Text of my speech as Chief Guest at Indian School of Learning, ISM Annexe, Dhanbad on 5 Sept 2014:
Thanks for inviting me and associating me with celebration of Teachers Day in your esteemed school for the second time. First time it was in 2007. I don’t remember what I said seven years ago, but today, as I near my retirement, I would like to share with you some thoughts about our own professional role as teachers.
I have no experience of teaching in school, but I have not forgotten my years in school. Teachers have great responsibility—to make students creative. None helped me in a way I could remember one with respect or gratitude. Perhaps, that’s why I am not very fond of worshipping ‘Guru’ even if we may feel flattered by celebrating “Guru Parva”.
But occasion like this should be viewed as time for self-reflection: what are we doing? How? And how can we change ourselves, besides making our students creative?
It hurts me deeply to read reports of physical torture and punishment to students. By beating our kids, we show our own lack of sensitivity. We close the doors of creativity and sow the seeds of negativity and frustration. It turns young learners hostile, maybe violent, and harms them on a long term basis.
When I recall my days in school, the only inerasable childhood memory I have is the heavy beating I suffered from my teachers. Some of them impulsively and impudently caned and punched me. The result: I lost interest in studies, yet survived, and ironically, became a teacher myself. Perhaps because I couldn’t become anything else! Honestly, I lost respect for teachers, and later even wrote articles and letters to the editor condemning them for their behavior, attitude and activism in the 1960s. But, that is a different story.
What matters is the teachers’ own sense of responsibility in making their students creative, which is possible only when teachers display personal attributes that will make them as models to emulate – a cheerful disposition, friendliness, emotional maturity, sincerity, and caring about students as individuals as well as learners. They need to display affection, sympathy, compassion, love for students, and be attentive to their smaller needs and emotions.
Expression of anger, aggression, or non-academic pastime serve no learning purpose. As teachers we need to communicate and interact with them, facilitating thoughtful discourse, discussion, debate, exchange, and relating to their experiences, stimulating their intellectual and emotional development through meaningful activities and social participation, encouraging tolerance, appreciating differences and promoting mutual understanding.
As teachers we are creating human assets for the future. We are instrumental in shaping their character. We need to experience the human face of education from early years, so that men and women become more men and women, become satyam, shivam, and sundaram – the true, the good and the beautiful.
We can bring about creative changes by sowing seeds for positive thinking, originality, innovation; by enabling young children’s growth in terms of their natural talent, with values that affect individual, social, and national development. We need to discover and value their innate abilities, qualities, and desire to pursue what suits their natural talent; help them discover what they are most interested in, and find out what they want to do, and then to see if it is worth doing.
We should not treat education as mere commodity, or business enterprise, or means of dividing the society further with denial of its availability. The rural, the poor, the deprived need our attention as much as the well-offs and the urban. We can, in our own limited way, contribute to the very basis of education as the great equalizer in order to move forward towards a just social order our leaders have been talking about for the last more than six decades.
If we trust them and if we wish to transform the present into better future, we can’t be short-sighted, mechanical, or routine. We can’t achieve excellence by being superficial, or by ignoring the human capital we are supposed to nurture at school level.
Teachers, as also the parents, not only need to create conducive learning environment but also to nurture young children for living richly and fully without conflict so that their life doesn’t become a battle field. It is rather learning to work, to build, to create together, to be able to live life without fear. When there is no fear, there will be freedom, freedom to learn, to inquire, to discover, to find out. That freedom of the mind Tagore talks about in one of his celebrated poems (“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/ where knowledge is free/ where the world has not been broken up, into fragments by narrow domestic walls;/ where words come out from the depth of truth;/… into that heaven of freedom/my father, let my country awake.”)
In the exploration is learning. Not in conformity, imitation, memorization, absorption of information, but in learning to live without being brutal, violent, selfish, superstitious, prejudiced, or frightened; in learning to live without suffering insecurity, anxiety, misery, confusion, or uncertainty, and all that.
Perhaps, we have to educate ourselves to be able to help our little students be free and mature and to flower in love and goodness.
With these few random thoughts, I thank you once again for inviting me to your function and giving me an opportunity to talk to you.
Wish you all the best in your celebration of the Teachers Day.