– Hem Raj Kafle
I am a learner throughout. I have been a teacher for more than seventeen years. I am self-trained, or trained by time and exposure. It has never occurred to me that I could have done anything other than teaching and would have been better elsewhere. I do not have a big name, neither do I aspire to assume one, but believe that I have not been too small where I am.
I have taught in all levels from Nursery to Masters at different places and different odd times of my life. This gives me some confidence to assert that my life as a teacher embodies the lives of many teachers in Nepal. Most of the past years have been filled with a kind of activism for updating myself against many inconveniences, both as a person and a professional, with English at the center stage. English came to my life without a conscious plan, and naturally long before I happened to decide to become a teacher.
I don’t clearly recall if anyone ever told me (not) to become a teacher. The cliché that one comes to teaching after failing elsewhere does not apply to my life since I did not explore other areas. Moreover, I don’t think a teacher’s responsibilities and achievements are comparable with those of others. In fact, the cliché does not either apply to any real teacher’s life even though they choose teaching after exploring different jobs. It is my first choice and now an instinct. I began to teach as soon as I learned to read and write. I had three brothers more than two classes below me. When I was in grade two, they began to learn the alphabets. So, I would be asked to teach them. Well, this does not sound big, does it? But in a traditional joint family the elders – big or small – naturally teach the younger.
When I was in grade four, I already was the “first boy.” This meant that in the succeeding years there would be more kids around me during exams from the same class and below. Thus, our house became an unregistered night school all the year round. Sister’s classmates, brothers’ classmates, my classmates, and those “grown-ups” who would like to be literate belatedly, flocked in our veranda. They were brahmins, chhetris, magars, limbus, rais, and dalits. My parents and grandparents were ever appreciative of this learning community. Father acted as the head teacher of a sort. And there was not only study but singing and dancing till late. The “first boy” had the responsibility to teach mathematics, English, and songs. We had more than a dozen village kids to sleep in our house every night. I passed my childhood in such a semi-dormitory house. Having grown up with a multi-ethnic company, I did not learn to be an orthodox ‘bahun.’
When I was in grade seven, some villagers including my father decided to begin a tuition class in the morning. I was to take turns to teach there. Later, they decided to register it as a primary school, and someone with an SLC took it over. The school, begun as a tutorial in a hut, runs today as a lower secondary school in the middle of the village. I was one of the founders! I contributed in two ways: first, by sparing time to teach the kids in the morning, for a long time, and second, by taking part in the fund-raising deusis every Tihar. In fact, four of us – father, sister, elder brother and myself–helped it grow till it found some eager SLC-qualified teachers.
I first entered a formal classroom in 1992, the year I took my Intermediate Second exams and was left free to explore things. Someone temporarily vacated a post in the school from where I had graduated, during his B.Ed. practice teaching. I was invited to share his classes for two months. I taught everything they assigned. I taught Maths, English, social studies, moral science, science etc. etc. This opportunity instilled in me the zeal to choose classrooms.
I became an English teacher because I studied English in the university. I studied it as my major subject and gradually acquired it for life skills. To me teaching English is not limited to teaching it as a foreign language, but helping human beings to broaden the perception of the world through communication, creativity and discourse. This submerges the general notion of teaching into my understanding of life as a constant alternation of learning and unlearning. And the following lines from one of my articles in The Kathmandu Post may suffice to sum up my experiences so far:
The fact that teaching is of value as long as human beings live in the earth with their naturally inquisitive minds always underscores the existence of teachers. The fact that you are needed and respected must keep you attached to this pious job and social service. Teaching is not a thankless job, though the rewards are not immediate and obvious. The real reward lies in being useful to the society. A teacher is an adventurer; a person who seeks novel spaces in every adventure as a test of his/her strength to persevere odds of life in the mission of helping minds to thrive. (“On Teaching and Teachers” 1 August 2007)
There is a simple condition for becoming a teacher: that you must be able to teach. It is not the question of having high intelligence, but of being able to use whatever intelligence you have so as to impart at least some portion of your knowledge. Anyone with this ability can come to teaching and become successful in course of time. What matters is your desire to update. Teaching and stagnation do not go together. When they do, teaching fails. To teach is to know: to know is to be able to teach.
It’s already seventeen years since I first stood before a few dozen curious eyes. I am still struggling to emulate myself. I am thirstier everyday – enjoying it for being able to do it.