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Rani Mukherjee’s Naina Mathur (who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome) imparts essential lessons on being better human beings and teachers, in Hichki.
Last week I met one of my ex-students for coffee. We spoke of various things and the conversation soon turned to a new teacher. She told me how the teacher was quite senior and had about 20 years of experience; however, had on quite a few occasions almost reduced her students to tears. She spoke of how some teachers could make cutting remarks to a student more often than not in front of everyone present in class. It saddened me to hear of the kids (well actually grade 12 teens) who I had taught just a year prior, having experienced something of this nature. The thought hasn’t left me since and won’t.
Fast forward to three days later and I have just returned from watching the movie ‘Hichki’. The movie stars Rani Mukherjee, a woman who has Tourette’s syndrome, and lands a job as a teacher at an elite school. She is allotted a class which has children who have been granted admission as per the RTE (Right to Education Act). The movie beautifully explores her journey as one who has been expelled from 12 schools due to causing ‘distraction’ to kids due to her tics. She has applied persistently for teaching jobs over the last 5 years, despite having faced several interviews and many rejections.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead
I pretty much bawled through the entire movie as it had me reflect upon the last decade of having worked as an educator with teenagers. I’ve had the best possible professional journey and feel so blessed working with young people. There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a child smile. It is unfair that a teenager who is already dealing with enough in life should have to deal with being judged. Or rather, misunderstood, above all else.
In the first half, the movie displays the challenges Rani faces as the teacher of a class where the children have seen 7 teachers in 8 months, and do not take the teachers or the school seriously. Much less themselves. It reminded me of times when I have of course not always had great days. Times when students made me want to pull my hair out. Or were so moody or flippant that I would hope the class gets over and I can go to the library and breathe a sigh of relief.
But I knew one thing from day one of my journey as a teacher. PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES.
This DOES NOT mean comparing your student life with theirs and reminding yourself that if you were such a great student, why can’t they also be the same? Because one, we are all different and two, times have changed. I did not pass exams with group discussions on doubts cleared on WhatsApp groups, dividing time between academics, internships, extra-curricular activities, family, friends and what not. Think as teachers – would we have been able to cope with the pressures and demands as they are today if we were students? Am not so sure! What I am sure of is that trying to place myself in their shoes has made me step back and react in ways that were bordering more on humanity than dictatorship.
The movie goes on to show how well the kids take to Rani after seeing her determination towards helping them and genuinely thinking only of them, not as outcasts who were in an elite school due to the RTE, rather as children who could be given equal opportunity. If only they give themselves the opportunity. That’s what every child needs. A child who has been made to sit away from everyone in primary years (as shown in the movie) knows how it feels to be treated differently. But this child can look to that one educator who gives her the confidence to be who she is. That’s the teacher we must all strive to be.
It’s not called education when we teach just subjects in a classroom. True knowledge comes from treating children with the respect they deserve and traits they must appreciate and inculcate as good human beings. I had kids challenge me in different ways. And the one thing one needs to be kept aside is the EGO. The film too highlights how another teacher is so hell bent on proving his point that the kids are worthless and must be expelled is only doing so to be right and teach the other teacher (Naina, the protagonist played by Rani Mukherjee) a lesson.
Each child has a reason as to why he / she acts in a way that is considered negative or unacceptable. It’s not enough to scold and punish. We must aim to uncover the root of this problem / behavior. At the end of the day, they are after all children. It’s the environment and the treatment meted out to them that makes them the way they are. It is the need of an open dialogue not just between a teacher and a student but which must start at the home itself.
You don’t have to become friends with your students. This seems to be a popular warning in schools. The elite ones for sure. That be approachable but not overly friendly. Which seems fine. But here’s the twist.
You don’t have to be friends with your students. They have friends. What they need is someone to guide them and show them the way. Someone they can trust and talk to. Someone who would teach them in a manner that incorporates their learning style. Someone who praises in public and scolds in private. Someone who gives them a chance and recognizes that there is effort even if there aren’t marks.
I did not score well in Mathematics ever in my life. Hardly matters now. Am happy in my life. Am happy with how my life turned out professionally. And am a happier person for it. It’s more important to teach them to be happy individuals rather than stressing on success which is only evaluated through grades and marks.
One dialogue of the movie stood out to me above all else – “When a child makes an error, we cut marks for the same. What about when teachers make a mistake? What about those?”
We were all students even if we aren’t all teachers today. However we have the opportunity to be a teacher to a child anytime we interact with them. Let those lessons count. Today is a day I miss being in a class more than ever. Seeing those faces. I don’t remember being happier while at work. Because it never seemed like work. Like Rani says in the movie – “I WAS BORN TO BE A TEACHER’’.
I believe schools should focus on educating their teachers on how to be more human rather than just building skill sets for subject excellence. Perhaps a good start would be making this movie a mandatory watch for all teachers.
P.S. Another gem of a movie yet lesser known one on teachers is Chalk and Duster. Also highly recommended.
Header image is a still from the movie Hichki
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