Amir teaches the Teach for India teachers!

Vipul Shaha, May 30, 2009 

‘When you wish upon a star…all the dreams that you dream come true.’  I had always dreamed of personally meeting Amir Khan—not so much for him being a film star but being the person that he is.  His role as a teacher in Taare Zameen Par, particularly, had a deep impact on how I perceive the ‘small world’ of children and the crucial role of a teacher in shaping young lives.  Sometimes, dreams come true unexpectedly sooner than we could ever imagine them to.  And so it happened this afternoon when Amir Khan stepped in a class full of Teach for India fellows like me--my dream had come true and it seemed unreal for a moment!  The two hours of friendly interaction that followed will continue to inspire me in my new role as a teacher and as a human being.  Here is a brief attempt to capture what Amir had to say on education in India.

An average student in his school days, Amir did not know what to do with his life until when he developed an interest for dramatics and filmmaking.  Amir did not continue his 'formal' education after completing his class XII.  Being a stubborn and determined person that he is, he defied all the concerns that his family expressed about his ‘extra-ordinary’ decision.  He firmly told them, ‘I was only having a good time so far, my real education begins now!’

Amir has done an extensive amount of research on child psychology, children with special needs and the education system for his movie TZP.  He spoke of the four basic emotional needs of every child and that of every human being: security, trust and faith, dignity and love.  Amir spoke at length about how each child is special, has his own pace of learning, abilities, areas of strengths and weaknesses.  He urged us (to-be teachers) not to force education upon a child and let the child be his own natural self and happy.  When asked about what he thinks as the purpose of an ideal education system, he responded with firm clarity—to enable and empower a child to deal with life in a happy manner, to be curious, to ask questions and to communicate confidently in whichever form suits him the best.  Once provided with right skills, tools and mindset, the child will be empowered to define and choose his own path in life.

Amir posed an intriguing question--why is it that if a child is not doing very well in sports, arts or music, it is considered okay, but when it comes to mathematics and science, everyone must master it all?  Referring to societal obsession with stardom and race towards the top, he mentioned how not everyone can be a film-star or a cricketer, but there is a 'hero' hidden within every child, which needs careful nurturing and attention.  Amir values everyday little successes of ordinary human beings more than the extraordinary success stories of a few.  'If you can cheer up the mood of a grumpy conductor on a bus, who might have had a bad day, you are successful!'.  Redefining the idea of 'success', Amir said that success depends upon one's core being and happiness.

Not undermining the importance of a child's academic progress, Amir endorsed and spoke highly about the need for ‘creative teaching’--by making learning an exciting process. He compared the role of a teacher to that of a film director.  Just as a director facilitates the process of filmmaking by trying to bring out the best in each character, a true good teacher facilitates the process of learning by bringing out the best in every child and inspiring every child to bloom.  Drawing example from his own self, and why he makes only a few films, he said ‘if only you have a story to tell, you will tell it well.’  Each day when the teacher enters the classroom he shall be so excited to ‘tell his story’ that he will put in fullest of  his energy, belief and patience to deliver knowledge. 

Amir cautioned us not to be judgmental towards our students and make every child feel very special.  Building an emotional bond with each child is important.  Amir placed his emphasis on ‘creating good human beings’ at primary school level.  This will naturally result into a society that grows up to be a more responsible one, he believes.

Amir signed off by sharing his own dream—‘I have a dream that one day in this country the tide will turn—that parents, educators and society will move away from forcing competitive spirit on innocent young minds and start instilling in them the value of caring for others.’

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