Sharpening pencils, moulding minds

This morning, before sitting down to plan my day, I started sharpening my pencils. I have just bought a box of “Funn” pencils and I love them. No more red and black, or black and grey pencils. These pencils are beautiful ! All the colours of the rainbow and then some!

I call them my happy pencils because
a) They look so attractive. It lifts my spirits just looking at them.
b) They write beautifully and make me want to write.
c) My students fight to use them. No longer is writing a chore for them. It’s now fun. I use the pencils as a promo, “I’ll give you the pink pencil if you write neatly.” Or “The purple pencil is yours if you write a nice essay.”

Coming back to what I started off saying, I was sharpening my “Funn” pencils. I love sharpening pencils. It reminds me of helping people sharpen their skills and bringing out the best in them. It reminds me of my students.

As I sharpened the pencils, I found that some sharpened easily. These were my students who were easy to teach. They respond well. I don’t have to put in much effort to bring out the best in them.

With other pencils, I realized that I had to actually apply less pressure while sharpening them or else the point would break. When they were sharpened very gently, they were okay. These reminded me of some of my students who are so low on self esteem or so scared and scarred by criticism, that it needs lots of love and praise and gentleness to bring out their best.

For some pencils I had to use a different sharpener, just like I have to devise new methods of teaching for some of my students. For some, reading is enough, for others I have to supplement it with audio visual aids, with yet others, I have to get them to do practical stuff. Some respond best to stories, others need to play to learn.

And finally, I realized that I need to keep sharpening my pencils. I need to continuously encourage my students to learn, explore, experiment, achieve. It is a never ending process but the results are always worth it!

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The Beginning

I was all of fourteen. It was the 5th of September, 1979, Teacher’s Day. I was in the tenth standard and as usual the teachers had gone for a picnic, leaving us, the tenth standard students to run the school.

I was in charge of the kindergarten. I had been told to ensure that all the kids wrote down the alphabet. Everyone complied, except one little girl, Monica. She just stared sulkily at her note book. When I asked her why she was not writing, she just shook her head stubbornly, without saying a word.

But the rest of the class yelled out, “She can’t write. She is a dumb head.”

I was shocked to hear these little five year olds talk like that. “Who says she is a dumb head?” I asked.

“Our teacher, Miss Margaret,” they replied.

I felt an uncontrollable surge of anger towards Miss Margaret. “How can anyone call a baby a dumb head?” I wondered as I looked at little Monica who had hung her head in shame.

I put my arm around her and said, “You are not a dumb head. You are my friend. And so friend, tell me, what do you like to do?”

She looked up at me with eyes round in surprise and not a little fear. Then she whispered, “I like to draw.”

“And what do you like to draw?”

“Houses”, she said.

“Okay”, I told her, “Let’s see. If you can draw your ABC just like I am doing, I will let you draw a picture of a house for me. I will take that picture home and keep it on my fridge. Okay?”

Still full of wonderment, she nodded and “drew” the alphabet neatly in her book. After that she drew a beautiful house and garden for me.

I showed her book around the class and said, “See, Monica is not a dumb head. She is an artist.”

The beatific smile on the child’s face was all the reward in the world.

This was my first experience of how we as teachers can make or break a child. All it needs is a few words to build up someone’s confidence and confidence is a mighty motivator.

I tasted power that day in that kindergarten classroom. I realized that I had the power to change the way a person thinks about himself. I could make people believe in themselves. I could help people succeed.

And in that moment was born my dream. I decided there and then that I would be a teacher… not of academic subjects but a teacher who would teach people to be confident and believe in themselves. I would help people succeed in life.