Teachers are taking notes from teachers in books

The teachers of today look at the teachers from books for inspiration and also handy tips. AFP

There’s the much loved Miss Jennifer Honey from “Matilda”, the wise Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter’s magical world and the eccentric Valerie Felicity Frizzle from the Magic School bus series, fictional teachers all who live on in children's literature down the ages -- and make us still go "to sir (or ma'am as the case maybe) with love".

The many teachers imagined from the creative minds of the likes of Roald Dahl, J K Rowling and even Enid Blyton, who introduced educators kind and stern in her many school series, are everyday role models for several who opted for teaching as a vocation rather than just a career.

As they explore newer ways of imparting lessons to the young, the teachers of today look at the teachers from books for inspiration and also handy tips.

Ms Frizzle, the fourth grade science teacher from "The Magic School Bus", uses eccentric teaching methods to explain the most complex scientific phenomena, letting her students' imaginations run wild. She often says, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!''

Tanyaa Raturi's teaching mantra is not very different. For the 27-year-old who teaches a handful of third graders at Aarambh Waldorf in Vasant Kunj here, being creative is a constant requirement at work.

"I place a lot of focus on rhythmic movement to support them with learning. If I want them to tell me how they can write a big number like 5,122, then every place value will have a movement.

"The child denoting thousands will jump five times, the one denoting hundreds will clap once, one denoting the tens place will turn around twice, and the next one will pat their thigh twice," Raturi explained.

Another fictional teacher who has had a deep impact on her is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry Potter’s silver-bearded, half-moon spectacled teacher is one who knows how to strike a "perfect balance between love and firmness" when it comes to his students.

"Dumbledore is deeply inspiring because finding balance between firmness and love is often a struggle with teachers. Some of us who have had very strict teachers while growing up want to be lenient and loving all the time and we often forget how important it is for children to also understand boundaries," Raturi said.

Bindu Saini, principal at Pune's SB Patil Public School, swears by American historian Henry Adams' thoughts on the role of a teacher in a student's life -- "A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops."

Teaching over the years, she said, had become more challenging, particularly with abundant information available to students at the click of a button.

"To make learning fun and fruitful, stimulating and engaging lessons are pivotal to students’ success,” she said.

She stresses on role play and enactment sessions, activity based learning, an interactive and democratic approach, allowing children to learn while making mistakes and giving them the freedom to use their own ways and creative methods for presenting concepts in the classroom.

It is no wonder Sylvia, from "Up the Down Staircase" by Bel Kaufman, is a character Saini adores.

An idealistic, just out of college English teacher at an overcrowded and underfunded school in New York, Sylvia struggles with indifferent students, incompetent colleagues and arcane rules and regulations.

"Bel Kaufman lets her characters speak for herself through memos, letters, and directives from the principal, comments by her students, notes between teachers, and papers from desk drawers and wastebaskets, evoking a vivid picture of teachers fighting against all that stands in the way of good teaching," Saini said.

For Preeti Singhal, her role as a teacher at the Delhi Public School in Gurgaon goes beyond course, content and curriculum. She tries to make her classroom a safe space, much like Miss Jennifer Honey in Roald Dahl's "Matilda".

Like Miss Honey, who spots and then nurtures Matilda's love for books, Singhal tries to identify her students' weaknesses and strengths. She guides them, fosters their self-esteem and encourages them to perform better followed by celebrating their successes.

"A strong bond between a student and teacher inspires and motivates students not only to accomplish their potential in school but it paves a path to a successful individual forever," Singhal said.

And when there is talk of a teacher-student bond, can thoughts of Ricky Braithwaite’s seminal autobiography "To Sir, With Love" be far behind?

Faced with a bunch of unmotivated and disruptive students in a London school, Braithwaite decides to take a pragmatic approach to teaching. He addresses them as adults and not children, breaking down barriers of class and race and ultimately transforming hostility into deep admiration.

"How can I forget to mention Ricky Braithwaite from 'To Sir, With Love'? From ruthless disruptive students to young adults, the autobiography beautifully portrays the impact of a teacher in a student's life," Singhal said.

The 1959 book was made into a film with Sydney Poitier in 1967, both ultimate classics for the teaching times.

"A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong That's a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?... 'To Sir, with love," a student sings in honour of the teacher who took her from crayons to perfume at the end of the film.

The words still ring true for teachers and their students. Then and now.

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