Saturday, June 7, 2014

On being a teacher

One of my strongest memories of people, is one I had as a teenager with Amma. We were at the famous All India Exhibition, a very public place with over 20000 stalls and lakhs of people visiting every day. In the midst of the chaos, I heard someone call out my mother's name and follow it up with "Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam"

We turned around and a lady with a teenage son, hurled herself at my mother and kissed her. They spoke animatedly for a couple of minutes. The lady then turned to me and gushed about how much she loved my mother and that she enjoyed her college life only because my mother was a very compassionate and friendly teacher. She said she vividly remembers certain things my mother has said in class and it went on and on for a bit.

This has obviously stayed with me. I told my mother then and now, I cannot think of her as a professional. She to me was always the tormentor of my youth, the no nonsense mother who wouldn't entertain tantrums, the mother who every child thinks is just out to be annoying. So when I saw unbridled love and admiration for a woman I mostly had complaints about, it made me think of what she meant to others in her life. 

I cannot think of a single teacher that I have had, who has left such a lasting impression on my life or who I have affection for. I have had teachers that I have liked. Teachers who have stayed in my memory and some of whom I talk about even today. But none of the "you changed my life" experiences. 

When life turns a full circle, sometimes it shuts you up, sometimes shocks you. After a few years spent in nondescript back-end work, I moved into a people facing role with training. Immediately I was made to understand, that though I was in that particular role because of my communication skills, I wouldn't make too much progress unless I quickly developed a few other skills I severely lacked. 

The first one is patience. I call it a skill and not a virtue. Simply because this is something that can be learnt, practiced and developed in all measures. I was not born with unlimited reserves of patience. People who know me in real life know that I am short ~ tempered and willed! So patience was the first skill that I realised I severely lacked and needed to develop on a war footing if I wanted to make any progress with my career choice. 

There are so many people one encounters. In a people facing role, this is magnified tremendously. for one, you are meeting with so many people on a daily basis. Each one comes with their abilities, inabilities and quirks. To understand them and cater to them is difficult. To make oneself approachable and gain their trust and respect is like climbing a hill in the middle of a horribly hot afternoon with shoe bites on your heels. Most people are guilty till proven innocent. And I learnt very quickly, that I had to be on their side.

No matter what one's skill or knowledge, one is judged within the first minute of an encounter and as a teacher, if you fail, you can almost never reverse the tables. So my temper, my angst, my anger and most importantly my pride, were all quickly swallowed. The more I realised it was not about me, the easier it got for me and the more effective I was in my work.

I learnt also to say without shame that I didn't have all the answers. I learnt that it was allright to say that I didn't know and would find out the right information instead of fumbling or worse still - fibbing. That didn't mean that I could be shoddy in my research and preparation. The days I thought I knew everything, or entered a training room with inadequate preparation, I would be acutely reminded of how I had messed up. I learnt that I had to be well prepared and informed and equipped and no matter how hard i worked, there would be that odd day that I didn't have all the answers

It has built my confidence to speak to strangers, to speak to an audience of any number. It has made me smile a lot more than I normally would have because otherwise I am accused of frowning too much. Teaching has also made me realise that I may not touch people the way my mother has, but I have had an impact on people's lives. I feel honoured to receive birthday and festival greetings after many years of meeting a participant. I feel happy to bump into people at public places and they recall our first meeting or what I had spoken in a session. I am humbled when someone emails to tell me they got a better job opportunity or their confidence has improved or their life has been enriched in some way because of a session they have attended.

I haven't had a "maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam" moment yet. But I enjoy being a teacher and reaching out when I can. It has been my most fulfilling role and I am thankful that teaching found me and made me a better person. 

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