Qualities that every sincere teacher should try to cultivate
Heyyyyyy… hooaaaaaaa… guys easy…” As these noises hit my ears, I saw a group of kids rushing through the corridor of the amenities building at our Govardhan Eco-village, a spiritual retreat center outside Mumbai. They had come to attend a day camp.
I conduct creative-writing sessions for children who join our Samvardhan camp at Govardhan Eco-village (GEV), and so I was curious to observe their schedule and activities. The two-hour sessions went past quickly. Their teacher Priyanka, a trainer, counselor and psychotherapist, had nicely cultivated these children beyond their school curriculum. These kids were very observant and inclined to goodness. Priyanka constantly made them reflect on their actions and surroundings. She would appreciate them and didn’t shy away to learn from their observations.
1. Create excitement for the students
I remember how my Economics professor would begin her class with an intriguing activity – she always had something that took us by surprise. And that surprise kept us excited throughout the session. I realized that one of the essentials of instructing is creating excitement.
A nice story from the Mahabharata reveals how this is a very important aspect for teachers. Bhisma was searching for a suitable teacher to tutor Pandavas in the science of military warfare. One day the Pandavas were playing with ball when suddenly the ball fell into a well. They tried their best to recover it, but it was impossible. As they were wondering what to do, a brahmana showed up near them. Seeing the rulers coming up short in recovering the ball, the brahmana, whose name was Dronacarya, rebuked the young boys, “Disgrace on your ksatriya quality! You are conceived in the dynasty of Bharata and you can’t pick up this ball from the well? Now witness the force of my weapons!”
Drona coasted off his ring which arrived on the ball lying in the dry well. Taking a modest bunch of grass, he droned some Vedic mantras, transforming the pieces of turf into bolts which punctured the ring and the ball. He then pulled the ball with a chain of bolts out of the well as the young men stood viewing, stunned. The young men were astonished to witness this miracle, and they longed to learn this science from Dronacarya. Dronacarya thus became the teacher for the royal dynasty.
2. Enquire periodically about their developments
Regular enquiries from a teacher help in comprehending the needs, interests and concerns of the student. Accordingly we can change or adopt new methods to implement the most effective education system.
An incident from the Srimad- Bhagavatam reveals this point nicely. Even after compiling volumes of Vedic literature including the Upanisads, Puranas and the Mahabharata, Vyasadeva felt dissatisfied. Unable to figure out the cause of his dissatisfaction, he wondered what to do. At that time, the great sage Narada appeared there and he smilingly enquired, “Are you fulfilled by what you have arranged?” Narada could detect Vyasadeva’s problem, which he said was that Vyasadeva had not sufficiently written about the unlimited spotless glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna . He advised Vyasadeva to write a book that would exclusively glorify Krishna’s activities in His various incarnations. And he should encourage the readers to practice pure unmotivated devotional service to the Supreme Lord, untinged by any selfish material desires. The result was Srimad-Bhagavatam, the ripened fruit of all Vedic wisdom.
3. Make an estimation to get a clear roadmap
Estimating students’ abilities is crucial so an instructor can set learning results for them. Fiveyear- old Dhruva had set out to seek Lord Visnu wanting a kingdom greater than Lord Brahma’s, his great grandfather, not knowing how to accomplish it. Narada met him on the way, who advised him to return home. But Dhruva was determined and refused to give up his ambition. This impressed Narada, who understood that Dhruva’s ksatriya birth and upbringing will enable him to achieve his dreams. He encouraged Dhruva, gave him directions on Visnu-worship, and initiated him with a mantra.
Here we see how Narada, as an expert teacher, correctly estimated Dhruva’s abilities and guided him to perfection.
4. Encourage the students to improve performance
The Bhagavad-gita is an extraordinary example of a teacher encouraging his student. Arjuna is confused and griefstruck at the thought of fighting against his relatives. But Lord Krishna spends a lot of time to clear his doubts and encourage him to fight. After hearing the divine message of the Gita, Arjuna understands what his real duty is, and he agrees to follow Krishna ’s order.
Even during the war, Krishna often helps him to deal with difficult situations in the war. A teacher never gives up on the student.
5. Engage the students is always constructive projects
Mere encouragement is not enough; a teacher should think of ways and means to engage them in constructive activities that will benefit everyone.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the story of how Diti, the wife of Kasyapa Muni, desired to have a son who could kill Indra, the king of the heavenly planets. When Diti expressed her desire to Kasyapa, he devised a method that will purify Diti of her evil desire. He advised her to follow a ritual called Pumsavana-vrata. By sincerely following this ritual, Diti not only gave up enmity for Indra but was blessed with forty-nine sons called the Maruts.
6. Expedite students’ character development
A Korean folktale describes the story of an old monk tutoring a small child in his monastery. Both of them were the only residents in the monastery. One day while the young boy went out to the forest to play, the senior monk followed him to observe his activities. He saw the boy torturing a frog by binding a big rock on his back. When the young boy returned for lunch, the senior monk tied a big rock on his back and asked him to go back to the forest and relieve the frog of his burden. The boy soon realized his mistake and learned the lesson on non-violence.
Only a visionary teacher whose focus is to develop good ideals can prescribe such a punishment.
7. Envisage a future
The story of King Candragupta shows how Canakya Pandita played an important role in his life. One time during his childhood Candragupta was playing “the game of royalty” along with his friends. He called himself the King; to others he gave the duties of sub-king. Some became ministers, who were placed in an assembly hall; some he made deputies. Having thus founded a court of justice, he sat in judgment. When criminals, after going through interrogation and trial, were proved guilty, he would order the court officers to sever their hands and feet according to the sentence awarded by his judicial ministers. When the deputies said, “O lord, we have no axes,” he replied, “It is the order of Candragupta that you should sever their hands and feet. Make axes with the horns of goats as knife-edges and sticks for handles.” Deputies acted according to his instructions.
When Canakya arrived at the spot, he was stunned to witness these events. He accompanied Chandragupta to the village, and presenting the herdsman with some remuneration, acquired Chandragupta. He gave Candragupta a dream: “I will teach you everything to make you the king of Magadha.” He visualized a future for Candragupta and enabled him to achieve it as well.
8. Endeavor to be a constant learner
Srila Prabhupada was a teacher who tutored thousands of disciples, yet he was an ardent learner.
In his early days, while distributing Back to Godhead magazines on streets of New Delhi, one librarian friend asked him, “Why not write books? Paper is thrown away, but a book is kept.” Prabhupada took the instruction seriously, executed it, and the rest is history. Today, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) is the world’s largest publisher of ancient and classic Vaisnava texts, epics, and contemporary works on the philosophy, theology and culture of bhakti-yoga.
Prabhupada, a great teacher and a humble learner, in eleven years of his establishing ISKCON created exciting opportunities for his disciples, deeply enquired from them, sufficiently encouraged them with enough engagement that expedited their character development to achieve the dream that Prabhupada envisaged for the entire world. He created ISKCON as an institute where anyone can be educated to lead their lives.
Madhu Madhava Dasa serves at the Govardhan Eco-village, a spiritual farm community outside Mumbai. He conducts seminars and workshops on Leadership and Creative Writing.