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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The best of times, the worst of times : The highs and lows of classroom teaching

Standing there, in the middle of a smoldering June afternoon, facing a window which had been shut to keep out Delhi’s heat and dust, cynosure of thirty odd pairs of eyes-the only words going through my mind were Charles Dickens lines from A tale of Two Cities: ' It was the best of times, It was the worst of times'. I looked abstractedly at the class .My head felt as if it was full of nothingness- all woolly headed. I knew there were a barrage of questions to be answered -the expectancy on those faces showed that they were waiting for me to say something. The patter of voices seemed to mix with the rhythm of the lines ,'...the worst of times, the worst of times, the..' A voice from somewhere  inside the nothingness of my head mockingly whispered-"serves you right for being so chuffed up about yesterday's session. Pride always comes before a fall, dear Anju". Yesterday! it seemed to belong to another age , to another person .

Yesterday was a morning session. I just about made it in time and rushed inside the classroom , convinced that there would be only a handful of students braving the blistering heat to attend an introductory session for their newly launched  batch. I scampered to the front of the classroom and turned to face the class. Surprise, surprise! the room was packed. And then the door opened and some more came in. They kept coming and suddenly it dawned that this was going to be the largest group I had ever taught-about sixty bright eyed, confident youngsters. I said something and it drew appreciative laughter. Encouraged, I carried on , ad libbing, involving them - telling them what needed to be told  and, miraculously ,making sense to all of them .After sometime it sank in that they were eagerly hanging on to my words, hugely enjoying the process of induction. And  I? -I was shamelessly playing to the gallery, speech full of witticisms, fielding queries effortlessly. Did I notice a touch of hero worship on a few faces? Maybe .Anything seemed possible that morning. My face flushed with the exaltation that comes with success, I ended the session and left.

A titter from the group sitting at the back brought me back to the heat soaked  noon. I opened my mouth and said something. It seemed to open a floodgate of more questions-" how?  Why not option a?  And why not option c?" And with the questions came the realization that somewhere, like Arvind Kejriwal, I was losing the plot .That I was , again like Arvind, allowing myself to drift. Was I going to let it happen?
Nah, certainly not.Not I.

I looked at the tittering group at the back and asked them to repeat their question. One of them did so .Making the question a take off point I launched into a lengthy , elaborate and technical explanation of the concept behind it. Twenty minutes later I stopped and said ,' ask me". Most of them by now had a glazed and glassy look in their eyes. The group at the back was quiet. A couple of queries were raised and  duly answered.
And then I announced- o.k, since all the concepts have been revised and queries answered let us get into test mould. There were no titters to be heard after that.

I had managed to salvage the situation. Will Kejriwal be able to do so?


  1. Dear Anju!
    Your post transported me back to the time when my mother was a teacher ( she retired a decade ago) and the hold she had on her students...In fact, in your post I was only visualising her in your place and found a lot of similarities between the two of you....'dynamic personality' being on the top of the list! Having your students "hanging on to your words" speaks a lot about what fabulous teachers you ( and mum) are!

  2. Had you been in Chennai or South India, you'd have been much happier, as a teacher. There is this strong urge to "discipline" kids from a very young age and hence most of them are not allowed to ask questions at all, most of the time! :)

    Destination Infinity

    1. Well, your comment has made me smile and also shake my head. I think you missed the whole point of my post- which is all about the high and low point of a teacher. Nowhere is the post about a disciplinarian and a autocratic figure. The discipline factor only peeps in on the 'low' day when the teacher realizes that things are more or less slipping out of control and thjen gathers herself to ensure that calm ensues after the chaos...
      Are you in discipline loving Chennai ,by the way?

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