Sunday, January 04, 2009

From the Wrong Side of the Desk

“Attendance please,” I said writing the date on the page. I was sent to teach Comm Skills to the geography batch of the Pre degree students ( batch of 100 and no public address system for the teacher).

I was shaking life a leaf – inside. But I put up a bold front and breezed into the lecture room looking (I hope) cool as a cucumber. Beverly, the junior most teacher who got her posting a day after I got mine, had resigned her job because she could not handle the law and order problem in this class. So I was next. You see, I had wonderful colleagues in my department who believed that a new hand should be baptized in fire. And the Pre-Degree II batch was allotted to me. And thus it was that I happened to find myself looking down at those hooligans (sorry, but that’s the most apt word in my vocabulary to describe them), notorious in the college for their insolent, arrogant and disorderly behaviour.

How did they get away with it? Well, those who led from the front in that class were daughters of prominent citizens of that little town, and the college authorities would rather give the teacher a dressing down than wield the rod on those students.

That particular year there was another unfortunate development too. The university made attendance compulsory, and a system was put in place which monitored the attendance of the students every month, on the basis of which communication was sent to the parents with warnings about disqualification in case of poor attendance. The result – all the unruly elements, who in the normal course wouldn’t come to class, were present for all lectures, and gave vent to their frustration by indulging in loud comments, guffaws – blowing to the winds all semblance of discipline.

AS I walked into the class, I could feel the hostility. It was tangible. Audible. I felt like a gladiator thrown into a den of lions, all waiting for me to make the first move before they tore me to pieces.

You bet I was NERVOUS. No. Not nervous. I was petrified.

Like I said earlier, I walked into the class with the attendance register and text book. I stepped on the platform and kept the books on the lectern. I saw that the wood on the lectern was wet where my cold, clammy fingers touched it.

The girls were screaming. Yes screaming. One called out to another from one end of the room to the other. Someone cracked a joke loud enough for five rows of benches to hear and all the five benches of students laughed loud while others asked, ”hey, what is it?’ and “tell us, no?”

“Silence please’, I said. No mike and my voice was drowned in that medley of noises coming from the other side of my desk. I almost thanked God for all that noise, or those girls would have heard my knees knocking against each other.

But the noise continued – noise that should not come from a class room. Just then, I noticed the duster (you know the one which looks like a shoe brush). I took it and banged it on the table, continuously, without a let up. I was scared as hell but there was something else boiling inside me. Anger. Sheer primal anger, kept under iron control by fear. I do not know how this deadly combination expressed itself on my face, but soon the class began to fall silent. I did not stop banging the duster till there was pin drop silence in the class.

See, this is how it worked. Because of the offensive sound of the duster banging, the girls looked in my direction, and then I noticed that their expressions were changing the minute they saw my face. I wonder how I looked. What a pity we can’t see our own faces.

Soon the students were silent. Absolutely silent. The only sound was me banging away on the table with that poor duster. The sound was horrible and I stopped.

“I don’t know how effectively I can teach you comm. skills, but I sure can teach you some manners. One more word from you and you’ll learn a lesson you’ll never forget in your life”. That was me. I couldn’t believe it. Is it really me talking like that? Where did I learn to talk like that? To be honest, these thoughts actually flashed through my mind as I (poor me) stood before them, glaring (?) down.

“Attendance, please”. I said


“Number 701”, I coaxed (God, even today that number makes my heart trip with nervousness!)

"Present ma’am"

Silence again.

"Continue", I said.

One girl gets up.”Ma’am, can I call out my roll number? I’m 702. You said you’ll teach us a lesson of we open our mouths”

I was flabbergasted, but took care that my feelings didn’t show on my face”.

“Sit down”, I told her. Then I announced “Please give your attendance in a disciplined ladylike (I shouldn’t have used that word) manner. Ok. Continue’

Silence again.

"OK, 703 is absent. Continue”, I said.

