Teacher’s Day

For every post I make here, there are at least half-a-dozen posts that never see the light of day. This was going to be one of those unlucky ones, but then I decided to take a leap. This month has all been about taking giant leaps. If I leap anymore, I will end up in Hawaii.

Teacher’s Day. It is a big deal where I come from. Dutifully, I write emails to those who made a difference to my life every September 5th. To teachers. People who taught me at school or under-grad.

People like to label me as rebellious sometimes, when I try to bring up systemic maladies in discussion. It eventually turns to not respecting the elders enough, or being dutiful enough, or being grateful enough. I suspect I might be more dutiful than most, since I still keep laborious notes on whom to email or send cards to, to be thankful. I send out yearly emails of thank-yous to people who have made my life easier in some way or the other.

What am I thanking them for? Doing their job? In India, teachers are gods, right next to parents. They can do no wrong.

I know what I am thanking a few for. I am thanking them for not being utterly incompetent or evil. I am thanking them for not attempting to destroy my idealism or whatever virtues I had at that point. I am thanking them for being decent human-beings. What does that say about the majority of the teachers I have had? They were needlessly cruel, hopelessly incompetent at teaching what they were being paid to teach, and the whole of my schooling was a train-wreck that didn’t stop wrecking my life until I gave up trying to make sense of it.

I believed once. I believed that teachers actually cared about their subjects. I was quickly enlightened about the utter wrongness of that belief. There was that English teacher who told me that my eyebrows looked ugly because I corrected her on the past tense of ‘shine’. There was that physics teacher who didn’t know the basics of how transistors worked and tried to teach us her deluded notions about the subject. She cried in a classroom when I corrected her. It led to other staff coming to class and making threats about how the walls have ears and how criticizing a staff member was not going to be taken lightly. It doesn’t matter. It was all long ago and I have hundreds of other examples where that came from.

I thought under-grad would be a better experience. I had not understood then how messed up reservations had made the whole university teaching system. I have plenty to say about reservations, and none of that is very pleasant, but it isn’t highly relevant right here, except that I think it messed up an already broken teaching system further.

The saddest part, to me, is that I can’t say any of this to my peers who came from the same system. They aren’t willing to entertain such a discussion. The idea of the moral authority of teachers is so deeply entrenched in their minds that any other opinion is blasphemy. They will call me out on all of my moral failings if I bring this topic up. I have plenty of moral failings when held to the standard they live by and believe in, and I enjoy most of my failings to varying degrees, but that doesn’t make my opinion invalid on this. I will be told that I always had issues with authority figures. Perhaps I might have had good reasons?

I think, that it was only extreme and rare good fortune that preserved me when living under this system, and I might have my introversion and the fact that I found my validation elsewhere to thank for that. Someone else, who tried to believe, to think, might have broken worse. I had other matters to focus on, other passions to pursue, and apart from needing to show good grades or ranks for getting to the next stage of getting out of there, I didn’t care about any of it. One of the common complaints to my father when he came by to pick up my progress report at school was that I was too arrogant to my teachers (She corrected them! How dare your daughter do that?), that I considered them beneath me (She questioned them!). That they even considered this remark worth making says more about the system than about my juvenile delinquency.

I overcompensate with my interns. I spend nights poring over books to make sure that the references I give them are accurate and up to date. I ponder and over-ponder when they ask me technical questions, to do my best to give them the best answers I can give them, and add plenty of caveats when I think they are necessary. I should be grateful that I did not go into academia. I would have worked myself into an early grave trying to compensate for all the messes of the teaching system I had grown up under.

This isn’t healthy. Hopefully, I will be more level with the next round of interns. I am working on that. That is the saddest part about the whole issue to me: those teachers never worked. They droned on and on with the material their predecessor had obtained from their predecessor, and never did a single thing to improve their methods or even their knowledge of their own course-material. If they were in any other profession that valued growth or improvement, nobody would hire them (well, somebody might, for SAP). These are the last people (barring criminals and malicious folks) who should be let near children. And not only do they manage to keep their job and ruin children, they get revered for their failure.