Last Monday, as I entered the classroom, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The entire class of 50 erupted in cheerful clapping. On my table was a cake — complete with candles, flowers, cards, balloons and chocolates. No, the occasion was not Teachers' Day. It was actually my last day in school. While I was still contemplating how to break the news, the students somehow got wind of it (I suspect with my daughter's connivance) and arranged a farewell party.

Amid the hullabaloo and ‘please don't go' requests my mind raced back to the day the Principal called me to his office and entrusted me with a specific charge. I must admit I was reluctant to become class teacher of XI Commerce — the most notorious in the whole school. Having passed their class X examination with not so flying colours, these children could not join the elite Science stream, which was traditionally reserved for the brightest. With no other subject option left, these students unwillingly landed up in Commerce.

Thus, I began with a bunch of students whose self-esteem had taken a beating and were labelled as trouble-makers and attention-seekers. Any mishap — be it a broken windowpane in class VI, some graffiti in the boys' toilet or a lost duster in the junior section — would bring the property in-charge thundering into my class threatening to fine the culprits. Many a time I was at my wits' end trying to deal with internal squabbles and the complaints from other teachers. But each time I announced in exasperation that I would give up the charge of the class if the students didn't improve, there would be a strong protest followed by a sincere promise to behave better next time.

I soon realised that each one of these students had a specialty. The sleepy looking one was an artist, the quietest one had a beautiful handwriting, the shyest was exceptional at playing soccer, the weirdest had an excellent memory, the naughtiest was a total errands boy and the academically weakest had a tremendous sense of devotion. Why could I not see these qualities right at the beginning? How easily was I giving up on them? Gaining ground inch by inch, I finally managed to crack the toughest nut. Some tiny spark in a child would fill me with hope that these students were not incorrigible. Moreover, having achieved this without ever punishing them reassured me that I was on the right path.

Words of encouragement

Slowly, with words of encouragement and delegation of responsibilities, I could build their confidence and win their trust. There was a semblance of sanity in the classroom and we began working as a team. My task as English teacher multiplied manifold as the majority in the class were children of army personnel from the Gorkha regiment. I had to first undo Nepali and then Hindi in order to teach English. As a corrective measure, we started collecting a paltry sum of one rupee from anyone caught not speaking English in the classroom.

Very soon, we had a handsome amount. I had planned to spend the money, taking the students on a class picnic. To my amazement, they unanimously wanted to donate it to charity. They unknowingly cleared a crucial test that day.

As I stood facing them for the one last time, I joked that I had no clue they would be so happy at my leaving. As if my words broke a surging dam, I saw tears rushing down a few faces. I was left with no words to reciprocate their feelings, only tears which I too couldn't hold any longer.

I wouldn't trade their love and adoration for anything in the world. In the course of teaching them, I got enriched. Like the proverbial ‘potter' showing patience and sensitivity, I could gradually mould these children into caring individuals with self-worth. This Teachers' Day I wish to salute all my students. Farewell and God bless!

(The writer taught English at the Army Public School, Varanasi, and her email id is: bhanumish9@gmail.com)

Keywords: Teacher's Day

RELATED NEWS

The Vice-Chancellor who treated me like his son September 3, 2011

More In: Open Page | Opinion