To my teachers and the teacher in me!

**Healthy dosage of self-esteem**

As they say, charity starts from home; when the topic is my teachers, it ought to begin from my grandparents to my parents, school & college teachers, and everyone who taught me a lesson with love or otherwise.

September 5 marks the birth anniversary of Sree Sarvepalli Radhakrishna garu, an Indian teacher who became the second Indian president. In India, we celebrate Teacher’s Day on this day. As Teacher’s Day in India. In 1992, that laid the foundation for me to recognise I have teaching skills too. Teacher’s Day gave our school’s senior students ( call it 10th class/grade/year, whatever) a chance to be teachers for that day. I don’t remember how it landed in my lap, but I acted as one of our favourites -Karuna teacher and taught Maths to our immediate juniors. I, along with another friend, won the ‘ best acting teacher’ awards. The best compliment was that one of the students understood the concepts of ‘Sets/Venn diagrams and functions’ much better when I taught.

My dad, a professor with a passion for teaching, has built an excellent legacy molding many students; my mum, a teacher, gave up on her dreams for us; my sister taught statistics to undergrads for a brief period. At this juncture, I have to mention my maternal granddad, who initially taught me proper letter-writing and drafting for debates and essay writings.  This mentoring left strong imprints on my little brain to be a disciplinarian and a perfectionist in anything I attempt. Until I left India, I also tutored little kids around my house who couldn’t afford private tutors, which helped them pass their primary school tests. This pure exchange of knowledge is close to divinity which my whole family has been practising. I bow to my parents for guiding me to have those beautiful, priceless experiences. Another beautiful concept which I reiterate in many of my posts was the ‘vaaralabbay,’ the culture of feeding a financially challenged student a day a week. My parents followed that for a couple of decades at least, and we had many students who would come to have dinners on certain days of the week for as long as they pursued education. Education indeed is valuable and a gift to have.

I have a special reverence for some special teachers in my life and respect for all the teachers who taught me. I took every teacher seriously, showed respect, obeyed rules, and been their favourite too. These are the principles instilled by my dad, Dr. Ayalasomayajula Gopalarao, a disciplinarian to the core, an author, and a former member of the Official Language Commission of India. He is a gold medal winner for the Best Ph.D. Thesis award and Best Professor award recognised by Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, who served as the Governor of  Andhra Pradesh and was the ninth President of India.  

I bow to all my school teachers, my Bharatnatyam/ dance master,  my English, organic chemistry, and biology lecturers at college, and marketing gurus at university. Every teacher has time for all students’ needs. I am blessed to meet my 10th class teacher on Facebook, who, despite a 25-year gap, noticed that I have a flair for writing, which led me to this blog. Thank you, Radha Rukmini teacher.

Now, I teach at eVidyaloka, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on transforming the educational landscape of rural India. This teaching is an eye-opener for my kids and me, who may use an electronic device with high-speed internet 24*7 to play games or use it as a dictionary. Those residential students use one laptop for about 22 of them with internet run through a telephone landline plus random power outages. With Covid and lockdowns, those students use their parents’ smartphones for an hour a day for learning before the latter goes for daily jobs, and also, we can hear each other only when the internet is stable. I have to thank my brother-in-law, who introduced me to this, and he, himself, is a volunteer teacher at this organization. 

At this juncture, I also have to thank my children for giving me a multitude of opportunities to learn and teach. It came to me as a surprise when I was asked to teach simple Indian cooking to 5-7-year-olds in a school while in England, to be a mentor at US schools. The trust I get from my mentees boosts my energy and helps build my mothering skills. Coming back to my kids, my son sets his own rules, and my daughter a disciplinarian. My son has changed my take on things and helping me better myself, whilst my daughter reforms my traditional thinking subconsciously.

Thanks to my best critique, my husband, it’s a privilege to share life with a sage person.

Last but not least, a special mention to my friends who are teachers and my teachers who are my friends now!

Happy Teacher’s Day!

Journey of education from fighting illiteracy to a business!

Being born in a family of educators, my sister and I grew up with an awe-inspiring experience of learning every word of the
Archarya devo bhava (Sanskrit for may teacher be your God) and
(Mathru) pithrau devo bhava“, translating to, parents be your God.

