Monday, May 17, 2010

Meeting the Past

I have been taught by a number of very good teachers, but the only one who had a lasting impact on me was my High School Principal. Tall, slim and ramrod straight, she had a commanding presence. Though obviously younger than many of the teachers who reported to her, she had an aura of authority that belied her age.
A strict disciplinarian, she managed to impose her will on a school that was not particularly known for its adherance to discipline. Any attempt to flout authority was nipped in the bud, and she all attempts to tamper with the dress code were dealt with forcefully.
As a student who consistantly topped in class, I rarely had to face her wrath, and since I represented the school in various extra-curricular activities, I often was often the recipient of her praise.

But that was not why I remember her. I remember her for the speeches she made several time a year - to the class while handing out report cards at the end of each semester, to the student body at regular intervals, and to informal groups when the occasion warrented it.
My class was the most studious one in the school, and I remember her once imploring us not to become "miserable bookworms", because some of had petitioned her to allow them to miss the Physical Education class so they could prepare for a College Entrance Exam. After delivering the speech, her eyes had swept the class, and the only pair of eyes that her met her's were mine - I had known I didn't qualify for the denouncement. Her eyes had softened, and she'd said, "There is one exception in this class. There is one girl who participates in everything, and even represents the school in inter-school events. She does a lot of things well, but even the things she doesn't do well, she puts her heart and soul into. And surprisingly, she does better in her exams than most of you, even though you get out of anything not related to studies." I was walking on clouds for days after that.
But the most memorable speech she made was to our Graduating Class. She'd said, "there are three types of people in the world. The ones who blaze new trails and accomplish a lot in life. The ones who do what they feel should be done, and keep doing it despite falling down many times. And the vast majority who are neither the leaders, nor are constantly failing. I wish all of you could be in the first category, but only some of you will. But what I implore all of you is to not allow yourself to fall into the third category. Whether you succeed or fail, do what you feel has to be done- don't let yourself become a mindless follower."

Those words stayed with me, and often guided me when I had to take major decisions, specially professional ones.

Last year, I met Ma'am on Facebook, and exchanged a few messages with her. It felt strange to re-connect with someone who had played such an important part in my life, then disappeared from it completely. She was in a different city, but I hoped to meet her someday.

Yesterday, I, and two other classmates, met her. I had been really nervous before the meeting- just thinking of her made me feel like a schoolgirl again. But when she hugged us, we connected like two human beings who had shared a part of an important journey together. She was not the principal, and we the students. We were just four individuals meeting after a long time and getting to know each other.

When one of us mentioned that she was probably the same age then as we now are, she calculated and told us she had acutally been younger than we now are. "Sometimes, I think I was too young", she told us. "Had I been a little older I would have been able to handle people better."

Ma'am, the Formidable, having self doubts? It seemed almost impossible. Not only had her students looked upto her, most of the parents had been overwhelmed by the force of her personality. Hadn't she been perfection incarnate? How could she have done anything better?

But, thinking back, I realise that it was precisely because she was "too young" to manage a school that she made such an impression on everyone. Her idealism had not been tempered by experience. She brought passion to her position because she did not know better. She had her own ideas of how a young lady should be moulded and she set about doing it because she didn't know it was too difficult a task to take on.

Ma'am, the most splendid teacher anyone could ask for. It was wonderful finding out that she is just as wonderful as a friend.

17 comments:

Karen Walker said...

Rayna, how extraordinary to be able to re-connect with a mentor who made such a deep, lasting impression on you. She sounds wonderful. And what wonderful advice for young people to hear. You are paying it forward with the things you write about here on your blog.
Karen

WELCOME TO MY WORLD OF POETRY: said...

A superb blog,you are doing so well ,to remember someone so vividly must have made a lasting imprssion on you.

Take care.
Yvonne.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

How super to have reconnected as adults and equals! A unique opportunity!

Jayne said...

What a lovely tribute to a lovely teacher! She sounds very inspiring, and if she ever reads this I am sure she would be very proud of you, and all the students she reached with her words.

Lydia Kang said...

What an incredible woman, and such wonderful words of wisdom! I'm glad you were able to reconnect with her!

Clarissa Draper said...

That story made me cry. Her words were so powerful that you became who you are because of them. I hope something I say will someday affect someone as deeply. (I hope my children.)

CD

Not Hannah said...

How special for her to single you out so long ago and how wonderful for you to have an opportunity to connect with her this way.

dipali said...

I'm so glad you were able to meet her again!
She sounds like a wonderful principal to have had, and a teacher who knew all her girls as individuals. Great to read about her.

Mason Canyon said...

Very inspiring. It's great that you could reconnect with someone who had such a great influence on your life. I think it would probably do us all good if we could reconnect with a person that has guided us.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds like she was qualified to me! She made an impression on you and your life.

ladyfi said...

She sounds like a wonderfully inspiring person!

slommler said...

What a blessing to be able to reconnect with her. And what a wonderful example she was to the whole school. It is an added blessing that you "got" her and used her as an example. You did not rebel against her authority...you received it and respected it. Good for you
Hugs
SueAnn

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Just when I wonder if FaceBook is worth the effort, I read a lovely reunion story like this. What a wonderful compliment you've written to a special person in your life.

KarenG said...

She sounds like a fabulous teacher. I love the quote about the 3 kinds of people. And clearly she's a teacher who inspired her students to be the best.

Ellie said...

How touching and wonderful that you found such a connection! I do remember my favorite teachers and their profound affects on me. I am thrilled you were able to reconnect and see another side of her! The human condition of unique souls crossing paths again, very rare! I am happy that you had her in your life~

Ellie said...

I wanted to also add, YOU are gorgeous!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Karen - it is wonderful to re-connect with someone who has had such an impact on your life.

@ Yvonne - she did. But that was an impressible age for me

@ Debra - when I was her student, I would have laughed outright had someone told me I would do this, but I did

@ Jayne - I did post it on Facebook, and she said she was speechless. I wonder if she realises how rare good teachers are

@ Lydia - a few people like that is all that one really needs in your life

@ Clarissa - I am sure your son is a wonderful man. With you for a mother, he would be

@ Heather - it was marvelous.

@ dipali - good teachers are so rare, that if you run into a few, it is more than enough

@ Mason - it is a marvellous thing

@ Alex - precisely. She may have not known how to administer, but making an impact on children's lives is far more important, I think

@ Fiona - yes, she was

@ SueAnn - you hit the nail on the head. I also posted this on my facebook profile, and a whole bunch of classmates said they hated her because she made them hate school. Guess you can't win.

@ Jane - I have met some great people through FB. People I thought I knew, but who I got to know only after re-connecting

@ KarenG - she definitely inspired me. How else would I so vividly remember what she said 20 years back

@ Ellie - teachers are wonderful, aren't they? And thank you.

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