“A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops”

Henry Brook Adams

Sometime back, an incident happened in my academic life. As I recall it now, I realize I probably did not give it as much thought as it deserved. However, as I revisit the story now, I think I made a mistake in not doing so.

We in India have been inspired by the academic excellence that Western Universities offer. There have been active discussions and debate on global ranking of Indian educational entities, and standards of Indian academicians. We all see a tremendous capacity building focus, initiated by the Government, for justifiable reasons.

I read many articles on how influential teachers can be, in shaping a future mind, starting from the young ages of the child. Most of those has been Western stories, again more so in primary to secondary educations. We Indians are not that good in documenting our stories. These stories help us in sharing, thinking, understanding, appreciating, and also in policy-making. Yes, we need to do lot more in lot many areas.

Taare Zameen Par, a movie of the recent times, did an excellent job on it.

This incident is about following e-mail content (verbatim for this section) that I received from a student: 

<‘I’ve told you the truth but it is unexpected to get such an honor for this. It is not for me but because of your greatness that you took this simple thing to such a higher peak. I’m saluting you from the core of my heart for your greatness & down to earth nature. For the first time I get such an honor for honesty, you are a great TEACHER Sir & I’ll never forget this honor till the end of my life.’ > 

Background of the story: The student, on his/her own, confessed that s/he didn’t contribute to a group assignment, in a mail prior to the completion date. My experience in India showed students normally don’t do it, and contributing students from same group try to help others as ‘Good Samaritans’, without realizing its downside impact (treated as violation of academic integrity in evolved universities of the developed nations). I used that mail, without disclosing the identity of the student, to my student-group, requesting them to respect, honor and follow this honesty, but not the practice of not contributing to group assignments, for whatever reasons. This student also received this mail of mine. This quoted content was in response to it. I also received few appreciations from other students, which I duly forwarded to this student.

Over the last few days, I have been giving much thought to this mail, particularly the underlined section of it. This underlined section is also the reason why I think I made a mistake in not giving this mail the due attention it deserved.

As I read, re-read it, it indeed shocks me (the student, in my guesstimate, would be around 30 years), and prompted me to introspect a lot on Integrity vs. Performance issues (I have partly dwelled that in ‘A Question From Indian Teachers’, which was not at all motivated by this mail. As I checked the dates, I received this mail afterwards).

As I said, I read quite a few articles on education, role of teachers, and various evolving practices, particularly in higher education. Stanley Fish provided an in-depth pros-and-con of capturing student evaluation. But that is ultimately a score. I am not sure whether the student wrote anything like quoted text while rating me after the end-term. We faculties here are used to getting mid-term reviews as of now; and this type of feedback was no where in the content, going by my collective past memory. And there is no way of knowing which student is rating (both in words and/or in a Likert Scale score) how much, for justifiable reasons. 

I can sense and understand that there is a high degree of possibility of this student getting emotional when s/he wrote this mail. I accept it with all due humbleness, and I myself don’t think I am an excellent teacher, in its true sense. But I have been trying. Keeping aside that content, I have been indeed intrigued by this part:

                                                                                 

 ‘For the first time I get such an honor for honesty’

                   

These words coming from some 30-year old student have started haunting me. Discounting the high-degree of possibility of emotionally charged content, let me discount the student’s immediate family-members and close friends. Beyond the class, I have not interacted much with this student. We probably met twice in my room. Once it was on the difficulties s/he had faced in continuing with the studies, and I encouraged the student to continue, stating that at IIFT we all were ready to support the student, but we can not dilute our standards; the student didn’t expect it either. Next time was when the student informed me that s/he would not be able to attend a session of mine in time, but would try to come late. I said fine. And if I remember right, I observed s/he entering the session in between.  

I never extended any additional help, on my own; neither s/he sought any. For little better understanding of the reader, let me add that the student belonged to the Executive MBA we offer, might be reflecting, to some extent, the story of  ‘In the basement of Ivory Tower’. The difference is, this is a Post-Graduate Program; and I am a full time faculty. In my opinion, another major difference was with the student, as s/he did not need any special assistance as such, but needed dedicated, undisturbed study time, mentally; and time to think/introspect over that contextual material as management education demands.

Even after these obvious discounting of this content, what remains in  ‘For the first time I get such an honor for honesty’, is still shocking.

I wonder what might have happened in the student’s past academic life, in social life and in professional life.

I don’t want to drag this article any further, leaving the story here, for your own interpretation. I wish we academicians start honoring academic integrity before we honor academic performances, starting from primary education. I wish policy-makers take due attention.

I am not sure whether there exists any such award for academic integrity in my Institute, or for that matter, in any Indian academic Institutes. We normally honor the academic toppers, measuring their academic performances. To the best of my knowledge, there probably is none. Even in the IITs, where I spent all my higher education (IIT Kharagpur and IIT Bombay), there are awards for multiple categories of students, focusing on all around developments of a student. To the best of my knowledge, there probably exists none in IITs too; although I have not been to all the IITs. Moreover, as I never dreamt of winning any in IITs, I did not follow these awards closely. 

It is time that I myself start thinking about it, on how such an award can be initiated in my own Institute. I think I made a mistake in not thinking in these lines earlier.

I invite you to visit my blog, Wondering Man (or take a look at my book, Wondering Man, Money & Go(l)d that rightly predicted many of the economic and geopolitical crises, to the gold prices and the currency disputes). You are also invited to join me on twitter.

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