(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition on 5 September, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/teachers-with-a-difference/310793.html)
We’ve all read the school stories and growing up novels of Enid Blyton, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and Charles Hamilton (Frank Richards), and wished we could go to the boarding schools they wrote about. Yes, we loved the buildings and hated the bullies, but what made those schools so special? When you think about it, you may find it was the teachers, many of whom were more memorable than the students. So here are five books that are not typical ‘school stories’, but focus on teachers with a difference.
Tuesdays with Morrie
This 1997 non-fiction book by Mitch Albom is based on conversations between a former student and his sociology professor. Albom recounts the hours he spent with his ailing teacher Morrie Schwartz, whom he got in touch with after a gap of sixteen years. One of the most touching parts of the book is Schwartz’s immediate recognition of his old student. As Albom makes the trip every Tuesday from Michigan to Massachusetts, for over three months, he discusses philosophy, life, happiness, values and even the media with the old man, and begins to question his own perspectives. This book makes you want to call up your favourite teachers right away and tell them what an impact they’ve made on your life.
To Sir, With Love
This 1959 novel by E R Braithwaite, which later inspired a movie starring Sidney Poitier deals with bullying of a different kind – student-on-teacher! The book is believed to be based on Braithwaite’s experiences teaching in a school in London’s East End. However, while the author had a privileged upbringing, his character does not. The book tells a charming story of a teacher winning over hostile students, who are torn between admiration for and jealousy of him, and whose troubled family lives have made them aggressive and bitter.
The English Teacher
This 1945 offering from our very own R K Narayan is probably the first to carry what would become a trademark in Narayan’s writing – a tragic story, interwoven with the sudden joys and incidental hilarity of everyday life. Considered a continuation of Swami and Friends andThe Bachelor of Arts, this book deals with the personal life of an English teacher, Krishna. As he tries to reconcile the respect his position as a teacher commands with the salary that is barely enough to give his wife and child a good life, Krishna also finds himself thinking about whether a teacher can do justice to his obligations to both his students and his family. The emotions as well as the events in the book are written with a subtlety that makes it one of Narayan’s best.
Wings of Fire, Children Ask Kalam
If one were to tie these two books together, one gets to see both aspects of the man who was popularly known as the People’s President – Kalam the scientist, and Kalam the teacher. During his school visits, Kalam often delights students with his anecdote on the bumblebee to illustrate what determination can do. His life in his own words, and his answers to children whose curiosity he encourages and naïveté he respects, are must-reads.
The Little Nugget
Only P G Wodehouse could come up with the idea of a teacher who was a crook, as far back as 1913. Thanks to his fiancée’s ambitions, Peter Burns is forced to take up a job as master in an exclusive school, in order to commit a crime. He finds himself in the middle of a mess of kidnaps and counter-kidnaps, as the separated parents of a spoilt brat fight over the child. This book will keep you in splits, and umm, may just make you lose all respect for the teacher’s profession!