Teachers’ day in India is celebrated on the birthday of our former President, a noted philosopher and a great teacher Sarvapalli Dr. Radha Krishnan. The underlying spirit of this day is to respect and honor the teaching community of the society. The day brings us closer to thoughts of nation building and the future of India i.e. our students.
The future of the students of this country is the future of this country. For building a bright and meaningful future of students, we have to turn to those methods, those ways and techniques that can enhance the future prospects of a student. We should think at the micro level − what should a student do to improve her/his job prospects, what should a student do to lead a lawful, happy, fulfilling life.
One of the important things that a student should do is to be proficient in English. I’m not saying this just because I’m a Professor of English. I’m saying this because this is true. English is the language of aspirations in today’s India. Those who oppose English are wrong. For centuries, our country has been known for her multiplicity, her flexibility, her immense capacity to assimilate cultures, languages and races. If we see with our own eyes, we’ll see that deep into the south, we’ve Dravidian race. High up in the north, we’ve Iranian-Aryan race. In the north east, we’ve the Mongolian race. People in the middle are an amalgamation of all these races.
There’s nothing like the pure Indian race. We’ve always been a hybrid nation. This is our greatest strength. We have the capacity to absorb. Rigidity is not a native Indian characteristic. Today, the most powerful nation in the world, America is called a nation of immigrants. Any nation who will show the strength of accepting others will grow.
English came to India roughly four hundred years back. It has become part and parcel of our consciousness. Many Indians today think and speak, talk and debate naturally in English. This is our strength. We can instantly understand what the world is talking. A language is called a medium − English medium school or Hindi medium school. A language is like an empty container. We may fill it with whatever we want. If we use English to express Indian ethos, it will serve that purpose.
We’re not against Hindi or any other Indian language. All languages are beautiful. Users of every language should work to promote their language. Various Indian languages are a mirror of India’s cultural, religious, ethnical diversity. India cannot be limited to just one religion or just one region or just one caste. India is the other name of multiplicity. People should leave their complexes, their fears that English would invade our culture.
Our culture has survived through the centuries because it has evolved, it has changed and grown. Culture is not a dead thing. It’s a lively phenomenon and it will change and grow, no matter what. One individual or one organization cannot claim to be the only custodian of Indian culture. I use English, I enjoy using English, I’m liberal, I’m secular, I’m modern and I’m truly Indian. I love all religions, I respect all religions and I’m truly Indian. No one has won the tender on Indian-hood.
The idea of India is humanism, liberalism, harmony, brotherhood and peace. This is the only method through which this country can grow. English is a great catalyst in this process. We should accept that English language has done great service to our country. The ideas of social equality, democracy, liberty, fraternity and economic growth have come to this country through the English language in the 19th and 20th centuries.
I don’t deny that India was a world power some ten centuries back. We should take pride in that fact. But in the modern times, fresh ideas have come to India through the medium of English language. All our freedom fighters, Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash, Gokhale, Tilak, Maulana Azad, Sarojini Naidu − they were all English educated. They knew what Rousseau had written, what Karl Marx had said, how important the discoveries of Galileo or Darwin were. They were enlightened people. They were deep rooted in Indian culture and nationalism and yet they were dynamic, liberal and open.
First of all, we should do away with the rigid mentality that prevents us from learning new languages, customs and ways. With an open heart, we should come to English and learn it.
Now the most important question arises − how to learn English. We all know that we can get good jobs with the help of English. But how to learn it? Let me begin by saying that English is one of the easiest languages in the world. The best way to learn English is through the natural method. When a child is born, when s/he grow to be around a year old, s/he starts using broken sentences in the mother tongue. No one has taught the child rules of grammar; no one has taught her/him gender, person, voice, singular or plural. The child naturally picks up the language. How? Through the atmosphere. All the senses of the child, eyes, ears, tongue etc. feel and sense and experience the mother tongue all the time and therefore s/he becomes a master in the mother tongue without any effort.
The same method should be applied to learning of English as well. With TV, with newspapers, it is not very difficult to create an atmosphere of English. If we learn English by cramming the grammatical rules, our English will be unnatural. Before using English, we will try to remember the rules.
I know Professors of English who cannot speak easily in English. They keep thinking, ‘Past tense, Future tense, first person, third person and so on’. They cannot enjoy the taste of the language. A language is meant to be used.
Grammatical rules have been made to understand the language and not to create it.
We must learn English by providing maximum English to our senses. Grammatical rules may help us later in correcting and polishing our language. But the basic body of the language must come to us through the natural method. We must enjoy stories, fables, mythological and epic stories, novels written or translated into English. If we start enjoying English, we’ll learn it without difficulty. That’s why these days we’ve the communicative method, the unseen passages, comprehension etc. English must become our habit. That’s the best way to learn it. Whatever we do in life, we should do it unapologetically. We don’t need to give explanation for using English. That’s how it should be. Girls and boys from small places do big things in life. Prepare yourself for that. Christian D. Larson one said, ‘Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle’.
