Privileged I am to be in Thy Debt….

Sultana is back with a tribute to Teachers on the occasion of Teachers Day in India. Please encourage her with your comments  – Sukumar


Forming each pillar with patience,

Laying each stone with prayer

But the temple the teacher built

Shall endure while the ages roll,

For the beautiful unseen temple

Was the child’s immortal soul

– Anonymous

I remember today my Physics Teacher who had called us for a special class on a Saturday. Nothing special about it…. and towards the end of the half day class, she gave us the usual teacher’s tips for the upcoming board exams. Just then, the peon came in to give her a message of a phone call. She broke down like we never saw her do before. Nine of her relatives had died in a van accident. Her husband had been negotiating with the hospital authorities and having completed them had now requested her to come home.

She had got the bad news before she had started out for work : but he lady had actually thought, ‘Why waste the children’s special class? I can complete it before I’m required at home’.

A round of speechless applause rose from the class of 50 girls in St. Aloysius Anglo Indian Girls’ School. That day we knew who was standing in front of us. A rare teacher, in whose debt we were grateful and privileged to be.

With the newspapers reporting various incidents of teachers killing children with violent punishment methods and students attacking their teachers / professors, it seems that the education system is becoming like the stuff of nightmares.

Who is a teacher? In the ancient world, a teacher was almost divinity and teaching was a ‘vocation’, a Calling. In today’s competitive world, it is a profession. Sometimes, it’s just a ‘job’. Accordingly too, the characteristics of the teacher changes : if the person playing the teacher’s role is doing it because it is their ‘calling’, you can be sure you have a rare teacher to remember all your life. If it is in the ‘profession’ scenario, no doubt too you have a great person to learn from (sans the compassion element which comes by default with the ‘calling’).

What happens when teaching becomes a ‘job’ … Disaster! A teacher who is just an ‘employee’ brings all the ‘employment’ related baggage including frustration-on-the-job. Rare is the artist who is bored by color and rare is the architect who grumbles at his own sculpture! Such only can be a true teacher. The others had better change their professions to something else for their own sakes as well as for the children’s.

Through all the various types of teaching professionals that I have met ,  I think according to me, these are a few ‘default’ characteristics which a teacher must possess to just ‘be a teacher’, leave alone an outstanding one.

Truth from Within : To truly give – of one’s time, energy and attention for the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake – is the ideal maxim of a good teacher

Empathy, Attention and Compassion : To view a child as a precious resource for the future world and to embrace with empathy and compassion to so vulnerable a human being is the first and foremost duty of a teacher. Whether we produce ugly ducklings out of swans or swans out of ugly ducklings is completely in the hands of our teachers.

Excellence Beyond the Self : To be able to guide the student to vistas further than the ‘teacher’ / teaching umbrella. For eg, a truly caring teacher may put his student in touch with some icons that he considers a role model for himself so that there is an enhanced benefit. If there is no person, writings / works of that person may be used as a reference.

In an age when ROI (return on investment) is the be-all and end-all of life, we can never return to our teachers what they have invested in us. Their attention, affection and warmth is the backbone of which citizens and nations are made up in every day and age. It’s a great feel to remember Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan in whose honour teachers day is celebrated in India but also to recall each and every school, college and university teacher who played and continue to play their part in building this great nation.


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    A great acknowledgement. I feel teachers especailly the kindergarten ones whould be the highest or atleast one of highest paid citizens. Afterall they are mould the future literally.

    I am sure all of us have heard our growing kids telling “Dad/mom that is wrong my teacher told me not to do it.”

    I want to start a campaign someday “DTTT – Don’t tax the teachers”. Basically encouraging teacher from govt perspective. If I remember correct USA had a special tax strcuture for teachers/professors. In a way it is way of civilized society acknowleding for keeping the society civilized.

    On a side tangential note, we have ackowledge and appreciate ad-hoc teachers around us. There are the your kids/the neighbourhood plumber, your car driver, the mechanic..the list goes on, I learn so much from these people. There are moments in my life each of these truly are “Gurus/Teachers” to me.

