Wg Cdr JS Bhalla (retd)
The very reference to a government school reminds one of poor discipline, damp walls and smelly washrooms. This perception changed when I joined a government school as a volunteer teacher some three years back, as part of the administration’s initiative to induct retired professionals to impart knowledge and share their experience with young minds.
The country was celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. I was tasked to lead a team of students for an inter-school quiz competition on Gandhi’s life. It was a challenge that I humbly accepted. Two students were selected for the task. Notes were prepared, the topic was discussed a number of times and new points added each time we met in the school library. On D-day, I drove to the venue of the competition with my students. They were calm and composed, but I was tense, for it was the test of my ability and calibre to lead the team to victory, though I was a novice in teaching. Forty-nine schools participated in the preliminary written test lasting for 45 minutes.
Five schools, including ours, were shortlisted for the final onslaught of the quizmaster, which stretched to almost two hours. My team was neck and neck in the race till the last question. Finally, the anchor declared our school was the winner. I was delighted when the anchor called the team along with the teacher on the stage. I briskly climbed the stage. My military background and grey hair received rousing applause from the audience when I gave a parental hug to my students. I felt like I had been awarded a medal when the students received the trophy. WhatsApp messages were sent to the school and dear ones about the achievement. It was a magical moment and a memorable day of my life.
It was the last day for class XII in the school. I entered the class in a pensive mood. The clock rolled back to two years when I first met these students. Some of them looked serious, some were naughty.
A chorus of ‘Good morning, Sir’ by the smiling students welcomed me. Keeping my notes on the rickety table, I nodded, lacking my usual enthusiasm. I half-heartedly started the lesson. Pacing up and down, I glanced at each student and recollected his/her contribution to my journey. Some had participated in street plays and debates under my guidance and brought laurels to the school. I made eye contact with a student who was unusually quiet. I had scolded him the other day for not doing his home work. I stood before him and apologised. There was pin-drop silence. He got up with folded hands and tried to mumble, but was short of words. He had realised his mistake.
They had become a part of my life, yet they had to go. With these thoughts in my mind, I left the class.
The tragedy of being a teacher is that we love students and later lose them. A new batch will arrive. As time passes, the memories will fade and you will move on.