In this honest and moving account of his life as a college teacher, the author looks at what teaching has meant to him, what it has taught him, and the main things he and his students learnt from one another.
How did I ever become what I did not want to become? This is a question I have often asked myself.
In my college days, teaching was certainly not a career option I considered. In fact, I changed track twice, first shifting from science to literature and then taking up a job in banking and again giving it up for good and joining college as a lecturer.
Even after joining, I kept wondering if I should be doing this. Many things conspired to keep me there. Initially it was a very comfortable job in my own hometown. There was a neat salary, other conveniences and a respectability which I think only the teaching community enjoys in Indian society. Teachers are more respected and trusted than anyone else.
But to think of it in such terms was not very satisfying; something was missing. At least, that is how I used to feel. What was I looking for? A deeper satisfaction which I think is more important than anything else. Call it spiritual, if you like. It’s not success, but a feeling of inner satisfaction which one can get only by ‘walking the extra mile,’ so to speak. (This lesson I learned only later when I reflected on it more deeply.) Engaging with literature in the classrooms was indeed enjoyable, but also tedious. Reason: Many kids come to college, not really of out of a personal choice or keenness in studying a subject but for more prosaic reasons. Learning literature and languages is something that most would like to do without, as some have openly confessed to me. (“What’s the use of learning Milton or Shakespeare? Or reading O Henry and Virginia Woolf?”)
Experiences that Opened My Eyes
I was attending a retreat session for the faculty when I met a famous retreat master who was an excellent counsellor. I told him of this crisis of dissatisfaction that I experienced at that moment. He asked me how I went to work every day, with a sad face or a happy face. That set me thinking. I had to experience joyfulness in my work. I had to work ‘at it.’ I remember that in one of the sessions the preacher quoted St. Therese of Lisieux: “Bloom where you are planted.” That was a great thought. Happiness did not lie elsewhere but ‘here and now.’ Perhaps this was what St. Paul meant when he spoke somewhere of the kairos moment…
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