Legendary dons

Legendary dons

One more Teachers’ Day.  The same rituals.  The same speeches. Extolling their services to forget them immediately. Until next September. Why are these mentors remembered and forgotten so easily? Why are the authorities blind to their needs? Why are their students indifferent to them once they leave the classroom? Time was when teachers were respected and honoured as members of the noblest profession.

Their word was law in schools and colleges. Their presence a revelation. A good teacher was loved, respected and remembered. The former President of India was fondly remembered by the Kannada literateur AN Moorthy Rao,  not because he was the first citizen of the country, but because he was “a wizard in exposition” in the classroom. He taught Philosophy in the Maharaja’s College in Mysore. He inspired his students who remembered him long after he left the profession.

Nostalgia

How many teachers leave such memories in their students? Today, we talk of teachers’ duties, their pay scales, their service conditions, their training facilities and so on. We plan out their work schedules, their lecture hours, their research programmes. These are no doubt necessary in colleges and universities.

Teaching is not just an art. It is a highly specialized skill that has to be learnt, practiced and honed to perfection. Today, students freely assess their teachers. Colleagues evaluate their efficiency.

Employers study their cost effectiveness. Yet, no one asks whether a teacher made the students curious about what was taught.  Whether he stirred doubts that encouraged them to question what they learnt. Whether he inspired and made them hungry to learn some more.

These are the subtle and invisible assets of good teaching that cannot be codified into rules or evaluated in “confidential” inspection reports. They are the hall marks of great teachers.

Teachers who dazzle in the classroom and inspire their students to emulate them. They cannot be taught in teacher training programmes. But, they are the qualities that make a teacher a role model to be respected, adored and remembered for a lifetime.    

Passionate teachers

Today is a good day to recall the teachers of yester years. They left a deep impression on students of my generation. K Narasimhamurthy taught English literature in Central College. I am talking of a bygone era. A time when giants like AN Moorthy Rao, K Anantha Ramiah and GP Rajaratnam strode the corridors of the language departments there. They were teachers who were passionate about teaching. Oblivious to their surroundings, uncaring about their attire, they lived for their students and the great authors whom they extolled in the classroom.

They never used a blackboard. They sat at well worn tables in upright wooden  chairs in a bare, cheerless staff room where they prepared their lessons.

The renowned Kannada literateur GP Rajaratnam was privileged with a room to himself behind the college canteen where he pored over the literary giants of Kannada literature amidst the smoke and fumes of the adjoining kitchen. But he was lost in his own private world. Where have all these teachers gone? Teachers who turned into fire and brimstone the moment they entered the classroom.

When Anantha Ramiah taught “Macbeth” even the Thane of Cawdor would have shuddered. Standing on that dusty platform, his small figure drawn to its full height, he would stare at his hands and cry “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine,  and dye the green ONE red!”  There was no need for further explanation to that stunned class.

Articulation

AN Moorthy Rao had a style of his own. Lounging in his chair, he had conversations with his students. Conversations that radiated a brilliance which made all other teaching redundant.

His razor-sharp intellect was exciting and infectious. Students put aside their pens and simply listened.

K Narasimha Murthy, on the other hand, was one of the most spontaneous teachers who could make a story come alive before you. He did not care to explain a poem or a play to the class. He simply read them, along with whole passages and chapters from novels. And read them how? I can still see Thackeray’s infamous heroine descending the great wooden staircase to charm her admirers.

The notorious Becky Sharp became a living creature in his class. Only an inspired teacher could do that. Yes. They were teachers who did not simply teach.

They inspired. From those English classes, students raced to the Kannada class where GP Rajaratnam held his audience in thrall. Even a simple ditty like “Bannana thagadina thuthoori, Kaasige kondanu Kasturi…..”  became rich poetry in his hands. He would read his own creations. He would read from other Kannada writers.

Where was the need to explain and dictate notes, when a teacher like this one could unfold the genius of those writers by merely recalling their works?

Eminent educationists

Perhaps that is the kind of teacher who will endure, not one who lectures down to students or finishes portions on time or dictates somebody else’s thoughts, a teacher who has the gift of sharing precious, inspirational moments with young learners is the teacher who will be remembered. Even decades later. Such teachers shape minds. They even shape lives.

As an eminent educationist once pointed out,  good teachers make their students  good human beings. With their own passion for learning and thirst for knowledge, they instill a similar enthusiasm in their pupils.

With their generosity to freely share that knowledge with those whom they teach, they mould their students to become warm and sharing individuals.

With their deep and genuine concern for their students’ well being, they can actually make them also caring human beings. If that is not what teaching is all about, what else is?

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