Schools are places of hope, of sanguineness, of anticipation, of trust, of idealism, of optimism and if learning for the kids happens in this blissful atmosphere then it becomes paradise. I have always tried to reach the ‘learning’ zone in schools, I have worked and headed, only after I have tried hard, extremely hard to achieve the first six.
Did I achieve success? As many ask me this, I concur that when one is dealing with a myriad plethora of humans in different capacities, where roles are multi-faceted and even overlapping along with young learners and their care givers hovering hawk-eyed above us – success takes on an entirely different definition. The regular definition of the word ‘Success’ – “[uncountable] the fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get; the fact of becoming rich or famous or of getting a high social position and the [countable] a person or thing that has achieved a good result and been successful” may not hold good, always. (definition taken from : https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/american_english/success)
We would have days or some months or even large part of a year when this definition held good while on other occasions it did not. For me ‘success’ meant a day gone by without an ‘untoward’ incident (Thank you Dear Indian Media for such descriptive terms!) meaning no one got hurt, no one was hurt by anyone, no teacher over-stepped his/her limits, admin staff remained focused and polite to all, all buses went and came back safely, school premises were quiet of mishaps and boisterous with excited learning. It also meant a planned event happening beautifully and belying all our expectations in its intended outcome. It also meant an amazing act or exercise, or activity planned by individual teachers to make sure learning is effective. It also meant students expressing themsleves with confidence, aplomb, and tenacity as they experienced something or took a trip. It almost always meant having a super excited staff on board with me who wanted all that I did as a leader-educator and some more too, to make the ‘studying’ at school less of a mundane job and more of an exploration.
Every new academic session had me scouting for and looking out for teaching staff who would match my enthusiasm and my commitment and my drive to take on responsibilities of the young students as if they were ours and to be fiercely protective of their learning environment, their mental health and their productiveness. A few years ago, amid tons of work of a new academic session, the resume file put up by the admin had one resume which immediately caught my attention.
It is always intriguing how one’s instincts work and it fascinates me to always revisit my thought process to understand why my brain reacts thus. The resume stood out for two reasons for me.
One was objective and the other subjective if I could label it thus.
The objective reason was that the resume was in simple language and did not try too hard to impress. The facts were stated plainly, and each column stated information unabashedly and unapologetically. It also did not include irrelevant and childish information on the number of workshop sessions attended or ordinary duties done which are part and parcel of every teacher’s responsibility.
The subjective reason was a mention of the fact that her children had studied in Kalpa school. Having worked in that school for almost a decade wherein taking English and Economic Applications for High school was part of my duties and passion, I was intrigued. Did I teach this lady’s children? Were they in my batch sometimes? Would I remember her even though I was never Class Teacher of any class since I was Coordinator for Kindergarten plus a subject teacher, and parents did come over to meet me regarding the two subjects?
A mixture of both these reasons plus the fact that she was appropriately qualified for the middle school vacancy I had; I got our office to call Ms. Padmavathi for an interview.
The rest may be termed history. The most scintillating quality that Padmavtahi ma’am exuded was always a dignified grace. I never saw that superseded at any moment, time, or situation or under any circumstance. And that was my biggest learning from her. And my former principal was right, I concurred, each time I observed her.
(A little explanation of the reason I addressed my teachers as ‘Ma’am’ – many years ago one of my principals explained to me his reason for calling all teachers as ‘Ma’am’, not only because he was a male but because “students are observing us at all times and they learn from us. The respect aspect can only be taught by being an example”, he always concluded. That stuck with me: Making learning happen through being an example. Yes, of course!!!)
Situations & circumstances often crop up in school functioning rather abruptly and almost always without warning. I have learnt that anything which seems innocuous at first should be dealt with, with diligence at the very beginning itself because it is scenarios like these which tend to overtake us and become rough riding for all on the team. One such rather inoffensive incident not handled with care from my front office when the parent came in first with a concern (as opposed to a ‘complaint’ as often termed) led us devoting almost an entire week investigating and troubleshooting and soothing ruffled feathers. Needless to add we added a ruffled-turned-almost convinced parent back to our bandwagon but not before a lot of unnecessary water had passed under our credibility bridge. It was in and during this situation of turbulence that my investigation went into a previous academic year and the class teacher of that year. It had been an uneventful year the previous session for the same student who had the same problems and issues that he continued to have in the present one. But his previous year was uneventful and he remained happy because of one single factor in that year: A caring, proactive and aware Class Teacher in Padmavathi ma’am.
The difference between a good and bad school is just about the kind of Class Teacher a child gets each year. I can vouch for that as mother and as a leader-educator. Regarding the former as well as the latter it equals to: Peace of mind. Proactive, caring and hands-on teachers’ pre-empt every move and every scenario which may and can happen with, by, for the children under their care. For a mother it is bliss and for a leader-educator blissfulness!
Ms. Padmavathi remained this and more always and it was always a pleasure interacting with her. Except for very ‘serious’ problems which needed professional interventions, her PTMs were the most uneventful and the most pleasant too. Consider a situation wherein a parent comes to meet the teachers after a new session has begun, all geared up to dispense with gyan (Gyan /ɡjɑːn/ noun INDIAN knowledge, especially spiritual or religious knowledge. Disregard the latter part of the definition for I mean only the part which refers to ‘knowledge’ and in colloquial sarcasm.) on their child and are left flabbergasted because the teacher has read him/her like the back of her hand? Well, they reach cloud nine and walk out floating on joy, deciding at that moment that they can go about their businesses without worrying one bit about their precious bundle at school. Padmavathi ma’am achieved that for the parents every year and made it one grade less to worry about for me each beginning and end of session!
