Good old nostalgic times. On teachers’ day, I was reminded of all the good time I had when I used to teach in Calcutta. It was my first job, I was 24, fresh out of college, and thought I would change the world. Lot of people were surprised, even disappointed, and I somewhat understand why. A measly pay was one thing, and social perception was another. Bright students were supposed to be doctors, engineers, and lawyers, and I can see why such is the perception. Even a professor had a far more social recognition compared to a school teacher. People who had the ability to become something in life did not become school teachers. They designed chips, developed languages, and signed million dollar deals.
Surely I worked with colleagues who were bright, energetic, and had a similar philosophy as mine, where they wanted to change the perception of teachers. But they were only a handful. Most teachers were tired, lethargic, and opposed to change. It seemed a certain degree of boredom had seeped into their bones over the years. Ironically, they did not want to learn anything new. I was faced with some degree of resistance when I tried changing the pattern of questions to incorporate more multiple choice questions to help students prepare for the all India entrance exams they were to take later. My colleagues were used to doing things a certain way, and they did not see why a freshly out of college teacher should bring in reforms. I used to be euphemistically reprimanded for finishing my corrections and setting question papers early, and this might create a certain expectation for them from the school principal. I used to finish work early so that I could go home and enjoy, and do a hundred different things outside my work.
Soon, I realized what people had meant when they had shown surprise about my decision to teach in a school. I started to feel stagnation. I realized I could only do so much, and become so much as a teacher. I did not even have a masters in education, and this meant despite my quality of work, my pay scale would always be in the lowest rung, even less than others who had a bachelors with an M.Ed. Surely I could motivate children to go on to become rocket scientists and mathematicians, but that is where I would stay. I enjoyed every bit of my work during the present, but the future looked bleak. I loved my students, and they loved me back. I would wake up at 5 every morning and get ready with much enthusiasm, eager to go to school. Imagine how many of us get to work where they are all eager and cannot wait to reach office. Ironically, as much as I loved my job, I moved past it.
A friend once told me that although she loved her then boy friend, she had to move on because she did not see a progressive future with him. I was surprised, wondering how you could leave someone you loved just because you were ambitious. But this is exactly what I did too. I applied to a bunch of schools in the US and moved to Seattle the first opportunity I got.
Although I look back at my first job as a teacher with much fondness, I realize now that the decision I made was for my own good. I did not see myself as a teacher with that measly pay 10 years down the line. I needed intellectual development. I needed to feel and experience the world. I needed greater challenges. I moved on.
However, that experience of teaching left a long term impact on me. Years later when I was done with my US masters and working in the industry, I decided to come back to school to finish a PhD. The reason? I am training myself to become a professor. And it has been one hell of a challenging experience, doing research and training myself long term to be able to teach in a university. But I realized this is what I eventually wanted to do, be associated with school in some capacity, teach, and motivate others to follow their dreams. This might sounds very clichéd and dreamy, but I could not see myself working in the industry any longer. So I am back to what I have always loved doing- being in school. And for this, I thank my job as a school teacher in Calcutta. It made me realize how much I love to teach and be in academia. It also made me realize how I needed to move past it, dream bigger, create bigger challenges for myself, and push myself harder. No matter what I go on to become in life, a part of my identity will always be that 24-year old, starry-eyed math and science teacher whose job and occupation meant the world to her.
Happy Teachers’ Day everyone – We are what we are because of our teachers, for all the little experiences life was made of, and for that internal compass that guides us and eventually leads us to do what we are the best and hopefully the happiest doing.