Teachers’ Day

On September 5th across India, schools, teachers, and students celebrate Teachers’ Day. This is a day to thank and honor teachers and their work in the classroom and for their students. This is something that, in the last two and a half months, I have come to appreciate more and more.

Teaching really is undervalued, in both the United States and India, and I’m sure in many other countries around the world. For anyone who says teaching is a privileged profession because of all the public holidays and summer vacations… sure, there is more time off than in most other work places. But in many cases this is not really time off, as it is often used for grading assignments, preparing lessons, or teacher training. So much happens outside of the classroom. But regardless, I won’t say these breaks aren’t well-deserved. Teaching is hard, and besides that, teaching really is a noble profession. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, because I’m really not much of a teacher. But thinking about my own teachers and the influence they had on me and my life… there are many quotes out there that express this more eloquently than I will.

Doctors, nurses, lawyers, police officers, fire fighters, politicians, veterinarians, chefs, artists, writers, professors, dancers, engineers… all of these and more are the products of teachers. Often times, teachers are the adults that children interact with the most in their young lives. In school, children learn not only how to solve math equations and analyze novels, but also how to interact with other people, how to share, how to listen. School, if it isn’t obvious, is immensely formative. And teachers play an integral part of that formative period in a child’s life.

All of those bumper stickers are true – “if you can read this, thank a teacher.” But really, if you can exist as a social being within society, thank a teacher. Of course, teachers come in many forms. We learn a lot from our parents and other family members at home, and other times, our teachers are mentors or leaders from different parts of our communities. In India, teachers are called “gurus,” a word which has made its way into English with the meaning of “expert” or “master.” We learn through both tacit and cognizant apprenticeships with the gurus in our lives. In India, there is a hierarchy which  places teachers above the parents and just below the Gods: “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam” (Mother, Father, Teacher, God). And here, just as there are days to celebrate the Gods, there is a day to celebrate the teachers, the gurus.

September 5th (a Monday this year) also happens to be Lord Ganesha’s birthday, which means the schools are closed. So my school began its Teachers’ Day celebrations the preceding Thursday, September 1st. Students gave their teachers cards, candies, and gifts. I received a pair of traditional paper earrings, a hair clip, a key chain, some chocolates, several pens, a couple notepads, and both store bought and homemade cards. Another teacher at my school who is very well-liked received a pair of gold colored earrings, a sizable statue of Ganesha, a jewelry box, a purse, and an old iPod shuffle, among other things. Students from one class also gave small jasmine plants to each teacher. A couple classes brought cake, and there were cake-cutting celebrations where students and teachers fed bites of cake to each other and smeared icing on each others’ faces.

Little did I know, this was just the beginning of Teachers’ Day celebrations. There was no school on Friday due a transportation strike, but on Saturday September  3rd, the students had a half day of classes, and after lunch the teachers played games while the students cheered them on. There was cup-stacking, an eating competition, and some variation of a bean bag toss – throwing a ball into a target.

Even after all of that, festivities continued on the following Tuesday September 6th (after the Monday holiday). Tenth grade hosted a Food Festival for all of the teachers. They each came with a dish to share, and again there was cake. What was amazing was that there were at least four or five different rice dishes, which is the base of traditional South Indian cuisine (more about this food culture to come in a later post). For the Food Fest, various students brought lemon rice, fried rice, curd rice, two or three white rice dishes with different sauces, and biryani – a spicy rice dish. My plate was piled high with almost all of these rices (I took a pass on the curd rice – not my favorite), plus two types of pasta dishes, chapati – a sort of wheat tortilla, and a small onion and cucumber finger sandwich. So if you’re checking your food pyramid, you’ll notice that this meal was almost entirely carbs. In the U.S., I like to call myself a carboholic… potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, I love it all, no shame. But even this is a little much for me. Five different rice dishes!! We were so full that most of us who didn’t have class took a nap in the staff room after lunch.

Now, I think this is the end of the Teachers’ Day celebrations, but who really knows? Perhaps there is still more to come. I will say, even if teaching is an underpaid profession that may be respected in tradition but not always in practice, the students sure are generous with showing their appreciation. This is certainly one Indian celebration that the U.S. could learn from.

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