One girl jumped up. "I’m 703, Ma’am"

"Why didn’t you call out your number?"

"I did, ma’am. But I did it in a lady like manner", she said, looking as innocent as she could.

“Please answer your attendance loud enough for me to hear”, I announced to the class again.


Like a loud clap of thunder came the next number 704. I literally jumped out of my skin, dropping the pen.

The class dissolved into their previous mood. Laughing, clapping each other on their backs. I saw girls turn around to congratulate 704.

At that precise moment something snapped inside me.

I left the lectern, walked to the front of the teacher’s desk, leant on the desk for moral and physical support, and shouted as loud as I could.

"Keep quiet". I said, "KEEP QUIET” (How I had underrated my decibel capacity)

Again the girls saw something in my face (what was it, I have never ceased wondering), and fell silent. I looked up 704’s name in the register and my heart sank. Her name was Lynette Pereira (Name changed). I’d heard that name mentioned several times in the Staff room. She was the daughter of a doctor with a lot of political connections. The college authorities valued this connection and the girl knew it.

I knew it too. What should I do, I thought desperately. Since I had come this far, I thought, going forward was easier than backward.

“Lynette Pereira, please stand up.”

She stood up. I was terrified. The insolence and the arrogance on her face made me want to follow Beverly's path. As usual, I prayed. Intensely. Jesus, why do you put me such situations, I asked fiercely, silently.

I wonder what my facial expression was like.

Patiently, in a well modulated and polite tone, I said ”Lynette, please apologize to me, then call out your number and sit down’.

She looked me straight in the eyes, unblinking and said.”Ma’am, how do I know your idea of normal, acceptable loudness?”

That did it. To hell with this job, I thought. Yes. If I throw her out of the class, I’ll get thrown out of my job. My people will be upset. This is one of the best colleges in South India, I heard them say, and you have got yourself dismissed. You are in the marriage market, they would say. If they enquire about you in the college, how do you know what report the college will give about you?

For a split second, I hesitated. How am i going to back off, I wondered. I looked at her face – and what I saw there made me blow all caution to the winds.

She had a sneer on her face!! And hardly seventeen, she was.

“Lynette”, I said in a controlled but firm voice. “You either apologise or leave the class room. And if you leave the class room, I’ll see that you come back only after a month’s suspension”. (What am I saying, I thought, who’s going to suspend her? I’ll be dismissed, and not she suspended.)

Lynette did not move. She stood there like a rock, looking at me coldly defiantly.

“Lynette, I’ll give you five minutes. Apologise or leave the class room. I mean business about your suspension”.

She didn’t move. I took my watch off my wrist (Is this really me, I thought. Am I capable of such dramatics?), held it in my right hand and stood there leaning against the desk, looking at the dial of the watch – and scared stiff.

There was pin drop silence in the class. Can they hear my heart pounding away and my knees knocking against each other? Can they hear that terrified sob trapped in my throat?

“One more minute, Lynette, and if you don’t leave the class, I’ll leave – straight to the Principal’s room”

She didn’t bat an eyelid, but stared at me hard and cold.

Five minutes were over. I tied my watch on my wrist, picked up my belongings from the desk, stepped down the platform and walked to the door.

As I crossed the door and stepped into the corridor, I heard a big commotion in the class room, and the sound of students squealing. I looked back into the class room and saw Lynette jumping over the desks, over the heads of seated students. In a matter of seconds, she stood before me, blocking my way and literally spat a “sorry ma’am” on my face.

That was enough for me. The situation was defused. My face was saved. I heaved a huge mental sigh of relief.

I accepted the apology graciously, and walked back into the classroom.


  1. Wow...thats quite a first day..what happened next?

  2. Wow...Felt like a scene out of a movie :)
    Awesome dramatics :D

  3. I can imagine the scene very well. It's a great challenge. I am sure you have immense patience, and the students would admire you for that.

    Hope you have read the book To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite, or seen the film by the same name. Pl do if you haven't. It's a must for all teachers.

