Five life lessons from my teachers

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Every teachers’ day, I think about my third standard class teacher. She is a visionary. She looked me in the eye and said, “you will come to nothing in life” and that turned out to be true.  I have no idea what I did to make her so angry, but I still remember where I sat in my 3rd standard class and where she sat when she showered her blessing. Had she beat me or made me stand up on a bench or kneel down, I would have long forgotten it. That is the best part about teachers – the good ones teach you how to live life and the bad ones teach you how not to live life. Here are five life lessons from my teachers.

Never say something wounding to anyone, any age, especially kids

When I became a teacher myself, I understood the lesson from above – never say something wounding to anyone, any age. Praise evaporates but harsh words leave an itchy scar. Kids can easily infer meaning from facial expressions and body language without a spoken word. So if we cannot lie through our teeth that we have confidence in them – Wanted: Teachers who can lie to students without hesitation! – the least we can do is to not discourage them.

There is a very thin line between discouraging someone and pushing someone to perform better. The best teachers know who to push how and who not to.

Teachers' Day: Five life lessons from my teachers

2 “Do not get satisfied too easily in life”

This piece of advice given verbatim by my PhD supervisor redefined pretty much everything I did, from research to teaching. We must have the drive to push ourselves more – let me do one more set of problems before the exam, let me refer to one more book before I go to my next class, let me take one more set of data points before I complete my experiment, instead of concluding something with 5 years of past data, let me push myself to get a few more years and so on.  The essential point is, do not get married to mediocrity. Strive for excellence. In this case, the grass is greener.

Life itself is a great teacher and one related lesson I leant painfull is never ever sell yourself short. Push harder and higher all the time.

3 “Do not get emotionally attached to a place or work”

Perhaps younger readers may not be able to relate to the following. This advice was from a faculty who served as the student advisor for my Msc class.  Seven years later (post PhD) when I was about to leave IITM he told me this. I did not understand what it meant at first but later on realised that:  we must not hesitate to change the kind of work we do or the place at which we do it if that is what our heart wants. We owe it to ourselves to follow our heart and not get stuck in one place with a false sense of loyalty.  We are not important as individuals to any workplace and are dispensable. I have been doing this all my life unknowingly, but when I could place his words in context, it gave me whole new sense of purpose.

4 “The husband and wife should be like the strings of the tambura”

This is again from my PhD advisor and he said this when I invited him to my marriage. I can say will full confidence that is the only reason my marriage works. It means the man and woman should support each other and be there for each other, without being in the way. The strings of the tambura are parallel. They go from one end to another together but never cross.

5 Say it like it is at all times

This I realized is the only thing that works with my students. They are my teachers today. It is a huge challenge to teach young adults who are often disillusioned with the system and the subject. In school, they see all these youtube videos and NatGeo documentaries about science and have all fancy ideas. When they actually see how the academic system works and the job prospects in front of them (or the lack thereof), they become pessimistic and get into a shell.

It takes too much time to break them out of their shell and make them appreciate the subject. After 12 years of full-time teaching, I can say with confidence that all it takes is – speak the truth at all the time. Do not give them fancy, rosy ideas about the future. Say it like it is, so they are forewarned about life outside college.

A big thank you to all my teachers, especially the ones at my school and undergraduate college. They did their best to inspire in spite of working on low salaries with professional restrictions. Happy teachers day to all.

I occasionally write about teaching and education. If you are interested, check them out:

How can we help our children choose their careers

Do marks determine the future of our children?

Guaranteed Returns From College Education?!

Campus Placements Should be Removed!

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About the Author M Pattabiraman author of freefincal.comM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the author and owner of  He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras since Aug 2006. Pattu” as he is popularly known, has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management.  He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice. Pattu publishes unbiased, promotion-free research, analysis and holistic money management advice. Freefincal serves more than one million readers a year (2.5 million page views) with numbers based analysis on topical issues and has more than a 100 free calculators on different aspects of insurance and investment analysis. He conducts free money management sessions for corporates  and associations(see details below). Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, TamilNadu Investors Association etc. Contact information: freefincal {at} Gmail {dot} com (sponsored posts or paid collaborations will not be entertained)
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  1. Simply superb. Last paragraph is the icing on the cake. Most neglected and ridiculed professional today must be our middle school teachers working tirelessly for pittance but almost singlehandedly raising a whole generation of citizens. Thanks foe for a beautiful writeup.

  2. I would never have understood many financial topics by myself and would never have tried what I am trying if it wasn’t for you. So, a mighty thanks to you.

    Happy Teacher’s Day dear Professor.

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