“Having a baby changed things for me. I was certain that looking after my baby and flying would not have been possible and that was when I decided to take a break.”
Anyone can learn from a book. But a #TerrificTeacher can make the difference between passing an exam and learning a life lesson. The Better India salutes those for whom teaching is not a job but a higher calling.
What do pilots and teachers have in common? Much more than meets the eye. A teacher, like a pilot, is in complete control of the children in the classroom. She is in charge of ensuring that each student in the class navigates through turbulent times and is responsible for their safety and well being.
In an exclusive conversation with The Better India, Debjani Mukherjee, an erstwhile pilot who is now a teacher in a school in Gurugram, speaks about the shift she made, the joy it has brought her, and her experiences.
Having enrolled to get the commercial pilot license in 1991, Debjani recounts her experience, “My father was a regular service person, and no one in my family had ever aspired to fly.”
“Here, I was determined to become a pilot. I was lucky to have had the support of my uncle, who supported me and nurtured my dreams.”
Having got her commercial pilot license from Dallas, Debjani returned to India, ready to fly.
Debjani flew with various airlines for almost eight years before getting married. “Having a baby changed things for me. I was certain that looking after my baby and flying would not have been possible and that was when I decided to take a break.”
Tryst with teaching
“It began when I started taking my daughter to school every day. She would howl and bawl and on most days, I had to sit with her in class to help her settle down. That’s when I started thinking about taking up teaching.”
“While I always loved being around kids, I wasn’t sure if being a teacher was something I was cut out for,” she says.
Debjani had two options at that time: to take a ground job with an airline or pursue her interest in teaching. “I didn’t want to be with an airline and not be able to fly, as that would have broken my heart,” she shares.
She continues, “If I had to change my profession, I’d rather change it a full 360 degrees. I took up a Montessori teaching course and armed myself with the requisite qualifications to teach.”
Learnings from being a teacher
For Debjani, the difference between being a teacher and flying an aircraft is very thin. She says, “I realised early on, that the complete control of the classroom is with me, much like the aircraft I would fly. The sense of responsibility I felt towards the passengers was similar to what I felt with my tiny tots, who come in each day with excitement, trepidation, and a little nervousness.”
“The focus that is required to handle both jobs is the same. There is not a moment in which you can afford to switch off.”
“Once I enter the classroom, my undivided attention is towards the kids, just like it had to be when I entered the cockpit.”
Perhaps if I had chosen to be a part of the corporate world, I would not have felt this way,” she says.
When asked if she misses flying, she answers, “I most certainly do. It was a passion, which I managed to see through. However, with the little ones who come to us each day, the learnings are completely different, and there are no two days that are ever similar. That keeps me going.”
When Debjani joined the profession, she gave herself time to see if she would settle into being a teacher. And almost eight years later, she is glad that she made the shift.
A kindergarten teacher is often forgotten
“The five-year-olds that come to us are like a sponge, waiting to absorb everything that is taught to him. Believe me when I say that they are the ones who are teaching us,” she says.
As the kids move on and go to the upper classes, some students forget their teachers, but some will always come back for that one hug. “It’s a learning for us as well, that these students come to us for that one year, and then they move on – as teachers we also have to learn to deal with it,” she says.
Debjani takes immense pride in what she does – shaping such young, sharp minds and that is something that she cherishes, she says, as we end our conversation.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)