This morning one of the young women who worked with me as a post-doc more than a decade ago, called me from US, to exchange New Year greetings and generally catch up on each others lives. My mother was overhearing our half an hour chat, and expressed surprise at the range and length of the call. Another couple, both students of mine who met and married during the time when they were working in the department, called yesterday and are on their way to see me now. They are in India for a visit. This is my extended family – and have brought me great joy.
I have been a teacher for most of my life and over the years have had wonderful students (there are the occasional exceptions, of course). And what has been even more wonderful has been the continuing associations – some stretching to 3 decades and more. Some stray from the radar, some keep in touch more regularly, many share their joys, sorrows, achievements – and for a teacher this is far more rewarding than their academic and career achievements.
Being a teacher is not just about imparting domain knowledge to a set of students. It has never been that – in our own traditions, the student spent many years serving the guru in every way – and in return obtained far more than just the domain knowledge. If during the training years, one can impart the sense of ethics, compassion, fair play and desire to excel without knocking out the competition, mostly by example rather than discourse, the student leaves with a more well rounded personality. And while these efforts on the techer’s part may not appreciated while in training, during the trials and tribulations of life, it is that extra bit you got out of those years in training that help you out!
The current trend to online courses and distance education is inevitable, seeing the huge load of young people who need education in this country. In every forum I participate, I hear how distance education can bridge the gap in number of teachers as well widen access – both geographical and social. While some of this is true, and the current technology is enabling this to happen, there are two areas where I continue to be a sceptic. Can one impart skills training in the remote mode? And how will these modalities impart the extra-domain life skills and attitudes that only the teacher as mentor can provide? I feel grateful that I was able to be a teacher in an era when teachers had the opportunity to be role models – and I love all my students unconditionally. I am confident that they are carrying on the baton and are themselves role models, where ever they are working and in whatever role they are playing.