climb well. I had begun enjoying it, too. Every bit of it. My theory saw many changes, additions, subtractions, revisions, but it finally came down to “Give your best, because the child knows. Encourage your students to give  their best, because they want to.” Like most of my theories, there are imperative sub-chapters here as well.  I learnt the importance of remembering to never let the child think you lie – about your fears, anger, disappointment, love, pride. Especially the fears, because they can sense it, and that can be a big fall. It doesn’t matter how you tell them. A gesture, a movement, a word is all you need. And while you are doing it, remember that all that confidence and self-esteem that you have gathered in the years with these people, is important. Don’t undermine its value.


12 thoughts on “Of Climbing and Falling”

  1. I was going to say that education lost a wonderful teacher when you decided to leave the field. But the truth is, you are still teaching — through your beautiful writing and brilliant insights. And as I read this post now for the third time, its title and message seem to grow in breadth and depth. Clearly, they apply not only to teaching, but to all of life. Every process, every pursuit, every endeavor consists of climbing and falling, and climbing again. That’s the lesson you taught me today. Thank you.

    1. You are always so kind, Charles. And coming from a person, who has done tremendous teaching of his own, this comment has its special feel. I am honoured that my words could deliver some tiny little reminder to you (For I know that nothing I have written here is news.). Have a lovely day.

  2. I love this post, Priya. I have wanted to ask you about your teaching, what you taught, when you taught, if you still do, then saw a respond to a comment someone posted in which you said you no longer teach.

    I don’t have the temperament to teach in a class, but I’ve taught individually. Curious subjects and always from my own experience, not via any sort of training. Art springs to mind. And, of all things – astrological interpretation! (I don’t believe in it anymore… well, not very much!)

    I wonder what you’ll make of my current post… I hope you aren’t offended by it.

    1. Why would I be offended? I got more than a bagful of chuckles out of it! Do you have a particular reason in mind?

      Astrological interpretations! Now I am very interested!

  3. Great post Priaya, you must’ve been a real *fun* teacher. How many languages do you speak? German English and …
    Interesting how one little boy farting on his arm can successfully interrupt a class! How did you get away with letting the kids paint on the walls.

    Also I’m going to have problems accessing a computer in the next few weeks, so may not be able to comment as often.

    1. I know Hindi, English and German, Rosie. I must’ve been a fun teacher, yes. Any one who allows a boy to blow out fart like sounds for his mouth and then turn it into a bugle-like sound to disrupt the class over and over must have been a fun thing to do. 🙂

      Much like painting the walls. I took the permission of the Principal before letting them do it. She was pretty pleased with the idea, too.

      Get back safe and happy, Rosie, we’ll be waiting!

  4. Perhaps the most insightful thing that teachers new to the profession discover is how much the teacher learns from the pupils. I think that exchange is magical. I agree with Charles, Val, and Dearrosie that you must, indeed, have been a fun teacher to learn from.

    In this country, teaching is a woefully underappreciated profession. I think teachers should share the same compensation and glory as a surgeon. But that is far from the case here.

    Great post.

    1. Thank you, Linda for using the word magical. And the fact that your used fun and me along with it, has made my day twelve times over.

      Teaching is an underappreciated profession here as well, and I have a suspicion that it is so everywhere. And yes, like a surgeon, a teacher has the power to make or break the person’s life.

  5. Delightful, Priya, delightful. The one thing you must know is that you left some of your spirit and joy with each of these children. They will remember you fondly. You taught them much, but gave them many gifts.

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