Asha Christian – Motivated and affectionate retired teacher still remembered by her students
What motivated you into teaching?
My aunt lived with us and she was a teacher. Very often I would go with her to the school where she taught. My aunt was very much loved and respected by her students. When I saw all these, somewhere in my mind the seed was planted that I should follow her footsteps. And, talking about a specific moment or experience that drew me into education, let me tell you, when I was studying, I lived in a Chawl. My mom who had passed only 9th grade in the English medium took tuition of the children living in the Chawl. Many of them were given free tuition. Among these students, one of them got free tuition from my mom from the 1st grade up to the 9th grade. I feel proud that due to my mom’s sacrificial teaching, this boy is now a Doctor. And as I grew up, my mom’s sacrificial teaching made a great impact on me and the virtue of helping to grow, I firmly made up my mind to take up D.Ed i.e. the teaching diploma course after I passed my SSC. At the age of 19, I was into teaching which was my vocation, profession and passion.
I was a teacher at Raj Popat English Medium School and Gandhi Shikshan Bhavan in Juhu. I also taught at the Mount Mary High School, Goregaon. As my husband was transferred to Rajkot, I taught for an academic year in Sunshine School. After which, I began teaching in St Anne’s High School. As I always taught in the primary section, honestly, I had all good experiences. Even children were very innocent, so I loved them. Back in those days, they would come up with silly jokes about the ant and the elephant. That time there were so many of those kinds of jokes, I really enjoyed them. During recess, all the kids would want me to take something from their Tiffin. Even if I took a tiny bit or even if I touched their tiffin, they would become so happy. I liked them touching my feet before their test or exams.
The only thing I disliked when we had to grade our students based on competencies. For 80-85 students, each subject had 10 questions with 5 marks allotted for each one. After correction, we had to enter the scores accordingly to the competencies and total them. All this was handwritten because there were no computers back then when I was teaching. Eventually, I had no problem and got used to entering those marks.
Teaching as a Career – Your pleasant experiences and challenges you faced in teaching profession
Being the calm and composed person that I am, I never really reached to a point of frustration, but yes, at times, the class strength of about 85 students, which existed in the 80s and 90s was a bit overwhelming, not because I couldn’t manage but I felt that I could have given more if the strength of the class was less.
However, my love for the profession and love for the children made teaching more receptive to the students. I taught with enthusiasm and passion. I made things easy and entertaining for my students. I used different methods like storytelling, dramatization, class participation, recitation and so on. My History lessons were the most appreciated.
I would like to quote one of my students’ messages, “I still remember how much I would look forward to see you every day at school and cherish those moments, especially, have memories of the History lecture. History has never been my favourite subject, but your teaching style while portraying the life of Shivaji always made the sessions interesting. You always made learning easier and helped us in every way.”
Personal connect with students
I always made sure to be one on one with my students wherever and whenever possible I interacted with them. For eg: Reaching early to class while waiting for the assembly to start, during recess, even sitting down on the floor with the students during work experience or class period. I took time, a little minute from here and there, to talk to my students. Furthermore, I took deep interest in students who were difficult or shy. By my personalized handmade Children’s Day card, appreciation note, homemade sweet treats for the entire class and other ways, I shared a great personal relationship with my students. Talking about student to student relationship, cooperative learning is a well established technique for enhancing learning. I used this technique and gave responsibilities to fast learners to motivate the slow learners. Also, asked the students to speak about one good positive quality of the person sitting beside them. My seating arrangement was rotated weekly so every week each one had to speak about a different person, and that helped them to talk positive about their friend and get friendly.
I was well organized in terms of allotting responsibilities to each and every student to make them feel special. The monitors of the class changed weekly, even the weakest child in the class got to be a monitor. The rotation of seating arrangement changed weekly. So even the shortest child got to be a backbencher and the tallest one got to sit on the first bench.
My dedication to teaching, friendliness and approachability helped me in my classroom management.
Philosophy of my teaching
I never really had a strategy of teaching. But, I believed that if I have a good rapport and love for my students, teaching is just a natural process.
