It has always been a pleasure for me to renew my relationships with my ex-students and their parents. I enjoyed such an opportunity a few days ago. I work as a graduate teacher in the ZP Primary School at Thergaon in Chandrapur district. But I used to be a secondary teacher at the ZP School at Talodhi in Korgaon Taluka. Sneha, a former student of mine from that school, had invited me to a house-warming at her place.
Even though it had been some six years since I left Talodhi, Sneha would call every year to wish me on my birthday. She had often invited me to the village but somehow, I was never able to make the trip. This time I could not refuse, so I left for Talodhi as soon as I finished the morning session at school.
As I entered Talodhi village, I saw a group of students in gleaming white uniforms waiting to welcome me. The Talodhi gram panchayat had organised a ‘mashal (torch) rally’ to increase awareness about the concept of ‘My Village, My Progress’. As an ex-teacher, I was to participate with the school children as the guest of honour at the rally. As soon as all the former students of mine got to know that Harish ‘Sir’ had arrived, they all came to meet me and urged me to visit their homes. I told them that we should go to the school first.
It was with pleasure that I saw the school building again. I noticed that there were several changes. I said to the students, “Come on, show me your projects! Show me all that’s new in school.” They started showing me around with great enthusiasm and excitement. Suddenly I asked, “What about the school books and stationery store?” Some children looked confused, then one asked, “The shop?” “Yes!” I said, “The shop!” “Yes, of course! It’s still there!” I was happy to hear that this project I had begun six years ago was still going strong. Feigning ignorance, I asked the students, “Who started this project?” The childen replied in chorus, “You, of course!” I silently offered my thanks to the school principal, Guruwale Madam, who had maintained the project along with my name! I saw that even the flannel board I had gifted the school with at the time of my send-off was still being used. After learning about the students’ current activities, I went on to Sneha’s house.
On the way , I met some more of my former students. They were all grown up and looked very different now. Some were preparing to appear for the 12th Board exams, while others were already in college. Some had left the village for further studies, and some had even got married! Sneha too had changed. As children grow up, they change so that sometimes their old teachers cannot even recognise them. But the students always remember and recognise their teachers. Even children who had been in Std 1 when I left, greeted me that day. As I stood catching up with the latest news, I learned that one of my former students, Baby, was ill. I immediately went to visit her. Baby, though, had not changed at all. She was still the same fragile child. I scolded her with some authority for not taking better care of herself.
I remembered how stoic Baby had been during my entire send-off event, but how, as I left, she sobbed as if saying goodbye to a close family member. Although I had worked in this school for only two years, almost all the students were tearful when it was time for me to go. I too had felt sad, and had felt some regret for having accepted the promotion that was the cause of my departure.
As I continued to chat with my former students, I learned that Swati and some other girls had gotten married, while Tushar and Rishi – two of the most popular students – had gone to Nagpur to study further. Suyog, who was in Std 4 when I left, took me to his house. After tea and snacks, he said as if to remind me, “Sir, you beat me when you were here.” I said at once, “Yes, I remember I did, Suyog, in fact I even remember your face after that incident.” Suyog’s mother said, “Do you know, he never told us about it until after you had left the school.” My eyes filled with tears. I wondered what Suyog must have thought of me at the time. His mother also told me how he had been a pampered, only child, but had since changed and was now a sincere and good student, who now studied in a military school. I wished him all the best.
Most of the children I had met since that morning had been my students, and several had been beaten occassionally by me. I was feeling more and more embarassed. I said to them, “You are remarkable that even though I beat you, you still have such affection for me.” One of the parents said, “My son improved because of you.” But I could no longer appreciate this praise. My conscience was pricking me, was it really necessary to beat school children? The marks on their bodies might heal, but what about children like Suyog, who had carrried those marks in his heart? At the time, I had given it no thought at all.
Over the years, I had begun questioning this method of punishing children. I had grown more convinced that change could be brought about through dialogue, and through pointing out the consequences of certain kinds of behaviour. Every time I encountered a student who had borne the brunt of my anger, I would resolve to change my ways. I did change, but sometimes I would lose my cool.