School assemblies and programs require a huge amount of involvement and a sense of belonging from the part of the students and their teachers too. Nothing, however, well thought out or planned can work till all work together to achieve the desired result. Also, important is the part of understanding what is required. Often the pitfall lies there. A gap in the understanding and perception of what is required and expected. As level Coordinator, her understanding of this was always error free though being extremely dignified, she refused to be drawn into the politics of teachers and her team members. Sometimes that led to people associating her silence to be her weakness only to their detriment! In the middle of cacophony and rhetoric and a lot of heartburn whenever I would turn subsequently to Padmavathi ma’am for her opinion on her feuding team and their charges against each other or others on the school team, I always found her quiet, stately response and elaboration to be brutally & accurately bang-on target. It always left both warring parties scurrying for cover for in one statement she would decimate both sides and the facts would be spelled out too. I loved it whenever her group had a feud because one single sitting would dissolve the ruling party and the opposition into an incoherent bunch!
Aaj mein upaar, aasman niche (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khamoshi:_The_Musical – a famous hummable song from this film) – Yes, with staff like this, I was walking on air and the sky was below me!!!!
I have noticed in my long time at work that a task gets done almost always by those who talk less and appear to be hustling about even less. That quiet efficiency is something I have grown up learning about with my father who worked tirelessly and honestly without blowing his own trumpet. And Mom who made everything and knew about everything without being ostentatious about her multiple talents. Padmavathi ma’am exhibited these same work habits. Whether it was an event with children or with colleagues – her class would be the best prepared, without raising any fuss about any script or any experiment given to them and in teacher’s events she would come on to stage and while people would be noticing the more boisterous ones, her part would end up being the talk of the day. I remember a skit they presented on Children’s Day and all roles had zero dialogues. Her expressions were marvelous, and I noticed the audience grimacing or frowning like she did as her part was so engrossing and real.
Seen the oft quoted quote: I teach! What is your superpower? Padmavathi ma’am is also a wonderful teacher saying that she chose this profession because she finds it to be a noble one, with nothing to beat it. It gives her immense satisfaction she says to know and understand that she has played an important role in shaping the children under her care to be wonderful human beings. I am sure the parents of the kids who she has nurtured over these years could not agree more.
Way to go, Padmavathi ma’am!!
For each of us there are moments which bring back a smile to our faces even when we are feeling the lowest of low. Way back in 2012, the father of one of the students told Padmavathi ma’am that it was because of her that his daughter came to school with a smile. Bravo!!
Delightfully enchanting people like her are also always magnanimous with their praise and appreciation. She squarely rests on my shoulder the credit for being the person who has touched her life the most. She has enumerated several qualities which she loved in me and says she has loved working with me. So, did I with you, Padmamvathi ma’am!! So, did I!
When new ideas take shape, it is not always because of a eureka moment on the part of the leader but many a times due to something one has seen, noticed, or heard. It is also because of the talented people around you when you develop that confidence of doing something innovative which is far above and beyond the league of what people think is possible in a school environment. One amazing hobby which Padmavathi ma’am has and which prompted me in many ways to start this series – Down Memory Lane – is her notable hobby of gardening.
She says she picked up this hobby from her mother and elder brother. And later her husband too loved to take this up with her. Together they now have a wonderous and enchanting terrace garden which she tends loving all by herself. Since 2017 they have together started a totally organic vegetable garden on their terrace which includes crotons and flowering plants too. Her family has dishes made with the vegetables she so lovingly grows and nurtures in their garden at least three times a week.
With such lovely environs, the winged creatures are not to be left behind and birds of many kinds are regular visitors to her garden she informs.
Being with nature, tending to plants, seeing the tender green shoots sprouting out, the numerous colors of plants and flowers, the clouds above her terrace garden, the buzzing of the bees, the fluttering butterflies, the ripple of the water around transport her to another world and are definitely a few of her favorite things!!!!
Turns out Padmavathi ma’am, they are stuff of dreams for many of us who want to be immersed in hobbies which make us happy. It is wonderful to know that you have fully immersed yourself in this and have not let the trying times of an unkind virus affect you badly. She coyly admits that she does not mean to sound judgmental about the virus not affecting her because she has been a home bird always, loving her time with family and her thoughts. Thus, the minimal side-effects of a pandemic. Do you not think, a Blog or perhaps some writing should be in the offing in which she should write about how and what of starting your own garden and perhaps the importance of having a hobby itself! Voila! She says she is toying with such an idea since sometime now. Hope, I can convince you do that now, Padmavathi ma’am?
While we worked together her love for gardening and her hobby which she shared with me then, had made us chalk out elaborate plans for a viable SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work – an amazing activity filled subject of the olden days which I re-introduced when I was heading a school) activity of gardening on our school’s terrace. I had also spoken to Doordarshan Kisan and some other news channels to cover the efforts of our kids in viable alternative hobbies. Alas, both of us decided to take a break from regular work due to different reasons and the idea stayed canned.
And then came along the pandemic which threw everyone’s life out of gear. We all missed our dear family and friends. Ms. Padmavathi rues missing meeting her sister-in-law’s twins who seems to be growing up fast and she misses not being able to see their milestones and be part of their journey from toddlers upwards.
It is not too often that you come across people in your life who touch your life in ways which are unusual and extraordinary and leave you touched in atypical ways. My friendship with Padmavathi ma’am has developed over time and she has been my biggest fan club for my writings and work. Appreciation from lovely friends which is given genuinely is often the only motivation ones needs to continue doing what one loves.