Discourse on History of Teaching & Role of Teachers in Our Lives

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A Discourse on Teaching History and Role of Teachers in our Lives

Vol.III, Issue.XXIV, January 2017

by – Ravi Teja Mandapaka and Waheeda Bi Khan

Ravi Teja was associated with the department of Foods and Nutritional Sciences (2008 – 2010), Acharya Nagarjuna University, Nagarjuna Nagar, 522510, Guntur Dist, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Waheeda Bi Khan is associated with the department of English (since 2013), Karnataka University P.G. centre, Karwar, Uttara Kannada Dist, Karnataka. India.



Did we learn everything in our lives till now, only through teachers who stand with a chalk in front of a blackboard for at least six hours every day, extolling different curricular subjects in a class? Students have taught me that being a teacher am not just about being an expert in my subject; it’s about making a difference in their lives and setting an example so that they can adopt and implement it in their own lives.

Key Words: Intellectual, Symbolize, History, Ancients, Observations, Unconventional



The word “Teacher” might be a noun in the English vocabulary. Not though for its faithful. The teacher is one who plants wisdom deep into the crevasses of the brain; a soul for education. He is the one who can blissfully drag one into prosperity from the brittle threads of adversity. The verbiage, sentences and lectures they extol are priceless, yet immortal and cement a place in the cerebrum of the pupil’s, of generations gone and generations yet to take birth. On a personal note, I come from a nation which I often refer to as The world’s largest natural encyclopedia, where citizens of different traditions and customs; of race and religion and of castes and sects possessing skirmish mentalities live in harmony and peace. (Well, not on many an occasion these days though). We belong to a nation where a dozen of languages are spoken and even a 50km travel could depict a new world altogether.

A teacher I feel is the synthesis of knowledge, wisdom, compassion, guidance, firmness and above all a perfect example of an ideal civil citizen. The extract of which builds the foundation of a society and in turn a nation. Teacher is the potter to mould tender wards into beautiful beings; an architect to design firm and stable minds; a catalyst to ignite fresh and sometimes path-breaking ideas

Teachers who shape us, do something that no one else can do, and that is changing our view of the world and making us into something better than we were before.

— Anonymous 

General History of Teaching and Teachers:

Teachers are associated with ‘Teaching’ may it be the ancient spiritual teaching or the contemporary vast fields of study. Teaching requires a teacher and history of teachers go way back to the B.C where the priests and prophets were highly respected for their wisdom and sought for guidance and enlightenment in matters of administration or spiritual problems of the society, especially by the royalties and noble families.

In the Indian subcontinent teaching was prevalent even during the Vedic period (1500 -600 B.C). Education was based on hymns, formulas and incantation of scriptures. At first it was freely available, but later became more rigid as the social system dictated that education was meant for only those with privilege castes like Brahmins, Kshatriyas etc. Gurukula system supported traditional Hindu residential schools also called ‘ashram’. A voluntary contribution at the end of education of a well-to-do student was called as ‘Gurudakshina’. Two epic poems formed the crux of ancient Indian education, they are The Mahabharat and The Ramayana. The poems explore the themes of human existence and dharma. The list great masters of wisdom usually called as Guru or Acharya or Shikshak, is very long including names ranging from Drona, Aryabhatta, Kabirdas, Surdas, Akka Mahadevi to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekanand, Raja Ram Mohan Roy etc. Takshshila is known to be the earliest institution in 5th century B.C.

Ancient Greece is considered to be the seat of philosophy and wisdom where teaching the children was considered a very important part of upbringing. They used to appoint individual teachers to teach the children of a family and this method of education was prevalent till the early times of Christianity. Later the scribes of Bible became the wholesome part of education and the men who preached also taught the general law of the society. During the era of early A.D, families often employed educated slaves to teach the children. Later the Roman Catholic church took charge of teaching the sons of nobility. Soon they began entrusting the charge to monasteries or special study centers which later evolved into distinguished institutions, one of them is the Cambridge university. The first college of this university was St. Peter’s founded in 1284. The ‘petty schools were the first forms of public schools later evolving into ‘Grammar schools’. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a great rise in training of teachers and propounding of new educational theories. Yet somehow the value of teachers was not as appreciated as in the ancient times. Some of the great teachers are the ancients like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle also later teachers like Roger Ascham.

