If a good teacher is like a candle which consumes itself to spread light in the lives of others, this story speaks about such a teacher who had to blow himself out as a consequence of lighting lives.
Backdrop: The story begins in an academic institution offering Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Kerala. The department had a total strength of 14 full time teachers, and a head of the department who reports to the Chief Facilitator (CF) of the college. The college has a distinct place among tier 2 management colleges and is adequately reputed in terms of its academic quality and placement records. The college runs with 120 students, who praise highly about their college and are a major source of admissions.
The students of Second semester MBA batch are all set for an examination, which none in the class had attempted ever before. Unlike the regular examination, which tests the objectivity of students, this exam attempts to elicit the subjectivity in students. The management representative stepped in to the class with an OMR sheet, which carried the names of all teachers and a set of performance evaluation criteria. This is a new practice to the department and is a direct consequence of the institution’s plan to apply for NBA accreditation in the following year. The news spread in the department like a wild fire and every teacher wore a strained look with the exception of a young Assistant Professor who continued with his research work unabated.
Teachers gathered together for an informal huddle and discussions started on how their students would rate them. Some teachers started counting the number of students whom they yelled at in the previous semester whereas some stared taking stock of the list of students, whom they sought personal favours like booking movie tickets, ordering KFC buckets, etc. As the huddle progressed a teacher noticed Ravi sir, who kept doing his research without interfering in the discussion, which is of common interest. Ravi sir happened to be the most unabashedly ‘Strict Teacher’ in the department, with not even a single student speaking good about his behaviour, yet loved and deeply respected for his quality of classes. His stringency in behaviour makes him a topic of discussion in all student forums and there is a WhatsApp groups named “Ravi Sir’s Black List!!” When a student gets reprimanded by him, he/she gets added to the group and unfortunately no member has ever left the group. The group has more members than the official group of the college.
Ravi sir is a selfless perfectionist who upholds highest of values and is ethical in all dimensions as a teacher. He has dedicated his life to see real change in lives of students and would go to any extent to help his students mould themselves into professionals. His mere glances are more than enough for the class to keep quiet and if he stares at a student his fate is sealed for a semester. Ravi Sir’s stringency in terms is inversely proportional to the semester in which a student is in, which makes him even more dangerous to first year students. However he never holds personal grudge with students and all his deeds are intended towards shaping students’ behaviour which makes him a perfect gentleman. He believes that the first semester students should be treated with more vigour and once if they fall in the right track, he adopts leniency in his approach.
No student dares to go to his class late even by a minute, his assignments are submitted before the due date and his presentations are the most well prepared ones. He appreciates effort rather than results, which is why students spend long time on his tasks and activities. He is very particular about students’ personal grooming and dressing and would not allow any compromise on it. He ensures that students follow professional behaviour in the campus and is the reason why the campus functions smooth without any fuss among junior and senior students. Once Ravi sir found a student using mobile phone in his class, which he confiscated and was not returned even after the request of parents. This story is very infamous in the college, thus students keep their phones in their bags during his class. As he turns 4 years old in the campus, not even a single student has dared to argue with him and his words are always final.
There is another incident in the life of Ravi sir, when he showed his real character as a teacher to students. A young lady teacher once seized a mobile phone from a first year student named Tony, when he was found using it in her class. To her surprise, the wallpaper had her photo in a heart shaped frame with the student’s photo on the other. She was highly embarrassed and was finding it difficult to manage the situation. She saw Ravi sir passing by and requested him if he can come to the class. On seeing Ravi sir getting into the class, Tony went to the young teacher and made a quick apology and requested her not to call him inside. She refused to listen to him out of humiliation and handed over the phone to Ravi sir. Ravi sir didn’t speak even a single word to Tony and took him to the staff room and it was pin drop silence in the class. Tony’s friends knew what would follow and were expecting Tony to be expelled from the college with immediate effort.
Tony was half dead with fright by then and Ravi sir took him to his cabin and closed the door. Tony couldn’t resist his angst and he immediately fell on the feet of Ravi sir and apologized for his mistake. Ravi sir quoted examples from his personal life and made him understand the importance of relationships and advised him to treat his teacher as his own elder sister. Ravi sir did not blame him for what he did, instead made him understand the gravity of his misbehaviour. He was also advised to have such feelings with only one person in his life and it should be his wife. This incident made Tony render an unconditional ‘straight from the heart’ apology to the teacher and this highly accentuated his respect for Ravi sir. This also made him realise the greatness of his teacher and has taken his words to heart with highest of admiration.
