Outrunning the Unknown

— Hem Raj Kafle

During the early days of teaching in a private boarding school one gets to come across diversity of odd but exciting moments. The time is full of tests and cross-examinations. People around you — founders, administrators, colleagues, staffs, students, and students’ parents — try to know your knack in their own ways. Or, at least, you appear after a time to consider the need of ensuring such multifaceted satisfaction as the only secret of becoming a teacher. This is my understanding, which, I admit, need not resemble anyone’s. Experiences vary.

My actual, substantial teaching career began in a private Boarding School at Urlabari, Morang. The entry was interesting. I went to ask if there was a vacancy (In fact, I had had a hint that there was or would be one). The principal, J.B. Rai as I recall now, told me to drop an application. When I did, they asked me to prepare for a short demonstration class. I did it, and taught in grade three for about ten minutes. This was the first time I had spoken English to students to my satisfaction.  Then they took a sort of interview –  if I could join instantly as a an assistant hostel warden cum teacher. I said yes. I got the appointment letter after a brief meeting with the founder the following day.

I was only an I. A. with English major, and had nine months teaching experience in a primary school. Everything was so fast and more than expected for me. I knew later that people had taken it to be really fast and more than I deserved.

When people keep watch on you in a workplace, you must also watch how they try to crisscross the lines of responsibilities.  You must first be clear about your line(s), and see where they go closer to and farther from others’. One morning I was teaching English in the same grade three, which was next to the staff room in the old tin-roofed block. I was only half-way with the new teacher’s vigour when a man (a colleague, of course) who had happened (or pretended/wanted) to hear the fun we were making, came to the door, excused himself (in English) and began to scold the students for making noise. Then he again excused himself, called me out and began to counsel me on how to handle small kids. I was a bit puzzled because I had never seen him. “Maybe he is someone with such responsibilities — to watch on a newcomer.” “Who knows what boarding schools do to keep things straight!”

Some colleagues had seen this from the adjacent staff room. I knew from them that he was junior to me in qualification and equal in designation. They said he used to do so with almost all newcomers. One of them even remarked, in his absence, of course,  “I would thrash that snob. But you are new and humble. Check from next time.”

I thought if I had known him well, I would have spoken more fluent and better English to the hearing of everyone around. But I had just listened to and thanked him ‘for his valuable words’.

This little thing spread like a wild-fire and reached the Vice Principal, my one-time English teacher. He called me to say, “He knows you were my student. Some other teachers know it, too. You can expect a few more such tests. And next time, with him or anyone else, argue strongly and with the best English you have. Make sure you know more and speak better than your juniors and equals here.”

Working in this school gave me the best opportunity to test my self-confidence.  It was a big place for my age and qualification but had swift chance of promotion. And promotion was ensured in working hard and emulating others. It was a time when a locally educated lad like me was brought face to face with Darjiling-born ‘experts’ highly sought-after in English boarding schools. I was an alternative to one of them to start with, and made swift progresses in the probation year. People tested me time and again. The Hostel warden, whose assistant I was, tested me half a dozen times with queerest of orders and admonitions, the hostellers tested me for my anger and patience, the cooks and peons did that to check my capability to exercise authority. Colleagues who spoke and taught English kept on evaluating my English. I remember one English teacher coming to the hostel tutorial time in the evening just to check how well I wrote and spoke. He gave a question to answer as if I were a student. I wrote and explained. He confessed he wanted to see how  the Vice Principal’s disciple would actually fare in his proficiency parameters.

I had started as an assistant hostel warden, which demanded a lot of going around and quarreling with kids, which some people satirically called an ‘opportunity’ for twenty four hour English speaking. I hated this after a time because it overtook my study, and snatched me off the friends’ circle.  At the end of the session I requested the founder to set me free from the hostel. He agreed to let me stay out, but said I had to continue as a primary level teacher with the earlier salary. This meant I was not going to get a promotion to the lower secondary though there was a vacancy and I was eligible. For me leaving the quarrelsome kids was a better reward than a promotion for that time.

A year passed. I ‘topped’ my batch in the Bachelor first year exams. My young colleagues advised me to reveal this fact in the upcoming start-of-the-session staff meeting. We bought some kilos of oranges and distributed at the end of the meeting. The friends disclosed the reason for this humble treat.  I did not really bother how it worked. But friends said my success was a lesson to my competitors. The Vice Principal later reminded me the optimism of the myth of  “a needle-like entry for a ploughshare’s exit.” This success added to my image. But I had to prove that I could top the second year also, which I did. There was no celebration for this since I left the school along with the results.

During a short farewell gathering on my last day in the school, the Principal and Mr. Regmi, both respectable old teachers, enumerated the phases of my growth in those two years and four months. For the first time I realized the accuracy and weight of the judgment of experienced people. They said they were happy for my beginning ahead though the school would welcome my longer stay. They only expected me to acknowledge how the school had prepared me to explore new opportunities in Kathmandu. It is during this farewell moment that I first heard the principle of “forgiving and forgetting” unpleasant encounters of the past at the start of a new journey ahead.

Thus, with B.A. and confidence, I left Urlabari the winter of 1997.  I have always made it a rule to visit the school whenever I go home. When I reach there, I get a feeling of being around all these fourteen years though a lot of things have changed. I will cherish those 28 months for the rest of my life.

And, I continue to value the early tests and cross-examinations. If similar cases occur today also, I just take them as the new editions/reprints of those valuable old books.  Working there, I learned this simple maxim for life: Professional life is a race. Whether you like or not, there always is a pressure to run faster. You may not know others’ speed, but must constantly try to outrun them without tresspassing their trails. When you win, the person who deserves both thanks and congratulations is you yourself.

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