Nothing Nobler Than Teaching – Part 1

I was not fortunate to have good teachers in my school days and this sad fact actually prompted me to be one of the best teachers for my own students who looked up to me in so many ways.  In my college days, however, I had the privilege of having some exceptionally good professors in my two most favourite subjects, Maths & English.  They were such good role models that they inspired me to pledge myself for the cause of education as I began my innings in MEA.  Right from classroom teaching, to problems at home, to deciding on further educational options, and to making career choices – my students simply counted on me.

Perhaps I could share the story of one of my students, who passed out of Lodi Estate school in 1962.  He was delighted to be selected by IIT all right but was not offered his choice of Mechanical Engineering that he badly wanted.  He felt not only disappointed but also disagreed with his father, who wanted him to join a regular Honours course in DU like many others.  Being at cross roads, he came to me for advice, wondering if he should give up his seat in IIT.  Knowing this child from his younger days, I knew he was cut out for something remarkable and I persuaded him to join DU and attempt the Civil Services examination instead.  After that I lost touch and had no idea of his whereabouts until, by sheer coincidence after all these long years, he saw me in a temple recently visibly overjoyed.  Without a doubt, this fine gentleman had made it to the IAS and risen to the enviable position of Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, proudly retiring a couple of years ago.  It was interesting to hear this retired senior official narrate the story as vividly as he remembered it, while I went back for a moment to those times when he had come to me for advice as a young boy.  This was surely one of those occasions of teachers touching the lives of others while hardly recalling it themselves.  What better joy could there be than to see my students successful!

Well, after establishing myself as a strong mathematics teacher in the Lodi Estate school, I moved on as Head of the Karol Bagh school at a young age of 26 years.  My experiences within the MEA/DTEA as I climbed the ladder were very unique compared to all other Principals and staff.  As the youngest head of school, every other staff member was older than me.  There were over 30 teachers and student enrollment crossed 1000.  It was indeed a big establishment and the job was challenging from various aspects.  The school was housed in tents pitched on a temporarily allotted land in old Rajendar Nagar. (The present site of the Pusa Road school was given to us at a later stage).  Further, I had to commute a very long distance everyday from Lajpat Nagar to Rajendar Nagar totally dependent on the pitiful DTS service of those times!  Last but not the least, I had to build the school from scratch, right from laying the administrative infrastructure, equipping and supporting the teachers, partnering with the parent community, ensuring quality education within the classrooms, conducting examinations and ultimately producing results!  By the way, I had to do all this without any knowledge of Hindi, which was also an incidental impediment.  I acknowledge gratefully the support I received from the teachers of the Karol Bagh school who were of immense help in all my efforts to maintain the image of the school.  In the midst of these multifarious challenges, I never gave up teaching classes myself which has always been the most refreshing part of my day.  All in all, I made a mark earning the goodwill of the entire community – both students and parents.  It was all worth it!

I am reminded of a very interesting event that took place in November 1960.  The occasion was the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Lakshmibai Nagar school which was also running in tents.  The Chief Guest was none other than the then Prime Minister of India, Shri. Jawaharlal Nehru.  It was a unique honour to have Pandit Nehru visit our school and the MEA was legitimately proud of themselves in having got the blessings of the first Prime Minister.  The Management, as a matter of protocol, introduced all the Heads of schools to the Prime Minister and I couldn’t believe I actually had the privilege of shaking hands with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.  What a thrilling moment!  Coming from a small village, I had never ever dreamt of anything like this.  That experience will always remain green in my memory!

pt-nehru-1960

As head of school, I was guided by certain basic truths.  While it is necessary to earn the love & affection of the children, I believed it is equally important to enlist the co-operation of the staff members, besides instilling in them a sense of team spirit.  After all, the parents have entrusted their children to our care – it is a SACRED trust that cannot and should not be betrayed.  This is the fundamental truth the schools under my charge lived up to.  I also believed the abilities of children cannot be expected to be uniform and naturally their achievement levels will vary from child to child – be it sports, academics, music, drama, languages, whatever.  I felt responsible to provide a healthy environment to every child in the school and encouraged the teachers to draw the best in the child – body, mind & spirit, while serving as a role-model myself, inspiring and guiding the students and staff as needed.  The teachers who worked with me will remember the maxim I stood by – “No teacher teaches unless the pupil learns”.

I succeeded to a large extent in shaping the Karol Bagh school by laying a good foundation, academically and administratively, while maintaining the dignity and decorum of the school.  It was surely a great learning experience that helped me in understanding the structure and functioning of the MEA as an administrator.  I then moved on to Mandir Marg school on a teaching assignment with Shri. N. M. Rajaram.  Though it was only for a short while, my stay with NMR turned out to be the most productive and indeed enjoyable, with the backing of my 10 years’ experience by then.  Besides Maths, I opted to teach English to senior students which again was another area that interested me and also afforded opportunities to interact with the Arts (Humanities) students.  All students of classes X & XI had access to me and through our students as our best ambassadors, I became well known in the community.  I wonder if these articles are reaching that audience, but I’m sure we all have nostalgic memories of those days.

During my tenure with the MEA / DTEA, I have encouraged many a student, not only those who were academically bright, but also those who struggled within the classroom.  I have taught not just the subject matter, but inculcated in them morals and good values to the extent that over the years, I have actually seen noticeable improvement in my students’ conduct and behaviour.  That was a rewarding experience.  Some students were not good in their academic performance for various reasons but I would never find fault with them for their deficiency.  Instead I would be more friendly with such students and encouraged them on other fronts.  They in turn loved me and never disappointed me in their effort.  It is so very heartening to know that quite a number of such “academically average” students are today holding enviable positions both within the country and abroad, some of them still maintaining contact with me.  In fact, as these articles are reaching far and wide, I received a surprise phone call last week from one of my old students of 1960’s who is now settled in USA after Economics (Hons) from Hindu College, MA from Delhi School of Economics, and got into the first batch of IIM Ahmedabad.  In his words, “though maths was not my strong subject – I barely managed to pass each year, I did well overall.”  What a joy to hear!

****

Photo of Reading Road School – 1964 batch

The girl squatting in the front row, Second from Right, is N. Jayalakshmi who later joined the MEA Faculty & subsequently retired as Principal – Moti Bagh school.

reading-road-1964

More on my journey with MEA/DTEA to follow…

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3 Responses to “Nothing Nobler Than Teaching – Part 1”


  1. 1 V.Thirumalai September 22, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Dear Sir,

    Your quote “Some students were not good in their academic performance for various reasons but I would never find fault with them for their deficiency. Instead I would be more friendly with such students and encouraged them on other fronts”.unquote – Such golden words.

    In the current world when a student is admitted into the school only after ensuring he or she or in many cases the parents are expected to make the grade from the start, your approach in my opinion is surely the most noble. I know of many teachers in the current crop who consider a deficient student as a burden instead of as a challenge. Hats off to the old brigade.

    Respects,

    Thirumalai

  2. 2 LATHA SARMA September 27, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Dear sir,

    My sincere Namaskarams to you sir.

    I studied in Laxmibainagar school for only 3 years from 1964 to 1966 from Ist to 3rd std as my father was Radio Operator in Civil Aviation Department. I was known as Latha v Rajan and my brother V R Shankar also studied during the same period in classes 3rd to 5th. I am unable to recollect my teachers other than Chithi teacher and vasantha teacher. Then we moved to chennai and I did my schooling in Kendriya Vidyalaya where a test was conducted and I could score good marks. Thanks to our DTEA school teachers!Though I am not very good in maths (I am workingin State Bank of India even with the weakness in Maths. It also could be due to the good foundation laid by our teachers of those days)

    4th to 6th I studied in AFS Tambaram. Then we moved to Bangalore where I did my 7th also in Kendriya Vidyalaya. From the writeups which I went through I feel very sad having not continued my education in DTEA. But not all are lucky enough. But still I should say that I am lucky if not to the fullest extent as I got the opportunity to join the Khoj and get in touch with you all. The sincerity and devotion of the teachers of our times is missing now. I wont give a generalised opinion but to a great extent it is so.

    HATS OFF TO YOU WONDERFUL AND DEDICATED TEACHERS.

    LATHA SARMA

  3. 3 S. Raghavan October 30, 2008 at 7:19 am

    I have great respect and likings for Natarjan Sir. We were the first batch of students from Reading Road School, in the year 1958, to come into Lodi Estate and pass out of school in the 1960. Sri. Natarjan joined Lodi Estate in 1959 or so if my memory serves me right. What impressed all of us was his dress in the first place.

    Immaculately dressed as he was, his walking style impressed the next; this was a typical one and it seemed to contrast with the rest who were relatively old and old-fashioned as well. We used to wonder how many many girls fell for him!! Besides all these, his way of teaching was the best of all and this impression stays on even now. I was not a studious type at all but his way of teaching was so simple and easy to recollect. He used to be very jovial in the class and did not make it monotonous. He was also friendly as others were a bit tight in relationships. His age was a great advantage for him and he used to preserve it well.

    He is still in touch with many of old students even as of date making him very popular even after his retirement. In his blog he impressively reminisces his olden days at school which is a skill by itself. I wish him and his family a long life filled with happiness.


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