After having the image of a dangerous teacher among students, Ravi sir was least bothered about what his students speak about him on his back. He was concerned only about the change he brings in them and the learning he imparts to them. His emphasis was on improving the overall quality of his delivery and innovating new ways of skill development for students. He possessed a distinct style of facilitating sessions and students enjoyed it and actively listened to it. He concludes every topic by asking “Did I make myself clear to you?” Silence among students was broken only for questions and answer session which is a regular exercise during his sessions. When he introduces activities in the class, students performed it with sheer dedication and zero chaos, thus leading to active learning in the class.
The results of the performance evaluation turned out to be a bit puzzling for the management and teachers. The most recently joined teacher, who is very liberal to students, who gets into the class unprepared and entertain students using social media in the class came first in the evaluation followed by Ravi sir and other faculty members. Ravi sir scored poorly only on the question: “The teacher behaves in a friendly manner to students” with every student ticking the ‘STRONGLY DISAGREE’ box. The evaluation results were taken very seriously by the management and appropriate corrective actions were being discussed.
It was during this time, the CF suffered a massive heart attack and the management of the college went into the hands of his co-brother who took charge as Head of Institute (HOI), an unscrupulous business man engaged in moneylending. The change in management was evident very soon, with the management deciding to terminate the teacher who came last in the evaluation as a corrective measure. It was during this time, the University allotted additional 60 seats to the college. Thus new faculty members were recruited and the environment inside the department had a drastic change. Those teachers who scored less in evaluation were working under stress and started generating insecurity of jobs.
This ended up in teachers adopting a very liberal and passive approach towards students, and has become very generous in giving internal assessment marks, with the only objective of getting into the good books of students. Delayed assignments were entertained; unprepared presentations were welcomed and low marks in test papers were offered moderation. This ended up becoming a place where students rule the campus and teachers were mere spectators. The only person who stood strong amidst all this is Ravi sir, who followed what he was doing until then. As this continues to be the trend, a circular came to HOD, which read; “As we have more seats to be filled in the next year, we would require more ranks from students to be highlighted in our brochure. It is hereby requested that every teacher put in additional effort towards this goal.”
What looked like a usual circular had larger unforeseen implications, which came to the fore during examinations. Examinations are another time when students hated Ravi sir the most, the reason being his vigil in invigilating the exam. No students would turn their head neither would they be allowed to do so, when Ravi sir takes charge. If by chance, Ravi sir happens to see someone trying to copy, answer sheets of the one trying to copy and the one from whom it is copied will be taken off and won’t be allowed to continue the exam. Hitler’s rule is the code used by students, when he comes to the examination hall.
Thus it’s time for first semester examinations and the duty chart was prepared by the HOD. On the previous day of examination, HOD was asked to meet the HOI to discuss the strategies to help students in scoring better. HOD confidently communicated the additional steps taken by the department to improve the academic performance. On hearing this HOI said, that the current plans would not be enough and teachers would need to help students in examination halls to get ranks. HOD had a shock of his life and his immediate response was to oppose it. But HOI clearly explained his plan that, he would be watching the live CCTV camera footage of the exam hall and anyone who opposes his plans would receive the termination order as soon as the exam finishes. HOD was left with no other options than to agree to what was instructed and called up a faculty meeting.
HOD informed the current situation to his faculty members and teachers were stunned to hear that. Ravi sir expressed his strong discontent stating that doing so would reduce the learning capacity of students and is highly unethical of a teacher and every other teacher backed his views. HOD was helpless and requested teachers to put down their papers, reminding them that it would be a wrong choice at this point as the hiring season for academicians was over. Hence the meeting concluded with an unwillingly unanimous decision to support those students only if they are in dire need of it just to avoid failures in exam.
