It has been a busy day at the Government Higher Primary School in Hasigalla, Hoskote Block. Akshara’s Makkalu Habba has just ended. It has been an afternoon of excitement, with Mathematics and English tests, way different from the regular class examinations. . It is also the finale when the prizes would be given out before a small crowd of parents, the Block Resource Coordinator (BRC), the Cluster Resource Person (CRP), the School Development Monitoring Committee (SDMC), out in force, the Akshara team and the school’s Headmaster and teachers.
The children sit on mats spread on the ground in tense anticipation of the results. Manasa of Std. VII is in full flow, extending felicitations and a warm welcome to the visitors on behalf of her school. Standing right behind is Aswathamma, class teacher of Std. VI, shadowy but forceful, prompting, gently steering Manasa as her fluent Kannada hits the occasional rough trough. The prizes are announced. The winners are jubilant, the losers crestfallen. Aswathamma picks up the microphone and sends out a consolatory message. “To those children who have not got prizes, do not lose heart. Failure is a stepping stone to success.”
This final note of sympathetic morale-boosting captures Aswathamma’s teacher-personality, Asha as she is fondly called in school, in her village of Hasigalla and by her family. She has this knack of distilling wisdom for an occasion, for a situation, interpreting it for a young generation.
Ashwatamma or Asha as she is popularly known as by everyone has come a long way. From being a shy, jittery 19 year old teacher to a bunch of motley kids at the government school in GubbiTaluk, to a confident and a creative teacher who is every child’s favourite. She has evolved from being a tongue tied to being an effortless teacher. She proudly exclaims teaching has become the easiest thing. Presenting the textbook imaginatively, or exposing the mysteries of science, it is now as easy as the students’ dance performances she helps compose, or her composite morning assembly.
Today at 42 Asha teaches the students with the same grit and determination with which she stepped into this profession. While she tasted failures in the start she has used these failures to build up her success. Mathematics and science are Asha’s subjects. She has a Trained Teachers’ Certificate, which she acquired after her SSLC or Std. VII examinations. Her students have a 60% – and above – success rate in Mathematics. It has been on-the-job, her learning all these twenty one years as a teacher, eighteen of which have been at this school. Asha has a daughter who is doing her BE (Bachelor of Engineering).
Asha never wanted to teach young children. She had dreams of higher studies and a lecturer’s post in college. Her mother was her support and her inspiration. With a twinkle in her eye she says her mother would have been happy to see her work and make a difference to those many students she has been teaching.
Asha has been the proud recipient of the Department of Education’s Best Teacher Award in 2003-2004. Mahindra & Mahindra, the prominent corporate entity conferred on Asha the Best Teacher Award in recognition of her skills and service. This changed the opinion of many that government school teachers are weak on fundamentals, not qualified or dedicated enough.
Since Asha specialises in Mathematics, The Department of Education has designated her as a Resource Person in Mathematics. Asha says she would like to grow further, expand her knowledge base. She says her professional growth is important, for the sake of her students. But often she has to bow to what the government says.
Asha is the driving force of the morning assembly in school, a format she has choreographed of prayer and moral teachings from the lives of seers and saints. She talks about Swami Vivekananda, about respect, service and good thoughts, bringing elevation down to a level comprehensible to children as they embark into a world of moral erosion.
Her morning assembly has an all-round character. Asha places the Deccan Herald and the Kannada daily, Vijayavani, before the children and one by one they read the headlines. She initiates a discussion on sports events making the news. A special concern is health, and every morning Asha asks the children a question related to health and general knowledge.
Her students – she shares an unbreakable and unshakeable bond with them. She envelops them with warmth and support. Her HM commends her as a “hard worker.” In her community her service to students is on public record. They call her “our daughter.”
Asha is indeed a rallying figure for students. It is obvious as they huddle around her, seeking advice, settling an issue, or debating a point with earnest, open faces. And she motivates them to do their best, to excel, as she prepares them for the dance at the MakkaluHabba, pulling a costume into shape, smoothing a stray strand of hair or powdering someone’s face. Asha gives her students the freedom to be.
Last year children passing out of Std. VII celebrated her birthday in grand fashion with a cake and gifts and flowers. Her old students shower her with little gifts during New Year and festivals. An outpour of affection, which brings tears to her eyes as she reminisces and revisits fond memories. The photographs in her mobile are a telling commentary.
She wants her students to do well in whatever in do but she reiterates the point that they must be good human beings first.