During the early days of teaching one gets to come across diversity of odd but exciting moments. In a public school, the challenge comes from below, from the students. Not that they demand a lot from you, but just the opposite: they hardly have any demand. You may feel no sense of pressure from above, but in reality you are directly at the society’s disposal and the children at yours.
In a private school, you are sandwiched between the school and students, and probably belong to none. The latter demand proper ‘return’ for their investment: the former want that you help them guarantee the return. The work is full of tests and cross-examinations. People around you – founders, administrators, colleagues, staffs, students, and students’ guardians – try to know your knack in their own ways. At least, you appear after a time to consider the need of ensuring such multifaceted satisfaction as the only secret of becoming a teacher.
This is my understanding which, I admit, need not resemble anyone’s. Experiences vary. What I claim is based on my exposure to both public and private systems, which are public or private in the most local sense without formal, regulatory fixities.
I got a brief opportunity to teach at Kalika Secondary School, a public school, during my post-exam recess in the spring of 1993. The School invited me to handle the primary and lower secondary classes in place of a teacher who had gone practice teaching for his B Ed degree. A ‘first boy’ of my time, I was asked to take up ‘anything’ – English, Math, Nepali, Science, Moral Science, Social Studies. Classes were exciting and students somehow receptive. I was among my former teachers sharing the staff office which used to be remote a few years before.
Public schools were strict about schedules at that time. I was also a ‘notorious’ disciplinarian at the start of my ‘career’, and being one in a public school was tougher. Half of the 45 minutes would go in shouting and I, like everybody, would not be tired of it.
Small moments count when you are learning to be a teacher. Small incidences teach you to be careful. I don’t forget one case from my brief Kalika days. One day I was teaching Moral Science in grade six. I was explaining what I had never liked myself as a student – the everything-made-by-god philosophy. Not that their textbook did not have other things more interesting, but this happened to be the topic of the day. The students’ boredom, in the absence of a relevant story and activity, was discernible in the yawns and fidgets intensified by the fact of the class being the day’s last. I had to keep them ‘engaged’ till the last bell.
While I was at the top of my voice and post-teen vigor trying to inculcate the best of Godhood I knew, I noticed a boy looking sideways and chatting with one of his neighbors. My dignity as a fresh disciplinarian felt greatly challenged. I raised my voice. I told him to be straight, but he did not give any heed. So, I shouted the second time, with an air of dictatorship, “Oi tedhé, sit straight or I’ll straighten you myself.”
He did sit straight, startled, and with a frown. I noticed that he had squints. I felt odd and regretted my word at once. Worse, he burst into loud weeping to the hearing of the adjacent class, which was behind only a planked wall with large apertures.
For a while I was wordless, for it happened so fast. I was not old enough to know the adult ways of coaxing an adamant teenager. So, I just said, “Oh, sorry, I never knew you had such eyes and would mind so much. But it’s no good crying like a baby now.” Other students looked indecisive whether to blame the boy for breaching my codes of conduct or me for breaking his heart.
Luckily, the last bell rang and the kids hurried to rush out of the room. The urchin’s temptation for running outweighed the desire to weep more. But I learned that day that I should watch my words even when I am irritated. I can suppress my annoyance, but may not know how to tackle the effects of my expressions on sensitive youngsters.
I gained some experience after teaching three months at Kalika. I also collected little money. And I had little English from my Intermediate studies. Some relatives advised me to go to Kathmandu, where this much experience and this much English would suffice for a job in a boarding school. I came to Kathmandu on 2 April 1993. The day I left home for the first time on a long meaningful journey happened to be the first day of April!
Kathmandu had nothing on offer for me. I lingered here for about two months. I walked to places asking about job vacancies. I even ended up as a salesman in a tiny electric store at King’s Way where the owner promised to pay me 900 rupees per month. I worked at the store for a week and left for home.
There was nothing on offer there, either. I did not want to stay at home loitering with cattle and village lads. I gave tuition classes at Madhumalla for some time and reached Damak looking for more boys and girls for tuition. Right then my Intermediate results got published. I failed Nepal Parichaya, the 50-marks course introducing Nepal. This put me in extreme frustration for some time. When I regained optimism, I decided to pass time taking some technical training. I joined radio-TV repairing, never caring whether I was born for it.
When the training was only midway and I was into the basics of television repairing after successful meddling with radios and tape recorders, I got an offer to become a teacher. BP Timilsina, a friend of my maternal uncle, wanted me to help establish a boarding school in Kerkha. I accepted. It was at least a ‘job’ though the salary was only 500 rupees, slightly more than half of what an electric store paid at King’s Way. I gave up the unknown prospects of radio-TV repairing, never again sure of the potentials of a boarding school. My uncle told me to take this trail at any cost. It was at the end of 1993.
I worked in Kerkha for nine months cleaning kids’ noses, classrooms and nurturing the crazy plans of life. I developed the first symptoms of gastritis eating less and working more. While there, I gave tuitions and coaching classes and earned some reputation of a ‘good’ English teacher. I also passed the Intermediate level. Then I began to fidget for a better place in order to continue further studies. Kerkha was too far and had too little to offer. I had to leave anyhow.
