We as growing individuals always look up to our people who inspire us to struggle for something great, live to our fullest potential and see the best in ourselves. These people are deemed as role models, persons we admire and follow. We learn from them, through their commitment to excellence and through their ability to make us realize our personal development. We look to them for guidance in crucial moments. This role model can be anybody: a great personality, a parent, a sibling, a friend. But, more frequently, our most influential and life-changing role models are teachers.
Teachers follow students through each critical stage of development. For almost a quarter of a day, a full working week, teachers are bound to influence students’ lives to a deeper degree. After their parents, children are first under the study of their primary school teachers. Then, middle school teachers would guide students through yet another major transition: adolescence. As children grow young adults, learning throughout middle school and into high school, teachers would respond to their queries, pay attention to their problems and educate them about this new period of their lives. Their job is not only to watch students grow but also to help them in the process.
Much of what learners come to learn from their teachers are not detailed on a curriculum. Teachers are responsible for imparting some of the life’s most valuable lessons. During their initial school years, students come across kids other than siblings and cousins of the same age and form some of their first friendships. Here, it is up to the teacher to help them how to become independent and develop their bonds. Teachers would carefully guide them and intervene when necessary. The academic institutions are as much places of social learning. Nevertheless, a teacher’s influence on the social sphere of the school decrease as students are grown-up, those early lessons still affect how they would mingle with others afterward.
Teachers are fountains of experience. They have already been through whatever their students are going through and are in a position to pass along lessons not only regarding subjects of study but also lessons on life.
However, while good teachers are elemental to education and society, the case is otherwise with India. In the recent times, the Indian education system has been unable to produce many such teachers who take their job with the seriousness that it demands. The quality of teachers is not up to the mark. The government school teachers are known to be passing their time idly. Absenteeism is the rule among such teachers. But, only one teacher was reported to be dismissed for repeated absence, in over three thousands government school surveyed by UNESCO. Most of the private institutions are beyond the reach of ordinary masses. Consequences are bound to follow given such backdrops. According to a study by UNESCO, published in the Times of India, India is one of the 21 countries where not even half the schoolchildren are learning their basics well.
Nonetheless, hope is there till we have dedicated individuals who see beyond their selfish ends and reinforces our faith in teachers by performing their jobs much responsibly and wholeheartedly. India has been very much blessed with great teachers throughout its long history, be it a Chanakya from the ancient times who mentored Chandragupta to the throne or a Dr. Kalam from the recent times whose teachings continue to guide us even after his sad death. Even, at present, many individuals follow the same path taken by those great teachers. To them, their job as a teacher is not only a professional employment but also a sacred one. Here is one such person Abdul Malik, a 42-year-old mathematics teacher who has been redefining the image of a teacher. Teaching at the Muslim Lower Primary School at Padinjattumuri in Malappuram, Kerala, Abdul Malik is known for his sheer attachment to his duty. He has a superb record of never missing a class or coming late, even if that used to make him swim through a channel to reach the school at the time.
Malik was born in an underprivileged family of Koodalangadi panchayat in Malappuram. His father departed while Malik was still in his young days. His family that was already poor now found itself in a more terrible situation after the death of its bread-earner. Then, an uncle of Malik, who is a priest at a local mosque, came to their help. By the time, Malik had also started working. His uncle, however, suggested him to enroll for the teacher training course so that he could make a career in the field.
By the time Malik completed his teacher’s training course, his senior brother had started working in the Middle East. But Malik’s mind was now solely in teaching, not working elsewhere.
However, it was never easy for a man of impoverished background to get a job owing to the corruption in the government offices. Malik too had to pay a bribe to secure a job despite his proficiency and skills. Malik somehow managed 50,000 rupees for his job as a primary school teacher. His elder brother and well-wishers helped him much, without whom it would have been almost impossible for Malik. At last, in 1993, Malik got appointed as a teacher at a salary of Rs 1,350 per month.
After getting the job, Abdul Mallik now came to face a new problem. To reach the school that is surrounded on three sides by the Kadalundi river, he had to travel for three hours by bus to cover a distance of just 12 kilometers. While the school started at 10.30 am, Malik used to leave for the school around 8 am. He used to be late for school when he would change two buses and walk about two kilometers too. At the end of the school time, Malik would repeat the same strenuous journey.
This ordeal continued about a year. By the time Malik reached home, he was fatigued. This route had a countable number of buses and if one missed a bus, more wait for 30-45 minutes would follow for the next one.
One evening, as he was walking towards the bus stop, he was stopped by a teacher who taught Arabic at the same school. The teacher lamented at Malik’s backbreaking daily journey and wasting so much time traveling by bus. He went on to tell Malik that he had a farm on the other side of the river next to Malik’s house and whenever he came to collect things from my farm, he swam across.
One evening, Malik returned home with the Arabic teacher by swimming across the river. Like his fellow teacher, Malik too used a tube. It seemed a fantastic solution to him, and from then he made it his main route for the journey.
Since then, Malik has been swimming across the river every day to reach his school on time. It takes him just a few minutes from his house to get to the riverbank and a few minutes lesser than that to walk to school after crossing the liquid element.
On reaching the river, he puts his dress and personal belongings in a plastic bag and takes to the water with a tube around his chest. With his spectacles on his eyes and one hand carrying the bag above the water, he has become a living clock for the folks because of his punctuality. On the other side of the river bank, he puts on dry clothes and walks to the school to be greeted with a bunch of smiling students who compensate for his not-so-mentionable salary.
Malik himself has noted that initially he feared the task owing to the usually rough mood of the river. Swimming across is a bit hard too when going against the tide. During the monsoon, there is also the risk of finding snakes in the waterway.
It is his devotion to his occupation that Malik has been through this swimming journey for over two decades. Other than teaching Maths, at which he is probably extraordinary, Malik also uplifts the morale of children who fear the water by teaching them swimming in the summer, when the river is not tumultuous.
Ever since he picked up swimming, his love for nature increased manifold. Being an environmentalist and a swimming enthusiast, he hopes that his exclusive means of commutation and taking his students for special swimming classes and field tours would instill in them an interest in nature, and they would get involved to preserve the river and its surroundings while keeping themselves fit through this excellent exercise.
For his commitment to his profession, Malik was appreciated by the then CM Miss Jayalalithaa. After knowing his attentive and selfless service, a doctor based in the UK gifted him a plastic boat. But before that, in 19 years, he had already swum almost a length equivalent to the English Channel, a distinguishing feat for any teacher in the state, and perhaps in the country. Still, after having a boat, Malik continues to swim through the river. To him, it makes him feel fresh, young, energetic and happy. He plans to continue this until his retirement.