One may or may not believe in God. One may believe in one God or another, depending on the individual's faith. Hindu mythology believes in several incarnations (avatars) of God. Many aspects of nature, like wind, fire, and water, that sustain life are revered and worshiped as equivalent to God. The same status is attributed to mother, father and teacher.
As I was growing up in India, the teacher's word had ultimate authority and enormous influence. Being respectful and responsible was the rule for the students, not an exception. By the time the teacher came into the class, we were seated and ready to listen and learn. As the teacher walked in, we all stood up, without any prompting, out of profound respect and greeted him or her in unison. At that moment, all misbehavior ceased instantly. Wandering of the mind and wavering of the body stopped. There was pin-drop silence in the classroom. All the focus was on the teacher.
Teachers were not paid well in those days, just like present times. They chose the profession and did the job for the love of it with dignity, pride and perfection. Teachers were not graded or degraded, not that there is anything wrong with maintaining standards. Everybody — the pupils, the parents and the principal — knew who were the good teachers and who were not. Only the teachers with the needed skills survived in the profession.
Teaching was not limited to the classrooms or school campus. Parents, grandparents, relatives and elders played the role of teachers in the community, mostly by being good role models.
Teaching remains one of the most difficult jobs. Teaching takes more than knowledge. Teachers need mystical and magical powers to reach the mysterious and mischievous children. Teachers need passion, patience and persistence to deal with the societal issues like parental neglect, poor health and poverty. Teachers need discipline to deal with the disruptive, wisdom to deal with the wild and sensibility to deal with the sensitive. They also need patience to deal with the parents. A teacher not only has to instruct but inspire, often serving as a mentor, counselor or advocate.
Like in any other noble profession, some teachers make bad choices. The spoiled apple needs to be removed so that the whole barrel does not stink.
You may have forgotten so many things from your childhood, but you are sure to remember that special teacher who was instrumental in setting the course for the rest of your life.
"Those who educate children well are more to be honored than parents, for these only gave life, those the art of living well," said Aristotle. We all know children are the future, but quite frequently we tend to forget that the teachers make and mold the future.
I am very thankful to all my teachers — hundreds of them across the continents and cultures — who made me who I am. My grandmother was best of them all, even though she never had a formal education of her own.
Both my elder sisters were among the first teenage girls in our village to join the work force. Both began as teachers and influenced my life profoundly.
Knowledge, discipline and wisdom are as vital to survival as food, air and water. Here is to all the teachers who teach the knowledge and the skills necessary to sustain life in its most noble and useful form. In that sense, a teacher is truly equivalent to God — always giving, forgiving, guiding, providing and promoting.
The world will be a better place if we just learn to treat teachers that way.
Dr. Rao Musunuru is a practicing cardiologist in Bayonet Point.