Education in America shaped itself during the 1600s when the pilgrims landed on the New Found land. The first public school was started in 1635 in Boston. They also started the ‘Dame schools’ and the ‘Grammar schools’. The pioneers in this newly formed country, made teaching as an essential part of their lives and their respect for teachers was genuine and great.

In China the Zhou dynasty gave the origins of native Chinese philosophy. Confucius (521 B.C) is known to be the first private teacher in history. Belonging to one of the noble families, he fell into bad times during his adolescence but his thirst for knowledge and lack of means to acquire a tutor, led him to become an apprentice to a noble man with whom he could extensively travel and learn. He founded Confucianism. The schools of ancient China usually taught the six arts – rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy and mathematics.

In the Middle- East the ‘Torah’ of ancient Israel commanded to read, learn, teach and write the of the holy book, so in 64 A.D the high priest caused the schools to be opened. In the Islamic world the University of Al- Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco is considered to be the oldest existing educational institution. The house of wisdom in Baghdad was a library cum educational centre from 9th to 13th century. The ‘Madrasah’ taught Quran in Arabic. The medical schools called Bimaristan’ were formed in the medieval Islamic world. From 15th to 16th century the town of Timbuktu in W. Africa, Mali became the Islamic centre for learning.

Teaching And Writing Go Hand In Hand:

We must remember that teaching is closely associated with the history of writing. The method of writing seems to have started as early as 3500 B.C. Various system of writings were developed during the ancient civilizations.

A debate surrounds the Indus script of the Bronze Age Indus valley civilization in ancient India. The script is still un-deciphered and there is a debate over whether the script is true writing or some kind of Proto-writing. The earliest deciphered epigraphic inscriptions are the ‘Edicts of Ashoka’ of the 3rd century BCE, written in the form of ‘Prakrit’ in the ‘Brahmini script. Jain inscriptions in South India written in Tamil-Brahmi, ‘Bhattiprolu alphabet and the ‘Kadamba’ alphabet also are of relatively early date. Writing in Sanskrit appears only later, in the first to fourth centuries. Indian epigraphy becomes more widespread during the first millennium, that were mostly found carved on cliffs, pillars, walls of caves, rocks, tablets of stone. Later they were found inscribed on palm leaves, coins, copper plates etc.

The Egyptian Hieroglyphs were used as early as 3400 B.C at Abydos. The oldest used alphabet was developed in central Egypt around 2000 B.C. The Hieroglyphic scripts were used for writing on stone monuments and cursive texts were used in ink on papyrus.

The Phoenician system of writing was adapted from ‘Proto-Canaanite’ ‘script around 11th century B.C that borrowed ideas from the Egyptians. Later the script was adapted by the Greeks. A variant of the Greek alphabet gave birth to the Etruscan which later evolved into the Latin alphabet. The descendants of the Greek alphabet are the Cyrillic’ script used by the Russians too. The Phoenician script was adapted into Aramaic script which in turn evolved into Hebrew and Arabic script.

The Mesopotamian graphics system of ‘Cuneiform’ script took many years to develop into the writing of Israel and Judaism. The Meso-American Columbian script developed as Maya script which date back to the 3rd century B.C. In China, the Oracle Bone script has survived in tens and thousands dating from around 1400-1200 B.C during the Shang dynasty.

Many writing surfaces were used for early writing like ‘wax covered’ writing boards or ‘clay tablets’ used by the Assyrians; Sheets or strips of bark from trees in Indonesia, Tibet etc. India and Southeast Asia most common were thick palm like leaves of particular tree which were stacked together as a book. Parchments made of goat skin soaked and scraped were used during 2nd century. Wax tablets were used during Roman times.

Operative Observations:                                   

Aristotle said, Those who educate children well are to be honoured than they who produce them, for these only gave them life, those the art of living well”.

