Building bridges: The journey of a teacher par excellence

Building bridges: The journey of a teacher par excellence

“Money isn’t required to teach effectively. I can use two sticks and take a whole class on geometry and students will remember it forever,” – Nirmala Upadhyay

A few years ago, Nirmala was taken aback when one of her students’ parents turned up with a wedding invitation. It was too late for her to intervene for the girl but as soon as she came to know that the younger daughter too was going to be married off, she stepped in. Not only was the younger girl saved from child marriage, she now plays hockey and has represented the state at the national level.

Nirmala Upadhyay, principal, Poorna Madhyamik Vidyalaya, Chak Ahmedpur, Rae Bareily takes special pride in her school and students. Associated with the school since 2004, she, along with her mentor Lakshmi Kant Shukla (she refers to him as ‘sir’), have built this school together from scratch, literally.

“This was declared a model school in 2004. Which meant there were no teachers or students and it was supposed to be re-established. Sir was the principal and he asked me to join him. He got a few children that he knew, and when I came some of my students joined this school. The school started with 6 students; today there are 116 students,” she says.

A child bride herself, Nirmala studied and completed her Basic Teaching Certificate (BTC) programme while managing her household chores. After her son was born, she decided she had to work. “I wouldn’t have got any support from my in-laws. I approached my father and expressed interest to work. I joined a school in 1985, although I had completed BTC in 1976. I didn’t want to ask anyone for money and so getting a job was my priority,” she recalls. She informed them after joining work; she was persuaded to leave her job. “The job gave me wings and I wasn’t prepared to be subjugated any longer. My husband, who initially went by the rules of the house, understood my stance eventually and has been very supportive ever since.”

She has invested so much of herself in the school- she is the first to arrive and the last to leave- that the results are for everyone to see. The school is clean and the students are well dressed. The school compound has well maintained potted plants which the students take responsibility to take care of. She is trying to set up a lab with basic facilities for the students.

She has ensured that there is a RO system for drinking water and a water cooler. The mid-day meal is closely monitored and the quality is ensured as teachers too have the same meals. She is making the school disable-friendly by installing a western toilet.  Not all of this is paid for by the government – she, teachers, others have all chipped in to ensure the school is run well. Teachers say that it is Nirmala’s goodwill and dedication that motivates people to contribute to the school.

Her students are encouraged to take up sports. She had never played any sport till she became a teacher; she learnt kabaddi by watching others play, taught her students and even became a referee for school events. She has ensured her students have the facility for football, badminton, kho kho, handball, flying saucer and ring, and hockey. In fact, her students are now demanding an extra hour at school so that they can spend some more time in sports.

Not just sports, she tries to inculcate respect in her students towards all professions. She has held sessions with local potters and basket weavers to talk to students about their work and learn the skills. “Some of our students belong to the same community and they are filled with pride if a relative of theirs is brought to school and felicitated. This gives them a sense of honour in the work that they would otherwise see as unimportant,” Nirmala points out.   

The school located in Rae Bareilly municipality (urban), is surrounded by private schools. So the children who come to the government school are either those who cannot afford to go to the private school or are very poor in studies. But over the years, they have also attracted a lot of students from the private schools in the neighbourhood. And on several occasions, she has been complimented for the well-mannered and talented students of her school being better than those from the private schools. 

Nirmala and her teachers, with the help of Lokmitra and Oxfam India, have started the initiative to bring up to speed those children who have come to class 6, 7 or 8 from primary and other schools but are unable to read or write accordingly. At the moment there are 18 such students. The initiative started in July.

Having sat through one such Math lesson, it was evident that students were able to grasp more, analyze better and discuss without inhibition. “This makes the student very confident. We have been closely associated with Lokmitra for a long time and that has helped us broaden our horizons as teachers,” she says. In fact, teachers too at times sit through the sessions that Lokmitra takes so they can incorporate it in their daily schedule.  

Apart from encouraging the teachers to pick up valuable pedagogy methods, she has also encouraged interaction with teachers from other schools. “Interaction with teachers from different schools during Gyaan Mela has provided us the opportunity to learn new methods of teaching. The most important lesson is that money isn’t required to teach effectively. I can use two sticks and take a whole class on geometry and the children will remember those lessons for their entire lives.”


Awarded at both the state and the national level, Nirmala is on committees of National Scouting and Guiding Association of India. The pride and respect between her and the students is mutual. Teachers and students, alike, want to follow the footsteps of Nirmala. She is after all, working tirelessly towards building a better future for her children. 

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