Let me put a word of caution about use of internet and Facebook. While use of internet for enhancing knowledge is recommended, excessive use of social networking is getting to the level of a disease. You waste your precious time. You do nothing; you pose to become what you are not; you lose your originality. Social networking is increasing social awkwardness among people. People don’t meet each other. We don’t have good conversations these days. Social networking, in fact, is almost a barrier in learning a language.
Some two decades back, I was attending an orientation course for teachers working at the higher education level at Lucknow University. Professors from various disciplines used to come and deliver lectures for our benefit. One day, a lady professor from Educational Psychology came to the class and drew a big, round shape on the black board. We wondered what the huge zero meant. She asked us to draw a similar circle on our notebooks. We did that. Then she said that we were to imagine that the zero was the area of our conscious mind; it was our consciousness.
She asked us to do a very simple thing. She said that persons, things which we considered to be very precious in our lives should be written at the center of the consciousness. Things and people which were less important comparatively should be written within the circle but not at the center. And finally, things which were not important should be written outside the circle. She gave us ten minutes to think and write. We were about sixty teachers participating in that orientation program. We started immediately with ‘family’, ‘children’, ‘home’, ‘parents’, ‘spouse’ and went on to ‘career’, ‘money’, ‘mental peace’, ‘fulfillment’, even ‘jewelry’, ‘cars’ etc. She took our papers and saw them carefully. She told us in a sad tone that none of us had mentioned ‘students’ even in the unimportant area. Students did not come into the consciousness of the teachers. This is a true incident.
So, this is how it is. We teach mechanically. Students are not important to us.
Presently in India, there’s lots of confusion on the role of teachers in the society. One extreme is where a teacher is said to be even more important that God and the other extreme is that we know that those who could not become anything else become teachers. The consciousness of teachers is swinging between these two extremities. Both the extremes are wrong.
A teacher in a school or college or university cannot be compared to God. ‘Guru Bramha, Guru Vishnu’ was written for spiritual gurus of very olden times who helped a disciple in realizing God. Even such exalted spiritual gurus are scarcely available in present times. We are simple mortals who have joined this profession for our livelihood. We work because we are paid for that work. There’s no question of our being compared to God Almighty. But at same time, it is also true that the teaching profession is a little different from other professions.
Everybody cannot be a teacher. Just anybody should not try to become a teacher. A teacher is entrusted with the task of enriching the mind and the personality of a student. If a teacher is negative, jealous, frustrated or extremely greedy for material gains, s/he cannot fulfill the requirements of being a teacher. Anyone who is hungry only for money should not come to this profession. This profession does require a selfless, supportive attitude. We are molding children. We are dealing with living stuff. Teachers should not beat children. Teachers should not humiliate a child before others. Teachers should never ever exploit children mentally, emotionally or physically. A teacher has to develop a parental attitude. Teachers have to be faithful to the profession. The rewards of being a genuine teacher come a bit slowly. But there are immense rewards. There’s no doubt about that.
This is an age where both the partners go out to work. In metropolitan cities, parents go out to work. Most of their day is consumed by commuting and working. Children, family and home get ignored. While lots of money is coming but coming generations are getting spoiled. Children are being brought up in crèches. In this scenario, many officers, private sector executives find it appropriate to come to teaching. The biggest advantage of this profession is that it gives us time for ourselves, children and family. Generally, families of teachers are better than people from other professions. The teaching profession has a percolating impact on the family. Somehow, the level of the morals of the family, its sensitivity and consciousness improve if it has a teacher as its parent.
The best gift that a teacher can give a student is ‘self-confidence’. Our ego should not come in the way of appreciating a bold and confident student. Our goal is to take the student to that level where s/he does not require us anymore. In order to make them self-reliant, we must make them self-confident. We have to make them see the world with their own eyes and do big things in life. To quote William Arthur Ward, ‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires’.
Coming to ways of teaching, sometimes class room teaching becomes a bit monotonous. It gets repetitive. Children and their fertile mind requires stimulus. Teachers must keep themselves updated on latest trends and issues. They should keep reading the latest developments in their fields. An informed teacher is an interesting teacher. Repeating the same lectures for decades is not a good technique. Audio visual means can make teaching interesting. Children should be taken out for excursions. Students don’t need to go to museums alone. They must connect to real life. Even after completing school, students don’t know how to operate in a bank or post office, collectorate or police station. Students should be given the know-how of dealing in very practical situations of life. One sided ‘gyan’ showering becomes very boring for students. Teachers sometimes need to become active listeners also. Students should be asked to deliver small lectures focused on certain topics. They must be able to speak on public forum.
Student-teacher relationship is a delicate one. We must allow a relationship in the first place. Teachers have an upper hand in this relationship and so the onus is on teachers only to maintain the sanctity of this relationship. The present times are so turbulent that every single relationship stands threatened. In this scenario, to nurture this delicate bond is a huge responsibility. In the end, we’ve to say that everything in this world cannot be measured in material terms. A good teacher has to be a good human being in the first place.
The above speech was delivered by the author on the occasion of Teachers’ Day -2013 at Jyoti Senior Secondary School, one of the most prestigious schools of Rewa City.