It was the first day of college. Waves of excitement, enthusiasm and expectations filled the air. Eyes of students sparkled with promises and hopes. Name and fame of the institute had attracted many from far and wide to compete for admission. Grueling experience of a rigorous admission process was over. It was time to embark on a new academic journey. Sabjeet was nervous. Large building blocks, well laid lawns, lush gardens with designer fountains and cosy residential halls in the campus would be his new abode. As he moved forward, groups of students passed by. All new faces! He was thinking of his future. Many questions cropped up. How will his classmates be? What about the teachers? Will they be student-friendly? Will he be able to cope up with studies? It was a new environment altogether. He walked past a few blocks and reached his department. The classroom was fully abuzz. He found a corner and quietly sat with his backpack. After a brief welcome, lectures commenced. One after the other professors came in and delivered the lecturers. Teaching appeared to be one-way communication. It was a boring routine. Questions were seldom welcomed. Any question was treated as a distraction. Interactions were lifeless. Communication reduced to empty words. Tutorials, assignments and seminars followed its normal conventions.
Months passed by. Sabjeet was slowly adapting to the new lifestyle. Now, he made his own circle of friends in the campus. Life in the evening was full of colours. He regularly visited the gym. On his way back he often sat beside the lake nearby and spent leisure time with his friends. Everyone was unhappy with the teaching of the faculty. Now and then, teachers and teaching style became the topic of discussion on the campus. Some debated on the casual approach of teachers. Others imitated their funny body language. One evening, Sabjeet returned from the classes quite tired and thought of relaxing over a cup of tea. Suddenly his friend Sanky approached and informed him that his classmates were meeting together in the lakeside canteen and they too had to go. Soon both of them joined the group. Alok, the shortest in the class, opened the discussion saying, ‘There is a disconnect between teachers and students. We cannot tolerate outdated and obsolete teachers any more. They are not relevant to students of this age. They do not teach based on our needs and abilities. This cannot go on for long.’ Almost everyone nodded their heads in agreement. Subhas demanded, ‘We need teachers for Gen Z’. Ranju quickly jumped into discussion, “Do you mean robots or machines with artificial intelligence to replace teachers in our classrooms?” Sanky philosophically mentioned, ‘I think updating knowledge and skills will make them indispensable, as someone has said, ‘If you need knowledge, keep adding something new to your mind every day, but if you need wisdom keep deleting a few negative things from your mind every day.’ Sabjeet was listening to the discussion carefully and crisply made his point, ‘Who wants teachers like these? A smart teacher with human face – a friend, philosopher and guide – can inspire us.’ A few others could not wait for their turn. They all shouted in one voice to protest to the head of the department. Next day, Alok took the lead and picketed before the department building. Thereafter, all of them entered the head’s room. The department head listened to them patiently and assured them to address their issues. He admonished all to return to the classroom.
After a brief hue and cry, the crowd dispersed. Next semester commenced. A new professor entered the classroom shortly after the academic associate took the attendance. He walked to students, asked their names and shook hands with each one of them. He introduced the syllabus of the semester and the subject he was going to teach. He started his power point presentation for the topic of the day and entertained questions during the class. At each step he halted to ask if they were able to follow. He made all efforts to clarify the doubts. His lessons also contained videos. He announced that he had collected email ids of all the students and notes of his classes would be forwarded to students’ emails. He shared his social media ‘id’ and encouraged students to keep in touch whenever they liked. His schedule of lessons was also available in the portal of the department’s website exclusively created for them. He encouraged students to come prepared to the class for effective interaction. Quiz and interactive discussions infused liveliness. It was awe-inspiring. Discontent melted away. Within months, a new wave swept through the campus.
One evening on his way back from gym, Sabjeet noticed his favourite teacher in the warden’s Office. He stepped forward to wish him. The teacher enquired about his room number and his opinion about the hostel facility. He advised him to study well and wished him all the best before they parted. Sabjeet was very excited as his teacher (Dr. K S.-known as DKS) became his warden too. Everyone was planning for a short break during the weekend. Sabjeet also planned to go home. But he calculated his left over pocket money. It was not sufficient enough to afford the luxury of a frequent visit. He decided to stay back. During the weekend, Sabjeet had a lazy start. After late breakfast, as he was about to sit at his desk to plan his routine for the day, he heard a knock at the door. The warden was standing at the door. He could not believe. He rubbed his eyes in surprise and looked again. “Good Morning, Sabjeet. How are you?” The teacher asked before Sabjeet could wish him. The teacher asked about his parents and family. Sabjeet narrated with a choked voice, ‘Sir. My father is an artisan and the only earning member in the family. I have two siblings younger to me. At home I used to do odd part- time jobs to help the family. It is difficult to do part-time jobs here.” The teacher listened to him attentively and patted him in consolation. The teacher encouraged him to apply for merit-cum-means scholarship started recently and then got up to take leave. “By the way what are you doing this evening?” the teacher casually dropped a question. Before Sabjeet answered, the teacher handed over his address card and invited him to his house if he was free. Sabjeet was inquisitive and at the same time doubtful about the invitation. Would it be proper to visit a professor’s residence for an unknown purpose? What was going to happen there? He had never gone to anyone’s house outside the campus. Finally, he gathered courage and reached the teacher’s house outside the campus. He was amazed to see a group of students of his campus there. The professor welcomed and introduced him to the group. For the first time, Sabjeet felt a warmth of belonging and fellowship. They all sat down, deliberated on ‘thinking about things that are excellent’ (Phil.4:8 NLT) and later prayed for each other. The Professor offered high tea. Sabjeet enjoyed the company of the students group and thanked the teacher.
Next month, Sab was delighted to find his name in the list of scholarship. Many discouraged him to apply as deserving students were hardly considered. Life was not as usual in the campus. Change had touched everyday life of the academic community. Innovation and value addition to academics had taken the center stage. Each one tried to outsmart the other. Students also improved their performance. Sabjeet too concentrated on his studies and kept on shining every semester. Whenever he approached the teacher, the teacher had ungrudgingly extended guidance in his studies. Life became different. Sabjeet eventually stepped into the last semester. Like last year, he participated in the annual college sports meet. He won medals for two events. When the third event was in progress, Sabjeet lost his balance and broke his leg. News reached the department. Before the ambulance arrived, Prof. DKS reached the spot, bore Sabjeet in his arms and rushed him to the hospital. Students, particularly from fellowship group, attended Sabjeet round the clock by turns. The professor prayed for him by his bedside and wished him speedy recovery every day. He was healed soon.
After a few weeks, the final exams concluded. Most of the students were preparing to join in jobs offered in the campus to pursue careers in the corporate world. Sabjeet joined with his friends in the celebration of the finale of their academic programme. It would be the last get-together with his friends. He was in tears as he received ‘All-round Achiever’ medal and certificate in the convocation. Teachers as well as his classmates congratulated him. All gathered around Sabjeet and asked him in curiosity, “What do you aspire to do in life?” Sabjeet confidently echoed, “To be a smart teacher to influence and inspire the generations” as he parted from them.
Dr. Nanda Dulal, The author works as group director in a govt. organisation. He lives with his wife Geetanjali and daughter Bonita in Bangalore.