But the nine months put me into teaching, and brought me where I am. Because I had started at ‘Everest Boarding’, a primary school in Kerkha, I could continue in ‘Pashupati Boarding,’ a secondary school in Urlabari. Pashupati set the right trail.
My entry to Pashupati was interesting. I had had a hint about a vacant post. I went to confirm if there was one. The principal, J. B. Rai as I recall now, told me to drop an application. When I did, they asked me to prepare for a short demonstration class. I taught in grade three for about ten minutes. Then they took a sort of interview – if I could join instantly as a an assistant hostel warden cum teacher. I said yes. I got the appointment letter after a brief meeting with the founder the following day.
I was only an I A with English, Mathematics and Economics as majors. My teaching experience involved three months in Kalika plus nine months in Kerkha. The selection and appointment was fast and more than expected. It was unexpected for Mr. Timilsina. Some people at Pashupati, especially who had eyed the post, had reportedly complained that it was more than I deserved. My well-wishers congratulated me for this achievement because Pashupati had a reputation in Morang and neighboring places.
When people watch you in a workplace, you must also watch how they try to crisscross the lines of responsibilities. You must first be clear about your line(s), and see where they go closer to and farther from others’. One morning I was teaching English in class three, which was next to the staff room in the old tin-roofed block. I was only half-way with the new teacher’s vigor when a man (a colleague, of course) who had happened to hear the fun we were making, came to the door, excused himself (in English) and began to scold the students for making noise. Then he again excused himself, called me out of the class and began to counsel me on how to handle small kids. I was a bit puzzled because I had never seen him. Maybe he was someone with such responsibilities – to keep watch on a newcomer. Maybe he was the founder’s own brother. Who knows what boarding schools do to keep things straight in their own ways! I was not afraid, but only amazed at this odd dealing.
Some colleagues had seen this from the adjacent staff room. I knew from them that he was junior to me in qualification and equal in designation. They said he did so with almost all newcomers. One of them even remarked, in his absence, of course, “I would thrash that snob. But you are new and humble. Watch from next time.”
I thought if I had known him well, I would have ‘thrashed’ him properly. My more fluent and better English would serve as the weapon. But I had just listened to and thanked him ‘for his valuable words’. I believe that worked to keep him in high heels before he himself realized his follies later. He has been a good friend ever since.
This little thing spread like a wild-fire and reached the Vice Principal, my one-time English teacher. He called me to say, “He knows you were my student. Some other teachers know it, too. You can expect a few more such tests. And next time, with him or anyone else, argue strongly and with the best English you have. Make sure you prove you know more and speak better than your juniors and equals here.”
Working in this school gave me the best opportunity to test my self-confidence. It was a big place for my age and qualification but had swift chance of promotion. And promotion was ensured in working hard and emulating others. It was a time when a locally educated lad like me was brought face to face with Darjeeling-born ‘experts’ highly sought-after by English boarding schools. I was an alternative to one of them to start with, and made swift progresses in the probation year.
People tested me time and again. The hostel warden, whose assistant I was, tested me half a dozen times with queerest of orders and admonitions and borrowings. The hostellers tested me for my anger and patience. The cooks and peons did that to check my capability to exercise authority. Colleagues who spoke and taught English kept on evaluating my English. I remember one English teacher who came to the hostel tutorial in the evening just to check how well I wrote and spoke. He gave a question to answer as if I were a student. I instantly knew it was another test the Vice Principal had cautioned me about. I wrote and explained. He confessed he wanted to see how the Vice Principal’s disciple would actually fare in his proficiency parameters.
I had started as an assistant hostel warden, which demanded a lot of going around and quarreling with kids, which some people satirically called an ‘opportunity’ for twenty four hour English speaking. I hated this after a time because it overtook my study and snatched me off friends’ circle. At the end of the session I requested the founder to set me free from the hostel. He agreed to let me stay out but said I had to continue as a primary level teacher with the earlier salary. This meant I was not going to get a promotion to the lower secondary though there was a vacancy and I was eligible. For me leaving the quarrelsome kids was a better reward than a promotion for that time.
A year passed. I ‘topped’ my batch in the Bachelor first year exams. My young colleagues advised me to reveal this fact in the upcoming start-of-the-session staff meeting. We bought some kilos of oranges and distributed at the end of the meeting. The friends disclosed the reason for this humble treat. I did not really bother how it worked. But friends said my success was a lesson to my competitors. The Vice Principal later reminded me the optimism of the myth of “a needle-like entry for a ploughshare’s exit.” This success added to my image. But I had to prove that I could top the second as well, which I did. There was no celebration for this since I left the school along with the results. Rather the school gave me a valedictory treat. It was at the beginning of 1997.
During the short gathering on my last day in the school, the Principal and Mr. Regmi, both respectable old teachers, enumerated the phases of my growth in those two years and four months. They had seen me evolve from a curious, unassertive boy to a confident, assertive man. For the first time I realized the accuracy and weight of the judgment of experienced people. They said they were happy for my beginning ahead though the school would welcome my longer stay. They only expected me to acknowledge how the school had prepared me to explore new opportunities in Kathmandu. It is during this farewell moment that I first heard the maxim of ‘forgiving and forgetting’ unpleasant encounters of the past at the start of a new journey.