So it’s the teachers who turn them into human or mould their clay of abilities into wonderful beings of different art. Now the question is —

Is it necessary that only learned intellectuals can be a teacher?

Minds are like parachutes, they function only when they are open.

—James Dewar.

So, lets keep an open mind and think. Did we learn everything in our lives till now, only through teachers who stand with a chalk in front of a blackboard for at least six hours every day, extolling different curricular subjects in a class?

I think, teacher is an entity who teaches something that enlightens our mind or heart or soul. A farmer can be a teacher who symbolizes the example of toil and hard work sans remarkable profit. A child can be a teacher who can show us the loss of precious innocence. Nature too can be a teacher that personifies the unpredictable duality of benevolence and chastisement. The consequences of nature’s ire warn every creature of the repercussions of each action.

Teacher I believe are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.

—Helen Caldiccott

The Orientation section in Wings of fire by A.P.J Abdul Kalam, illustrates the essence of the word called ‘Teacher’. The different mentors of this great legend have become immortal because of him today, who range from his parents, cousin, friends, school and college teachers.

Similarly a young boy called Narendra Nath had many doubts and questions which were answered by various wise gurus that instilled new wisdom into him, shaping him into Vivekananda, who further went on to become a ‘Marga darshak’ to the youth of all times.

How true was Wordsworth when he said, Child is the father of man’- a civility that is minus greed, bias of any kind, wickedness, lust etc makes a child a better human than any adult. The innocence of a child parodies the teacher who teaches the wisdom of simplicity. It is the lack of this virtue that has turned this world into a complex unresolved maze. The more we try to disentangle, the more we are trapped in its web.

Laying aside these general observations, I feel myself fortunate enough to have been influenced and polished by many teachers (both conventional and unconventional). Let me support the general point of view which I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs with some examples from my own life.

My mother is the first teacher for me, though just an SSLC pass Urdu medium woman, her strength of character, patience, forbearance have been the anchors of my sailing life. She has taught me that ‘moral support is more important than verbal or monetary assistance’. Just like a perfect teacher, she is most compassionate, tender being, yet when she knows something is wrong, she will never compromise or ignore it or try to take a side turn.

My school days are filled with so many people who have taught me things ranging from proper manners to proper handwriting.

Teacher can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges.

—Joyce A. Meyers.

Once when I was in VI std, our mathematics teacher asked us to individually recite the tables. One of my classmates told a particular table, after which the teacher said ‘good’ but made the same table to be recited by all of us. Later she asked me to come in front of the class and asked me whether everybody told the correct tables. I said that one of the equations in the table was not correct and also told the equation which I felt was correct. Then to my surprise she asked the whole class to clap for me. She then asked the class, why did they think, she made them clap. Immediately everybody said that it was for my right answer. But she said ‘No!’. She clarified that the claps were for my being firm in my belief that I am right and not changing the answer just because all were giving a different answer. That day I learnt an important lesson- ‘stay firm in your pure conviction and to believe in your true self without any doubts.’

A teacher who loves learning, earns the right and the ability to help others learn.

—Ruth Beechick.

A strange incident also comes to my mind. We used to stay in company quarters and our schools were 20km in the main town. So we used to travel every day in the company school bus. All the children of the company employees ranging from managers to foremen used to travel in the same bus. We had a watchman cum helper along with the driver commonly called by us all as ‘Uncle’. He was the one who controlled us firmly with kindness and never allowed the hi-fi kids to bully us in any way. One day we got on the bus to return home and found one of the high school girls crying. It took some time for us kids to know the reason. One of the teenage Romeos of her school had painted her name in a heart shape on the back of every seat. As is the normal case, there started some strange comments, giggles, nudges and pointing fingers all to make her feel even more miserable. Then came our great ring master. In five minutes he assessed the situation gave a stern look to all of us and demanded if we belonged to the boy’s family. When we all shook our heads in negative, he ordered us to shut up and help our friend. Help her? How?

