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.
Note: This was originally posted on the Shiksha Power Blog and is republished here.