Five Important Lessons I Learned As a Teacher

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE which included frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at education conferences world over.



Lesson 1

I recall entering the teaching profession in 1971 as a teacher of a newly opened DAV School in Chennai. I was blessed to have a great leader as my principal, Kulapathi Sri Balakrishna Joshi, a role model for the teaching profession and an inspiration to the teaching community. On the first day, as I entered his chamber, I found several teachers waiting to touch his feet and take his blessings. When it was my turn, he smiled at me and asked, “What do you think a teacher is?”
I stood in silence and he continued, “A Teacher is a harbinger of positive energy. He carries positive energy to his classrooms. If you radiate positive energy it comes back to you a million times. If you radiate negative energy it comes back to you a million times. A classroom is nothing but an energy management system, whatever be the subject or class you teach.”
The power of these words influenced me throughout my career.
Lesson 2
A couple of months later I walked into the principal’s room with a box of sweets. As he was with a visitor, I walked into the room of the Vice-principal and offered it to him.
“What is the news Mr. Bala?” he quipped. “Are you getting married?”
“No, sir. I had written my MA in Hindi and I have passed the exam.”
“Hindi?” he raised his eyebrows. “You are a science teacher. Why did you take up Hindi? You could have pursued M.Phil. or some other science course. Hindi isn’t going to help you anyway in your career.” With a punch, he took the sweet “Anyhow, sweets are always welcome.”
I stepped into the Principal’s room and informed the reason for the sweets, he replied “Great. A science teacher doing literature. But don’t stop with this. You should now pursue an MA in English. The day may not be too far when you might have to sit in a similar seat. Remember – ‘Deserve and Desire’. A teacher must be a continuous learner”
The lesson I learnt: “The day you stop learning, is the day you disqualify yourself for teaching.”
Lesson 3
On one of the days when my lab assistant had erred, I got upset and was shouting at him in the laboratory where the students of senior classes were doing some experiment. The principal who was passing by observed the scene. Later, he called me aside and said, “Remember, never hurt a person in the presence of others. That sends a bad message to the students. The basic objective of education is respect other human beings. We are educators and not executors”
“A good teacher never hurts people whom he deals with.”
Lesson 4
As a teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya, I walked into a classroom with class 9 students. I found one of the girls in the front bench working out mathematics. I asked her, “Are you aware that the chemistry class has started?” She apologised and closed her notebook. I observed a beautiful geometry box on her table. I was impressed and asked her “Where did you it get from?”
She stood up and said, “My father gifted this to me on my birthday three years ago.” I moved to the next student and asked her in a casual manner “What did your father gift you for your birthday?”
She stood silently. The first girl, the one with the geometry box, stood up and said, “She also doesn’t have a father, just like me Sir.” I felt so apologetic about the question I had asked, without realising the emotional impact it would have on the child.
The lesson: “A teacher needs to have emotional and pedagogical intelligence, apart from his/her academic intelligence.”
Lesson 5
A few years ago, a few students who were a part of the school alumni visited me to invite me for the Silver Jubilee of their batch. Chatting over a cup of coffee, one of them remarked “Sir, you were a great chemistry teacher”. I felt elated hearing that, but what he said next touched me the most. “But Sir, you taught us everything except Chemistry. You taught us self-esteem, courage, lessons on accepting defeat, and the broader perspectives of life. We remember all of it, but not your Chemistry lessons. Honestly speaking, none of us are in the field of Chemistry, but we loved your classes for those words of motivation and inspiration.”
And I learnt, “the success of a teacher lies in his/her ability to go beyond textbooks, by being a great facilitator, a counsellor and a mentor.”
This article was originally published in magazine in the month of September, 2018.