Lessons for Life

Lessons for Life
Learning is for life.  When I started my career as a preschool teacher in 1991, little did I know that I was stepping into an unfathomable ocean. After 26 years of an enriching career, today, as a Principal, I feel that each day of these years, I have not only learnt from my mentors and colleagues, but also largely from my students.  Numerous incidents have left indelible marks on my teaching career but two students who I have spent time with have taught me lessons for life.

Inclusion policy these days has become a part of most schools’ framework.  Way back in 2002, when I was working as a middle school teacher, I had a student named Venkatesh Potluri in my class. Venkatesh was born with an incurable vision impairment. He went to a special school for sometime but his parents wanted him to be educated in a regular school.  We, as teachers, were clueless as to how we were going to handle the boy in class.  Most of my colleagues had similar apprehensions.  Our Principal told us to believe in the boy and carry on with our classroom transactions normally.  Back then, the concept of shadow teacher was not so popular or affordable.  Venkat’s mother Uma became his shadow teacher. Every day, for six months, she accompanied her son to school, sat in class and learnt with him.  At home, she would write his homework and revise the lessons taught in school by reading out from his textbooks.  After six months, she started sitting in the library and copied notes for him.  She wanted Venkat to learn independently.  Venkat became the blue eyed boy of the class.  His classmates were considerate and caring. Venkat’s well being was their job.  We never  gave special instructions to Venkat. The students decided to share the responsibility of ensuring that every notebook was handed over to his mother after two periods.  Venkat’s braille training was happening at home at the same time.  In the first year, he was exempted from taking tests and exams. Gradually, all the notes were converted into braille script – which was quite expensive at that time.  Simultaneously, he started learning the drums. In the second year, he was like any other student of the school- familiar with the number of stairs, rooms and labs, moving with ease in the campus.  Venkatesh was a student with special needs at the 10th board exams.  He passed with flying colours and joined another school as our school had not started with the higher secondary section .  He graduated in Computer Science from IIIT, Hyderabad and currently works for Microsoft India as a Research Fellow.
Most of his work is centered around ‘Accessibility Matters’ as he believes that accessibility challenges for the differently abled are far too many - an ATM transaction for the visually impaired is still inaccessible.  He was featured on TED Talks as a Visionary Fighter in 2017.  He loves drumming, paragliding and horse riding.  The support of family, friends, teachers and assistive technology has inspired him to move mountains.  His friends fondly call him ‘ Hyderabad’s Stephen Hawking’ .  And he always smiled.  That’s what I learnt from him.  Happiness is a state of mind, it doesn’t depend on what we are born with.  No challenge in life is so gargantuan that it can’t be overcome.  With focus and determination, all tasks can be made achievable.

Ahmed Fouzan, a quadriplegic, joined school in Grade 9.  He had spent most of his life in the Middle East as his father worked there.  He was wheelchair bound. At the age of 14, he weighed 30 kgs, with no functional limbs and lower back.  His wheelchair was specially designed.  A happy go lucky child. He never let his disability come in the way of his learning.  He was hardly absent from school.  He had a caretaker all through the school day, though his friends selflessly offered to shoulder his responsibilities including the challenging washroom visits. Every student in the class wanted to spend time with him be it in the corridors, classrooms or the ground.  In two years, he made friends for life.  Uncomplaining , unruffled and untiring that’s how I describe Fouzan.

Now he has formed his own company named Beyond Graphics.  A budding entrepreneur, facing challenges that every new businessman faces but his undying faith in his capabilities has led him to become what he is today.  Quitters never win and winners never quit. He has made this his mantra for life.

These two students have made me think differently.  When I see a Special child, I want him/ her to be embraced by their teachers and give them all the opportunities that any other child is given.  I want to understand their needs and create a platform for them to thrive in life.  They have to be loved unconditionally and encouraged always so that they lead a meaningful life.  They teach us to develop resilience, endurance and never say die attitude. I salute these two young men who have conquered their malady and turned it  into scope . They are visionaries in their truest sense. 

Kalyani Chaudhuri



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