They perhaps taught you to write your first word. Or, showed you how to overcome hurdles. Teachers have inevitably been a huge part of your growing up years. On Teachers Day today, we meet four visually challenged teachers who have been an inspiration beyond just the four walls of a classroom

Spreading the cyber advantage

Not very long ago, S. Pandiyaraj, who teaches screen reading software to visually challenged students at the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped (NIVH), was a student there himself. “The challenge is in getting my students to understand the power of computers. Being visually challenged, they have never seen a computer, and it is a mysterious object for them, as it was for me until I learnt to use it,” says Pandiyaraj. “But once they learn to operate it, they do very well and use it to great effect in their education. This gives me great satisfaction,” he says.

One of his students, P. Nandhakumar enthuses, “With screen reading software, we can work on the computer as well as the sighted person, and it has brought knowledge within our grasp and made us job-ready.” This young man now plans to learn more advanced computer operations such as programming being taught at a few NIVH centres.

Making math interesting

As someone who reached great academic heights from a modest educational beginning at the village of Bhusawal in Maharashtra, Sushama Agrawal is more than just a teacher — she’s an inspiration and a role model.

“Students are generally well-behaved, and I find teaching very interesting. The challenge for a visually challenged teacher is in not in teaching, but when students don’t come forward to clear their doubts and just remain silent,” says Sushama. She teaches mathematics to postgraduate students at the Ramanujan Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics of University of Madras. In fact, she happens to be one of the first few visually challenged Indian women to get a doctorate in mathematics. She guides M. Phil and Ph. D students in Functional Analysis, a subject she has been researching upon.

“Teaching math becomes effective and interesting when you bring out its underlying aesthetics, and Sushama is very good at it,” says her student Mahesh Vishwanath, a math teacher himself.

It’s all a story!

“She teaches as if it were a story to be enjoyed, and makes it so easy. She is a very good teacher,” says Aswin Sudhakaran, a Class VIII student at the Municipal Higher Secondary School at Zamin Pallavaram.

The teacher he is referring to is M. Saraswathi, who teaches English to high school students. “Board work is a challenge, but I overcome it by preparing charts,” says the teacher. The students are very cooperative and honest, she says. “Once I had to monitor a small examination in progress. When we evaluated the students’ answer papers, we found none of them had copied, though I would never have spotted it. I can never forget that,” she says.

Beyond academics

“I love to teach,” says M. Uthirapathy, who teaches Modern Tamil Literature at Presidency College. After 20 years of teaching, he still has not forgotten the struggle he experienced in landing this job, and devotes his spare time helping visually challenged students be job-ready — by enabling access to books and helping them train for the likes of TNPSC examination and the Teacher’s Eligibility Test. And never the one to stop learning, Uthirapathy is now researching on the literary techniques in Kannadasan’s songs. “For any teacher, the challenge is in commanding students’ respect and being able to answer intelligent questions they come up with,” says the professor.

And, he continues to inspire his old students to this day. For instance, it has been 15 years since P. Srinivasan, a lecturer himself, was Uthirapathy’s student. “Even today, not just I, many of us old students seek his opinions on various aspects,” says Srinivasan. “He would not just coach us for exams, he’d help us plan our career too.” And, his concern went beyond academics. Srinivasan recalls, “If we didn’t turn up at the college, he would ring us up and ask us what was wrong. If there was a strike, he would sit down and talk with us. He was that kind of a teacher.”