At this point, I remember two of my teachers who influenced me to love children. Miss Edith, my first grade teacher who was the most loving and kindest soul I ever met. My fourth grade teacher, Miss Hilda, she loved my very long hair. Every day before school started, she would open my plaits, touch my hair and plait them back again. I think I owe my lovable nature towards my students to these loving and kind teachers. Being kind, patient, caring, dedicated and having expertise in communication skills are other factors of my philosophy of teaching.
Challenges and achievements
Frankly speaking, there are no ups and downs, but talking about my achievements; professionally speaking, my achievement was the Mayor’s Award for the Best Teacher which I had received in 2001 to 2002. I was the first teacher to get this award for my school, St Anne’s High School. But, more than the award, I would say, the love and respect I won from my colleagues and my dear students is my greatest achievement. Here, I would like to quote one of my colleagues’ messages and one of my students’ messages who wrote to me. My colleague wrote, “Asha, you were and always will be inspirational to me. I will forever admire how you chose the profession that put countless others before yourself and still manage to make each person you encountered feel immensely special. I also admire your integrity. I watched you do what is right, even if it was difficult.”
My student wrote, “Dearest Asha teacher, the meaning of the word teacher for me is you. No one will ever change that definition for me. If I love anything to do with studying it’s because of you.”
There were many incidents which made me happy. One of them is the look of satisfaction on the parents face when they saw me enter their child’s class on the first day of school. They would walk back home without any questions and that made me feel so happy because they trusted me and they were happy that their child is in my class. A quote from a parent who said, “There is no point of primary education if a child does not get Asha teacher at least once.” Another moment of happiness, which cannot be described in words but I will try. On my 60th birthday, 2 years back, there was a plan of 60 surprises by my daughter. I was completely overjoyed and honoured to get notes and cards from my students who are now grown up adults sharing tiny little good memories of their experience in my class and how I had inspired them. Talk about disappointment, I can think of only one. I migrated to the USA in 2003 a few years before my retirement. So I feel disappointed about losing those years of my vocation. I could have touched and moulded so many other children.
Your views on current education system
Speaking about the common misconception existing in the education system:
According to me, one common misconception in education is that a parent thinks once the child is sent to school, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to bring about all round development in child. But, it does not work that way. It’s a team effort – the child, the parent and the teacher’s effort together.
For this, there should be good communication, workshops and seminars should be conducted.
Use of educational Apps in schools
Moreover, as I talk about the advent of educational apps taking over classroom teaching, on what I hear from my grandkids about the educational app that they are using, I am awestruck. I wish I could use something like this in my teaching career. At the same time, this is my strong opinion that no digital content can replace a teacher’s impactful teaching. Both should go hand in hand- technology and the teacher’s teaching. Just like there are two sides of every coin, technology too has its own advantages and disadvantages. If used in the right proportion, technology will be a healthy evolution towards better learning. Instead of teacher being the only source of help in the classroom, students can use technology to assist them.
It is my strong belief that providing access to technology for teachers rather than students works best.
Considering the functioning of the present education system, there are so many rules and regulations in the school these days. So many technicalities to be followed; Teachers have to follow the same speed of teaching in all the divisions, thus restricting their own pace of teaching resulting in a teacher’s talent not conveyed to the students. According to me, one change that I would suggest is to give some freedom to the teacher to use their talents of teaching.
I have retired but at the same time I am trying to adapt to technology and learning new things. A teacher rather any person does not stop learning until he or she dies. Learning is a lifelong process. This quality of learning was of great help when I migrated to the USA. In India, I taught children between ages 7 to 10. Here in USA, I had a class of a three year old. There was a vast difference. The mindsets, the culture, the environment and an entirely different education system, but my passion and my enthusiasm made me a favourite among my students and their parents. Also, I am now assisting my daughter’s teaching workshop in India along with my 30 years of teaching experience and with the usage of technology I am able to help her to prepare her lessons of teaching.
Although, I am not someone so great to give a message to young aspiring teachers, nevertheless, this is my message-
Teaching is not easy as it seems. Love your career and love your students, have excellent work ethics, know your students, respect your students, be a good role model and be flexible.
As told to Dhrithi Gulvadi