When I was in grade one, I was five years old. We did not have the luxury of spending years in nursery, Montessori, prep and kindergarten before going to grade one. When you are 5, you start schooling at a regular school, that was the rule. So like all other children of my age I too went to school and started learning the multiplication table by rote, alphabets and a few other things.
At lunch time I munched the single roti with a bit of sugar and ghee rolled like a burrito, drank some water from the tap and went back to do more rote learning. The female teachers were old and not very keen on teaching anything so we the kids were left alone .A sort of class discipline prevailed and we got through the first year. Then I was admitted to another school into third grade because the teacher thought that I was smart enough to jump a grade because I was taught well by my father at home. He gave me the first book in English and I at that age learned to conjugate Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu, By etc. which would come in handy later on in my English class in High School.
The new school had a big play ground but the classrooms leaked whenever it rained so we had to move around to avoid dripping water and learned our lessons. Here the teachers were young and male and checked out home work and gave new lessons. I always was number one in my class all the way to eighth grade .The ninth grade and the tenth were the final years of high school.
The head master at this time was a handsome young man who was also our English teacher and he more than anyone else encouraged me to speak in English and corrected me if my grammar was bad but my Sanskrit teacher loved me. I was the best in his class and hoped that I will get distinction in Sanskrit in my high school exam. He meticulously checked my home work every day in red ink and gave me new ones .He was strict but actually a very kind and loving person who cared a great deal about his students.
But I had trouble in my geography class because the teacher did not believe that I had made all the maps myself and hit my hand with a ruler when he learned that my brother and sister both were taking geography in their university classes. He thought that they made my maps for me which infuriated me. So I asked him to name a country and I then drew the map free hand on the blackboard with all the major cities named and all the geographical features like mountains, rivers etc. indicated.
He asked me to draw the map of Italy which I did accurately and showed cities like Rome, Naples, Venice etc. and the plains of Lombardy, the Alps in the north etc. to the great surprise of the teacher so from then on he praised me and believed me. I was a good student of all subjects and took my studies seriously. I always did my homework first before going to play so often my playmates had to wait because I was not finished.
There were other teachers of Hindi and other subjects who taught their lessons well but they did not make a lasting impression on me. Some asked me to read a new book in English that a publisher was trying to promote and asked my opinion. I was only 14 years of age so they must have thought I was very good in English and could speak it reasonably well to give them an opinion on a new book.
The high school exam is a Board exam in India and a very serious matter unlike in other countries where the kids take the exam in their own school with their own teachers supervising. Here the exam center was different and the teachers were unknown but as expected, I passed the board exam with very good grades and got distinction in Sanskrit delighting our teacher. I also got very good grades in other subjects as well. We were taught to write legibly with nice hand writing and never spend more than 30 minutes on one question. We had to answer five in all and leave the last 30 minutes to review what we had written to see if there were any mistakes that needed to be corrected. This time management served me well and I was always able to answer all the questions in the time provided.
But this article is about the teachers and what was their contribution in my education. Some were excellent like my Sanskrit and English teacher but others were not so great. One would ask us to go out during school hours to sell some tickets and others would send me on errands that had nothing to do with schooling. I have forgotten their names and do not remember what they looked like.
The role teachers play in anyone’s life is important and undeniable. Some make lasting impression and others do not. Some are forgotten and others remembered lovingly long after they are gone. I will always remember my Sanskrit teacher who came to persuade my father that I must continue my college education in Sanskrit because I was his best student and he had such high hopes for me that one day I will become a great Sanskrit scholar and perhaps a teacher. But this was not to be as I started my college education in an agricultural school where I wanted to be an agronomist. He was greatly disappointed and left never to be seen again.
But it was in college when I met some of the greatest teachers and also some of the worst. We had a strict teacher of agronomy but he also was the kindest and most concerned .I was his favorite student and this caused some jealousy among the classmates. In fact I was a favorite student of many teachers who would always ask me to solve a problem on the blackboard while the whole class took notes. I did not know it then but it developed my self confidence and the ability to face a crowd and speak extemporaneously as I had to do later in my life in jobs in many countries. I think some teachers notice something in a student and encourage him to develop certain ability that serves him well later in life. They are the great teachers. One teacher in our agri engineering class in our first year noticed that I could draw well so he encouraged me to compete in a farm equipment drawing contest where I won a second place making my father happy because he saw my name in the news paper. I made several paintings of famous people with India ink that this teacher then framed to decorate the classroom. I also got distinction in his subject so he was very happy with me.
Such people disappear in the vast crowd of life and their students move on with their lives vaguely remembering their teachers who made an impression. I had many such great teachers who are now mostly dead. They were great not because they took their teaching jobs seriously which they did but because they cared for their students and gave any help the student could ask for without any hesitation. I kept in touch with one for over 40 years and he always wrote to me no matter where I was in the world.
But the bad teachers were there as well who did not teach what they were supposed to and put all the responsibility on the student to learn the subject through self study in the library. I do not remember them except the fact that they were no teachers at all.
This trend of making the student responsible for what he needs to learn is prevalent in the graduate schools where the profs take a very permissive and lenient attitude and let the students do what they want. They too leave no impression and are forgotten by the students. If I happen to meet them somewhere, they fail to recognize me and I too look the other way.
During the farewell party for one of our beloved college professors in India , I happened to be present and was asked to say something. So I said that what made him so great was that he never forgot his students even after such a long time although it is not as easy as it sounds. Imagine the vast number of students that pass through a class each year, graduate and disappear never to come back to the campus so it is quite remarkable that he remembered me and we kept in touch. He is dead now but I have his photo on my wall here in the Phillippines where I live.
My experience in the graduate school in California was also good as my soil science professor and advisor was such a great man who helped me personally by offering the lab key so that I could work there at night for my theses, loaned me his personal instruments to make maps and ordered aerial photos of the area that I was to survey for me at no cost. He too is dead now but lovingly remembered.
I think it is natural that students remember their teachers who were good to them, kind and very approachable who taught well and made an impression and tend to forget the bad ones. But there were others who were not my teachers but were just as important. I lovingly remember our lady librarian who gave me a part time job when I needed one to pay for my tuition and always received me so well years after I had left India and settled elsewhere. I will always miss such good people because they helped me become what I am.