September 5. Teachers’ Day. The birthday of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Philosopher, writer, teacher, statesman, President of India. There is very little known about Dr. S. Radhakrishnan to the majority of us Indians. For the better part of my schooldays, I only knew that he was some great teacher. Slowly, I also gathered that he was the first Vice-President and the second President of the country.
In recent years, when I visited the city of Chennai, I also realised that they have a road named after him over there. The revelation that he was a philosopher and writer of several books came as new to me, this past day. When I say that the majority of Indians may not know much about him, it is because our school textbooks where we have learned much about other remarkable and influential Indians, do not have many words dedicated to Dr. Radhakrishnan. This could have been an oversight at the time our books were printed and probably has been corrected to some extent by now. Yet, even today this person on whose birthday we celebrate Teachers’ Day in India does not really get the mention he deserves.
Teachers’ Day from schooldays were such fun times. I remember our seniors at school would ask the teachers to rest on this one day and they would administer the class, run tests, or organise group activities. Teachers’ Day was never a holiday. But we all liked to go to school on this day, just for the fun we could have with our seniors. As the years passed by, even I had the chance to be a teacher for a day on the occasion of Teachers’ Day.
My fascination towards teachers and teaching continued for many years. It had actually started much before I took part in the Teachers’ Day celebrations. When I was a boy of 10, I helped another classmate learn the concept of some difficult problem in math just before we entered the examination hall. For many days afterwards, he would thank me and let me know how well I explained the concept to him in such a short duration. Word got around and I made it a routine to have study classes for math, which was my strongest subject. Eventually, these sessions only added to my strength and interest in the subject, and if I remember right, the fascination for math also had some role to play in my choice of engineering as a career.
I did not always hold teachers with such high regard though. I have met extremes in that noble profession as well. I still remember how, at the end of Grade 5 in school, I had failed in two subjects, Mathematics and English. The teachers gave an explanation to my parents that I seemed to be mentally challenged and slow in learning. They suggested that I be put in a special school meant for children with special needs. They could not allow me to study along with the other students anymore, as it would affect the dynamics of the classroom. My father, however, refused to believe this. He decided to shift me to a boarding school far away from home. In turn, my teachers from Grade 5 allowed my promotion to the Sixth Grade. It is still surprising for me that within two years of my joining the new school, I transformed completely. Towards the end of my second year in the school, I emerged as the top-scorer in both Mathematics and English. For a very long time afterwards, Mathematics would still continue to be my favorite subject in school. The moment the teachers concluded that I was a child with special needs still continues to be the most significant moment in my life. If my father had not believed in me that day, I probably would not have believed in me either. Teachers sometimes need to believe in the potential of a student. It was less than a year after I came to the boarding school that I helped my friend learn a concept in math which he was struggling with. How would that have been possible if I was a child with special needs?
On this day, I would like to remember and thank a few teachers. The first teachers were my parents. They are the best and the greatest. They still continue to teach me. Audrey, the first formal teacher, who taught me my alphabets. I remember her with fondness. I have no idea about her whereabouts though. In my first grade, there was this nun-teacher who was especially fond of me. I am ashamed to say I do not remember her name.
When I went to the boarding school, I came across the toughest Math teacher ever, Mr. Hari Prakash. He was the first teacher I had who would continuously ask us to push our boundaries. He totally believed in my potential, more than even I did. It was under his tutelage that I finally topped the class in Math. Wherever you are today, I thank you for discovering me and bringing me out. We all used to hate you so much. And I now feel ashamed of having done that.
Rasheed Sir was the terror of the school, the Vice Principal. But I loved him so much. And I have sensed the affection in him. It took me a few years to find that out though. For a person mostly confined to the indoors, I even have great regard for the physical training instructor, Mr. Riyas. He was a great influence for me in many ways. He was also a great support to me in some tough times that I faced at school.
And then, some of the greatest teachers I could find. Prof. A. V. Moideen Kutty (Late), the greatest Math teacher ever who was for some time the Principal of the school. Dr. K. B. Prakash under whom I could only study for a very short duration before I dropped out of my Structural Engineering course. Mr. O. Mohammed (Late), who was more of a mentor to me in the first job that I undertook after my engineering, but also a teacher of some of the most important lessons in my career so far.
All of the above, especially the last three, are truly great people. In some of them, I may have not found the greatness until much after I had known them. One thing was certain, though. They were all believers. I had never seen them give up on even the weakest of students. Probably that is what the true spirit of a teacher should be. Perhaps that is what we should remember them for.
Dear teachers around the world, I salute you and wish you a Happy Teachers’ Day. Good Day! Good Night!
P. S. I may not have mentioned the names of some teachers who were also dear to me. And there are a number of teachers I have had at work, in recent years. My not mentioning these names here does not make them lesser beings. I just happen to forget names, at times. At other times, I’m also trying to keep the post as brief as possible. Please accept my apologies.