Flowers Bloom at Different Speeds, So Do Children
[Vijayam Kartha is a life-long educator. Her journey started as a librarian in 1974, then kept getting prompted till she became principal of a 3200 children school, and then director of a network of schools in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand and Orissa. She's received many national awards, including "Most Outstanding Social Worker" and more. And most recently, while based in Pune, she's been working on re-imagining schools and education.]
Ramesh was a 'naughty child, so said the teachers. He picked up fights and abused people. He was also a good sportsman. I wondered whether our school could give an outlet to his boundless energy. When he reached Std.8, teachers started requesting me to throw him out as they felt that 'a rotten apple would spoil the whole lot.' I would counsel Ramesh, sometimes reprimand him and would ask his teachers a single question - 'What if he were your child?'
Somehow, Ramesh completed Std.10. While preparing the admission list for Std.11, one of my Plus 2 teachers walked in and told me that he would not teach if Ramesh sits in his class as he had heard 'a lot' about him. I had to drop him from the Plus 2 name-list as the teacher was one of my best teachers. Within no time, I had Ramesh in my room pleading for a final chance. I told him what the teachers felt about him and that this time, I would not be able to do anything for him. Ramesh would not leave my room and stood there pleading, promising never to let me down again. I relented. I told him that I would give him admission but on one guarantee. If he committed any mistakes, I would resign and leave the school along with him. He agreed and after much persuasion, the teacher did too.
In a few months, one day, the same teacher walked into my room to say that Ramesh has turned to be a 'gentleman' in his class. At the end of that year, in Std 11, Ramesh got into the Navy and went out of school. That Teacher's day, I received a card by post, from Ramesh somewhere in Mumbai. It had the picture of a monkey in the front and inside the card was written 'Thank you Ma'rn for helping me to evolve from what I was (earlier) to what I am today'. That was one of the best rewards that I have received...
Raj had joined our school in Std 11 from another school. He was another naughty boy of the school, fearless and bold. Complaints used to to me to me from teachers and students against him. As usual, I tried to counsel him and sometimes would shout at him .He would mend his ways for some days and again there would be a problem. One day, I was really irritated and told him "It is better for me to resign and go if I cannot reform a child like you". I was very annoyed. His answer was, "Ma'm, you can't leave" Why, I asked. "You have taken care of me and one day I will get married and you have to take care of my child too"!!
My class teacher of Std.3 stormed into my room one day, pulling along a little girl. She was very thin and had a scared look in her eyes. The teacher commented that this little girl kept stealing things. The teacher said she had tried everything, from counselling to punishing but she still kept stealing. She had now given up on her and had brought her to me. Looking at the little girl, my heart bled. I wondered what compulsions could make such a little girl want to steal. I asked her about her family. She replied that her father was jobless as the Company where he was working, was closed down. The school had permitted all the employees' children to continue their education without paying the fees. I held her close and looked into her eyes. The thought crossed my mind - If it were my child? ... I somehow controlled my own tears. I told her that from that day onwards, she was not to take anything from anybody. If she needed anything, she should just walk into my room and ask for it and she would have it. I gave her a pencil and a rubber and sent her to class. After a week, the same teacher once again walked into my office and asked what miracle had I performed. The little girl had stopped stealing. Mind you, she neither came to me for anything since then.
A long time ago, when I was the class teacher of Std.5, one fine morning, a rustic lady came to meet me. She identified herself as Mrinal's mother, one of my students. She was an illiterate woman and her husband was a driver who stayed away from home for days together on his trips. As we spoke, she told me that Mrinal always mentioned about me at home. She had asked him the day before, how many children I had. Mrinal answered- '54; 52 in school and 2 at home!' She said chat after hearing this, she just had to meet me.
Mrinal taught me one of the greatest lessons of life. Here I was sharing a bit of my love with my children at school and look at how much I received in return. Almost 15 years later, I was sitting and reading a book in the railway platform waiting for my train. Somebody touched my feet and I looked up to see Mrinal along with a friend. After exchanging greetings, he turned to his friend and told him - 'This is Kartha madam about whom I told you just now. During his wedding rituals, his mother made me sit next to him at the rightful place of his mother saying that I deserve to sit there.
When I started my career as a Principal, I was very strict with promotions as I had thought that the stricter we are, the better our students would be. Once at Asia Plateau, Centre for Moral Rearmament (now Initiatives of Change) in Panchgani, I heard the maxim- 'Flowers bloom at different speeds, so do children'. It struck me like an arrow. I realised that history is replete with so many examples of so called 'good-for-nothing' children transforming into geniuses. My own classmates, some of whom were considered very bright in studies were leading average lives while some of the 'dull ones' had overtaken them in life.
I remember Arjun, a sickly child who failed in Std.5 but went on to join IIT. He told me later that quite a few of his classmates in IIT had failed in some class or the other in their school life. Arjun is a highly successful IIT professional now.
Meena was another student who had joined our school as she was not doing well in her studies and wanted a change in school. Presently she is working in Microsoft as an executive and is one of their valued employees. The other day, I got a call from an ex-student who wanted to meet me. A mediocre student in school, he had gone on to become an IAS officer.
I still remember my first parent -teacher meeting as a class teacher. I was agitated and was looking forward to meet a few of my parents. As I was getting ready, I even planned my words. What do these parents think? Once they put their child in an English medium school, they need not bother?
The meeting started. As the first parent walked, I could relate the bewildered look in his eyes to that of Arman, one of my students. His soiled uniform and the helmet in his hands indicated that he was coming from the works. Something in him stopped me from asking why he was not taking care of his son. Instead, I started asking him about him and his family. What poured out was a sad story. His wife was a mental patient and he had to take care of the entire family. He could have sent his wife back home but thought that it was his duty to look after her. He did the entire household work and took care of his two children. Instead of taking him to task, I consoled him and told him that from that day, Arman was my responsibility.
One after another, the parents poured in. Everyone had a story. An illiterate mother whose husband, a driver, was away most of the time, an educated rich businessman whose child somehow could not cope with his studies.... the stories went on. And I found myself assuring everyone not to worry and that I would take care of their children. I realised how important it is for a teacher to know the background of her students if she really wants to help chem. Therefore, the first thing that I did as Principal was to have the same teachers for the same class for a stretch of 3 years. And the results were immediate. The teachers, who used to ask me to detain students earlier, started requesting me to promote them as they believed they could work with them. Hence, the school turned out to be a happier place.
History is replete with such many more transforming stories. My beliefs have been reinforced, yet again, that it is Love and Compassion that always triumph, even in these trying times. Children, by their very being, inspire unconditional love. And I keep thanking God for all that has come back to me. My life has become richer with the love and gratitude I have received from my students, their parents and my colleagues, so much so that my life has become a prayer.
I realize how powerful I am as a teacher. I believe that I am not only teaching children but building a nation. I also believe that my duty as a teacher is to help the child bring out their inherent goodness and help them evolve as a human being. Thanks to my parents who taught me that the same energy pervades the entire universe, especially to my father, who exhorted us to see God in all animate and inanimate things. During my journey, I might have hurt some also. The only consolation I have is that all my actions stemmed from my unconditional and absolute love and concern for my children and others.
If I have another life, I definitely want to be a teacher and I keep telling my colleagues - 'Who are we to write the destiny of these children?' If at all we want to write, let as write it in golden letters."