Old school from Old Town

My first memory of the St. Johns Parish School dates to almost 30 years back. I remember being nervous as I took in the sights and sounds of the campus. The school block, the magnificent church, the sprawling grounds, even the huge banyan tree, they all were intimidating to a 20-something woman in a new town looking for a job.

But right from my very first day to the day I left St. Johns after some 20 years, I had always felt at home. The Parish and School board, my fellow teachers and all the wonderful students who I have met and taught, they had all contributed to a fulfilling career.

Having started teaching the lower classes, in a couple of years I found myself in the high school classrooms. A greater challenge no doubt, but one that I enjoyed for the years to come.

While we as teachers teach our students everything from Mathematics to Geography, from discipline to morals, any school teacher would profess that patience is an art that is taught by the students to a teacher.

One day, when my patience had run out with a student, Mohammad, I had, in my anger scolded him, going on to say, “you would turn out to be a useless person”. I remember feeling bad at the time for my outburst wishing I hadn’t said the words. I had forgotten about the incident over the years, until a couple of decades later, it came back to me with a call to my landline phone.

I did not remember the voice or even the student’s name. But when he recalled the incident, it came back to me. He went on to say that on that day, after the scolding he had got from me, he had resolved to work hard and prove me wrong. He was working in the Merchant Navy at the time he called me, an accomplished and successful man. I was moved to tears, I couldn’t be happier. Little did I know that a stray remark I had made would play a part in the success of a student.

It must be moments like these that make our profession a noble one.

When we were not teaching, we the teachers at St. Johns were a lively bunch. Our staff room was always abuzz with lively talk, humor and camaraderie. A multi-talented group, we not only taught the subject, but also trained the students on other skills, like the Annual Day dances, the Sports Day and Independence Day programs, and other events throughout the year.

One event that everyone in the One Town Area looked forward to was the St. John’s School Fete. It was no less than a festival and I do not remember a single Fete that did not have the church grounds overflow with people. The stalls manned by the students, the teachers and the church folk were a hit year after year. For months before the Fete, students would faithfully go from person to person, stranger or otherwise, sweetly asking them to buy a couple of raffle tickets. Those were wonderful times.

Our group of teachers had its own signature food stall. Even though all of us had a full-time job at the school, husbands and children to take care of back at home, we somehow made the time to contribute to the Fete. I wonder where we got the energy from, when I think about it now. The Dahi Wada and the Mysore Pak were among the crowd favorites, and ours was probably the only stall that did not need anyone screaming over the crowd to come visit us. I say with pride that we always went home with our purses full and our food all sold out.

I was also lucky to be a part of the group that visited Bangalore with my students for the ICSE event. A prestigious event with ICSE schools from all over the country attending it, the students practiced for weeks to get their performances right. We teachers turned into choreographers with the students grooving to “Chaiyya Chaiyya” and “Sade Dil Te”, hit numbers at the time.

It was not only in the classroom but during times like these that strong relationships were forged between us the teachers and the students. While we can find it hard to recognize our students’ years later, I’m glad to say the students never miss a chance to meet their teachers. I’ve ran into them in every place possible – hotels, shopping malls, trains, weddings, churches etc. One such meeting was on a busy day at the crowded Vijayawada railway station. It was the Ticket Collector himself who recognized me in the crowd and came up to me, telling me that I was his teacher from school.

Other students have been more adventurous. On a working afternoon, an alumnus of the school, Kamal, had come to invite a few teachers to his wedding a couple of days later. He was told to come the next day as recess was done. Apparently for our students, no wall is high enough to keep them away from their school. He leaped over the school wall and walked right into the Principal’s office, apologized profusely but said that he had wedding invitations to give away.

The Principal Mrs. Pushpavalli, couldn’t hold her smile back and the student got his way.

After I left St. Johns, I applied to teach at a college. On the day of the interview with the college Director – Mr. Khan of the M.F. Khan group, I was made to wait for some time outside his office. Finally, the Principal called me into the Director’s office, introduced him to me, and asked if I remembered him. I couldn’t, but he stood up and told me that he was a Matriculation student of mine from St. Johns. The tables could have turned, with the student getting a chance to interview his teacher. But he told the Principal to have me join immediately without any interview.

This isn’t a show of my teaching prowess, but a testament to the love and affection that our students have for us, years after they left school.

With each passing year, we said goodbye to a flock of students starting on their journey out to conquer the world. It saddened us, all the teachers, to see the children we had known and taught for years, grow wings and fly away from us. We bid them goodbye, wishing them well, hoping we as teachers had taught them everything they needed to face the battles that lie in front of them.

The satisfaction and the sense of fulfillment when we see a ward of ours grow up into a successful man or woman is a feeling that cannot be described in words.

After all these years, I feel blessed to have had such a long tenure at the school. The school and the time I spent in it have given me countless memories to cherish. The teachers I befriended at St. Johns all those years back are still my closest friends. It fills me with joy looking back to the remarkable journey we all made.

I have always considered teaching to be a blessed profession and a major part of my career was spent among the walls and corridors of St. Johns Parish. I’m proud to have been a part of this erstwhile institution, and it is a pleasure to know that it is celebrating 50 years of existence. I wish the School Board, the teachers, the students and everyone involved all the very best for the future.

As told to me, for my Mum’s school’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

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