    Teachers come in all sizes/ages and forms. Lookout for them and learn. 🙂 🙂

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    Nice post Sultana. We are all indebted to our teachers. Without them we wouldn’t accomplish anything.

    Kumaran has a nice thought. We learn from a lot more people than just teachers.

    All of us agree that teachers are great in general. But why is it that teachers are uniformly underpaid across the world? Given the importance of this role shouldn’t they be the best paid in any country?

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    I doubt, if teaching profession today, had that kind of nobility.. How a teacher commands respect and divinity is itself an abstract and dynamic thing.

    I remember my father recalling how the village teacher on those days, used to be held in high esteem.. The teacher used to be ruthless in beating the student, if they fail to study well. But still, none of the parents objected to, and none of his students like my father resented to. Its because, the devotion and dedication of the teacher, and the purpose of his beating.

    My father in his childhood, once resisted from going to school.. and he was convinced by buying some choclates, and then sent.

    His reputation was so high, that in the nearby government high school, the student coming from this teacher would be immediately admitted without any interview or question.

    Its a doubt to see teachers with such high caliber and integrity.. LEt’s wish for such teaching community.

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    Great post and i agree with you Sultana. But most of the time i feel we put more response to our teachers alone, parents share is also huge. A teacher is the one who teaches something speciality to kids to gain knowledge of one particular thing, which he or she possed more knowledge. For example, Abdul Kalam has more knowledge in rocket science hence he is best teacher of rocket science. But if you take a ordinary MSc gradurate who teches in elementery school, may not be a teacher per se, but a he or she is an intermidate medium in between kids and text book. Best teacher is always parents and their behavioural are the most important to mold the kids. When i was in school, i learned most of the social behavioural and most of the fundamentals are from my parents. My point is home based schooling for Math/Science/History is the best and for some special coaches only we need a teacher. What ever we are using now to teach our kids is just a time pass, i mean 8 hours our kids spending time with other kids and some kind of social interagation with an elder, but real knowledge gain happening at home.

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    Nice one.
    Dr Abdul Kalam recently remarked that primary school teachers should be selected the way IAS officers are selected!
    It `s not much good if a student finds his teacher just as an employee of the management.The words ‘calling’ or vocation sums up what type of teachers the society wants..Teachers deserve more respect in the society and the students need teachers with respectable personal qualities.

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    Sultana – Good post.

    As you say, some teachers have the calling, some treat it as a profession & others as a job. There are a few more kinds, actually.

    Take my great-grand father Mahadeva Iyer. He loved his field – Geography, his knowledge was vast & he could mesmerize his audience with his teaching skills. He was a wonderful teacher – for those who had the ability to learn from him. He had the utmost contempt for the below average students & he used to cane them mercilessly. He was a boon for the gifted students & a terror, a night-mare for the rest.

    Then, there are those who treat teaching as a necessary evil, not even as a job. I’ve met some brilliant researchers – that was 1 side of the coin. On the other side, they were indifferent, pathetic teachers. Since professorial duties came with research, they were forced to teach for a few hours. Their life was their research. Teaching was a dead ant in their tea cup 😉

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    Hi Sukumar,

    Agree with you.We learn from all people, not just teachers. However these individuals having taken up the task of imparting knowledge are expected to do that duty , full-time and there lies their greatness.

    you’ve said it so right : why are these individuals, considering the importance of thier role paid so meagre??

    And the world over……… I have heard that a skilled carpenter / other semi-technical work gets paid much better than an educationalist.

    I wonder who or what will change this : but it had better happen fast for our future generations sake… 🙂

    Best Regards

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    WOW, Priya – what a nice metaphor you have used :” Teaching was a dead ant in their tea cup” ; Yeah, I know exactly the kind you’re talking about. Met some of them. Best way to handle them was to get hold of thier publications – those materials teach better than the person themselves…….

