The world blows trumpets over a teacher’s influence in a student’s life. Seldom does the world talk about the power of the students in a teacher’s life. In the journey of teaching, this influence realizes itself in flowery shades of white, black, and grey. The discourse of education has not only made me discover beneficial traits about the psychology of the students but also about life.
I teach students in classes VIII, XI, and XII. I feel enriched with some valuable lessons that many notorious middle school children and challenging young adults in high school have given me.
My essay shall open the buds of my learning through anecdotes of my encounter with students in three different sections.
Class VIII hooligans turn counselors
When I say students of class VIII standard, one can imagine a class of young boys jumping haywire in the classroom with all kinds of unthinkable tricks up their sleeves. Laughter and mirth is in the air. The sound of a smack feels like the norm. Smiles always shine like diamonds. No pupil seems to have a bone that makes him seated without restlessness! (Not to mention that this restlessness enigmatically vanishes each time the ring of a bell is heard.) It is undoubted that studying is the last thing on their ‘to-do’ list. Although these young mischievous students are coltish in demeanor, they have promisingly taught me-their teacher some good things.
Having mentioned this, my memory reminds me of an incident. One day, I was feeling apprehensive about some important tasks at hand. Students had to give their examination the following week, and 30 percent of their syllabus remained uncovered. On top of this, the school management had announced a two-day off unprecedentedly due to political issues at the local area that had all schools shut down on mandate. I also had to prepare for my examination that was due the same week. In a state of mental distress, I walked into the class. Before I narrate further, I happily would like to share that I have always had a friendly relationship with my students. So much so that they often followed me after class to give me an update on what is new in their lives.
Perhaps a good bond could be the reason why they could guess that I was stressed. They cordially asked me why it was so. I told them what I was fretting over. No sooner did I say so than a stream of advice flew from the bunch of sixteen unkempt students. I was awestruck. One said concerned, “Ma’am, life is full of stress till the dying day. You should stay de-stressed and take it one at a time.” The other one said in a pacifying tone, “Ma’am, please don’t worry about the examinations because our class will study well. (Further added) So, one concern stands off the hook.” A few also scolded me for taking stress ‘unnecessarily.’ Another one added, “You don’t have to understand everything in life, Ma’am. Sometimes it’s just ‘okay.’” Finally, one philosophized, “Ma’am, if you stress over such things, how and when will you enjoy life?”. These words struck me deeply. I felt moved by how the notorious ones had turned into admirable counselors to their teachers.
I couldn’t have received a better reality check than this. I realized how we miss the beauties of life by amplifying the anxiety we feel for minor occurrences in life. I felt the importance of being carefree by way of not being anxious in completing my tasks but rather approaching it with a composed attitude. Here, I feel the heart to say that yes, it is true that teachers often strive to be a guiding principle in a student's life, but only a few are fortunate to be guided by the students themselves.
It is that day with my class of young hooligans, and today- when I feel the stress build in me, I am reminded of the lesson my students taught me; and I carry on with a smile on my face.
Beyond the misdemeanor
Another incident tills my mind about how students have influenced me. Thanks to the perks of being a teacher, I wanted to test the students of class XII for how well they have learned their lessons. I decided to conduct a test. The big day arrived! I began distributing the question papers and felt like a sweet fragrant sunshine that could tempt even the most hard-to-get Queen of the Queen bees. I felt blissful until a student stood up from his seat, crushed the question paper noisily into a ball, and put it in his mouth.
I felt helpless. I turned into a silent tumultuous sea. What good would scolding or counseling do in such a situation? I knew that ridiculing the student for his misdemeanor would only lead to an altercation. With my then few months of experience, I knew storming off the classroom would only serve as a delightful source of ‘no-academics-time,’ let alone arousing a conscience-stricken mind.
I felt frozen and insulted. I couldn’t construe how to react, so I didn’t react at all. I just stood there looking at the student as he smiled back at me when suddenly he popped the paper ball out of his mouth and expressed thus- “Ma’am, I wish this would not be a paper ka ladoo but rather be a motichuur ka laddoo. I love those dearly!” and smiled more broadly.
It was then that the change came over me. Was I to counsel the class XII student or retain the smirk that emerged because of his commentary? I stood perplexed.
Nonetheless, this student taught me an indispensable lesson that day. I learnt that one shouldn’t be impulsive and jump to conclusions in daunting situations, especially a teacher whose life is full of such challenges. I understood that despite all the mischiefs that apparently show misconduct, students are young minds who are childlike. It will not be an underrated claim to make that in most cases, children don’t even realize how disrespectful their behavior may be. Perhaps I realized that students must be given a strong benefit of the doubt because they are after all students. Despite all facades of challenging misdemeanors, it is unfair to be judgmental about them. Rather they must be guided and not be merely dismissed as the ‘new generation students’ who are uncaring and maleficent towards teachers. Even the rowdiest of students have a spark of innocence in them. This is true.
Though the apparent misdemeanors of the students make the teacher doubt the intent of rambunctious students. I strongly vouch that they must be given the benefit of the doubt.
Students make teachers feel loved too
I find another episode worth mentioning here. The students of class XII approached me to accompany them on a- five- day excursion trip to Sikkim. I obliged. I did so for two reasons. I was serving my notice period and felt delighted with the thought of the journey with a bunch of students who I shared a good bond with. Besides, who would want to miss out on the opportunity to witness the best of nature heavenly covered in a blanket of snow? Moving on, our itinerary demanded a lot of traveling through the terrains of the Sikkim hills of Lachung, Lachen, Kaalapathar, etc. The narrow and winding pathways forbade the use of big buses and permitted only Sumo cars to traverse the roads. Therefore, I, along with a bunch of eighteen students, had to undertake the journey in three different vehicles. To ensure the safety of the students, I instructed all three cab drivers to move together, within eye distance. However, there were times when traffic or unforeseen circumstances forbade me from having a clear sight of the cars.
Each time this happened, I would find my students calling me up only to ask if I was okay and if we (students sitting with me) were fine too. This happened several times, and I felt my heart go warmer each time. It was a heartwarming sentiment. I realized that despite situations that make the teacher feel a student’s indifference and ingratitude, the truth might be far from what appears. I felt touched by these small gestures that spoke a thousand words. I realized that children, especially those of the new generation, might create many challenging situations for the teacher. Still, after all, they have that delicate corner that is innocent, caring, and loving. That innocence only needs an activation, and the wilderness of the Sikkimese hills served this purpose!
Teachers must, therefore, look through the rowdy behavior of students to discover the childlike innocence gleaming inside each one of them.
As I look back at my first days in the profession of school teaching and compare myself to a now- three- years- old teacher, I feel amazed at how much my students have taught me. They have imbibed in me an intense strength of character, forbearance, and assertiveness. The learnings from my students have been plentifully flowing, and I feel thankful for all the lessons they have taught me.
[ I wrote this article many years ago when I was teaching English Literature and Langauge to pupils of Grade VIII and Grade XI in a residential school placed in a small town of West Bengal, India]
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