Ravi Sir was on leave the next day and examinations started in the regular manner. As half an hour passed, HOD went for his regular rounds to exam halls and got a call from HOI’s office. The call was attended with shivering hands and HOI in an irritated tone of voice reprimanded HOD for not clearly communicating the message to his faculty members. HOI told HOD to announce the message immediately in the class that students are allowed to copy and clear doubts with their teachers. HOD had no other option and went ahead to announce the same message in the class. This made the class into a chaos and HOD walked out with excruciating pain and a deep feeling of guilt.
The very next day, Ravi sir came to college and got to know about the new happenings, which was beyond his level of tolerance. He immediately wrote his resignation letter and proceeded to the HOI’s cabin. He got a call on his way and it was his wife informing that his son met with an accident at school while playing and has multiple fractures in his right hand. This needed an urgent surgery and he was not covered by any medical insurance. He immediately tore off the resignation letter with tears and he rushed to hospital after informing HOD. The surgery had cost him over ninety thousand rupees and he had to borrow over fifty thousand from his friends.
This put Ravi sir into further trouble as he cannot even think of resigning from the college given his financial instability. The surgery was successfully over and on the same night itself he updated his resume and started sending it across to different colleges, knowing that it’s not the right time to do so. The next day Ravi sir had exam duty for Human Resource Management (HRM) paper which was taught by him and he went to college knowing that he will also get corrupt. He told himself a thousand times, not to indulge in any unethical practice in the exam hall. When Ravi sir entered the hall, it was pin drop silence all throughout and students started attempting the paper without any discussions. As the previous day, HOD received another call in which HOI insisted HOD to ask Ravi sir to discuss answers in the class.
HOD came to the class and ordered Ravi sir to discuss the answers. The students did not react to the words of HOD as they are very sure that Ravi sir won’t do it. HOD told Ravi sir in a soft voice that he cannot afford to lose his job at this crucial point and requested him to do as instructed. HOD also reminded him about the live CCTV footage, and advised him that he has no other options. Ravi sir with a heavy heart and watery eyes agreed to it and he could feel a lump in his throat that prevents him from uttering even a single word. With intense emotions and strong feelings, he discussed the answers in the class without looking at the eyes of students.
To the surprise of HOD, students dropped their pens and stopped writing the exam in discontentment to HOD’s order. This infuriated the HOI and he came to the class immediately and asked Ravi sir to discuss answers again. Ravi sir looked at HOI in deep apathy and thought of tearing the question paper to throw into his face, but was prevented by an impulsive thought of his son with a fractured hand. Blaming his fate, Ravi Sir started discussing the answers again; students saw tears rolling out from his eyes. Students responded to his tears by not paying attention to his answers and didn’t take their pens to write answers. This further irritated the HOI and he ordered Ravi Sir to ask students to jot down the answers on the question paper. Ravi sir did so and discussed all answers in the class and walked out of the hall. This incident shattered his image as an ethical teacher with values which he built over years. More damage was done to himself as he decided it’s time to quit, no matter what consequence follows.
This incident had an irreparable effect on Ravi sir and he applied for a long leave stating that he cannot even look into the eyes of students anymore. HOD clearly understood his situation and granted him a long leave. Ravi sir, as anticipated never returned to the campus and joined Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) as a faculty member. He relocated to Mumbai with his family and led a very peaceful life there with his family. As years rolled on Ravi sir was more engaged in research and was deputed in a project undertaken by TISS in collaboration with World Bank on ‘Rehabilitation of Prostitutes in Mumbai’. This project was of higher repute and gives Ravi Sir great visibility on completion.
As days progressed, the research team made good progress as research objectives were set, methodology was finalised and the team is all set for data collection. Researchers went in search of prostitutes and conducted personal interviews with them to understand their problems and challenges. The team went into Kamathipura, which is Mumbai’s oldest and Asia’s second largest red-light district. Prostitutes were not cooperative to the interview and many of them asked the team to get permission from their bosses and pimps before they talk to them. It was shocking to the team to understand that many pimps were blood relatives of prostitutes. The data collection was getting tougher as prostitutes demand money for spending time with the team. Pimps would also demand commission for conducting interviews and the team started developing frustration. As it was getting tougher to proceed, team thought of targeting another segment of prostitutes, the luxury class.
