A chapter from the book Once Upon a Time written by Fr. George Hess, SJ
Many incidents took place during my ten years as principal yet they are not the life of the school. They are something like the presence of the fat in meat which gives taste to what otherwise would be bland; and so it is memorable incidents, other than school routine, which mark days and years.
School routine in Loyola in 1953 began with the annual start of the school year in early January and a few years later, for reasons of school certificate exams in February, the opening of classes moved to March. For me the January opening was a major difference from the American school/college system where the opening of classes takes place in September, the end of summer.
Another major difference that I found in the school year was that, unlike the American system of three months’ summer holidays between end of one teaching year and the beginning of the next our Indian schools have five weeks vacation during the oppressive heat of May, another ten days at the religious festival season in October termed the ‘Puja’(religious) holidays, ten days at the end of the calendar year and three weeks between the end of one year of classes and the beginning of the next in March.
National, cultural, and religious holidays during the year punctuate the scholastic regimen with the amount of holiday/vacation working out about the same; but it avoids the American teacher’s problem of spending a least a week in September reviewing the previous year’s courses before attempting to impart new knowledge.
School timings ran from about 9 A.M to 3 P.M and this came in for change during the first weeks of hot weather in May when an abbreviated class day ran from 7 or 8 A.M. to 1 P.M.
Another change occurred in those schools which ran a morning session for one batch of students and an afternoon session for a different batch because of the lack of enough school buildings to accommodate the number of students. A less laudatory reason in many instances was the misplaced emphasis of some schools on gathering more funds by having two groups of fee-paying students per day rather than only one.
Still another change occurred when educational thinking swayed to the opinion that more concerted time for study would be beneficial —starting classes earlier and closing earlier, leaving a full afternoon for the books. This thinking had an unfortunate result in that it dovetailed with the increasing dependence of parents and students on private tutoring during afternoons and early evenings.
Another less beneficial aspect of that change was lack of attention paid by students to their teachers during a class and a lessening of effort on the part of teachers who knew that tutors would fill in the gaps. They themselves could devote off-school hours to tutoring – in the comfort of home, with no disciplinary problems and with much larger money returns.
The benefit of this to teachers is that they became more financially independent, a good result, but the parents lost trust in them in the classroom. Schools had prohibitions against teachers tutoring their own students, easily solved as friends exchanged students.
Teachers were willing to work for lower salaries because of their tutoring and schools could hire teachers with fewer outflows of funds.
All in all the system as it has developed hardly lives up to the ideals of the best educational thinkers.
The school day at Loyola began with a morning assembly of all students when a prayer of offering to God was recited by all. Announcements of importance were made by the principal; a talk was given by a student on the occasion of national holidays; and the school song was sung once a week.
The school songs of both Loyola and later of De Nobili were composed by Dr. Larry Dietrich, using a rousing American university tune with verses which he composed. They are good helping to set Loyola and De Nobili apart from other schools and they are sung decades later by alumni when they gather.
Students were required to go to classes in silence; otherwise there would be a bedlam of noise because naturally they prefer to talk; we played marches over the P.A. system to fill in the lack of noise for them. They did not have to march to the tempo of the music; but, they did refrain from talking, ensuring also that the teacher who went with them did not have to take time in bringing the class to order.
Silence in classrooms while teaching was in progress was also required but some teachers thrive on continual interchange with the students and those were encouraged, better that than dull eyed staring, and dull eared listening by the faces on the benches.
Benches, that is what I found, and still find in most Indian schools where a desk is shared by two and a hard seat shared by two, which we changed by donating double desks to a village school and replacing them by single seats with an enlarged writing area, making it easier for teachers to ensure that no copying took place during tests and exams. Fewer students could be crammed into classrooms, all to the good as forty was enough to meet expenses and also not too many for the teacher to pay personal attention to each. After my time financial considerations led to fifty being in a room.
During my first years at Loyola I wore a pair of crepe soled shoes which made my approach on corridors soundless not done in order to eavesdrop on classes but because Indian stores do not carry sizes larger than 10 while I need 14. Every Indian city has small shoe maker shops where the customer’s foot is measured and where the needed size is mad; my crepe soled shoes were ones which I had brought with me when coming to India. Students from the 1950’s recall the soundless approach of the principal and they attribute some of the good discipline to that.
I moved about the building in a direction such that teachers could see me coming but not the students, making it possible for me to stop at the rear door and see what was taking place learning also about primary education with good teaching methods and sometimes poor ones. In later construction two doors in classrooms became a building requirement so that in case of fire or some other accident the rooms can be emptied quickly.
A business entrepreneur recently remarked that success comes from “making your people feel important”, which is especially true with teachers who must function as leaders in their classrooms; it is the duty of the principal to hire competent teachers and then to encourage them in their work in the classroom. They do the teaching; they are important and when the principal shows this the students observe it and profit more from the teaching.
The opposite of this took in another local school where I was invited to visit classes together with the principal who continually interrupted teachers to correct them or to ask students questions. It was evident to me that this was a blatant demonstration of his authority and it left classes shaken, accompanied by a large turnover of teachers in his school.
Most schools in India are constructed in a straight line of classrooms with a verandah on one side since in most parts of the country there is no need for a building which is closed to shut out the cold. Classroom doors are kept open, a practice which in a corridor building can lead to disturbance of one class by activities in the room opposite.
Since Loyola was constructed in a square, the distance from one side to the other ensured that sound did not carry sufficiently enough to disturb classes on the opposite side and the presence of the principal could be seen by all.
