Guru Purnima symbolizes our society’s commitment and deep seated urge to recognize and promote teaching as a novel, and ancient profession. Teachers need to be duly acknowledged and respected by the society. A true teacher would choose to remain a teacher forever, no matter whether his profession gets changed. Teaching is more than a profession, it is, perhaps a mission. A teacher is a lifelong learner, an avid reader, and seeker of truth. It is this perennial urge for knowledge that makes a teacher impart learning to students. Students look up to teachers for guidance and knowledge. On the occasion of Guru Purnima, what all blessings a teacher would like to shower on students, to make them empowered as a learner. I can visualize three blessings which can go a long way in making students what they would like to be in life. These three blessings also rest at the heart of an improved teaching-learning process and driving quality in higher educational institutions.
1. May you be a seeker of knowledge!
Invariably, teachers are portrait as a ‘knowledge giver’ and students are there as a ‘knowledge takers’. In the age of digital and online learning, the role of a teacher as content provider has tended to diminish considerably. Teachers no longer remain mandatory for getting access to knowledge content. Students largely know where to get it. Teachers are being looked up to by students not just for the content but for their ability to contextualize knowledge and co-create something new and something interesting. However, for this to happen, students need to develop the habit of reading and come up with questions starting with ‘why’ in plenty.
I was interviewing a candidate of late, and I asked—do you read? He said, yes he does. I was so happy to hear that reply. Curiously enough, I asked what do you read. He said novel and recently he read Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend. I started talking about the book with him. I didn’t find his elaborations good enough to support his claim to have read this book. However, this was not what made me to rethink about reading habits, but I was really surprised to see that almost everyone I interviewed on that day told about Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend with similar scanty knowledge about the storyline. May be I had a curiously coincidental bad day. Nevertheless, the fact remains that lack of reading habits, in general, seems to be a matter of serious concern. One does not have to reiterate time and again that books and readings are of utmost significance. Readings provide wings to imagination and dreams. It helps language development and communication. Perhaps, in a fast paced life with so many alternatives to fall back on, we are not able to rediscover the joy of reading. Institutions need to find ways to re-establish the culture of reading among students and faculty.
In a digital age, print reading is considerably low. Use of screens (computer, iPad, smartphone) must be promoted for book reading. A system of common read wherein one book is selected and declared as common read of the month may ensure a great deal. It is to be followed by talking about the common read in a seminar. Generally, books are selected and bought by faculty and library. Let students select and buy books to be kept in library. If you buy books, you also tend to read it. Let books unleash a fresh new world for us, as W. Fusselman said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”
2. May the child within you live forever!
At the end of his speech in Norway, the Noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi asked everyone to keep hands on heart, close the eyes, and look at the child within. Remarkably, the Noble laureate Malala Yousafzai, jointly sharing the same dais, emphatically said, “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world”. A little bit of child needs to be retained in each one of us.
Khalil Gibran told parents to always remember that children have come to this world not from them but through them. He warned parents not to try and make their children like them, for time does not move backward. Children have their own way of moving forward. Their sense of fairness is undiluted. We need to learn a lot from them. First habit we can embrace in us is their indulgence in ‘pure’ play. When children play nothing else matter. Such play “reduces stress, improves communication skills, builds team work”, says Cathy Raphael in her book It’s Our Turn to Play.
Like children we must try to be our own best friend. Mildred Newman (How to be Your Very Own Best Friend) writes—“Give yourself positive recognition. When you do something you are proud of, bask in the glow, tell yourself that you did well, even if no one else does”. Yet another habit we can embrace in us is kid’s perennial tendency of learning something new. We learn for the pay-offs. Kids learn for the sheer pleasure of it. They are learning machine. We need to recapture the sense of joy we had as children. Lastly, be as simple as a child. One of the Bengali songs suggests–unless a man is simple, he cannot recognize God, the simple one. Robert Herrick writes—“Truth by her own-Simplicity is known”. Brihad Aranyaka Upnishad mentions—“Let a Brahman reject erudition and live as a child”. With this sense of simplicity, we can enhance productivity and be innovative to achieve great things in life.
3. May you have the courage to make a choice!
We all are a product of choices that we made in life. It has brought us to the place where we are today. Some choices have made us to go up in life while some choices may have pulled us down. Choices which result into a loss may cost us but the cost of not making choices could be much higher. Taking a decision and making a choice is extremely important in life. Ability to decide and choose is a great skill. As a teacher, we must focus on encouraging students to make choices in life, well informed choices as far as practicable.
In nutshell, students in higher education must leverage to expand beyond known. They must endeavour to experiments, and to see new lights. The first step towards this is to prepare well for each session or interaction. A well prepared class, equipped with pre-reads, will push the discussion to a next level. A high level of discourse is the beginning of exploring new dimensions. The next step must be to move beyond text book and read alternative literature, be exposed to unorthodox paradigm. This is likely to change the way we look at the phenomenon. With several why, what, and how in our thinking pattern, finding new may not remain too distant. Finally, as a teacher we must make our students try for impossible. A constant craving for overcoming impossible rests at the heart of a passionate teaching learning.
However, it would not come about of its own. This would mean sacrificing procrastination, valuing time, reading more and greater indulgence in open discourse.
Raphael, Cathy (2000) It’s our turn to play, Harper Perennial; Illustrated edition.
Newman, Mildred, Berkowitz B and Owen J (2016) How to Be Your Own Best Friend, Random House; Reprint edition.
*The word ‘guru’ in Indian tradition is variously described and upheld in high esteem. In nutshell, it means a teacher and a preacher. ‘Shishya’ connotes to a student or a learner. Guru Purnima day is celebrated in reverence to all gurus to whom the humanity owes so much.