The team started collecting the contact details of pimps through internet and contacted them for an appointment. After many desperate efforts, a pimp has consented for interview but he placed a condition that he would accompany the prostitute when the interview is being conducted. Team was very much comfortable with this and a restaurant was set as the venue for their meeting. This pimp is very notorious as the accompanying prostitute is his own sister and is very infamous in the area for his dishonest and deceitful practices. The team including Ravi sir reached the restaurant before the agreed time and sat in a private cabin to avoid distractions. Team Lead got a call from the pimp informing that they have arrived the hotel and he informed them about the cabin they are seated. The pimp came to the cabin followed by the prostitute.
The moment he stepped in, Ravi Sir gazed at him and stood up shell shocked. It was his old student Tony, whom he taught the ethical and moral principles of life in a totally different outfit. Tony looked very calm and composed even after noticing the shock on the face of Ravi Sir. He looked at the eyes of Ravi sir in vengeance for a moment and swapped his attention to other team members. The prostitute answered all questions and Ravi sir sat completely stifled and languished. Ravi sir looked at Tony intermittently during the interview but he never returned one. The interview was successfully over and Tony Left the cabin with a statement that confused every one. He said: “You never know the consequences of your deeds, unless you witness it unveil right in front of you; you reap what you sow.” While other researchers took it as a casual comment, Ravi sir understood it was a devious innuendo at him.
Ravi Sir collected Tony’s contact number from his Lead and contacted him that evening. Tony didn’t pick up his call instead replied via text message which read, “I don’t want to talk to you Mr. Ravi.” Ravi sir was highly saddened with the reply as this was too much for a teacher to expect from a student whom he taught the righteous path in life. Ravi Sir tried calling him over and again and the call was answered eventually after many attempts. Ravi Sir wanted to meet him for one last time and he agreed to it and the same venue was set again as the meeting place. This time Tony came first and awaited Ravi Sir to settle scores with him. Ravi sir came in with his head bowed down in shame and took his seat opposite to Tony. This is for the first time ever in his life he felt ashamed to look at the face of a student and had to face such a tough situation.
Ravi sir asked Tony if he would like to confess and apologize as he did when he was his student and Tony gave a scornful smirk as his response and said “If it’s about apology, then it should be you who should apologize to me!” Ravi sir was more puzzled than ever and asked what made him say that? Tony unveiled his story:
“I saw a real teacher in you when I joined for my MBA. You were not just a teacher to me; you were an idol I worshipped. I’ve done many mistakes in my life and as I believe, ‘your best teacher is your last mistake’, I saw light in my life after I met you. You have been a source to me to lead a positive life and your principles of life influenced me more than anything else. I respected you more than my parents, more than anyone else in this world. As you have once said in the class, ‘every teacher is a lesson in your life’; you have been the best lesson I’ve ever had until the 24th February 2011, the date of HRM exam. The moment you insisted us to write down answers in the examination hall; Ravi sir, my teacher died. I felt as if the world around me stopped functioning and the final lesson you taught the class was too unbecoming of any teacher. Going by your own words, you have never practiced what you preached. This incident changed my life; I dropped my studies at that point and went back to a world of darkness. It was you Mr. Ravi, who is to be blamed for killing my hopes, beliefs and aspirations in my student life. It broke my idol of God and shattered my dreams of moulding myself into a person as principled as Ravi Sir. If you had shown the courage to say a firm “NO”, you would have still been called a teacher. But you were an utter opportunist, who cared only for your personal life which is why fate made us meet again at this juncture. Having done this much of damage to me, would you like me to apologize? Ask yourself if you really deserve an apology? Do you still feel you are man-enough for me to confess? Do I not deserve an apology and confession back from you? Don’t you feel like falling on my feet and cry out loud for one last time Mr Ravi?”
Ravi Sir stood up and said “enough is enough” and walked back with these questions haunting him. He wanted to apologize to his student, but realised that it would make no difference. He left the hotel and later a circular in TISS read “Ravi sir left irretrievably to eternity leaving behind his wife and son. The teaching fraternity of TISS express deep condolences over his untimely demise.”
The suicide note of Ravi Sir read:
“A teacher fails when his students fail in life and a teacher dies when you know that you are the reason for their failure.”
Dedicated to all teachers!!