Celebrating India’s National Teacher’s Day

Did you know that India has its own national teacher’s day celebration? September 5th. All of the female teachers dressed up in their nicer saris and the male teachers, I would assume they too wore nicer clothes, (but honestly, I couldn’t as easily tell).

Since 1967, Teacher’s Day has been observed on Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan birthday. Who is this great man? Well, aside from his role as President of India and his magnificent abilities as a scholar, he was first and foremost a teacher. What is Teacher’s Day? It is an opportunity for students and teachers to come together and celebrate teachers and education. The date was decided when Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan said that instead of celebrating his birthday, he would like to dedicate that date to celebrating India’s teachers.

At my school, the students eagerly arranged an assembly, and everyone continued to be excited for the next two and a half hours. (A stark contrast to my own 60-minute high school assemblies. )

First, we honored an image of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. This was done by lighting incense, placing flowers or adding powder to the bindi that the principal had initially placed on his forehead.

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Then, the principal was the first one ushered into a chair, where the students wrapped her in a shiny cloth, placed a flower necklace around her neck and handed her a baby guava tree. Student leaders spoke her praise in Telegu (so I can only assume what was said). There was applause, pictures, and then I was pushed forward.

I was also wrapped in a beautiful cloth (which they later gave to me as a present) and had many, many pictures taken, which I have since used for this blog post (so no complaints here). I felt intimidated.  With a crowd of 600 screaming and excited students, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed, but I still enjoyed the experience.

Afterwards, students asked if we have a similar celebration in the US. My response was that we have nothing on this scale. Seriously. I cannot remember a single assembly where every teacher was honored by student speeches, gifts and guavas.

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Every teacher was dressed in a fancy cloth, given a special pen and a baby tree to plant in their honor. Then, the Vice Principle invited each teacher to speak for 3-5 minutes about their experience. Everyone spoke in Telegu, so I had no idea what they said; however, much to the bewilderment of my students, I smiled throughout the whole experience because I got to observe how the students reacted to certain teachers as well as observe teachers’ presentation styles. Plus, it felt really cool to be partaking in a new cultural event.

I was also keenly aware of all of the eyes on me throughout the whole assembly and so I took the opportunity to model that, even if you don’t understand the language being spoken, you can still try. (**Cough cough. My attempt to tell them that you can do it in the reverse situation if Englishis being spoken).

At one point I had to move into the shade. It had already been over an hour of sitting in the hot sun and it was over 90 degrees. Plus, I was wearing a long shirt and long pants. So, I was very grateful when the principal suggested it.

Towards the end, the Vice Principle invited me to speak. I had thought that this might happen and so I’d been racking my brain for what to say. Before I spoke, I did a quick movement energizer as the crowd had been sitting for close to two hours. (I’m glad that I did it too with the giggles I received in response.)

I chose to use a garden metaphor for my speech. Except, just after I began describing the garden, I was inspired by the giant tree in front of me. So, thinking that this visualization would better assist students with limited English, I transitioned to a metaphor about the baby trees that were in front of the students and the giant tree amongst them.

I told them that they had to work hard, to study, to “water” their brains (aka the tree) with knowledge. Their teachers symbolized the positive efforts of working hard in school. The response I got after my speech was positive, but I think the water and tree metaphor wasn’t quite as good as the garden one.

Afterward, I walked away in awe. The teachers at my school are here as part of a five-year contract. They are over 100 kilometers away from their families, and many have small children. They spend Monday through Saturday here, in 90 plus degrees year-round, with limited teaching resources, and then return home for Sunday, to return Monday morning. It is a hard life, but they are all making the sacrifice to support India’s future.

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