To be a great teacher, one must combine knowledge and skills, confidence and hard work. Kaito Ishizawa from Japan meets K. Amudha, the Head Mistress of Madurai’s Maapalayam Girls Higher Secondary School and S.S. Pandiarajan, one of the teachers, who share an inspiring vision
Inspirational teachers can make all the difference to a school and its students. When visiting Maapalayam Girls Higher Secondary School in Madurai, it’s hard not to be impressed. K.Amudha, the Head Mistress, provides the teachers and students of her school with strong leadership and continual support to be the best that they can be.
The school was started in the year 1910. It has a student strength of 1,300 and 48 teachers. This school is also rather special for one surprising reason: three of its teachers are visually impaired. K. Amudha is proud of each of them for not only the way they have overcome what many would consider a disability, but also for simply being inspirational and hard working teachers.
“I have the best teachers here in my school,” says K. Amudha. One is a Tamil teacher, A.Subramanian, who has been teaching in the school for four years. Another is the music teacher, S.Murugan, who has taught here for the past three months. And last but not least is the English teacher, Pandiarajan, whom we were fortunate to meet.
When people tell K.Amudha that it is better not to have a blind teacher, she always tells them that we have to encourage them. “Just because they are visually challenged, there is no rule that they should not become teachers,” she says.
K. Amudha is equally proud of her students and treating them equally is one of her priorities. She wants to make a point of educating students so that they enter society with a sound mind. With 22 years of experience as a Chemistry teacher, she joined the school in August 2010. As Head Mistress, she puts her knowledge of psychology and counseling to good use by giving individual care to the students. She continually motivates them and gives feedback in a positive way. If a particular student appears dull, she will call her and ask her, “Hey, why are you looking so dull today? Any problem?”
Most importantly, she appreciates her students. This word expresses her philosophy well. If a student does something extraordinary, she will immediately praise them in front of everyone. “I always want to keep my students happy. When a student gets a prize for something, I will also give the teacher my appreciation, which will make him/her proud of their student.” If a student doesn’t study properly, she will not tell them that they are weak, but instead teach the student the subject again.
This dutiful teacher then told us about one particular student, Deepa, who joined the school last year for her 12th grade. Deepa is very good in Kabaddi, a South Asian team sport, which when literally translated, means ‘holding hands.’ She captained the winning team at the State level and is now going to play at the National level. She will be going to a camp for ten days in Gujarat, and has also been selected to go for the national level tournament, the funding for which has been provided by the school. Deepa also performs well in her studies.
K.Amudha loves to share the success stories of her students and teachers, so she was only too eager for us to meet Pandiarajan, the English teacher, so we could understand why he is so special.
To teach without sight seems remarkable, but for Pandiarajan, it’s all in a day’s work. Now in his 18th year of teaching English, his enthusiasm and passion for education is hard to miss. He started his career as a teacher in 1994, when we worked for a year in the Government Higher Secondary School, Neruppur, Dharmapuri distric, followed by seven years at the Government Higher Secondary School for Boys in Melur, Madurai district. He has been at the Maapalayam Girls School for the past ten years.
Teaching classes from 9.30am – 4.30pm Monday to Friday, he has 40 to 50 students in each class totaling about 350 students a week. Amazingly, when he teaches, he receives no help or assistance. He needs only three things when he teaches: a laptop which has 100 sentences on it, a special black board which features some stripes to help him write straight sentences while teaching and a Braille board to write down other details and to enter marks.
Like any teacher, Pandiarajan needs to recognise his students in order to interact with them and teach effectively. Normally, teachers identify their students by their physical characteristics. This resourceful teacher, however, identifies his students from their voices. It is difficult to imagine how one could recognise 350 students only by the sound of their voices. Pandiarajan admits that it is difficult at the beginning of the year, but usually after a couple of months he is able to memorise every voice.
Before he lost his eyesight, he did not think that he would ever become a teacher. But after losing his eyesight at the age of 14, he began studying hard. For the first two years, he struggled with his disability, but managed to dedicate himself to his education. Pandiarajan now has many qualifications including an MA in English and Tamil, Med (Master of Education) and is currently completing his PhD in Life Science and Personal Psychology.
Soon after losing his sight, he also joined a society for the visually challenged in Chennai. It was here where he met a professor of History who became a role model not only for Pandiarajan, but also many other people with disabilities.
When asked if there is anything else he would like to do if he had the opportunity to go back in time and choose his career again, Pandiarajan said, “I would like to be a teacher again. Now I cannot imagine being anything else. I never want to quit being a teacher!” He continues, “Teaching English is actually easy and I like English. It is a peaceful job.”
He obviously loves his job and especially likes teaching grammar. He often uses poetry in his lessons because it is easy for students to understand and gives them ideas about many topics including philosophy. He likes to help students expand their minds and develop opinions as well as study.
Pandiarajan also wants to point out that when he first lost his sight, he also lost his confidence. However, by concentrating on his studies, he managed to regain his confidence. Even now, he tries to keep himself busy and does not have time to have negative thoughts or give up.
One of his sources of inspiration and encouragement is his students. Even after they graduate, they keep in touch, which makes him very happy. He also supported by his wife, Meena, and daughter. Although, normally he does not need to depend on anybody, having a supportive family background is certainly helpful. He also loves playing chess and has a special board which we takes with him when he goes to participate in high level tournaments.
Pandiarajan is also trying to contribute to societies for underprivileged children, especially those with disabilities. He wants people to learn from him and his achievements. He does not feel that he is disadvantaged in any way. He says, “I want to give these children some confidence. If I can do something, they can learn and catch the message from me. They must not see their situation as a disadvantage. Anybody can gain confidence from hard work.
Hard work and confidence are the two most important things, not only for disabled people but for all people. If you have lost something, you can gain everything from these two things.”
As we leave, we carry with us the lingering memory of Pandiarajan message that confidence can be achieved only through hard work. Both K.Amudha and Pandiarajan embody these things, and so does the school. Hard work and confidence are things we should all strive for.