    Your Great grandfather I think was the kind who ‘lived’ his subject – like an artist is : a breathing, walking personification of his passion….so he can’t help but share his knowledge; such individuals are rare indeed.

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    Hi Muthurangan,

    Indeed, the first school of a child is his / her home. no two ways about it.

    Your point on ‘coaching’ is valid.

    See, schooling is different from ‘coaching’. If you or your child are particular about scoring higher marks, then it definitely takes extra home coaching / tutions etc.

    whereas if it is ‘knowlege’ as in encompassing the ‘true learning’ which an individual must attain during his / her young years, an Institution is the right place for it.

    Best Regards

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    Sultana, great post.
    I still remember those teachers who inspired me. A catholic convent with a very meager salary is the last place for finding good teachers. Still, my teacher Ms Dora Raj, inspired me like no body else. I was worst student marks wise, never did home work and was caned every day. Dora Miss is a kind of terror word in the entire school. She did not teach that great any of the 6 subjects she taught – Maths, Science, Social, English, Moral Science, GK – you name it. But she made each class a story. She did tell lots of her personal stories. That acted as a glue to stick other ‘uninteresting subjects’ to our little minds. To me it is a great art. I still remember the day I took my first salary – I remembered her.

    Kumaran made an excellent point. Teachers can be found at many places. I often get inspired by Nagarjuna, the actor whose no-nonsense attitude and work life balance is wonderful. Also, I learnt from my friend who is an engineering dropout. One of the best businessman I met and the way he manages blue collar workers makes him better than any management guru. His discipline – one client of his owes him 1500/- Rs. His appointment is at his home in Perambur only on Sunday 5:30 AM . My friend (who was my weekend roommate), used to take a bike and visit him every weekend, rain or shine. This happened for 2 years. And finally the client gave his dues. When I asked him why he wastes his time – his answer is this “Every Sunday, when I get up and drive 8 KMs, I think how I trusted that guy and lend him stock. Besides, if in his business community, people come to know that he did not collect his due, the word will spread and he will be out of business”. I learn and keep learning so many things from him.

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    Very good post. Just reminded me of two teachers whom I will be forever indebted to.. one for making me lose the fear of mathematics and another for making me never worry about my English. I have encountered most of the teachers in my school and +2 of who took teaching as a profession except the two of whom I mentioned above. In my B.Tech, I found a few who took it as profession and all the others took it as just jobs… And I find it to be the same with my friends in other colleges too…

    Regarding why they are underpaid…

    I can think of two reasons…
    school – I think with the fees they take, they can pay only so much to the teachers and that thereby defines what kind of people are willing to take it up.
    But I think in my +2 (Intermediate as it is called in AP), the lecturers are really well paid as the fees are very high – now 60,000 for two years for day scholars. And the teachers are also really professionals.
    But in my B.Tech, the fees are low, but it being a government college the teachers were paid well (UGC scales) but they refused to teach as there was no way of measuring performance and their salaries were not linked to their performance. Ironically, the students who are real judges of the lecturers have no say.

    I think the pay for school teachers is less because the market is just like that.. but otherwise for colleges, the lecturers are really paid handsomely… not so as in industries… If the fees increase more then the parents who generally will pay the fees will be burdened more…

    I am not sure of how to change it at the school level… May be I can talk better if I can see the economics of running a school..

    So though teachers add a lot of value to the student, it is not quantifiable to be sold correctly in the market… I think good teachers can make a lot of money these days writing books or selling videos of their lectures. Surely there is demand for good lectures…

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    Dear Ananth,

    Thank you!

    Yes, its a sad reality. School Teachers are underpaid, under-acknowledged and almost hardly correctly understood!!!

    I’m glad that at least Profs are paid properly – though if you ask me, their work is much easier than handling those in their formative years….

    Yes, electronic media can come in as an effective tool for teachers to use and sell thier valuable lectures.

    Best REgards

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    Dear Vamsi,

    Your words do take down memory Lane!

