Updated: Oct 1
As a teacher, whenever I walk into the classroom, I feel elated about exchanging the good morning or good afternoon pleasantries with my students, as the voices of the young and dynamic minds assure me that very soon, these prodigies will shape the destiny of not just India, but the entire world perhaps.
At the same time, it also reminds me of the mammoth task that I have taken up on my shoulders, of shaping these enthusiastic and eager champs into the leaders of tomorrow, as teachers in the twenty-first century need to walk the extra mile to ensure that their students are ready to accept, adapt, and alter their future for the benefit of mankind. The twenty-first century is a century of limitless possibilities and infinite growth potential if given the right mentoring; and for this, who can be a better mentor than a teacher, I wonder?, as whatever I am today, my teachers have played an extra-ordinary role in making me reach that pedestal.
In India, being born into a middle-class family does provide a basic comfort level and educational opportunities that are at least good, even if not the best. However, the problem gets compounded when one is born with a disability, which severely limits the possibilities that one may have in life, given the lack of educational resources to cater to children with special needs, and more importantly, the lack of awareness about the presence of such facilities.
The case wasn’t different for me as well, I was born with cataracts in both eyes and my parents left no stone unturned in getting me treated, visiting one doctor after another, and traveling across the length and breadth of India. Still, the problem remained unresolved, so they sent me to a school near my home, hoping that my low vision would help me in learning the basics. I must say, the very first time when the teachers became my heroes was in that school, as they not only helped me understand the alphabet and numbers in large print but also told my parents to send me to a special facility for blind children for my better and brighter future.
It was a school where I was the only child with special needs, but the teachers ensured that I did not lag behind, and even though they were not trained to teach children with special needs, yet they tried to make the environment as inclusive as possible. The second place where my teachers became my heroes was in my blind school, the National Association for the Blind, Delhi. NAB was for me what Hogwarts School in Harry Potter was to all the witches and wizards, as I too explored my potential to the fullest after coming there.
The teachers over there taught me that in spite of being blind, one could live a fully independent life and contribute to nation-building. They not only imparted quality education but also mentored me in all the basic dressing and grooming skills. NAB had a unique system of integrated education, where blind students were sent to study with sighted children in mainstream schools after training. I too immensely benefitted from this system, as I was sent to Delhi Public School R.K. Puram, one of the best schools in India, as established by several surveys from time to time. So, it was no surprise that my teachers at DPS R.K. Puram and its junior branch in Vasant Vihar became my hero once again, as they not only provided the best education but also ensured that it was inclusive and accessible for me.
The teachers at DPS never let me realize that I had a challenge, as they always treated me at power with my sighted peers, and were always forthcoming in providing different avenues such as academic events, sports, and co-curricular activities for exploring and exploiting my abilities.
As my school life came to an end and I stepped into the new phase of college life, I was not sure about how it would turn out to be for me. However, the teachers in the English department at Ramjas College, Delhi University were great mentors and they became my heroes in this new phase. These teachers made me proud of my decision to opt for English Honours as against the availability of many other popular courses. The teachers taught English literature in such a way that not only developed critical thinking but also made me a more sensitive and conscientious human being. They not only provided me with new learning but also made me unlearn several things from the past that were no longer necessary.
The excellent teaching at Ramjas laid the foundation stone of my career path, as I too decided to be a teacher and mentor young inquisitive minds to make them intellectual warriors who could take any challenge head-on.
After graduation, I enrolled for an M.A. English in at Jawaharlal Nehru University, another premium institute in the country. Here also, the teachers were my heroes as they polished the educational skills of which the foundation was laid by my teachers at Ramjas. In JNU, I met Dr. Navneet Sethi Ma’am, who made me realize that disability could be no hindrance if one had a strong will. She had cerebral palsy and had to stay on an oxygen cylinder support for the entire duration of 24 hours, but this did not dampen her spirit in any way.
After my M.A., I enrolled for M.Phil English at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. Here, I met teachers who became my heroes as they were not only outstanding academicians but also deeply cared for individual needs. They focused on not merely making good scholars, but good human beings as well. The teachers in GGSIPU gave me a chance to be the school representative for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in the student council, not letting my disability hamper my equal participation.
While all my teachers have been my heroes in one way or the other, yet, there are some teachers who do deserve a special mention. First is Mrs. Vasantha Kumaran, a teacher at NAB Delhi. She was instrumental in going to mainstream schools and convincing the principals to give visually impaired students a chance to be integrated with their sighted mates, as they were not blind children, but children who just happened to be blind.
The second teacher is my mentor Vineet Pandey Sir, who helped me qualify for UGC NET and JRF exams in English with flying colours. He understood my challenge and made reasonable accommodations to ensure that I received all the study material in an accessible format and on time, and was always available to provide personal guidance and support whenever required.
The third teacher is my Ph.D. supervisor Dr. Rajiv Ranjan Dwivedi Sir, who helps me as a fatherly figure, being soft and strict as and when required.
As I embraced the role of an educator, I strive to pay forward the valuable lessons they have imparted. With their unwavering support, I have transcended limitations, showcasing that disability is no deterrent to one's dream. These exceptional mentors have shaped my essence and through their wisdom, I am inspired to nurture the bright minds of tomorrow. In the realm of education, their influence remains the cornerstone, empowering me to kindle the same transformative flame in the hearts of my students.
About this article Avichal Bhatnagar's compelling narrative, titled "Teachers as Heroes: Navigating Challenges, Shaping Futures," has been recognized as the second runner-up in the esteemed 'The Nation Builders 2023' national-level article writing competition, held in honor of National Teacher's Day. In this poignant article, Avichal shares his personal journey of triumphing over visual impairment and highlights the pivotal role teachers have played in shaping his life. From his early education to higher studies, he eloquently emphasizes the transformative power of educators and the immense impact they have on shaping the destinies of their students. Avichal's inspiring account stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit and influence of dedicated teachers in molding the leaders of tomorrow.