"For everyone of us that succeeds, it's because there's somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn't always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school." (Oprah Winfrey)
I suppose this is true for a lot of us in the 40s and 50s where teachers played a major role in shaping our values and inspiring us. They took their job very seriously be it in preparing for the classes or in helping a laggard get over her/his learning troubles or in guiding us when we needed it. I went to a school where a lot of poor and lower middle class children studied. They came from backgrounds where their parents were not highly educated or aware of the world. For these children a whole new perspective and vision of the world was opened up by our teachers - a history teacher who would bring her daily newspaper to make us read about what was going on in the world, a science teacher who would ask a failed student to stay back after school to counsel her to help her cope with a problem father, an English teacher who would write our speeches for the competitions and train us for elocution competitions. Many of us put in extra work to please a teacher who was our favourite. My whole interest in English language started with the English teacher in class 9. I am sure there was such an inspiration for many of us - a teacher who was an example, a teacher who saw the innate talent and made you see it and nurture it, a teacher for whom we took that extra interest in a subject which became a lifelong passion. And the best part is that they did it out of genuine interest and not with any expectations. Their pride and satisfaction came from seeing their students reach great heights while they themselves stayed where they were.
There have been many moments when I have remembered my teachers with overwhelming gratitude. I wonder where they are today and feel sad at not being able to trace them until finally I realise they are there right within me having left apart of them in me while shaping me become the person I am today.

Albert Camus, the nobel prize winning Algerian writer dedicated his prize to his teacher and wrote a letter to him after winning it. He said:
Dear M. Germain,When I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you,without the hand that you held out to the poor boy who I was, without your teaching and example,none of this would have taken place. I will not aggrandise this honour. But it is a chance to tell you,what you have been and still are for me and to assure you that your efforts, your work and the generous heart you put into it are still living within the small pupil, who, despite his age, has not ceased being your grateful disciple."

What a touching gesture and each of us can think of at least one teacher who has done to this to us and shaped us become what we are today.

It is sad to see that today teaching is probably the last choice for most people. They are so poorly paid, their working conditions are hard and their work is hardly recognised and rewarded. It has always been so for teachers but then the average salary levels were not very high and a teacher could still make both ends meet. But in today's level of salaries and consequent price rise, how can we expect them to stay motivated when a fresh graduate in other sectors gets more salary than a post graduate teacher with 10 years experience? Even if they were to resist all such temptations and become teachers out of their passion they are eventually disillusioned by the quality of students and the respect they have for their teachers.I met a chemistry professor from a reputed college in Chennai who shared his sadness over the kind of students who opt for science courses today and it was pathetic. He says that the core of his students are those who have not managed to get seats in any professional courses and are there just to get a degree and no higher ambitions. He says that it is impossible to attract his best students towards research in the subject as they are recruited for domain expertise by IT firms.I worry about who is going to teach our future generations English and history and chemistry and mathematics.If this is the case in private institutions, I shudder to even begin to think of the government colleges.
I think it is time we woke up to the extent of the problem and implemented steps to make teaching an attractive career option.

And my salutes to all teachers on the eve of Teachers' day.May your tribe increase and continue to inspire future generations.
16 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:



  2. Anonymous Says:

    Amongst your best posts. Instructive indeed.

  3. Shiv Says: true...Me miss all my teachers..

  4. Mahadevan Says:

    What a timely thanksgiving! I agree with every sentence of what you wrote.

    Teachers have always been a great source of inspiration to every one of us. They have imparted us knowledge, skill and have moulded our character. They have also taught us how to live in this world.

    Like you, apart from my father's books, my English teachers at School and college provided me the impetus to pursue English Literature which I do till today.

    A teacher is like a ladder. He/she enables one to climb up and enthusiastically looks for the next aspirant.

    You have an unkanny skill of coming out posts, appropriate to the occasion and also acting as a gentle reminder.

  5. Hip Grandma Says:

    well said Usha.but unfortunately parents also think that paying a hefty amount of tuition fee to a private tutor is enough to see their wards through.These private tutors are often the very ones that teach them in school and add to their income by offering private tuitions.Compromises are made and believe me much against his/her will the teacher is trapped in a vicious circle.These days it takes courage to become a teacher.

