Let's engage our students in conversations to help them come out of the virtual world

Teaching today, to me, doesn't exude the same vibrant memories that it used to, maybe even a decade ago. My interest in this profession was kindled from an early age with the conversations between my father Professor Bennis Fernandez of St. Joseph's College, Tiruchi, and his students. Appachan was a strict disciplinarian admired and revered by his students. I used to stealthily listen from behind the curtains the conversation between Professor (Appachan) and his students. Sometimes, it ranged from a casual hello to permission for non-submission of assignments or an earnest plea of forgiveness for mistakes committed in the classroom or issues related to career growth.

Whatever the subject, the aura of respect and love that emanated from the mere presence of their Professor amid them intrigued me, and kindled the spirit in me too to take up teaching as a profession. During Diwali, students used to knock gently at our door with a box laden with goodies and in a trembling voice ask us, “Professor irukangala,” which meant whether the professor was at home. Appachan was a stickler for values and one among them was a complete no-no to gifts from students. He used to take a small piece of murukku to appease them and then tell them gently and forcefully not to bring home anything except their wishes.

At railway stations and banks, shopping centres and markets, Appachan used to be greeted with love and affection. Some persons used to bring their newly-wedded wives, come in at times during quiet evenings to share their success stories or simply drop in to say ‘hello'.

Another picture still etched in my mind is the discussion of question papers enthusiastically after the exams. The students used to follow Appachan right from the college to the quarters in Britto Colony where we used to stay. I used to be aghast at their verve and excitement to get to know the corrections and do better next time.

That was perhaps in the early 1980's. I pictured all this and more to happen to me too when I took up this profession as a lecturer. But every time an examination gets over now, I hardly get to see my students come back and discuss, save to tell me that a few questions were out of syllabus in their judgment and I had no right to include them.

Things have changed a lot. Today, my students are all with me 24x7 in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter but their virtual reality is nothing compared to the warmth that I could sense Appachan being showered with by his students. Mobile phones and emails are flooded with forwards that arrive in bulk, but rarely with a personal tone.

The fast pace of life has eroded the joy of being a teacher to the students everyday of our life. Students are busy with gaming, surfing, messaging and downloading. Teachers are too busy to be bothered! Akin to the world environment day, mother's day, father's day, we need a day devoid of any technological gadgets and see how we relate to each other that golden day. It's time to engage in conversations with our students to help them come out of the virtual world and experience the joy of exploring themselves along with us!

(The writer, a Professor in Management at Dhruva College of Management, Hyderabad, can be contacted at: agi_joein@yahoo.co.in)

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