There was a time when the teacher was known as epitome of all virtues. The rules, kings and queens, and their progeny would listen in rapt attention when the teacher spoke. To them, the teacher was their guide, their counsellor and their truest friend. The teacher's word was regarded as the word of God.
Where are those teachers of yesteryears? Where are those epitomes of truth and knowledge? Where have disappeared those ethereal beings to whom, in the mythological tales, even gods are depicted paying their respects?
If at all, a few teachers today satisfy these criteria. In general, teachers have fallen in disgrace. To some extent because of their own doings, and to some because of the norms of a decadent society in which we all exist. Such is the state of affairs that it is considered a stigma these days to be called a teacher.
In this connection, I remember what an eminent teacher of English told our class when we were about to complete the course work for our specialist degree in English Language Teaching (ELT) at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. He was at the time the senior most Professor and perhaps the most loved teacher at the Institute. He knew more than any one else the history of English Language teaching in free India being a part of it right from the very beginning.
Prof. R. N. Ghosh, in one of his leisurely moods, during a post lunch session asked about a dozen of us what we would like to do having completed our studies at the Institute. The panorama of our dreams was woven in front of our eyes almost instantaneously in the most poetic language. Some of us dreamt of continuing our further education in England. Others wanted to join as lecturers, readers and even professors in Institutions of repute. Prof. Ghosh smiled innocently as a mother would listening to the tall tales of her younglings half knowing what they are talking about.
And then the grand master spoke. I may have forgotten the exact words but I remember the theme very well which made such an indelible impression on my mind. "You all want to be lecturers, readers and professors. Very well!" Said the Professor. He continued, "Who is a lecturer? One who commits much to his memory and gives it out in the class to the students in the form of a lecture. Who is a reader? One who reads a lot and based on his reading imparts knowledge to his students. And so with the Professor. From his long experience of teaching - of reading and memorizing - he is finally able to arrive at a philosophy which is his own. He preaches this philosophy to his students."
The face of the grand old man was now shining in the light of his inner knowledge and he reminded us of the sages of the bygone age. He took a long searching look at us. We were all ears, eager to grasp every word that escaped from his lips. After a while, he spoke slowly, almost deliberately and with a kind of sadness that touched our hearts. The pain remains with me even now. "But none of you wants to be a teacher. How can you be? Lecturers, readers and professors are many, but teachers are always very few. Do you know who are the real teachers?" He asked.
As the intent gaze of the learned man searched our minds for an answer, there was pin drop silence in the class room. Truly, no one of us had ever thought of becoming a simple teacher! Suddenly he continued, as if waken from his thoughtful reverie. "Teachers are those great souls who have the power to transform the human character. Some of the examples that come to my mind are Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. They all had this unique capacity. They were the real teachers of mankind." Prof. Ghosh completed his argument with much simplicity.
However, to this day, his words reverberate in my ears. Whenever I am in confusion about my true responsibility as a teacher, I just have to contemplate on the qualities and attributes of some of the divine educators that Prof. Ghosh had so simply named. The light shines forth once again.
At all such moments, I have realized that the duties and responsibilities of a teacher extend much beyond the confines of the text books, the prescribed syllabus and even the class room. His mission is not to merely teach a subject for a paltry financial consideration, but to form human character. The world today has many professionals and technocrats. What it lacks is the good human beings. The teacher is the moulder of human destinies and his alma matter is the human offsprings!
In order to so motivate his students, the teacher must himself possess a goodly character. He must be a true exemplar of his teachings in front of his students. Even in his life time, if a teacher can thus influence a few, nay even a single life, he would have achieved his mission.