As the country moves towards developing nation status, we need to inspire more young people to pursue teaching careers
A bohemian-looking couple came in for an interview, when we were looking to recruit teachers for a residential school in a remote place in Sylhet. The lady, in her early 30s, studied in a reputed school in the capital, having a few years of experience of teaching English at schools, while the husband seemed to be of the same age -- an IT graduate.
Both had jute satchels hanging from their shoulders. While all other candidates were quite formally dressed in their best with ties and shining shoes, they were in their rugged jeans and kurta. The lady was wearing a big round scarlet teep on her forehead while her husband with his unruly beard was looking like a “nogor baul.” We had an interview board composed of some seasoned teachers in respective subjects, and a reputed university professor having taught in the US for several years.
While the experts concentrated on their subjects, I as a layman looked for their general appearance, demeanour, and communication skills. Academically, they both seemed to be alright, but we were hesitant whether they would be fine for the fulltime boarding school requirement of administering and teaching young boys.
The lady was quite fluent in English, while the gentleman seemed to have a knack for teaching art and craft, Bangla, and even some music besides computers. The professor and I discussed at length and finally decided to recruit this seemingly odd couple as teachers in our boarding school.
We had a very humble beginning with only 12 students for classes six and seven. The school, on grounds inside a teagarden overlooking the Meghalaya hills in the horizon, a vast expanse of water in its background, had an imposing academic building, and a nice hostel, with dining and allied facilities. Initially, we found it difficult just to retain these few young souls in this almost barren place, however picturesque.
The lady took hardly any time in winning over the hearts of these young learners by dint of her genuine care of their wellbeing. Many a time I found her arranging inexpensive birthday celebrations, reading out books to them, or taking a group of enthusiasts out for a walk.
Preparatory study in the evening was a time useful for the boys, where they used to study supervised by the teachers. There used to be a schedule for the teachers though, this couple hardly missed this event any evening. I could feel their active presence, which made learning so interesting and spontaneous. The lady made it a point to always converse in English inside the classroom or outside, ignoring initial difficulties the students would face, which seemed to be paying good dividends soon.
To make life interesting at the school, we tried a lot of innovative ideas. I thought, why not have a theme song for the school? I shared my idea and requested the couple to come up with a theme song in both Bangla and English. We practiced it in chorus with all teachers and students. The wordings and the melody still seem to cling to my ears: “In quest of knowledge, at the valley of Jaflong, the foothills of Meghalaya, home away from home, to learn and excel here we are.”
It was with much surprise and pleasure that we found our young boys who found it difficult to utter a few sentences when they were taken in, soon could even participate in public speaking and debate classes. This was possible only because of tireless efforts by this couple and other teachers. In December at year's close, there were more surprises waiting for us when a cultural program was performed in an open air stage where they presented a short play in English.
They made it a point to keep the boys engaged in something creative, be it drawing, painting, computers, guitar, or simply walking around. This made sure the students didn’t feel bored and homesick.
On one holiday morning, I received a phone call from the lady seeking my permission on whether she would be allowed to treat the boys of class six and seven to a lunch at her residence, which of course was inside the campus. I gladly permitted. The next day, when I asked the boys about the lunch at their teachers’ place they described the event with a lot of enthusiasm: “Madam took us all out to the jungle nearby and made us chop off some banana leaves, which we cut into different sizes, brought to her house, and rinsed thoroughly in the sink. The nice food was laid out and we ate to our hearts’ content, but on the banana leaves. We were surprised but liked it, Sir.’’
We need many more teachers like this, who can really inspire our young ones, be with them, share knowledge and creativity, care for them, earn their respect as true friends and guardians, and can guide them in blooming their full potential. We don’t want teachers to scare away their students. Rather, they should gather around to communicate without any inhibition to let meaningful learning take place.
We need to carry out a countrywide teacher hunt to look for prospective school-teachers and put them through methodical training to enhance their ability. Simultaneously, we need to make teaching an interesting and even a lucrative career for young people by sufficiently increasing their perks and privileges. At a time of our graduating to a developing country status, the government needs to mull over making teaching a cadre service for sustaining our tempo.
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor.