I’m a tiny bit envious of the lot who fondly speak about their favourite teacher like they belonged in a real-life Dead Poets’ Society – a mentor-type person you looked up to outside your family? Somebody who inspired you, made you believe it was okay to be you (through the teenage angst and drama of life) or pushed you into making that awesome discovery about yourself and pick a career choice after which you never once looked back.
When I think about this question – it’s interesting how I cannot think of a single teacher who changed my life for the better like that!
I grew up in India and I come from a culture where you were brought up to treat anybody older than you with respect and reverence – teachers, included. So, teachers were just more adults to listen to, respect and be forced to think highly of.
The only teacher I remember with affection was from kindergarten days – Ms Ruby – who I clung to because she was kind to me when my mum dropped me off as a four-year old. The other was Ms Maryann who I slightly adored because she was my namesake. The rest of the names are a hazy mix of convent school girl indifference, amusement and dread for my least preferred subjects.
Not to say that they were awful, they taught me pretty damn well.
I think this requires some more background.
Indian schools are wholesomely academic and exams are held all-year around. Standards are high, we have strict testing methods and the pressure to perform begins from the moment a child starts schools. He or she has an early introduction to the rat race – juggling history and science, language and numbers. Parents are super involved in their children’s’ academic success, almost like it is a reflection of their personal success or failure.
From grade 10 through grade 12 (Similar to England’s GCSE and A-level exams), I took extra coaching after school hours – not because I was lagging behind and needed help – but simply because it was like you were ‘losing out’ if you didn’t take extra lessons.
And, me – I was all about poems and singing and music and writing. Sure, I was encouraged at home to do these things as a ‘hobby’ or in my spare time etc. but all of my interests are perceived as ‘second-best’ in school – they were not the ‘ideal’ pursuits. They were perceived as the stuff ‘dreamers’ do. Abilities you couldn’t really make a career of.
Education mostly treated pupils as a whole, and individualised learning was not really recognised – unless of course, you were so made up of pure genius that the world couldn’t ignore you.
Interestingly, I ended up with decent grades despite my indifference for the ‘conventional’ subjects I was supposed to have made a career of. Learning a whole lot of stuff I didn’t love landed me in unexpected places, helped me meet amazing people and work in amazing jobs.
I think the Indian education system has trained whole generations of smart people to compete globally. This is why we’re well known in Silicon Valley and the IT world, make our presence felt in the world economy, and all of that.
Today, the world has shrunk and things are changing in India – the ‘high-end’ schools even offer classes in niche co-curricular activities like horse-riding and mountaineering (!) in affluent cities like New Delhi. Change and progress is ongoing with increased impetus given to the arts – different from when I was growing up.
I think this explains why I don’t have a favourite teacher. Also why I didn’t become a rockstar.