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     Volume 4 Issue 61 | September 2, 2005 |

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Slice of Life

Finding Happiness Beyond ABC…

Richa Jha

The call came minutes after I left from school. It had been a tense forenoon waiting impatiently for the website to announce that the 'O' Level results were out. I'd seen the students trying to hide their unease behind jokes and buffoonery. I left them there huddling around the PCs, seeking comfort in their bonhomie to tide over the anxiety.

The call came before I reached home. In the midst of all else that was spoken, only two words registered, and kept on replaying long after he had disconnected. "Sorry Miss," he said twice, and I knew what he meant. Not for a moment did I imagine the worst, but I knew what he meant. That he had got a grade lower than what was expected from him, I didn't have to ask. But what touched me most was the assurance that for at least one student, my role as a teacher had not ended with the winding up of the final lecture in class the day these students went on their preparatory breaks. I don't know if my voice betrayed me, but my eyes had flooded much before I told him I was proud of him.

And I AM proud of him. Proud of his inner strength to face a teacher whom he thought he had let down. Proud of his sensitiveness that he thought of the teacher first and acknowledged that he had failed her. But I wanted to tell him, he hadn't. It is easy to walk up to a teacher with pride with laurels resting on your shoulders, but not with a shaken spirit. His 'sorry' was also his way, and perhaps the only way, of thanking the teacher. Such nobility of character!

I wanted to tell him his apologies were needless. I know he tried, and whether or not he received that hallowed 'A' on his certificate, for me, he would remain the best student I've had the pleasure of interacting with. So too, his brother, who is blessed with a mind that is as fertile as it can ever get. Teaching takes on a new meaning with students like these.

When a teacher speaks in class, it is not from a position of power, but from the vantage point of having knowledge on her side. There are students who will look up to you and devour everything you say as the gospel truth; but then there are these exceptions who, you know, don't need you. When left on their own, in unbridled conditions, they are capable enough to take on the world without your assistance. Your role as a teacher ends there, and you become, instead, a mere facilitator. You know you are learning as much from them, as they are from you. These two brothers belong here.

These exams are unpredictable; the grading systems, unfair. A student gets tagged good-average-weak merely on the basis of his performance on one day. My thoughts raced back to the day my tenth board results came out. When the score sheets were pulled out from the envelopes, I remember the look in my Principal's eyes: incredulity laced with a sudden realisation that the unexpected had, after all, come true. Those were piercing questioning eyes wanting to know why I had let them down. They must have been saying more, but you can't see clearly through brimming eyes, can you? I was unable to meet her eyes, but I knew what was going on in her minds.

I learnt later that my Principal and the other nuns had kept a bottle of wine ready since the morning of that day to raise a toast to me. The bottle never got uncorked. Standing there in the Principal's room with burning cheeks, I remember having felt so vulnerable. I wanted her to look at me once, just that once, and to say something to reassure me everything was fine, but she didn't. She kept doling out the marksheets to my classmates. We were fifty of us and she had her few congratulatory words for each classmate she was handing the sheet to. But in her not looking in my direction even once, I knew that at that moment, it was just the two of us in the room and through our respective pregnant silences, we were united in the grief over having let the school down. I felt small, angry, weepy, and terribly ashamed of myself. I left her office without uttering a word.

I didn't have the courage to face my teachers after that. A strong sense of shame pulled me back each time I saw them passing by in the corridors. I assumed they would be angry with me. Not once did it occur to me that the feeling of having failed the school was not unique to me. The two teachers in whose subjects I had missed my one point (90 and above was 1 point) would be finding it equally difficult to come to terms with the reality. The sad, disturbing, but unfortunately true fact is that year after year, a teacher's measure of success gets recognised only in terms of the final grades her students get in the public examinations. But that's not how it should be: a teacher's contribution to a student's life is un-quantifiable. Measuring it with marks alone is demeaning the profession.

Scars fade away. Fifteen years on, I am glad that my Principal, and indeed my school, remembers me for reasons other than not having lived up to her expectations. Fading memories have given me the benefit of doubt and have simply let the school assume that my statement of marks must be adorned with the 6 points that was expected of me. Fifteen years on, I feel ecstatic to hear the affection tinged with nostalgia in my teachers' voices as they fondly reminisce, "We've not had a batch like yours again." And I know they are not talking of the scorecards we finally gave them.

Grades are important, but a student's life doesn't end with it. It doesn't even begin with it. The day we stop assigning far greater importance to our exam results than is warranted, we'll start allowing our children to genuinely grow and to assimilate their learning at school.

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