‘The Atlantic Ocean is the biggest ocean,’ I answered as my father quizzed me for a general knowledge test. I might have been around 7-8 years old. He looked surprised and tried to correct me that the Pacific is the biggest ocean. But, I was not ready to believe him. What my teacher told me was more important. My father, then, even brought me an atlas and opened the globe to show the size of the two oceans.
Many years later, I was surprised to see my young cousin acting the same way. His teacher had got a wrong spelling of ‘lizard’, and when my uncle or his father tried to correct him, he was not accepting. What I would like to highlight from these anecdotes is not the errors, but the level of influence teachers have, especially when we are young.
Even though I grew up with educators in my family, it was not many years until university when I came to see teaching as a profession that could do wonders. It is common to hear ‘the teacher teaches all,’ but when asked ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, among the list of doctors, engineers, businesspersons, teachers hardly show up.
Over these years, from being terrified to even ask for a bathroom break to finding mentors among my teachers, my perspective of teaching and the teacher-student dynamics has evolved.
As a student
I can still recall an episode from my undergraduate finance class. It was 7:30 in the morning, and we were half asleep, barely keeping our eyes open. Ears were probably shut too. As we learned about the cash cycle, mumbling voices filled the room. Suddenly, our teacher turned at us and said, ‘You know many of you will never become CEOs. Many of you will never use what you’re learning.’
The expression on his face, combined with the soft voice, told us that he was not angry. He might have just shared a slice of life to final-year students, a solemn reality in contrast to the hype often heard – that we would be leading big companies.
Some might. Some will. But, most of us will live unglorified lives that make up for the greater part of our history. I may not remember the cash cycle we were learning that day, but this episode remains engraved in my memory. For a fraction of time, our teacher had stepped into a different realm and had opened a cracked window into the outer world, letting the light in.
As a teacher
When I look back, I realise some of my favourite teachers are the ones who showed me they were imperfect – just human. And, all of these memories would hit me a thousandfold when I myself entered a class to teach. The first time I was in class as an instructor was to teach origami to some kids as a part of a community service programme. It only lasted for a few days. Little did I know then that sometime soon in the future, I would walk into not one, not two, but numerous classes as an educator to teach something I myself never enjoyed as a kid – public speaking.
Every time I enter a class, real or over Zoom, I ponder upon the responsibilities I shoulder and the magic educators can create. The classroom might be the first place the student goes beyond home, and over time becomes the bridge to an even bigger world – the real world.
Sometimes, as I think of my students, their sparkling eyes emerge in front of me, and I think of my teachers. It feels as though this brings the past, the present, and the future to a fuller circle. I will always wonder how I might teach my students all of the things that I myself am still figuring out.