    Ms Dora seems to be the kind of teacher who has used methodology well! for ‘how’ something is taught is very important – even more than ‘what’ is taught. No wonder you remembered her when u took ur first salary..! she has been a very successful teacher indeed…!

    we had a similar teacher in St. Teresa’s Preparatory School, Vepery. She was popularly called ‘Bell Miss’ – apart from being the headmistress, she rang the huge rope-bell for the class periods, lunch hour , Assembly prayer time and school disperse. She was an Anglo Indian who took great pains with teaching the English Language the right way – grammar, pronounciation, diction and delivery – especially when she trained us for the school Christmas Play – a special event before the Winter holidays. I can never forgot those Carols and Plays ever in my Life..! and I developed a keen taste for the English Language because of her beautiful methods of teaching…

    Another was Ms . Quinn (she was I think, half-British or half-Canadian, I do not remember). Great Motivator. I learnt the nuances of reciting good English Poetry from her. The voice-modulation, delivery of dialogue in one-Act plays etc was done almost on International standards with her…

    Every time I’m able to write a good poem / article, do a good speech etc, I silently thank these teachers…

    Rare teachers who have left such a lasting impression……………….

    Best Regards

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    Dear Ananth,

    Dr Kalaam himself , I feel is a wonderful teacher and I absolutely agree with him.

    I wonder how long its going to take to bring that into practicality………………….

    let’s keep hoping……….

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    Dear Arun

    Dr Kalaam himself , I feel is a wonderful teacher and I absolutely agree with him.

    I wonder how long its going to take to bring that into practicality………………….

    let’s keep hoping……….

    Ananth, am sorry , replied wrongly in the last post. that comment about Dr Kalaam was meant for Arun’s comment

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    Hi Senthil,

    you said the right words : high Caliber and Integrity

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    Hi Kumaran,

    your thought is indeed on the dot! We learn a lot from people..

    Alice got some excelelnt advice from the Caterpillar indeed..!

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    Very nice post and timely as well, though my comment is not!! I agree with a lot of what has been said in this thread. I would like to second Kumaran’s idea that perhaps we should consider not taxing elementary to high school teachers – but only the good ones, which is determined based on merit.

    A teacher has the potential to make or break an outstanding citizen in the community – thro’ her teachings, the values she instills and the confidence that she provides to her wards. A teacher can mold a student to perform at a higher level or break a student to function at a lower level.

    Teaching is too important a profession to not have a feedback loop system built in that is merit based. At least, for those teachers who are economically poor, but not a naturally gifted teacher, it could entice them to become good teachers.

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    pk.karthik said September 16, 2009, 8:13 am:

    Wonderful post sultana…your physics teacher was a rare kind .I would probably suggest a place for her in Smithsonian/or we see such human beings( forget teacher part) once in a lifetime .

    I keep hearing parents complain that students are not given that importance in this school ,the teachers are not proper and I pay so much.They hardly realise that teaching profession is like love and it cannot be bought by money and secondly what they pay goes to fat cats of management and deft not to the teachers..I dont blame the teachers for for not showing interest.

    I agree on the tax part but i feel very few teachers wud fall in the tax bracket as they are paid less than minimium taxable income.

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    Dear Ganesh,

    Thank you for the wise words. True.Agree with you


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    ‘They hardly realise that teaching profession is like love and it cannot be bought by money’

    Karthik, you said that very wonderfully…

    nobody paid Hans Christian Anderson for his fairy tales or Enid Blyton for her children’s series, which remain unmatched even today…………….

    that’s what happens when a true master creates a masterpiece…the work itself is the reward…………

    same with a teacher who is a true teacher… the teaching is itself his / her reward. yes, this kind are very rare these days what with Industry dictating the terms of education and learning has just become a feeder system into the job market….

    Sad… anyways, let’s hope there are still scholars who learn just for the love of learning and not to make money out of it, and teachers out there whose mission is to teach like they were teaching for the last time in their lives……

    I recommend you read , ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ – a lovely book about a dying teacher and his long-forgotten student ……..

    Best Regards

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