He poured some petrol in a bowl and tore a rag into pieces. He gave a piece of the rag to each one of us and asked us to dip it in petrol and rub away the words in wall paint on the seats.

Within fifteen minutes our bus was clean again also most importantly a smile appeared on the beautiful face of our friend.

That day an illiterate man without any intellectual designation became our teacher who taught us that we must be united when trouble strikes and help out to find a solution instead of just blaming and criticizing.’

The average teacher explains complexity, the gifted teacher reveals simplicity.

—Robert Brault.

One more incident that is fresh in my mind is from my college days. We were studying in a women’s college and one day our classmate had some trouble outside our college gate. The watchman somehow persuaded her to come in and sent away the eve teaser. Later during our favourite English class, our madam asked the girl about the reason of the brawl. Our classmate explained that the guy used to every day follow and whistle at her. As it had become very irritating, she thought enough was enough and so tried to give a piece of her mind that day. When we heard it, we all thought that she did the right and bold thing as the guy was a real nuisance to all the girls. But the next words of our teacher to the girl stunned us. She calmly said that ‘whistles’ are meant to call dogs, so was she a lady or a dog. There was pin drop silence in the class for a few minutes. Our teacher did not say anything else and continued the class. But that day we girls got a wise message reacting to our adversary itself shows that we are affected by his action. The best way to counter an enemy is to ignore the actions that are not worthy of us because reacting to unworthy things drags even us to the same level.

APJ Abdul Kalam in his Wings of fire has mentioned a teacher who said-

A good student learns better from a bad teacher than a bad student from a good teacher.

How true can this be?

In my fifteen years of teaching experience I have dealt with many students, ironically I remember those students most vividly who have troubled me the most during the classes. Then there were some who were extraordinary in studies or extra-curricular activities.

Recently, I was shopping when suddenly I was stopped by a man on a bike. Naturally, I became wary but he greeted me ‘Good evening madam. So I looked up carefully into his face and had a vague idea of having seen him somewhere, but could not pin point who or where. The man getting off his bike introduced himself as one of my students ten years ago. Though his name sounded familiar, unfortunately, I could not recollect anything. He said that he was a back bencher in the class and never really bothered about the subjects that were taught, but it seems he liked my classes very much for the beautiful stories I used to recite at the end of a class which he said used to appeal him the most. He said that he could never forget me for those irrelevant sessions in the class where I used to give some general advice about the future, as it had helped him handle many situations during his college and early job days. He then gave me his wedding card and urged me to attend his marriage. This incident made me think about myself in a new perspective. I never applauded myself to be a good teacher this student for the first time made me feel worthy of the profession I have chosen.

Then there are many students whom I used to send out of the class as a last resort for their constant disturbances. Strangely these are the very students who keep meeting me at different places and never forget to wish or greet me. So, once I asked one of the naughty ones (who a of my about three years ago used to be always out of my class), whether he greets me just remind me how I used to send him out. ‘No mam’, he replied, he greets me because I was the only one who cared enough to show him that he was wrong while the other teachers just ignored and never bothered to even acknowledge his presence.

Well to come to the point here, you may call these above students as bad as they lacked obedience and interest in the classroom, but I feel that these are the students who really understood the meaning of learning and teaching. Because the first step to learn is to accept our mistakes and acknowledge the contribution of others in their life. My experience has shown that academically perfect students usually grow into the most self-centered humans.

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.

— Bill Gates.

So these are the students who have taught me that being a teacher is not just about being an expert in my subject, it’s about making a difference in their lives and setting an example so that they can adopt and implement it in their own lives.

             What the teacher is, is more important than what she teaches.

— Karl A.

On the whole, we can say that every individual is and was a student. So irrespective of being a good or bad student, irrespective of having a good or bad teacher, a person never forgets the academic teachers of their formative years. Years may pass-by but even decades after the education days are finished we never forget our teachers. What further endorsement is required to state the irreplaceable place of a teacher in a human life?

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

—William Arthur Ward.

