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Communicating values of Jesus, Mother Teresa proved to be a teacher par excellence

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

Teachers, and very sadly so, are today in the news, for all the wrong reasons! In Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, a school teacher made the students of her class come up and slap a Muslim child in the classroom. She was caught on camera saying. "I have declared jitne bhi Mohammedan bachhe hai...”as she called the rest of the class one after the other to take turns hitting the Muslim child. She even berated some of the children who did not slap the Muslim child hard enough! In Delhi, a fourteen-year-old boy slit the throat of his teacher for sexually abusing him and blackmailing him!
In the Bani area of Jammu and Kashmir, a Class X student of the Government Higher Secondary School was severely beaten by the teacher and principal for writing ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on the blackboard.
These are but just some of the incidents that have grabbed the headlines in the recent weeks. There is much more happening all over: education as a whole is in the doldrums! A clear indicator is the tremendous rush for those wanting to go abroad for higher education – even to countries where education is at a pathetic level. In most parts of India, ‘Government’ education leaves much to be desired; the so-called ‘National Education Policy’ (NEP) is manipulatively designed to cater to a particular section of society, leaving the poor and the marginalized at the mercy of a system which would prefer to have them half-educated and condemned to a life of servitude!
As education becomes more and more commercialized, with a value system based essentially on a numerical like a ‘90%plus’, the basics and the ethos of education and what it should mean to a child who needs to be nurtured, is torn asunder. Besides the role of a teacher as a guide, accompanier, mentor, motivator and inspirer, stands greatly diminished! Today, the teacher is no longer an ‘educator’ in the complete sense of the word. S/he is tasked with innumerable administrative responsibilities; besides being a teacher in the class, teachers are called to do ‘official Government duty’ as surveyors, data-collectors, get involved in the electoral process and a whole range of other ‘duties’ which have nothing to do with one’s primary role and responsibility of being an educator. This is certainly non-acceptable; more and more teachers today conveniently abdicate their sole mission, for more lucrative assignments. It is not a state secret that day scores of students (particularly those who can afford) flock to expensive ‘tuition classes’ after their official school hours!
It is significant then, that every year, India as a nation observes 5 September as ‘Teachers Day’, the birth anniversary of our late President Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975). Dr. Radhakrishnan, was a great academic, philosopher and statesman, who was convinced that an inclusive, pluralistic and holistic education was the key to India’s meaningful development. He was truly a visionary who transcended the pettiness, the exclusivism and the hate, which our country is steeped into today. An erudite scholar, his profound writings bear testimony to his vision for India!
Symbolically, Mother Teresa (a Saint of the Catholic Church) died on 5 September 1997. Her first major responsibility in 1931, after her profession as a sister of the Loretto Congregation, was to teach in St. Mary’s Bengali Medium School for girls in Kolkata. This was an assignment she undertook with great love and dedication, till she left the Loretto Sisters in 1948 to found the Missionaries of Charity.
From then on, it was no looking back for Mother Teresa. In word and witness, she proved to be a teacher par excellence. She was convinced that the poor children of the slums had to be taught the 3Rs (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) but more than that, she realized that she had to communicate to the world the values of Jesus, who for her, was the Master Teacher. As a human being and particularly as a teacher, Mother Teresa was the embodiment of many values but high among them were Compassion, Courage and Commitment.

Compassion

If ever one would dare to give a core competency to Mother Teresa, it is the single characteristic of being a compassionate person. She epitomized this value in a way, few humans will ever do; her love for the marginalized and the vulnerable, the excluded and the exploited and particularly for the poorest of the poor was boundless. She gave and did not count the cost. It was her ability to be compassionate towards others that motivated her to found the Missionaries of Charity. She was effusive in her compassion for others.

Courage

It takes courage to answer a call and Mother Teresa demonstrated this value many times over. As a very young European, she left the distant shores of her country to come to serve in India. Living in India in those days was not easy, yet she opted for a tougher life, literally ‘pitching her tent’ among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Kolkata. She had to face several obstacles all through her life but she faced them squarely, proving that she was truly a woman of substance. She was indeed a courageous woman!

Commitment

For Mother Teresa, there was never looking back. Her commitment to the cause to which she espoused herself, is legendary. At times, she, her Sisters and the people entrusted to her care had nothing to eat; but she never gave up, because she knew that her God would never let her down. She remained a committed person till the very end. This unflinching commitment also became a hallmark of her way of proceeding. A quality which she radiated all her life!
Today, more than ever, our world, our country, cries out for Compassion, Courage and Commitment. Gimmicks, theatrics, half-truths and high-profile publicity can never generate these. Mother Teresa was the complete teacher! Through her simple and selfless life-style, she epitomized Compassion, Courage and Commitment. In a manner most unassuming, she taught the world the need and importance of embracing these non-negotiable values and for all time!
As we celebrate the Sainthood of Mother Teresa, we need to pray specially for all the teachers (and in fact, for all the citizens) of our country, that in some small ways they/we will do our best to imbibe the values she epitomized and has taught us: to help make our world more Compassionate, more Courageous and more Committed! Let us begin today!
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Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

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