To all the terrible teachers who taught me invaluable life lessons.
A day after Teacher’s day, my news feed has been full of posts on teachers who have changed the lives of their students, been wonderful mentors and eventually friends. My experience with school teacher’s has been quite the opposite — but full of learning nonetheless.
I went to an all-girls school in Calcutta. With a healthy mix of gender missing, were educated and groomed to be well behaved girls who would grow up to be well behaved women. This meant respecting authority without question, following rules with military precision and always speaking softly — because well behaved girls did not shout, scream, bellow or burp. We quietly internalized our anger, resentment, fear and discomfort while keeping our ankles delicately crossed under the table and ensuring that our skirts were draped well below our knees.
We were not taught to question or wonder. We were only meant to learn from the book and answer without thought or creativity. In the off chance that we got on the bad side of a teacher in an already bad mood, we would spend the better half of the lesson staring at the wall outside our classroom or be sent to the Vice Principal’s office for some stern talk.
Out of the host of terrible teachers we went through over the years, there were two particular women who taught me two invaluable life lessons.
Number One: Mrs. X: our math teacher who was known as a tyrant in school. She was feared and dreaded not for her prowess in math but because she was a short tempered bully who enjoyed humiliating students in her class. At the beginning of each year, Mrs. X would scan the class and choose a few girls who she could pick on — read girls who were not mathematically inclined. In class 8, she picked me. I did not understand math, did not find it interesting and did not enjoy it. This irked Mrs. X to no end. I was often called up to show the class my notebook covered in big red zeroes. Mrs. X would hold up the book, smirk and say, “This is what you get for not paying attention in class. A big red zeeeerooooo.” And the class would laugh both out of fear and relief — she hadn’t picked them, they were safe.
Thank you Mrs. X for teaching me to stand up to bullies, regardless of their age. I learnt that I did not need to (or want to) excel in all subjects. I was pretty happy with just passing the subject and moving on with my life.
Number Two: Mrs. Y : our 10th standard class teacher who was known to be kind hearted and sweet — to students who got top marks. My class/section was fun loving, filled with girls who loved to talk loudly, sit comfortably and burp when they pleased. There were a few “good students” but overall we had earned a reputation of being an ‘average class’ with a rowdy demeanour. So Mrs. Y was rightfully miffed at getting a class which would not excel during the board exams — probably bringing down her yearly average scores. This is not a heart-warming Hollywood style story of a teacher who taught young girls to dream big or of students who overcame all odds and excelled. Mrs. Y never missed an opportunity to tell us how useless we were and how annoyed she was that she was stuck with us — a class which didn’t deserve a good teacher. Thankfully, we couldn’t care less.
Thank you Mrs. Y for teaching me resilience in the face of daily adversity. We learnt to strengthen our friendship, stand up for each other, rise above the insults and never ever rat out our classmates.
So here’s a cheer for all the terrible teachers out there who have taught us invaluable life lessons — the most important of all being to stand up for ourselves.
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