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  start from my grandparents to my parents, to my school & college teachers, and to every one who taught me a lesson with love or otherwise.

September 5 marks the birth anniversary of Sree Sarvepalli Radhakrishna garu, an Indian teacher who went on to become the second Indian president. It’s celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India. That in 1992 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, what-ever) 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 passion for teaching, has built a great legacy moulding many students; my mum who was a teacher gave upon her dreams for us; my sister taught statistics to undergrads for a brief period too. At this juncture, I have to mention about my maternal granddad, who initially taught me proper letter-writing and drafting for debates and essay writings, all these have 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 and that 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 special  reverence to 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, who is a disciplinarian to the core. He is an author too and a former member to the Official Language Commission of India. He is a gold medal winner for Best PhD Thesis award and Best Professor award recognised by Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, who served as the Governor of the Andhra Pradesh and also 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, and every teacher who 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 and that 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 is an eye opener for me and my kids, who may use an electronic device with high speed internet 24*7 to play games or use as a dictionary, as 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’ smart phone for an hour a day for learning before the latter go 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 multitude of opportunities to learn and to 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 indeed has changed my take on things and helping me better myself; whilst my daughter reforms my traditional thinking subconsciously.

Thanks to my 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!

Born in a family of educators, me and my sister were raised 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 of the schools and colleges were established and supported by the local kings: Gajapathis. Also, our town had had a concept of feeding financially struggling students (typically attending a university) both local and non-local, to be able 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 its done is very unique and inspirational. Benevolent 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; may be, only boys were allowed to study in such hard 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 own parents,  was the first one they shared their happiness with! 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 were minimal.

By mid ’80s, the capitalist approach had slowly entered the education sector and that paved way for the growth of many private schools and colleges. Who can afford what was the hidden motto, worth had taken a second place. I went to my first school run by our family-friends, at the age of two, along with my mum who was a teacher there. For our high-school studies, my dad sent my sister and I to the top Christian missionary school of our times. 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 have learnt something from every one of them and had been many of their favourite too. My teachers  have inspired me, instilled discipline and principles along with the 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, along with the most dominant factor, caste-based reservations, rule Indian education system. The zeal in students may or many not be appreciated. Teaching profession, mostly, is seen as a means of livelihood and education precipitated into getting a piece of paper called degree. By the time, I started my masters, I must say, there was 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 who teach with passion for knowledge and mould a student’s life for better. I bow to those, only  those.

Moving to England, it was very interesting 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. At school levels, it was an enlightenment to see not all the students in one class read the same books. 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 along with monthly tests that included, assignment and unit tests through out my schooling.  In UK, the very first exam my son, gave 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 the student had to “prepare” for the test. At that age, it was based on what you are just as everyday!

Having moved to US, the highly competitive school my kids go to, brought the zeal out of my very relaxed son and making 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 own repercussions, both positive and not so. Leaving all these competitions aside, schooling by itself is another wonderful system. Students attempt mandatory tests at around the age of nine. Many of the teachers have decades of experiences. I believe children should be taught by the local people at a young age to understand how that country works.  Getting deviated again…coming to my original topic, teachers  lay a strong foundation to any child’s life. When parents find it hard to manage their own kids inside four walls over a week’s break, imagine the tenacity teachers possess having to  deal with them through out the year and build a strong foundation. I am on a book, “living at the source”, by Swamy Vivekananda. This book is based on his speeches during his trip to the US. He says, every race has some thing positive to give to the society. Yes, a valid point. But one should not regress from a well-working system to a one that’s out-dated 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 own children. They have their own views towards their aims, ambitions. It’s their own world. The future belongs to them. Let them flourish. Let them be thankful for what we, as parents, have done. Not make them 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.