Teachering: The Profession of my Original Dream

Kashiraj Pandey
Since childhood, I understood that a teacher’s job is a well respected and most secured one. There were the days when a teacher’s verdict would be the final one in Nepalese villages in settling some disputes too. A teacher was a representative to make a deal, and even a negotiator when someone from outside appeared with any reason, be it a political, social, or anything. People even invited the village teacher to read out the letters that were sent by their sons or daughters from their far-off work stations. Therefore, a teacher was everything for the people and one day, I also, being no exception, wanted to become the one when I grew up.
The teacher as a “guru”, who I believed knew everything. Teachers, I still find hard “not to understand”, are the only source of knowledge. Those days, children from a remote village like mine, the northern Dhading, whoever could afford the school used to dance according to the tune and timing of the teachers, and whenever were questioned about their future quests, almost all, I remember, wanted to pass SLC and become a teacher in a nearby primary school.
That was sufficient for me to motivate myself until grade 10, but to better prepare myself for the SLC, the “iron gate”, I left for the district headquarters in search of good teachers who would give me tutorials to complete my incomplete English course. To my dismay in making a deal with locally available “chief” tutors at Dhading Besi, It became a compulsion for me to make an odyssey to Kathmandu, the all-the-time welcoming boulevard, from where I could decide upon my future life. In Kathmandu, I joined the coaching class run by a team at Shanti Vidhya Griha, Lainchour. That was a welcome relief as the teachers helped to complete all the un-finished subjects including English. After a two month stay in the capital, I returned to my home district, Dhading. I appeared the exam, passed with comparatively good marks.
Being an SLC graduate, I became a potential candidate for the job, the job of a school-teacher. I was invited by a school next to my village. But, I more preferred the one in my own village which I did not get. That was an interesting moment as I recall now, and that was the time I had to make a decision in planning for my future. I rather decided to leave the village and pursue further education in the subject that had bigger market – English. Realizing this, I took English as a major, only thinking to improve the language competence, not worrying in knowledge at first. Yes, English was responsible in sending me from Village to Dhading Besi, the district headquarters and to Kathmandu from Dhading Besi while preparing myself for the SLC.
I enjoyed various turns and twists of life once I left my home, family, village, and the home district first time, for such a long period of time. After I passed Intermediate level, I started looking for a job- of course, the teaching job. It was the late 80s, when Nepal was heading for a revolutionary political upheaval. In Kathmandu, there were not many private schools that time and the existing few would not announce vacancies in the media. I did apply whenever I became aware on them, but there would be no responses every time. This led me to take other jobs but teaching, and that provided me with ample opportunity to learn other things which proved to be beneficial in life later.
However, I also started giving classes voluntarily in any school around during my free times. I used to walk in the schools and then to the classrooms where the teachers were absent or whenever they were nice to offer their periods that I could use by discussing some topics from literature, the English literature. I took that as a good opportunity to struggle with self and with the existing social, political settings. By this time, I also realized that studying the subject, “English” was not only for the sake of language, but also to broaden the horizon of knowledge.
English has become the medium to access information related to history, culture, the human existence, about me, and what-not. English has been a faithful companion of every moment in life which was filled with a strong feeling and urgency to update myself in any matter. English the “one time terror” of my life became the deciding factor to embrace teaching as a profession, a university teacher. This has led me to be with “good” human beings, my gifted students and colleagues around me everyday, and thus reuniting me with the original dream of my life.

5 thoughts on “Teachering: The Profession of my Original Dream

  1. This is a very interesting post. My personal experience with English is a story of great success and satisfaction, but as a way to prompt further discussion on the extremely topic that Kashi has written about in this post, I would like to offer the other side of this story, which is even tragic for many others than those of us who are writing and reading this blog. The hurdles created by English, which Kashi, I, and everyone else in NELTA evidently overcame–due to our socio-economic privileges, by extreme labour that others could not afford to invest, by sheer fluke, and so on–have really PREVENTED thousands upon thousands of young Nepalese students from getting beyond that iron gate, SLC. There are also other gates throughout formal education, both as visible as SLC and less visible than that, especially for people from underprivileged communities, which we have all seen firsthand. While our own stories are usually stories of great success, those of us who somehow found ways to overcome the hurdles created by English should also remember how many of our fellow students were prevented from achieving similar success in life. Because I studied in a place in India where English was not just the medium but pretty much the language of the community, when I came to Nepal I had a great advantage over my colleagues in college. Some of my friends in college came from stronger economic backgrounds so they could afford extra classes and so on. Others had advantages like having a great English teacher back in high school, so they did better as well. The majority, however, were “terrified” by English, as Kashi tells us he once was. One thing that shocked the bejesus out of me was when I first went to Gulmi, where my parents came from: I found it depressing how many people failed their SLC exam because of English for 2, 5, 7, and in some cases up to 10 years. During a few months’ vacation at one point, I was asked to tutor about a dozen people who had been failing SLC English for many years. They were mostly women who were literally waiting to find a suitable man to marry IF they could pass in English and thereby in SLC. (Men who failed in English/SLC seemed to become Lahure in India or elsewhere after a few attempts, but it was impossible for women.) Others were both men and women from the lower class or caste. I was considered a hero because of my English–but, honestly, I didn’t teach very well because I had no idea of teaching and the SLC exam in English seemed quite absurd to me–but I was so shocked by that grand social stupidity, about which I think I have not been able to overcome the bitter feeling. I could not imagine what English had done to those people. To this day, I keep thinking whether our society had to do English in such a dangerous way, such an absurd way.
    When I became a teacher, that was one big reason that made me feel awkward for being a part of that system. I am being a bit provocative here, because of the bitter feelings I once had about the exact kind of situation that we are talking about here, although I was not the victim, nor even had to overcome the situation like Kashi did. But I want to add a point to to this discussion: I believe that we must practice English with a better sense of critical pedagogy and respect for local languages and epistemologies as well as respect for the learner than we have done so far.
    Thank you for posting this great story.
    I want to hear what other colleagues think about this.