Thus, with B A and confidence, and a decision that I would love to be a teacher than anything else, I left Urlabari in January 1997. I planned to join Master’s straight away. Dharan was not my choice though a few people advised me to move only as far as that. Kathmandu would not send me back hopeless now, I hoped. But I had to find a job to support my studies and help the family. January was the right time for boarding school vacancies. I applied for the post of a secondary level English teacher in Bagh Bhairab School, Kirtipur. It was right at the center and close to my rented room and Tribhuvan University. The school appointed me after three ritual tests – writing, class observation and interview. This was a significant achievement for the time. I was financially safe, and Father could expect support from me.
I entered Bagh Bhairab during the school’s most transitional times. Rumors characterized it in various ways. For example, students had lost faith in it. Teachers did not stay long. Those who had served for years were leaving one by one. Those who had joined recently languished for a few days and disappeared. Students in considerable number sought to move to other schools every session while only a few new kids took admission. And the reality was that the number was dwindling, so was the school’s image. There were more competent competitors around. An air of resignation haunted the school.
Sometime near the end of my second year, there was a sudden student uprising. It was against the Principal, an Anglo-Indian who had been appointed to set things right despite his ‘dubious’ academic qualifications. He had introduced a few strict rules regarding uniform, assemblies and classes. But these turned out to make too much discipline to the once free youngsters. Their antagonism took a form of a movement that moved the Principal away.
The students vandalized the school. I thought it was the expression of frustration. Some staffs suspected it to be the design of someone from inside who wanted to remove the Principal. Few others took it as a communal bias against a person who did not belong to the local community. I did not care to know.
The incident put most of the teachers in confusion. Few of us wanted to quit. No matter why the Anglo-Indian was suddenly thrown out, it was an unruly act by the students. As they did it to the Principal for his efforts for systematizing the school, so they might do to some of us who equally wanted to discipline them. But the same group of agitators came to request us not to leave. They said they did not have any ill-feeling towards the teachers. This was enough to stop us from leaving. They did not apologize for the vandalism, though.
The uprising rather brought me greater responsibility. One evening, the founder’s son came to my room to call me to his residence. First, he only hinted some changes were taking place. On the way he said I was given the responsibility of the Vice Principal. When I reached his residence, I was handed a letter that confirmed my appointment. Mr. Sherpa, who was formerly the Vice Principal, was the Principal now.
“Do not worry, we are together,” said the Principal and the two founders.
There was nothing to worry after all. Though the new post was going to snatch my study time, I was excited to push ahead with the challenge to remake the school. The ‘Anglo’ had left much of what a boarding school needed. I had the experience from Pashupati. In one session we made the school stable and got ‘cent percent’ results in SLC.
But the work was tough. Every senior class had a ruffian to tackle. One day a boy would latch my office from outside. Another day another boy would be found sharing alcohol-mixed water with his class-fellows. There were numerous cases to handle. One such case almost drove me crazy. I slapped a nipper who used to pinch a little girl’s breasts. He attacked me in the playground itself. We expelled him instantly. Friends advised me to report the police that I would be unsafe in the days ahead. But I did not do so. I called him to my office and told it was completely his fault. I warned him that not for attacking me but for molesting a little girl he would get greater penalty than the expulsion. He simply agreed and left the school. For some months he walked in gangs past my residence. I only watched he did not come my way, or I his. He had disappeared from the locality by the time Apsara and I moved to Banepa.
Bagh Bhairab made me an administrator, probably a very successful one. I was equally reputed as an English teacher. They would never let me leave so long as I was around. I gave up the post of the Vice Principal when I started to write my MA thesis. I continued to teach as a part-timer till I joined Kathmandu University in August 2000. Apsara worked till we left Kirtipur for Banepa in January 2001.
The school did not give me a formal farewell, unlike to other teachers who had quit after some years’ service. The Principal requested me to tell the students not to organize any program for me. This sounded crazy to me. But he had a simple logic. He did not want to publicize the fact that I had left the school forever.
I worked in Bagh Bhairab for about four years with complete attachment. It felt like a home, a great family. Pashupati had taught me many good things about running a school. Bagh Bhairab gave me a platform to implement and experience them first hand. I have made it a point to visit these former homes whenever I get a chance. When I reach any one of these, I get a feeling of being around all these years though a lot of things have changed with them and with me.
And, I continue to value the early puzzles, tests and cross-examinations. I see even now that every new student has something of the squinted boy from Kalika; and the nosy good coworkers of Pashupati and Bagh Bhairab keep hovering in any workplace I drop in. I can never forget the lad who attacked me for stopping him from pinching a little girl’s breasts. I take all new cases as the new editions of those valuable old books.
From my works at different schools I learned this simple maxim for life: Professional life is a race. Whether you like it or not, there always is a pressure to run faster. You may not know the pace of others, but must constantly try to outrun them without trespassing their trails. When you win, the person who deserves both thanks and congratulations is you yourself.