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Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different

My favourite class in school was my 7th grade English class taken by a teacher named Sneha Cherian, who preferred we called her Miss Cherian.

Miss Cherian was strict and a no-nonsense teacher. But her classes were loads of fun, and they were all the more enjoyable because of a few classmates who would make some hilarious comments during her class.

Miss Cherian was unconventional, and I believe that’s one of the reasons why she was a great teacher. She understood that the curriculum was inept at providing a good education.

So, one of the things she did differently from the other teachers was that she would start each of her classes by giving us spell checks where we had to spell difficult words we had never heard before.

We would then have to write down the meaning of the word and use it in a sentence as homework and submit it the next day. These spell checks introduced me to all sorts of words like cynosure, gerrymander, alacrity etc.

I learned more about the English language in her class than in any other English class I’ve had before or since then, and her spell-check book is the only book from school that I have kept.

It wasn’t that I loved English so much as a subject, but it was more to do with how she taught us. It was evident that she put her heart and soul into teaching us.

Another teacher from school who was quite unconventional was my Malayalam language teacher, Jayan sir, who would tell us some strange things.

*He would say all sorts of things like how chickens are fed antibiotics and pumped with growth hormones and how commercial toothpaste and many pharmaceutical medicines were harmful to the body.

Most of us students would laugh it off because none of us had heard such things before, and so many of us never took him seriously and even thought he was a little strange.

In the back of my mind, I’d wonder, if this was really the case, how come I'd never heard of these things from my parents or anyone else before?

It was only after I graduated from school and explored some of his statements on a deeper level I realised that he had been right about so many things all along.

In hindsight, I realise he was someone who genuinely cared for his students by informing them about things that happened in the real world instead of conveniently sticking to teaching his subject.

He didn’t let his students’ perception of him as a strange person who said crazy things deter him from carrying out his role as an educator.

When I think of some of the unconventional people I’ve known, I find it ironic that two school teachers come to mind, because in schools being different is certainly not encouraged, whether among students or even teachers.

As writer, Suzy Kassem puts it eloquently,

“We have been programmed since our earliest school years to become followers, not individuals. We have been conditioned to embrace the herd, the masses, popular opinion -- and to reject what is different, eccentric or stands alone.”

But it is usually the non-conformists or the people who have the courage to stay true to themselves (in a world that tries to make them like everyone else) that end up making a big impact on the world.

Of course, being different from most won’t necessarily make you well-liked and accepted by everyone, as was perhaps the case with my two school teachers.

But they sure did a great job educating students, and they had more of an impact on me than all the other teachers I had in school.

Like my two school teachers, I’d urge you to have the courage to follow your heart and intuition when it nudges you to do things that others may view as different, strange or weird.


*Note: Now it’s widely known how chickens are grown and the ill-effects of many pharmaceutical drugs, but a decade ago, when he said these things, there wasn't much awareness about such things, certainly not among us students.

But even today, there isn’t widespread awareness about the harmful effects of commercial toothpaste and fluoride. However, nowadays, toothpaste made of organic and natural ingredients is more easily available.

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