I belong to a small town, Vizianagaram, where most schools and colleges were established and supported by the local kings: Gajapathis. Also, our town had had a concept of feeding the financially struggling students (typically attending a university), both local and non-local, to pursue their education. These students approach the halls of residences patronised by royalty or the student’s lecturers or any generous people who can afford a meal to these students. The way it’s done is unique and inspirational. Warm hearts who could feed a student or more can fix on one day of the week, say, Mondays; lunch and dinner at this fixed house, elsewhere on Tuesdays, and so on. In my language, Telugu, it is called “Varalabbay”- Varam- any particular day of the week and ‘Abbay–boy! I had seen only boys practising this; maybe, only boys were allowed to study in such challenging situations – patriarchal society. I still remember such students coming to my house, Mondays & Thursdays. By the time they finished their courses and found a meaningful livelihood, my mother, more than my dad or their parents,  was the first one with whom they shared their happiness! Feeding the hunger is the kindest deed one can observe. Wonderful memories those were. All this was before the demand vs. supply of the education and government interference was minimal.

By the mid-’80s, the capitalist approach had slowly entered the education sector, which paved the way for the growth of many private schools and colleges. Who can afford what was the hidden motto, worth had taken a second place. At the age of two, the first school I attended was run by our family friends, and my mum was a teacher there. For our high-school studies, my dad sent my sister and I to our times’ top Christian missionary school. And we were a handful of children in our area to get such privileged private education. I remember almost every teacher of mine to date, and I  learnt something from every one of them and had been many of their favourites. My teachers have inspired me, instilled discipline and principles along with knowledge. Many of my high-school teachers, my undergrad lecturers are ones I owe a lot to. I was also my undergrad college topper. Education was totally a changed scenario by then. It’s grown into a major business sector. Globalisation, awareness, affordability, everything stirred up, and private schools, colleges, universities mushroomed. So much so that every street has an education institute. Quantity over quality and the most dominant factor, caste-based reservations, rule the Indian education system. The zeal in students may or may not be appreciated. The teaching profession, mostly, is seen as a means of livelihood, and education is precipitated into getting a paper called a degree. By the time I started my masters, I must say, there was a perceivable digression from education as a pursuit & sharing of knowledge in both the parties, students and lecturers. On my part, that was the major regret in life. I must stress there are still those who teach with a passion for knowledge and mold a student’s life for the better. I bow to those, only those. Moving to England, it was fascinating to see a deviation from the hierarchical structure. Yet, I  learnt a lot from my managers and colleagues. But I have started learning more as a mother of two kids. It was enlightening to see not all the students in one class read the same books at school levels. They are placed in one class, only based on their age. Based on their abilities, they follow different levels. That was really a way forward. I remember giving quarterly, half-yearly, year-end exams, and monthly tests that included assignment and unit tests throughout my schooling.  In the UK, my son’s first exam was when he was 7 and it was an observational test, not even letting the student know they were being tested. So, there were no external pressures,  nor did the student “prepare” for the test. At that age, it was based on what you are just as every day!:

Having moved to the US, the highly competitive school my kids go to bring the zeal out of my very relaxed son and made him nervous at the same time. This system has tests, competitions, tournaments on whatever one can name. Is that necessary? Well, it comes with its repercussions, both positive and not so. Leaving all these competitions aside, schooling by itself is another beautiful system. Students attempt mandatory tests at around the age of nine. Many of the teachers have decades of experience. I believe the local people should teach children at a young age to understand how that country works—getting deviated again. Coming to my original topic, teachers lay a solid foundation for any child’s life. When parents find it hard to manage their kids inside four walls over a week’s break, imagine the tenacity teachers possess having to deal with them throughout the year and build a strong foundation. I am on a book, “living at the source,” by Swamy Vivekananda, based on his speeches during his trip to the US. He says every race has something positive to give to society. Yes, a valid point. But one should not regress from a well-working system to one that’s outdated and possibly unrefined! Many children are brain dead by the time they finish their universities. Life is supposed to start from there, not end there. Trust teachers, trust our children. They have their views towards their aims, ambitions. It’s their world. The future belongs to them. Let them flourish. Let them be thankful for what we, as parents, have done. Not make their escape from us. With a few exceptions, teachers know their role. There is abundant sunlight out there. It depends on how much you, yourself, let it in. How much, as parents, we make our children self-sufficient in discovering it themselves. As said, Knowledge is power. The essence of childhood is not treasured in competitions and measured in scores.