Meeting Suyog today had, however, jolted me hard. I decided there and then that I would change. I promised myself that I would find new methods and ideas, change the way I taught, but would not lose my temper ever again. And as I looked back into my past, I recalled how I had once succeeded in bringing about positive change without inflicting physical punishment.
Kajal Jeevanram Sidaam was a Std 6 student of mine. I had newly given charge of this class, but I had seen her around – and had been warned about her behaviour by other teachers. They complained that her attendance was irregular, and that she often didn’t do her homework. She would often dissappear from class, and her books were always torn and untidy. They said she never paid attention in class, and would not come to school for a whole week if you hit her.
I decided to help her change, using my new method. I began talking to her every time I got a chance. I gained her confidence, and continued talking to her even as other students made fun of her. I would make it a point to ask Kajal easy questions and, when she gave the correct answer, I would ask the class to applaud. Gradually, Kajal gained confidence. She started attending school regularly. She would complete her homework and show it to me every day, though it might be shabbily done. Instead of scolding her for her bad handwriting, I asked her to write something every day to improve it. Gradually her writing did improve.
Around then, I had started the “Word Bank project” in school, in which each student had to carry one word card home, read it, and return it the next day. Kajal asked for two cards, saying that she wanted to study more. The next day she would come back with the cards, having copied the words and their meanings in her notebook. Kajal’s turnaround not only made me happy but showed me a way to change my method of teaching.
Soon I came across Avinash Vilas Kattulwar, a Std 7 student. He too was irregular. This happened at the beginning of the school year. Finally one day I hit him, and he stayed away from school for the next two days. I was feeling very guilty and so, accompanied by a few of his classmates, I went to his house. He was happly riding his bicycle. I asked him why he had not turned up in school, and he shot back, “Because you hit me.” I felt very sad and my eyes watered. I tried to explain to him, “You were missing school for no apparent reason, that is why I hit you.” But he was in no mood for reconciliation. So finally I left, saying, “Okay, come when you want to.” I think he had expected me to catch hold of him and take him to his parents with a complaint, maybe even beat him again. But I did neither. I was determined not to force him to do anything that he did not want to.
I was uneasy in my mind, as I knew I had been going wrong somewhere. I knew I had to change my ways, but first I decided to find out Avinash’s side of the story. On further enquiry, I discovered that his parents were the ones who often kept him back, sending him off to graze the family’s sheep. Sometimes his uncle and aunt got him to babysit their children when they had to go out. I understood my error.
We first had to convince parents to send their children to school regularly. I started sending messages to Avinash’s parents through his friends. I would ask them to tell his parents what a bright student Avi was, good at his lessons as well as at sports. A couple of times, I went to meet the parents and tried to tried to reason with them, saying that an education would really help him in the future.
Finally Avinash started coming to school again. We were all set with plan ‘B’. I had decided not to question him about his absence. Even the other students behaved normally with him. That day I decided not to teach English or Hindi, but told stories instead and took the children to play on the grounds. There I explained the importance of teamwork and then asked them to play together.
All this was new to Avinash and I felt him watch and listen to everything in wonder. As the days progressed, I got him involved in his studies by asking him simple questions. For example, I would include him in the class projects by talking about his sheep. Gradually he began to like school better, and soon he had attended for an entire week with no absences. I am happy to say that Avinash has since started attending school quite regularly.
My experiences with students like Avinash and Kajal convince me that I am on the right path. After talking to my ex-students today, I am even more determined to do everything in my capacity to bring about positive change without corporal punishment in schools. I may have to learn new ways of teaching, I may have to find tricks to hold my students’ attention, but I intend to find my way, so that my students grow into responsible citizens.
That day, I gifted Sneha some books, and gave her father a sapling I had carried for their house. Then I left on my renewed journey as a teacher.
Blog: Harish Sasankar
Graduate Teacher ZP Primary School Thergaon, Pombhurna, District Chandrapur
(winner of the state award for Ideal Teacher, 2016 of the Government of Maharashtra)
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team