Teaching is a joy for many. This happens when it is more than a profession; when it is a calling. For some years I taught at schools. I used to tell parents of my students that there is one thing I wish they could experience with me and their children: the Teacher Moment!

A Teacher Moment (TM) happens when the kid’s light bulb goes on, the eyes widen, the face blossoms, and there is an explicit or implicit “Aha!” or “OOhhh!”  This is when they have understood a concept and suddenly something makes sense.

Few other than teachers can know the joy of  being in that moment.

I often share these experiences with friends and other sympathetic or kindred souls. Most of them “get it.”

In high school, my samskrtam teacher, Vidvaan Alasingra Bhatrachar used to quote some poet’s characterization of the ideal teacher: शिष्यात् इच्छेत् पराभवम्  (a teacher who should wish to be vanquished by his/her student).

The TM is a baby-step in that direction. Meanwhile, being in that moment is unadulterated joy!

Here are a couple of TMs.

****

Class 9, Army Public School, Bangalore. 2010.

I am conducting a workshop for kids on the monsoons. This topic, like most others, offers a wonderful canvas on which to paint a grand picture of geography, how it matters, and how it connects. I explicitly connect geography, physics, biology, mathematics, economics, politics, lore, myth, fine and performing arts, poetry, and so on.  We had come to the point of discussing the basics of wind movement.

I: “What is wind?”

45 voices: “WIND IS AIR IN MOTION !”

I: “Great! But why does wind move?”

45 voices: ”    ” (for a few seconds)

Slight movement in the left periphery of my field of vision.

I turn.

Girl’s face lights up, eyes widen, … in short, the expression of a geophany (is that a new word?). All animation, she opens her hands out, spreads her arms a little, shrugs her shoulders a tad and bursts forth: “Because it’s FREE!”

I smile and exclaim, “Wow!” But she suddenly has doubts. She says, “No wait! That’s wrong, no?”

I tell her, “Not at ALL! It’s a very poetic view of it … very poetic way of putting it! It’s brilliant!”

The entire class laughs and joins in the enjoyment of this burst of poetic vision. Everyone is smiling at her approvingly. She glows with pride, but also a little embarrassment at this sudden attention.

I laid extra emphasis on monsoon and poetry in that session.

(She is now preparing for her class 10 CBSE final exams.)

****

3:00pm – 3:45pm. Tuesday, 20 December 2011. 8th standard. MEG school, Bangalore.

Me … teaching the kids about latitudes and longitudes. S.L.O.W.L.Y. This class was the 4th, over as many weeks (i meet them only once a week) on just this topic.

They have come from Tamizh medium until last year, and suddenly from this year are in English medium. So, I’ve been alternating between English and Tamizh.

One kid, little Vijay, particularly has difficulty and has sometimes asked me to explain things again in Tamizh when the English version proved to be too much for him.

Finally, we got to the point where they had to learn how to give the ‘address’ of a place using latitude/longitude, on a grid on the whiteboard. I showed two examples.

“Did you understand?”, in English. Several nods from the kids.

Vijay wants the explanation in Tamizh.

Done.

“Now, I have placed a point on the grid, you must tell me the correct latitude/longitude address of this point. Who will do it?”

Young Mary just leaps from her chair, grabs the marker from me and before you could say ‘geography rules!’ writes the correct answer, complete with the correct symbols and conventions. This is not very surprising. She’s always very quick to grasp concepts.

“Excellent!”

Beaming, Mary, whom I tease by calling her “Little Miss Mary” to her delightful laughter, returns to her seat.

Everyone’s smiling.

“Final example! Who will do the next one?”

Little Vijay, hand raised high, jumps up from his chair comes almost running to me, takes the marker, and before you could say, um … “kolaveri di!”, he has written the correct answer!

I nearly swoon from joy.

“VIJAYYYY! Brilliant! Very GOOD!”

But just as I say, “Vijayyyy!”, the whole class bursts into spontaneous and loud applause! I am the only one who could see the gleam in Vijay’s eyes, the joy of his classmates, and his own joy at their expression of theirs, and the air of geographical triumph he wears as he proudly walks back to his seat.

However, I am sure my two geography teachers … Mr Narasanna in high school, and Dr Bhardwaj at Kent State University are present there in spirit.

They empathize.

I am blessed and grateful.

(That beautiful samskrtam word धन्योऽहम् “I am fulfilled/blessed” is the most apt!)

Notes:

  • (“kolaveri di” is an ‘ear-worm’ song that had just gone viral and kids were singing it everywhere)
  • I prefer “Tamizh” to the customary spelling “Tamil.”

Chandra Shekhar Balachandran
Director, TIIGS

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