Ever since I've read The Ignited Minds, this line in particular, "Learning needs freedom to think and freedom to imagine, and both have to be facilitated by the teacher," I have wanted to write a nice touching blog about teachers. And when we say 'teacher' the first thing that comes to my mind is the ink with which the teacher marks students' notebooks
Going to ‘PUPS’
A hot and humid day in February, found me holding on to my cap to prevent it from flying off my head. I was sitting behind a field officer's bike and we were racing through villages of Kulithalai. We crossed bus stops, paddy fields, tea shops, and a school with named ‘PUPS'.
Bright and innocent smiles - The girl in the front is the ‘birthday girl’ and she wanted me to make her day special by mentioning it in my blog
The field officer - Vignesh, got very excited and said "This is my school! I’m passing by my school after 12 long years.” Back then, it only had boys studying, because people did not send girls to school in Elunutrumangalam - the village where PUPS school is located. When we entered, however, we saw three happy girls right at the entrance. I knew I had found the perfect story to write.
Elunutrumangalam-The sleepy town
Elunutrumangalam looked like a silent and sleepy hamlet. It was 10 AM and the only sound was the Thirrukural (a compilation of Tamil poems written by the poet Thiruvalluvar) recital by the school students. The people in Elunutrumangalam are primarily involved in lumber and jute bag making business. Even today, at least 10 percent of the households don't send their children to school so the children be an extra hand in the family business.
The sleepy town of Elunutrumangalam
Inside the hall echoing with Thirukkural
I walked inside expecting to see classrooms. But what I saw was one large hall- with partitions for different classes. I came face-to-face a strict 'Sir', who screamed amaidi! (meaning ‘silence’). We introduced ourselves and he guided me to the headmistress' partition and went back to getting his students to recite Thirukkural after him. After his silencing bellow, I too was intimidated by him and was happy for the reprieve.
Being a mentor and a teacher – The headmistress.
Till the date I visited PUPS, I never really thought about the difference between a teacher and a mentor. Ms V. Kasturi is a mentor to all the 33 students of PUPS. Students go to her and seek help in deciding their education / career goals. She informs me, “Apart from the prescribed curriculum we ask the students what they want to learn and try and teach them that skill.”
She then added, “Since people in Elunutrumangalam are into a lot of stitching and sewing, we found that the students here are good with artwork and teach a lot of craft with the syllabus.” She motioned to the students and all the little ones lifted up and showed their colourful artwork.
The Children showcasing their craftsmanship.
What motivates a teacher to come and teach in rural schools?
The headmistress looked like a highly qualified teacher. I asked her why she chose to come to PUPS.
Sensing another underlying question she explained, “Dr.Kamaraj, the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu came to Elunutrumangalam to inaugurate this school in the year 1962. That's when he learnt that not one student had enrolled.” So, he gave the English name ‘PUPS’ to this school and asked the authorities to print it in English outside with a Tamil line below saying 'To know what a Pup means enrol your child in this school'.
She then answered my actual question, “I grew up in this village and always wanted to study here. But back then, my parents didn't let me. I completed my distant education program and decided to come back here and teach.”
Her reply left me stunned.
Realizing her dreams - V Kasturi with her children
She then took me to the strict ‘Thirukural’ teacher and introduced him. "Mr Karikalan here (name changed as requested) is an ex-army marshal who joined this school under the ‘Educate woman’ campaign by the government of India. We go to the villages around Elunutrumangalam and go from door-to-door explaining the importance of educating women. Because of him, there are 15 girls from this village who study full-time."
Karikalan with his students - a man who stands tall
Ms Kasturi then took me to another partition saying, “Schools like this have only a partition architecture approved by the government”. I also met Saraswati, a teacher who was hired by Ms Kasturi to support her. Ms Kasturi shares her pay with Saraswati as the government has not sanctioned another teacher on the payroll.
Saraswati with her enthusiastic first-grade students
Ignited minds - the happy and intelligent students
When I started taking pictures, the students were seized with a desire to show me what they knew. There was Tara who did a division problem and cross-checked the answer with the multiplication method (I remembered having trouble doing this in my school days). Class one students performed the nursery rhyme ‘Found the peanut’ and Karikalan sir's class four students did a Tamil rhyme recital. Just as they were finishing the lunch bell rang.
A collage of the ignited minds-children showcasing what they learned at PUPS
The students were reluctant to go outside for lunch and ‘the birthday girl’ came to me and asked, “Anna (she said 'uncle' actually), can we take a selfie?" I had to oblige.
Taking a selfie for the birthday girl
Ms Kasturi then asked me to send her the pictures so she could have them at the school. I asked her for her mail ID and she pointed to Mr Vignesh, my field partner and said “Send it to my old student. There is no computer here and I am sure he will give it to me.”
Saying goodbye was hard
I wanted to stay through the day, have lunch with the students and play with them. I started to miss my own school teachers. The students screamed “BYE” and waved their hands. As I was walking out waving goodbye the ‘birthday girl’ came back to me asked if she could try my hat. I decided to part with it and gave it to her. I turned back and had one last glance at this school which gave me a great story to tell.
The PUPS school at Elunutrumangalam
I stood for a few seconds and Vignesh quoted a famous from K.Balachander’s (a renowned Tamil cinema director) movie “Students like us go to great heights with the help of such teachers who act as ladders (by lifting us up). But the teachers just like the ladders remain at the same place intact and continue uplifting students.”