  4. That is one hell of a experience!!....
    Thank god .. i didnt choose teaching as my career.. :P
    no offence meant.
    Great narration indeed!.you literally took me there to that classroom full of noisy girls.

    cheers :)

  5. what and all you had to put up with ammai! makes the aramco company man seem like an angel :D

  6. Goodness Gracious!!! Thank the lord teaching is not my profession. I would have just cried and resigned..Totally your fan now :-)

  7. @ursjina - thankfully i had to teach them for only a couple of months after that i think. I used to start the day i had those lectures with a litany to all the saints in heaven:D.
    @ pradeep.Nothing like TO SIR WITH LOVE happened between us. we just about managed to maintain a civlized behaviour in class - on both failure perhaps - i was too young and scared.patience? what choice do you havw when u r on the wrong side of the desk? but believe me, i dont think i was the very epitome of patience
    @ deepak. if only u know the type of histrionics that a teacher indulges in:-)
    @ nishant, seema. believe me, i loved my profession - given another chance, i'll choose the same
    @chands - have i climbed higher in your esteem?

  8. I actually thought that it was fiction!!!I have often thought about the consequences of raising my voice at any point. I have always wondered what will happen, if they just refuse to do what I say!! What would I say next??? Lovely post!

  9. Great post.Never thought girls will be such hooligans.Never in a mixed[co-ed] college.

    Brought the memories of my Pre degree days.The English Lecturer who once asked me to get out of her class is now one my most loyal patient.

  10. Reminds me of one of my own episodes with a teacher. I was the student. But I was not Lynette. I was and am always one of the quietest. My offense was however that I saw a friend by the window and talked to her; it was a free period and the teacher sitting at her desk quietly. I saw my friend and this teacher had always teased the 2 of us outside the class, about us always being together. Even a few mins back for the recess, she had teased us of not staying away from each other. "Ithu randum epolum onnicha", she'd say.

    So when I saw my friend I went and talked to her and actually looked at the teacher, like I was expecting some sort of an acknowledgment. Like this was something she liked to see and would stand up to come and tease us again.

    My teacher was however quite upset by the action. She had just given out our papers (and even then asked me if both of us got the same marks). She stood up and said "I saw that. Either you give me the paper and get out of the class or I will". I was stunned. The friendly teasing suddenly became cold stare and anger. I stood there blinking as she walked out of the class.

    My classmates shouted "Go go tell her sorry. Go give the paper back". Confused I ran after her and said "Teacher please dont go I will give the paper back". I seemed to have thot all she wanted was that paper! She didnt stop and walked away. I uttered a meek sorry that noone heard...

    It took a week to cool down. I went with my friend and apologized to her. I had no intention of hurting her. But what hurt her was that I was not ready to say sorry for my misdeed, when infact I was ready to fall down on her knees to bring her back. To this day, she remains my favorite teacher and I have a special place for her in my heart.

  11. Oh the perils of facing a group of students for the first time! It's worse than public speaking, because you have to maintain the aura of authority before you can even attempt to grab their interest.

    I once had a first-year lecturer who would ramble on during the class- we eventually got used to tuning her out, but weren't disruptive. I eventually ended up as a junior engineer in the same group which she had joined some years before. She was an excellent engineer, but not a good lecturer.

  12. The problem is that you are not given any training at all to teach, after your MA.

    Learning on-the-job is okay; but some sensitive souls fail the test at the first task itself. I used to know a guy that was [like your friend] sent to teach Pre-degree class on his first day and resigned his job the same evening. He subsequently became General Manager of a Trichur Bank.

    Had some training been given prior to being put on the job, he would have quickly made a very good teacher.

    In most cases, the young lecturer does not get a chance of knowing how to 'get' the job even, in Kerala. The money and managing parts of getting a lecturer's job are often taken care of by the family.

  13. OMG! How timid our pre-degree class was!


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