Somewhere in the big world, among the myriad millions, a teacher retires today. Were she to be a star in sports or on screen, or even a character in graceless politics, media might have gone berserk to proclaim the event. But she is a star no less. In fact, she is a star on a bigger scale.
She is a Teacher.
I have known Madam Choki Dukpa from my days at the erstwhile National Institute of Education at Samtse, in the mid-1980s, where a fledgling me shared my little space with the larger space of my seasoned senior colleague, Lopon Dorji Tshering, while his newly-married, graceful wife, taught at the Primary School, just a glance away.
In a long and distinguished career dedicated to leading and lightening, the educator-couple moved to several locations around the country till they were transferred to Thimphu. Madam Choki Dupka retires today, March 4, 2021, from Jigme Losel Primary School, where she has been an exceptional Principal for 14 years out of her over four decades of teaching that includes 30 years as Principal in different schools, blazing a trail of success wherever she worked.
At a time when education is a regular topic of discussion even among some of the most uninitiated upstarts and where teacher morale remains a sustained issue of concern, one wonders what it is that keeps the likes of Madam Choki Dukpa not only to forge on as an educator through all her working life, but also to enjoy and celebrate her work to a chastening degree of engagement.
In my own little universe of an educator, I like to explore what I term as the moment of truth that somebody has to confront as he or she decides to be an educator or teacher or indeed a school-leader. I find the metaphor of The Triangle Noble very convenient to examine the factors that one ought to consider at the moment of truth: love of children or learners, love or passion for learning, and conviction of the power of knowledge to make a difference.
In my scheme of things, Madam Choki sits perfectly and most legitimately within The Triangle Noble, exemplifying, to an incredible level, the cardinal virtues of love of children, passion for learning, and conviction of the power of knowledge. The rich legacy that Madam Choki leaves behind as she bids goodbye to Jigme Losel Primary School family and retires from her active professional engagement today is an account of her beliefs and her work through the years.
I have fond memories of my visits to the school and of interacting with the children and fellow-educators, and every time, I came back wondering how so much could happen in such a small place, covering less than one acre, boasting very modest infrastructure and limited resources!
We worked hard to find more space for our school to ease the problem, but all around the school, there were and still are other established structures and public facilities. As so often is the case, our seats of learning end up having to make do with the leftovers when the best bite is enjoyed by others. I still shudder at the recollection of an incident when several of our Jigme Losel School children were dragged along by a moving bus as they stood at the parking lot immediately outside the school premises.
But, inside that little space, some miracle was happening, all the time, quietly, mindfully, and diligently. Madam Choki was leading her fellow-educators and children to do more with less, to make virtue of adversity, to expand the inner world when the outer world was limited, to truly live out the core principles on which education is founded – hope and possibility.
Jigme Losel Primary was a ready reference point when we launched the nationwide education reform programme of Educating for Gross National Happiness via the Green Schools strategy in 2010, lauded by the likes of The Guardian, winning prizes like Wenhui Award under the UNESCO for their amazing life-learning programmes, including sustainability skills, service to the needy, community outreach, waste management, ethics banking, and whole-school approach to leadership building and citizenship education, among others.
Learn, Value, Practise. These triple active verbs inform and guide the life of the school that Madam Choki and her team have nurtured over the years to provide purposeful learning that engages the head, the heart and the hands.
The school is a true community affair that welcomes and celebrates not only the children and teachers, but also parents, and visitors from all walks of life who are inspired to make their own inputs into its collective life. A stray visitor has become a much-loved Agay that keeps vigil over the school and community with the keenest sense of who is who!
An invincible fighter, Madam Choki not only beat the cancer-foe but returned to work with the same vigour and passion and led the school through the pandemic and related disruptions till her last day of covenant with the government.
Teachers generally fall into two categories – inspired teachers, and made teachers. Inspired teachers are born, natural teachers. Their incentive comes from deep within their being, and not necessarily from external stimuli. They naturally fall within the virtuous triangle. This category, sadly, is rather small. Madam Choki belongs here.
Regardless of reward or recognition, the old faithful forge on and flourish. They keep the system going from day to day, energised by a vision and a passion that takes them beyond. Such teachers teach not only what they KNOW. They teach who they ARE. And, that makes all the difference.
Made teachers derive their incentive from external sources – other teachers, parents, friends, books, training, remuneration, recognition and such other stimuli that influence their choice to become teachers and to stay on or to move on. This forms the larger category. The good news is that even made teachers can be as good as inspired teachers over time as they discover the beauty and inherent rewards in the profession.
Teaching, I confess, is perhaps the most difficult job in the world. It is in fact a mission, not really a job, far less a duty or employment. The act of teaching engages the whole person – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, socially, culturally, professionally, and ethically, above all. That is the reason that so many teachers suffer burn-outs and exhaustion.
Madam Choki, like so many other passionate teachers, didn’t realize how her system was giving way!
Teaching is, at the same time, the most beautiful mission in the world. You help make the world a better place. This is the ultimate call of education – to engage the genius of succeeding generations of citizens and enlist it to support the flourishing of life and of society.
Somebody has to do this difficult job, knowing full well that not everybody understands, let alone appreciates, what goes on in the inner world of the teacher. Gold medalist Madam Choki anchored her work to a cause higher than what ever so often passes off as teaching.
Teaching is indeed like writing an autobiography, but teachers, like Madam Choki, have little time to write their autobiography. But, in their act of sharing their life and learning, their autobiography is constantly being written – moment by moment, day by day, month by month, year by year – in the memory and gratitude of those who receive the light that they share with the generations that come later.
I could already read several extracts of your autobiography, Madam Choki, in the reflections of people whose lives you have touched. As your fellow-educator, I want to thank you for the light and the learning that you have shared these many decades with amazing love and boundless care.
Long after, it will be told of you, there was once a beloved teacher called Madam Choki Dukpa, our very own star, noble of the Sector Noble. ..
Thakur S Powdyel
Former Minister of Education.