On Teacher’s Day we turn the spotlight on 'An Inspiring Teacher', a documentary on senior professor of English K. Chellappan who has been an influence for over four decades

This Teacher’s Day, the teaching community has decided to gift itself a present. Many teachers pooled in to fund a documentary on K. Chellappan, fondly known as Dr. KC, a senior professor of English who has taught hundreds of students for over four decades and is responsible for creating over 200 teachers of English (including 120 M.Phil candidates and 50 PhDs). Dr. KC has presented over 175 papers on English teaching around the world and translated several Tamil books into English.

Being an inspiration

The documentary An Inspiring Teacher, directed by Venkey was released on the eve of Teachers Day and DVDs were distributed to colleges all over the State.

K. Elango, the national secretary of English Language Teachers Association and the head of Department of English at Anna University, who spearheaded the initiative, says the idea was born when they realised there were no documentaries on teachers, barring some made on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

“Despite English being spoken in India for 400 years, only 12 per cent of the population speaks it. In fact, China is making greater progress. We have to take English from the classes to the masses. For which we need quality English language teachers, but most teachers are not exposed to teaching techniques or able to make a distinction between language and literature. We have fragmentary, mechanical teachers of English,” says Prof. Elango.

“We need to inspire teachers to become better teachers. Inspiring teachers are a vanishing breed. The idea was not to make a biopic or a film to eulogise him, but show how he managed to become a great teacher. Dr. KC brought in comparative literature, stylistics and translation, and managed to reach out to teachers all around the State,” he explains the vision behind the documentary.

K. Chellappan was a teacher’s teacher who made English accessible to Tamil speakers. Though he taught English, he was passionate about his mother tongue Tamil too and built bridges between the two languages through comparative literature, says Prof. Elango.

Rural background

P. Aasaithambi, head of the Department of English, Government Arts College, Nandanam, who was a direct student of Dr. KC during 1977 and 1982 at Bharathidasan University, observes: “He was a first generation learner of English. He came from a rural background, chose Tamil medium and became the master of both worlds.”

V. Chellammal, head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, who learnt under him in the 1970s, used to go from Trichy to Madurai University to listen to him. Later she trained under him to teach elementary school students as part of British Council’s MELT programme for teachers training. “If he says something, we take it to be true. All English teachers in the State have been influenced by him at one point or the other.”

He has influenced a younger generation of teachers too, even if he didn’t exactly teach them.

Mangai, assistant professor of English at Ethiraj College, who worked on the research for the documentary, calls it a dream project. “I heard him at the ELTA conference on learning strategies and styles a few years ago and have been talking about this documentary for about three years now but there were no documents. Not even photos. We spent three months travelling.”

Director Venkey’s wife Chitraa, who teaches English at Ethiraj College, did further research and worked on the script and voiceover of the documentary.

“We got three hours of footage from Trichy, Madurai, Karaikudi and his hometown Paganeri. Teachers chipped in money wherever we went when they heard we were making a documentary. We have made this as a celebration of the teaching profession,” says Venkey, whose debut film Konjam Koffee Konjam Kadhal is awaiting release.

“In a knowledge economy, teaching qualities are deteriorating. We hope this documentary can make some difference.”

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