  6. phantom363 Says:

    congrats on a well written post.:)

    my own high school teachers were of such calibre, that they left within me an everlasting interest in arts and history. they drilled the basics of maths and trigonometry into my maramandai. they have long gone, but i still remember shelley's ozymandias and the theorem of pythogoras. :)

    hopefully, the situation is not as grim as you see. teaching has never been a lucrative profession. even in my days (50s, 60s) the teacher had to supplement the income with tuitions. so things have not changed for the school teacher, but i thought the college teachers were better paid. no?

    re the calibre of students: the winds may change directions and the whims along with it. but the truth of core sciences and math will remain forever. in my days, it economics was considered the last asylum of a struggling student. mostly due to that label, i missed out on studying something which i enjoyed and from which i could have made a viable career. :(

    maths, physics & chemistry were my cloaks to respectability. but beneath the cloak was a hollowness bigger than the proverbial trojan horse. :(

    hopefully, the teacher you mentioned gets over his hangups, and fires the imagination of some of his students to greater heights. :)

  7. Balaji Says:

    I had a few of my teachers who definitely are responsible for what i am today...i am grateful for their timely advice and help.

  8. passerby55 Says:

    I wonder where they are today and feel sad at not being able to trace them until finally I realise they are there right within me having left apart of them in me while shaping me become the person I am today.

    beautifully and honestly written...agree to it to the core,

    USha I think ur blog is too a teacher to many today...

  9. GuNs Says:

    I have fond memories of so many teachers myself. ITs a weird coincidence that I had similar Math teachers in school, Junior college and Senior college. All three were men, very very good at their profession, very very strict, rude and almost psychotic. In sipte of these things, they were the best teachers I could find. Maybe I need to give a card to my teachers at school.

    I wanted to do a Ph.D. and become a teacher. What is stopping me is that Ph.D. in IT can take a long long time (4-5 years or more) and all that time without a source of income is really difficult. [:-(]


  10. MJ Says:

    very true Usha.I think its the post of all.We all had the same past in this aspect at least...must agree.With the teachers who inspired us,n those loving teachers for whom i made greeting cards on various occassions,few of whom we r still a deciple,Thsoe who helped me learn n taste various color of life in dancing,singing,drawins,studies,
    elocutions,learning sanskrit,abt the world around,n English teacher who made us students reading a new paper
    a habit,n those fairy tale stories read loud for us...n more such nostalgic memorie in an unending pipe...:)

  11. hi usha- simialr thing happened to me. My english teacher gave me "v Good" for an essay on "autobiography of a dog" in class 9. She praised my work and thereafter it became an ego matter for me to work to obtain teh "v good" comment from her.
    Kudos to all teachers

  12. Oh yes.. even I was very much in love with my English teacher.. And we too had nice teachers, few of them who were like friends..
    The note on which you ended ur post is certainly something which all of us should think about...
    Good teachers are important to shape up a student\'s character..

  13. Usha Says:

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and feelings.
    I agree with hip grandma that these days it takes courage to make a career choice toward this profession. All the more reason I salute all teachers.

  14. Mohan Says:

    Being the son of a college professor and also being involved in the mischief-making that happens in a student's life, I resolved some years ago that I will never ever become a teacher in my life.

    Until I started volunteering for kids. Until I began to take classes in English reading for them. Until I conducted activities for them that they eventually ended up liking so much that they associated me with the activities and vice versa. And until I matured enough to realize the value of 30 years of dedicated service to a noble profession from my Father.

    Soem days back, I was telling an acquaintance that my final plan is to become a teacher for kids someday. And its now that I realize how many careers that my Father must have shaped and how deeply grateful are some students towards my Father. The doctor I go to whenever I fall ill is an old student and he always regards my Father with utmost respect even today.

    Ever watched the Sidney Poitier classic "To Sit with love?"

  15. Mohan Says:

    oops...I meant to say "To Sir with love"...sorry..:)