  2. Dear Kashiji and Shyamji,
    These are great stories. English for me was a big subject that I thought I could never study. I was taught English by a Sanskrit graduate in lower secondary school and when I came to high school we had a proper English teacher. Still it was a tough subject. When I passed SLC, it was my friend who registered me for Major English. I sent my certificates and he did it for me. I came to campus only after Dashain vacation. So I had no choice but to study it. This was the first key milestone in my journey with the English language. I had no idea how I could learn this but I did. So it is the confidence and dedication that ultimately gives you what you want.
    Would love to hear more stories.

  3. This discussion about personal success in the face of social challenges reminds me of a very well-written digital literacy narrative (“Literate Lives Across Digital Divide” by a successful Nepali scholar of English Studies, Iswari Pandey, who is currently a professor in New York. In his narrative, he first shows how the material, political, and socio-cultural forces that seem to be beyond the individual’s ken or control shape the individual’s literacy life, with the example of his own literacy story. But at the same time, he suggests that great variations can be found in the personal stories of individual people from the exact same backgrounds. So, yes, personal motivation and commitment make a great difference. But when the issue of personal success is viewed from the perspective of the society at large–for which teachers, researchers, and policy-makers are responsible–stories of success or of failure alone will only tell us half the story. When I tell my story as an individual, I at first feel proud and comfortable to talk about my academic and professional success, due mainly to my proficiency in English, which, again, is largely the result of my passion for studies; but then my other identities which are larger than the individual me–like teacher, scholar, researcher, intellectual, citizen, etc–quickly enter the scene and prompt me to also remember other people’s stories, quickly complicating my feelings and ideas about my personal success. I remember, or feel, that I not only belong to a society where English has done a serious and dangerous gate-keeping for just too many people, I also start thinking that my family background, class, caste, gender, and so on actually helped me translate my personal motivation into social success. That is, I, personally, would be guilty if I do not acknowledge that I was a son after four daughters who did not get the same opportunities for education, that I was the son of a Brahmin in a society where other castes had far less access to the same opportunities, that I was the grandson of a famous priest in Gulmi as a result of which my mother sent me to school even when few of her neighbours did in that place in India where the immigrant Nepali society didn’t really care to send their kids to school, that my family had the money to afford the private school education, and so on. In other words, my motivation was not alone, would not be enough, should not be singled out from those other factors. In my earlier post, I mentioned my experience with young men and women in Gulmi who had failed their SLC English for several years; among the women in that group I tutored unsuccessfully was Saraswati Aryal, who had been literally waiting for many years to pass SLC and be qualified marry a man of her family’s social position, and there was Ramlal Sunar, whose socio-economic position didn’t even allow him to escape the trap of SLC English and leave the country for opportunities that members of upper caste and class had.
    Thus, when I am telling my story from a personal perspective, which I do in intimate and informal situations when I am not so conscious about the bigger story, that is, when the audience is small, I think that my story is worth telling from that perspective; but when I tell the same personal story from a professional or social perspective, I am afraid I will tell only half the truth if I forget stories of Saraswati and Ramlal for whom motivation wasn’t enough–there were many other things that I must remember as well in order to make my own story complete from a social standpoint. Saraswati and Ramlal did not have a very proficient English teacher throughout their school days, they did not have the resources or environment at home or in the community to learn English meaningfully, and when they were faced with this huge iron gate their motivation was simply insufficient. The unfavorable material conditions for them made it much, much harder than for me to translate their motivation into the proficiency in English that was necessary to pass SLC.
    It is necessary to model and celebrate success, which is one thing that good teachers must do, but if we also put English in the larger social picture, which I think we must do as scholars and researchers of education, I think that we should also bring in the “control group” stories like that of Ramlal and Saraswati–a control group which often overwhelms the primary data of success stories, on a national and historical scale.
    I think that this is a very important subject and I look forward to hearing from more colleagues. Please share a thought.

  4. I really agree with you sir .English is not only a language to learn besides knowing or learning English also helps widening one’s knowledge and skill.

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