Three cheers to teachers!

Illustration of male teacher with a male and female student
Photo: © Robin Sengupta

Come September, and most of us tend to think of our teachers (those of today, or those of yesteryears, depending on which age group we belong to) who play a vital role in shaping us into well-developed human beings. Teachers’ Day, which the country celebrates on September 5 every year, provides students, parents and teachers themselves, with a unique opportunity to understand and appreciate the role teachers play in nation building.

Our country has always held teachers in very high esteem, almost considering them as reflections of the divine. The epic Mahabharata has many classic examples. Acharya (the royal teacher) was always considered an integral part of the royal household, his opinion was always sought before the king and his ministers took any important decision, and his word often prevailed over others. No one ordinarily questioned his moral authority.

Rabindranath Tagore is considered as one of the most versatile Indian writers. Yet, Tagore was affectionately called Gurudev by his disciples, and sure Tagore liked it that way. Even today, in many circles he is referred to as Gurudev, and not so much as a writer.

It is said that Dr Radhakrishnan, one of the most erudite Presidents our country has ever had, preferred to be known as a teacher than as the President of India. No wonder, India celebrates his birthday as Teachers’ Day!

Perhaps, we do not have today teachers of the calibre of Rabindranath Tagore or Dr Radhakrishnan. In spite of this, I have no hesitation to say that teaching is still the noblest of all professions that I can think of today. In fact, I would not dare to call ‘teaching’ a profession, as I would not refer to ‘parenting’ as a profession. For me, teaching is, and will continue to be, the very extension of the mission of parenting!

A couple of years ago, I was asked to give an orientation programme for the teachers of a nearby school. As it was one of the first experiences (talking to teachers) for me, I had to do a lot of homework to do justice to the task. In the course of the preparation, I came across many real stories and anecdotes, two of which have specially touched me. I want to share them with you here, as they pertain to the teacher-student relationship.

I have no hesitation to say that teaching is still the noblest of all professions that I can think of today. In fact, I would not dare to call ‘teaching’ a profession, as I would not refer to ‘parenting’ as a profession. For me, teaching is, and will continue to be, the very extension of the mission of parenting!

It was the last day of the year for the first graders; and the teacher gave her class a special assignment — she knew her little ones were fond of drawing and so she asked them to draw a picture of something for which they were especially grateful. In no time everyone completed their assignment — one subtler than the other. One drew a picture of a tree, someone else a cow, and still another, a tap from which water was flowing, etc. But the teacher and the entire class were quite puzzled by little Edward’s drawing. He had simply drawn a hand.

Different children tried to give their interpretations to Edward’s sketch. It must be God’s hand that blesses us every day, one said. Another said that it was a farmer’s hand that provides us food. Someone else said it must be that of the traffic policeman who daily helps us cross the road. Finally, it was Edward’s turn to explain his drawing. He was always a quiet boy, and as usual he quietly got up, looked at the teacher intently and confessed: “Teacher, it is your hand; over the past one year, you have given me much more than anyone else. I’m thankful to you.”

Without any hesitation, I think I can say it is my own story, too, and with young Edward and hundreds of thousands of people all over the country, I would love to say: “Teacher/Teachers, it is your hand; you have given me, possibly with the exception of my mother, much more than anyone else in the world. I am at a loss for words to thank you!”

I am reminded of another anecdote from the life of the great sculptor Michelangelo. Michelangelo was once visiting a building site, when he came across a very odd-shaped, rough-edged block of marble.

“What are you doing with this piece of marble?” Michelangelo asked the builder.

“Nothing,” the builder said. “It is useless!”

“It’s not useless,” the great sculptor replied. “Please send it to my studio. There’s an angel imprisoned in this block of marble that I must set free!”

What Michelangelo said is very true of every committed teacher whose mission and challenge in life is to free the beautiful angel imprisoned in every student who comes to him/her.

Female teacher with a female student
Photo: © Robin Sengupta

I remember once asking a group of teachers as to what they consider teaching to be — a profession or a mission. This is what they told me, or at least the gist of what they told me: “Teaching is a mission or a commitment, first of all. Moulding the mind of a child is a noble mission. We deal with human beings, and no two individuals are the same. We have to handle each of our students with the utmost care. Fragile, handle with care is the norm here, as well. A teacher should be able to discipline his/her student with love and understanding, always helping the student to discover the hidden qualities and talents within, and to develop them.”

Beautiful words befitting millions of our teachers, all over the country, who are engaged in the noble mission of setting free the imprisoned angel in every student of theirs. Keep it up, dear teachers; the nation is proud of you! Three cheers to you!

Alfonso Elengikal
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Alfonso Elengikal

Alfonso Elengikal, SSP, has the unique distinction of being the longest-serving editor of THE TEENAGER TODAY, an office he held for over 17 years. He is the bestselling author of You Can Make A Difference, You Are Destined For The Skies, Let The Real You Stand Up! and Discover The Hero Within You published by Better Yourself Books.