Conducts life skill courses for kids, teens and adults. Proprietor of 'The Know & Grow Learning Centre' Passionate about writing and helping people become the best they can be. Believes that education should geared towards learning and not studying.
I was all of fourteen. It was the 5th of September, 1979, Teacher’s Day. I was in the tenth standard and as usual the teachers had gone for a picnic, leaving us, the tenth standard students to run the school.
I was in charge of the kindergarten. I had been told to ensure that all the kids wrote down the alphabet. Everyone complied, except one little girl, Monica. She just stared sulkily at her note book. When I asked her why she was not writing, she just shook her head stubbornly, without saying a word.
But the rest of the class yelled out, “She can’t write. She is a dumb head.”
I was shocked to hear these little five year olds talk like that. “Who says she is a dumb head?” I asked.
“Our teacher, Miss Margaret,” they replied.
I felt an uncontrollable surge of anger towards Miss Margaret. “How can anyone call a baby a dumb head?” I wondered as I looked at little Monica who had hung her head in shame.
I put my arm around her and said, “You are not a dumb head. You are my friend. And so friend, tell me, what do you like to do?”
She looked up at me with eyes round in surprise and not a little fear. Then she whispered, “I like to draw.”
“And what do you like to draw?”
“Houses”, she said.
“Okay”, I told her, “Let’s see. If you can draw your ABC just like I am doing, I will let you draw a picture of a house for me. I will take that picture home and keep it on my fridge. Okay?”
Still full of wonderment, she nodded and “drew” the alphabet neatly in her book. After that she drew a beautiful house and garden for me.
I showed her book around the class and said, “See, Monica is not a dumb head. She is an artist.”
The beatific smile on the child’s face was all the reward in the world.
This was my first experience of how we as teachers can make or break a child. All it needs is a few words to build up someone’s confidence and confidence is a mighty motivator.
I tasted power that day in that kindergarten classroom. I realized that I had the power to change the way a person thinks about himself. I could make people believe in themselves. I could help people succeed.
And in that moment was born my dream. I decided there and then that I would be a teacher… not of academic subjects but a teacher who would teach people to be confident and believe in themselves. I would help people succeed in life.
The phone shrills. I smile as I pick it up. It is a call I have been expecting. “Sunita, please speak to your student,” says Anuja, Anmol’s mother as soon as I picked up the phone. “He refuses to even have his breakfast without talking to you.”
“I was going to call in a while. I thought it was too early,” I reply. “His exam starts only at 2.30 in the afternoon, no?”
“Yes, but he is so keyed up, he won’t calm down until he hears your voice and gets your blessings!”
I chuckle as I hear that. It is so typical of Anmol.
“Good morning Anmol. God Bless you. Do well. Answer what you can. Don’t worry about what you don’t know and give your writer enough time to write what you say.”
“We are prepared. I know that. I will answer. I will pass.” He repeats these sentences a couple of times.
“Yes, you will.” I assure him. “Now go and have your breakfast and rest for some time.”
“Okay. I will eat my breakfast and rest and then go for my exam. Now speak to Mummy.”
Anuja comes back on line, heaving a sigh of relief. “Now he will be okay,” she says, with the acceptance of a mother who knows her special child so well.
This conversation happened two years ago. Anmol was appearing for his Xth Standard Board Exams through the NIOS. We had been preparing for this exam for two years. Each day was both a joy and a challenge.
“Anmol!” His name means “Precious” and precious he is. I have never met any student of mine who is so eager to learn. I have never seen anyone who is so prepared to work for success.
Anmol is 21 now, but due to certain breathing difficulties when he was born, his brain is that of a much younger child. There are certain things he just can’t comprehend. No matter how much I try, even simple maths is beyond him. He has no sense of direction and can get lost even in familiar places. Yet he has an amazing memory for dates in history.
Every morning he greets me with a cheery, “Good morning, Aunty! Today we will finish studying ten chapters.”
His optimism is infectious and by now I know better than to bring him down to earth, so I agree and ask him, “Okay, so what do you want to learn today?” If he is in the mood, he will go with whatever lesson I have planned for him. But if he has decided to do something else, then no matter what I say or do, he will not budge. Experience has taught me that it is easier to go with his plan, because then surprisingly a lot gets done. Not ten chapters a day of course, but at least a couple of questions are understood and learnt.
It makes no difference that he will forget everything by the next day and will have to learn it all over again. He just keeps at it till it becomes a part of him. This may take a week, it may take a month. But he just doesn’t give up.
From him I have learnt both patience and perseverance. I have realised that while he can’t learn anything quickly, he can learn it well and in the long run, the patience that I have had to force myself to display has been rewarded when I realised than once he has managed to learn something, it remains with him forever.
His philosophy is, “I am different. My brain is different. So I have to learn differently. It’s okay. At the end of the day, I have to learn. It does not matter how long I take.”
Over the years, Anmol’s ambitions have changed. First he wanted to become an engineer. But then I gently explained that he would need to understand maths for that. “Okay,” was his answer, “so because I can’t understand maths I can’t become an engineer. Then I will become a business man.”
This continued for a couple of months, during which period, he would only pick up his economic and business studies text books. Then one day, we were talking about why I became a teacher.
It was teacher’s day and he brought me a card he had made. It depicted a lighthouse and a ladder standing in the water, reaching up to the sky. Anmol’s explanation was: the water was where he was. The light house was me. The ladder was the way I taught him, to help him reach the sky which signified success. Though the drawing was childishly imperfect, it is the most beautiful card I have ever received.
That day, he asked me why I became a teacher. I told him how I want to make a difference in people’s lives and help them succeed. He immediately said, “Like you help me? That means anyone can be helped if you teach them?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I believe that everyone can improve, no matter where they are in life.”
“Even other children like me who are different?” he asked.
“Why not?” I questioned back.
He pondered for a moment, then said in a decisive voice, “I know what I want to do. I will work with other children like me and help them.”
That was two years ago. He spoke to his parents about his dream. I must say, both Anuja and Nitin are wonderful parents. They encourage him to dream and be as independent as he can.
After he finished his Xth, we decided (after a lot of trepidation and a lot of pleading on his part ) that we would allow him to go to regular college for his 11th and 12th.
He had to deal with being made fun of, being bullied, but he managed to come through unscathed.
This was two years ago. Anmol has just cleared his 12th standard with a 61%, scoring 69 percent in Psychology. He has not given up on his dream of helping other kids like himself and plans to do his B.A in Psychology.
However, our educational system is so flawed that he is being forced to take only the subjects prescribed by the college, which means that Hindi or Marathi would be part of his curriculum. This is a disaster because he just can’t read the script. To him it is just a meaningless pattern.
I do hope we manage to get the university to allow him to choose the subjects he can learn, while at the same time attending regular college to help him develop the social skills he needs in life.