Teachers can do amazing things as a team with students. The three National Award winners this year from Madurai tell Soma Basu how.

They make an awesome threesome — H.Kalyanasundaram, the Headmaster of TVS Higher Secondary School; P.Geetha Saraswathi, Headmistress Mangayarkarasi Middle School and Shanthi Mohan, Vice principal Lakshmi School.

All three seek teaching as a passion and not as a job. Each of them has worked dedicatedly for over three decades to help students discover their own goals. They believe that a dynamic classroom leads to greater learning and, therefore, have been pursuing the collaborative spirit.

Shanthi Mohan is a perfect example of trusting relationship she develops with young students: “I want my students to listen to me not out of fear but because they trust me. Only then can I challenge them to pursue their dreams.”

Kalyana Sundaram believes in keeping it real for students. “Students should feel doing an assignment will help them to learn or enhance a skill and not simply do it for the sake of completing homework.”

Geetha is always the last to go home. “They see I work hard. You have to be the person you want the children to be.” Their strong feelings about the importance of education saw them walk into the coveted list of best teachers in India.

In teaching, they say, every month is a new flavour. And to keep adding to this repertoire of flavours, teachers should be able to make classrooms more fulfilling for all.

“It is challenging”, says Shanthi Mohan, “but when you see your students progressing every year and you meet your old students who are in higher and respectable positions, the effort becomes priceless.” The solemnity of the moment when she received her medal from the President moved her to tears.

Shanthi Mohan taught English in Vikaasa School for 18 years before joining Lakshmi School a decade ago. Involved in several educational and cultural initiatives, she is best known for honing the skills of not only her students in dramatics, creative writing, reading and debating but the communication skills of her teachers too.

Daughter of an Air Force officer and a teacher and married to a college professor, Shanthi Mohan realised her gut instincts from early on. “As a six-year-old, I acted as a teacher for the four year olds in my school and got the best teacher award! I guess that was my calling,” she smiles.

One of the three ICSE teacher to receive the National Award this year, Shanthi Mohan has inspired a generation of students with her creative teaching methods like grammar through games or story telling and poetry appreciation workshops, conducting library week and spoken English courses. She has also authored a series of textbooks using phonic approach to basic learning for the primary graders and ICSE middle school students.

For making English learning a joyful experience for the taught, Shanthi Mohan always had her best buddy, Ms.Sita Krishnamoorthy as her best critic. “Every project has her approval.”

At home, her family has been her major source of strength and support. “They made it possible for me and put up with my eccentricities always.”

“The school gave me full freedom for further growth,” she says. She fills in any vacancy from Class III to XII. “When I teach a student I make a friend for lifetime,” she says. The messages she has received from all over the world in the last two months are a proof.

With an ability to impart her own knowledge without burying her student's individuality, Shanthi Mohan is in sync with the demands of today’s students. “Mediocrity finds no place today. Students keep the teachers on their toes,” she says, “only if you are a good and earnest teacher you will automatically command respect.”

For H.Kalyanasundaram, it has been a long journey from a student of the same school to the point of receiving the National Award for Best Teacher from the President on September 5, 2013. “It was a beautiful surprise. I am happy that my service has been recognised,” he says.

A recipient of Dr.Radhakrishnan State Best Teacher Award in 2009, he is reputed as one of the most effective Chemistry teachers in the city. Apart from an efficient educator he is also known as a champion of best practices and a mentor.

“We are the backbone of our education system. And education in life is going beyond textbooks and classroom teaching,” he says. And this is what drives him to create awareness on pollution check in the surrounding localities during every meeting with the parents and students. “It has to be an ongoing process for the best outcomes.”

Kalyanasundaram’s teaching style offers clarity and concreteness to students. “Simply listing facts after facts does not help,” he says, “children are much more curious these days.” He satiates their quest with an open conversational tone that encourages dialogue rather than a monologue and exploration of ideas.

He believes if you give freedom to children, they will be encouraged to think differently and also have different opinions and options. At the same time it is important to maintain overall discipline. “I am little strict that way,” he smiles. “In our times discipline was never a problem. But now we have to inculcate discipline among students.

He rues that parents thrust their dreams on the children and build pressure. There is an obsession with testing. “All kids have a desire to learn and there is no need to beat it out of them. They learn best not as passive recipients but when they are encouraged to be part of the process of building understanding.”

P.Geetha Saraswathi got the controls of the Mangayarkarasi Middle School on a platter. She took over as Headmistress from her mother in 1981 and today manages 5,100 primary and middle school girls and boys from poor and rural background.

Known as a caring, hard-working and well-organised teacher, who does not hesitate to experiment with new teaching approaches or mechanisms in a school established by her father in 1951 and which offers free education to all, Geetha says she was “not at all expecting the National Award.”

“But now I am very excited,” she says, “as this is the highest honour a teacher can ever get in her lifetime.” “This award encourages and motivates me to do my best in the changing scenario of education,” he adds.

It is the empathy, understanding and sharing of students’ needs and goals that make her steadfast on the mission of providing good quality education even under constraints.

Totally student-focussed, she fosters a positive energy and working environment by herself drafting school policies, preparing the annual budget, implementing discipline and organising regular medical camps. “My students come from different strata of society. They need lot of understanding and care. We teachers do not work for awards but try to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools,” she says. In fact, 30 per cent of her teachers are working for her post-retirement. “They are a dedicated band, very innovative with leadership qualities and are committed to the growth of the children,” she beams.