Global Recognition:

The World Teacher’s Day also known as International Teachers Day is held on October 5th every year since 1994. According to UNESCO, the day represents a significant token of the awareness, understanding and appreciation displayed for the vital contributions that teachers make to education and development. In India, we celebrate Teacher’s Day as a mark of honour to all the teachers of our country in memory of the great Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Like often is the case with great people, he too was from a humble background but went on to become the first Vice- President and then the second President of India. He was the pioneer in laying the illuminating path of knowledge for all, irrespective of the different strata of our society.

Let us remember a few of the legendary teachers:

Savitri Phule needs to be mentioned here because she was the one who opened the first girls school in Pune in 1948. In spite of severe backlash from the traditional section of the society, with the help of her husband she went on ahead and by the end of one year she opened totally five schools.

Sri. Rabindranath Tagore who heralded the revival of the ancient Gurukula system of education through education Shantineketan which went on to become an international institution evolving into The Vishwa Bharati University.

Dr. Asima Chatterjee became the first woman to be named as Doctor of Science by Indian University and spent most of her life teaching chemistry at Calcutta University and inspiring generations of students to work in the field. She is best known for her development of cancer medicine Vinca Alkaloids’.

Anne Sullivan the teacher who was the ‘miracle worker’ who succeeded where all the teachers failed, in making the blind Helen Keller for what she is for us today. We all know that this blind girl went on to live a successful life as a writer, lecturer and activist. (Her play ‘The Miracle Worker’ about Anne Sullevan was adapted into Hindi movie called Black).

Maria Montessori an Italian woman who changed the complete scenario of teaching the ‘tiny-tots. Emma Hart Willard also was a pioneer of women education in America founding the first educational institution for women in 1821.

This year we lost a wonderful human in Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam when he passed away suddenly. A scientist at ISRO and DRDO, he was also a wonderful teacher. He inspired and motivated the youth of our country till his last breath. As visiting professor at the IIM at Shilong, Ahmedabd, Indore, Bangalore Institute of Science etc, and has nourished the bud of scientific thought for the intellectuals of the future.

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth’.

— Plato

Contemporary Phase:

Cynics of today have usually complained about the lack of enough good teachers in the present generation, leading to the downfall of quality education. But as there is always a silver lining to the dark clouds, we also have come to know of some unconventional teachers who are like the ‘candle in the wind’, for the downtrodden and underprivileged. These are the most inspiring teachers who have overcome extreme difficulties and innovated unique methods of teaching with utter selflessness. Let me give some examples here —

  • Babar Ali of Murshidabad, W.Bengal now 21 year old, started teaching his fellow villagers at the age of 9 and became the youngest Head Master for his make-shift school in the backyard of his thatched house. He teaches around 300 students with some permanent volunteers.
  • Aditya Kumar also called as Cycle Guruji rides 60-65 km on a bicycle every day and provides free education to children of the slums of Lucknow, U.P since 1995.
  • Rajesh Kumar runs a school under a Delhi Metro bridge and teaches the nearby slum children since 2005.
  • Abdul Mallik from Kerela reaches his special school every day by swimming a river as it’s the shortest way. The road route otherwise takes more than 3 hours to reach.

We have heard that there are always two sides of a coin. Similarly the media specially the Internet or the virtual platform is creating ripples of fear because of its uncensored, limitless expanse of reach, resulting in what we call ‘Cyber Crimes’ today and the helplessness in controlling the under aged ones from accessing unwanted, abusive, and inappropriate matter. On the other hand, some are exploiting this very medium to such causes that our hope is once again

regenerated with new zeal. Like Kamalesh Zapadiya and Roshni Mukherjee who have started the websites called Edusafar.com and Examfear.com to guide and reach out the students of all sections in our country and abroad.



We both are glad to inform that the above discourse is the collection of information from our own experiences and interaction with the people around us. Apart from the famous quotes we have tried to form our own arguments and have expressed our own view points on them.


We thank the Wikipedia and some News websites for the information about the history of ‘writing’ and ‘teaching’, also about the great teachers and the unconventional contemporary ones too.

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