“The influence of a good teacher can never be erased.”
Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, was our book club, Books & Beyond’s book for last month’s discussion.
This endearing little book is a personal memoir by the author, a television personality and UNICEF Good will Ambassador. The book takes the reader through a recollection of anecdotes from her unique childhood school during World War II, where railway carriages double up as class rooms. Toto Chan‘s school is a classic representation of learning that combines fun, freedom and love. The school is run by its visionary founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi who believes in freedom of expression and activity.
One of the discussions at the book club was around a teacher who had a life-altering effect on us. Just the way, Toto Chan’s principal, Mr. Kobayashi had a remarkable role to play in igniting Toto Chan’s, and the children at Tomoe school’s inner spark.
Without much ado, here are a few life-changing experience with my teacher; Ms. Hall.
Ms. Hall, a Hallmark of Poise, Grace, Fun, Inspiration and Kindness
New castle Upon Tyne, UK (1977)
I was all of five when we lived in New Castle Upon Tyne, UK. I went to a Jesmond Primary school; which in all possibility, I can claim was as fun as Toto Chan’s school – Tomoe.
Ms. Hall, our class teacher was a bundle of energy in that athletic frame of 5 feet 6 inches. With that frame came grace, poise, kind, gentle eyes, a spiffy crop of short hair and a complexion which had withstood many adventures in the sun.
I was just in kindergarten as you would have assumed by now.
The innumerable fun activities and adventures we threw ourselves into under Ms. Hall’s tutelage, surpasses all the activities I would have engaged in my entire school year, going forward.
Fun and Learning with Ms. Hall
A trip to the freezing ocean, where my teeth chattered beyond measure, as the icicles played merry on my nose, our one-of-a-kind stage play – Billy Goat Gruff that had an extraordinary bridge where Andrew, our troll would hide, while we practised to be one of the goats, the countless music classes singing “Fishing, fishing down by the sea”; will all stay etched in my heart forever.
I can’t forget the pre-X’mas celebrations when Santa came with a bunch of candies and loads of goodies. It was as real as it could ever get. After we gleefully grabbed our presents from Santa, Ms. Hall and our class coordinator asked us to get back to our classrooms. Santa liked to surreptitiously leave in his sleigh. Goodbyes weren’t his thing, in all probability!
For a 5 year-old shy, brown girl to settle amongst the white students was no mean task. I barely spoke a smattering of English. Yet, I was fortunate to have an adoring friend in Tracy, a gentle, kind girl who carried her long golden braids with so much elan. Her love for me was unconditional.
As a teacher, Ms. Hall always went that extra mile to make me feel special. Her kind, life-affirming words, her unfailing faith in my abilities, her appreciation for the person I was; played a pivotal role in boosting my sagging confidence.
That Odd One Out
Yet I did feel like the odd one out, on occasions. I remember we had this huge, colourful rolling wheel, on which one kid would get on to; while the others pushed. Every one clamoured to be on this gigantic spinning wheel. A part of me was scared to do so. I had motion sickness. Yet another part of me wished to try it out at least once, and experience this wonder that everyone was so enamoured by.
One sunny morning, I braced myself to finally get on to the wheel. I was pushing the others on the wheel enthusiastically, patiently, waiting for my turn. This smart, pretty girl from my grade who had a mop of auburn curls, kept ignoring me and making hushed comments to the others on the side. Every one got on to the wheel, except for me. When my turn came, all the kids were ready to go back to class. That was the first time I gathered what it meant to be discriminated for the colour of my skin!
Tracy wasn’t around to stand by my side that day.
Apart from this one off incident, I noticed how Ms. Hall always had my back. She encouraged me to go on stage and act out one of the goats from Billy Goat Gruff, helping me get rid of my stage fright. Ms. Hall figured I enjoyed singing, so she made sure I was part of the school choir.
She would spend afternoons helping me read various Lady Bird books. I was introduced to the fascinating world of books, all thanks to Ms. Hall.
I was beginning to speak English fairly well and the cloak of shyness was shed, paving way for an aura of confidence
The Memories Live On
When we left New Castle to return to India, my father recorded this long, beautiful conversation he had with Ms. Hall about me, on a cassette tape. I still listen to when I go back home to Lucknow. He also recorded our choir singing all the lovely songs we had learned. All these memories continues to make me grin ear to ear.
When we returned to India I went back to my old school in the University, where my Dad was a scientist and where I was born too.. Campus school was a convent. The sisters and teachers were so impressed by my confidence and British accent that I was chosen to give the welcome speech for our school’s annual day. I was barely seven then, and the youngest ever to give a welcome speech for this grand occasion.
Ms. Hall, was a teacher par excellence indeed.
I wonder where she is now. I hope I can find her and meet her some day.
Ms. Hall’s twinkling blue eyes, her unhindered faith and confidence in my abilities, her gentle love, and those inspiring and reassuring words had a way of calming my inner being.
These proved to be the fallow ground in which seeds were sown. Seeds of confidence, of love for the English language and books, of singing unabashedly, of exploring my inner spark and creativity, and being comfortable in my skin .
As brown as it was!