Teacher’s Memoir — No student is a failure!
As I go down the memory lane, I realize that my stint as a teacher has given me the privilege of learning some wonderful lessons of life. One of them is the reinforcement of my belief that, ‘No student is a failure.’
Never write off any child.
A new academic year was about to begin and we got our class list. It is common practice for teachers to look through the names of the students assigned for the new academic year and get a fair idea of the motley lot under their watch for the year. I showed the list to my colleague who was sitting next to me and waited for her comments. She pointed out to one name and wondered how the student had opted for science . She said, “ The child is weak and has barely managed to make it through 8th grade. Science would be too hard for her.”
I entered the class; first day, first show. As is the ritual on the first day, I have an ice-breaker session. Students introduce themselves. Some proudly, some sheepishly, some defiantly and some casually. Towards the end, a mousy little girl, sitting all alone on a bench stood up self-consciously. Petite, she was the tiniest one in the class. Painfully shy, she barely looked at me. I checked her name; indeed it was the same child who was pointed out by my well meaning colleague. I gave her my full attention and addressed her. She glanced at me with an hint of a smile that quickly withered away. My heart went out to her. From that day on, I made sure that there was always someone seated next to her.
She was indeed slow and unsure in the class. The class had some super confident ones, ambitious ones, naughty ones and my doormouse was lost in the cacophony of collective energy. I wondered what went on in her little head. When I get such students, I find that they usually turn out in shabby uniform and generally have a neglected appearance. I called her by my side and told her that she has to come to school in clean and ironed uniform with her hair neatly plaited.
Next day, she walked into the class with a scrubbed and bright look. She glanced at me through her lowered lashes. I gave her an approving smile. She was a baby at heart although in grade 9. My encouraging smile had the desired effect. She settled in more comfortably with a coy smile. Did I see a little spark in those apologetic eyes or was it my imagination? I made it a point to give her extra time and support whenever I asked her for answers so that she would come out a winner.
I would see her painfully wince whenever a question came her way. I made sure I asked her simple ones. I wanted her to grow in confidence. I would therefore patiently wait for her to gather herself and take the time to think and eke out the answer. I had to make sure the class would not discourage her in any way. But it was worth the effort to get her to participate in the class. I could see that she had made one friend who willingly sat next to her. I was glad.
First term examination was over and she lived up to her reputation. The report was colorful and the hassled parent was at her wit’s end. At the end of the 9th grade despite my best efforts, I had little to show to justify her promotion to grade 10. But I knew that her confidence was better and she understood that she had to work hard to make it through the ICSE syllabus. My little chats with her had made a connection and I could see the progress in her attitude, effort and spirit even though it was not yet showing up on the report.
Teachers were unanimous during the discussion regarding her promotion. No improvement. No response. One felt that it would be better for the student to take commerce and repeat the year. Thankfully, I was asked for an opinion and I said that we should give her a chance since the mother had assured me that she will leave no stone un-turned to make her cut the grade.
Amidst misgivings she was conditionally promoted. I sensed that the class was surprised to see her in 10th std. Once again, her confidence was at an all time low. I continued to be kind and encourage the student. The harried mother made every effort to counsel and help the child to cope with studies. From using herbs and pills to enhance her memory and study techniques. I observed that both mother and daughter were working hard.
She was just about making it to pass grade in some subjects and had a lot of catching up to do in Math and Science. I drew attention to the subjects she had cleared and gave her the confidence that she could tackle other subjects too. We continued to be optimistic and I made sure that every interaction I had with her would be positive and motivating.
Finally, it was time for the boards. The mother had continued to keep in touch with me and update me on her efforts to help the child. A few weeks before exams she asked for my help in Biology. I was not the regular after school tuition teacher’. I urged students to pay attention in class and meet me after school for clearing doubts. But, for this child I made an exception. I prepared her for Biology paper in a matter of 10 classes. I brushed up the important topics and made her learn the frequently asked questions. I must say she surprised me with her progress. I felt a sense of accomplishment. Her mother would ferry her daughter from one class to another.
Cutting the story short, finally the boards were over and the mother came with a box of sweets to thank me. That day, she confided to me the ordeal she had to go through when her daughter was refused to be coached by the ‘happening’ teachers whose tuition classes were bursting at the seams. I listened to her silently. Congratulated the mother and daughter and wished them the very best.
A couple of months later, I got the message on my cell saying that the child had got admission in an engineering diploma course. Three years later, I got another message saying that she had made through the diploma successfully and was appearing for the mainstream engineering course.
The story of this student is evergreen in my memory. It reinforced my belief that no child should be considered a failure. They will surprise you when they blossom. I reminisce about such students who have been gently nurtured to believe in themselves and forge a path in this world and it warms my heart that I had the good fortune to be a teacher.