At least twice a day I made the round of classes. When talking with Mr. Sarosh Ghandy, the CEO of TELCO, truck and earth mover company of Jamshedpur, he mentioned that the first thing he did every morning on coming to work was to spend two hours walking through the plant . This kept him personally aware of what was taking place, and also helped him in foreseeing problem before they grew
Sarosh Ghandy was the one whom I approached in 1980 for land for the teachers’ training college. I had asked for ten acres and he offered fifteen. This will be explained when writing about that college later.
My walks through kept me aware of the teaching abilities of each of the staff and knowing each by sight. One of them contacted me to remind me that while he and I were talking outside classrooms a senior student passed between us, leading me to call him back and walk around to the side; I knew all of the students by sight, if not all by name.
Loyola and Sacred Heart School, run by the Apostolic Carmel sisters for girls, were the only English medium schools in the city in 1953 where TISCO ran several fine schools, in Hindi medium. Gradually parents realized that a working and fluent speaking knowledge of English has become mandatory for most professional training and for the ability to move from one area of India to another in work life encouraging the number of English medium schools in Jamshedpur to grow now to twenty five.
When the Senior Cambridge Overseas Examinations, inherited from the British, were replaced by the Indian School Certificate Examinations; the government of India set up its own nationwide system, the Central Board School Examinations where schools affiliated to the C.B.S.E. can run in English medium or in Hindi medium and because of government of India’s backing there are 4500 of those schools versus 2000 I.C.S.E. schools, with which Loyola, and later De Nobili School were affiliated.
Some principals of those schools asked my opinion of changing to that system under the impression that their course is slightly superior; a governmental educational survey disproved that results which were kept under wraps for five years before I finally leaked them out.
The system devised by the government is a fine one which was set up by an old Jesuit friend Fr. Tom Kunnunkal, who had been principal of St. Xavier’s School, Delhi and who was personally selected by the Prime Minister who knew him.
Loyola School ran in English medium but all students were required to take and pass examinations in Hindi, or in another Indian language where we offered both Hindi and Bengali which had to be passed each year and in the school certificate examination. Two German students whose parents taught them German during their stay in India passed the Hindi examinations.
To keep up to date with the latest school texts we received notices and sample copies from publishers; teachers of each subject, lowest to highest class, were provided with the samples and asked to give their opinions which they gave on a form expressing their satisfaction or otherwise of the texts in use. They were not allowed to write ‘all satisfactory’ but each textbook was to be named individually and rated to make sure that they applied their minds to one of the foolish directions of the principal. If a textbook was less satisfactory they could make suggestions for a change.
Text books for English medium schools were invariably imported in the early 50’s until Indian authors blossomed with books reflecting Indian rather than English culture and Indian text book publishers also blossomed becoming my friends over 27 years as a school principal, whether I used their products or not.
One publisher suggested to me in 1960 that I place a table in the back of the hall meeting place of the annual meeting of the ASISC, association of schools proposing that he would display books for the inspection of principals and offering Rs 500/- (more than $ 10 at that time) payment for the privilege. I accepted immediately; that sum was more than the annual membership paid by member schools and in the following year five publishers came forward with one of them offering to host the lunch for our one day meeting, thereby solving for all time the shaky financial status of the association.
Now one or more publishers host lunch and dinner for each of the three days to which the meeting grew; at least thirty stalls are provided where principals can compare quality of innumerable texts. And, the publishers themselves live up to the competition by improvement in their wares, the capitalistic system at its best. .
Competition also led to presentations by publishers to the principals -- of good notebooks and later of useful traveling bags. At one meeting a publisher friend told me that he had just given a fine bag to a principal who went into the hall through one door, came out through another without the bag and walked up to him to claim a second handout.
Creative accounting in this largesse caused the publishers to emblazon the names of their establishments on the outside of the gifts. Advertising.
One publisher asked for my personal opinion of the quality of his work and assuming that he was sincere, I pointed out that the quality of the paper would not stand up to long usage and I asked whether his brother-in-law had drawn the illustrations which were laughably poor. He was annoyed, perhaps because of Indian cultural use of ‘brother-in-law’, a disparaging term.
Visiting of schools hosting the association meetings and visiting of many of the Jesuit schools in the country helped in ensuring that my own school, Loyola, could benefit by their ideas. Education in India is a vibrant and stimulating entity on which I reported back to Loyola teachers after each foray into meetings, held annually in different parts of the country and contributing also to the growth of my photo and slide collections.
A personal adjustment which I made was with regard to smoking in my office, by myself, that is; I had been a pipe smoker for years as a Jesuit, a practice begun during study years when I found it useful and when the pipe was chosen because I saw see how many cigarettes were required by smokers. Additionally I also saw that there were old time tobacconists who would make special mixtures to suit individual tastes and who would keep a record of these; and pipe smoking involved little of dangerous lung inhalation.
Students enjoyed what they looked upon as a mark of elegance in their principal.
Pipe smoking can involve ritual; choose the pipe, a different one each day; ream out some of the caking on the inside of the bowl; fill it with tobacco; tamp it just enough to burn evenly and run a pile cleaner through the stem.
The first pipe in my office in the morning was invariably put aside when a visitor came in, or a class was to be visited. Lighting it again later it wasn’t the same, bringing me to the realization that I smoked once per day or even once in two days. I stopped pretending and stopped smoking, although a pipe can make a good prop for a photo of an intellectual, which I was not and otherwise it was a waste of time.
This was confirmed when I spent a year of studies in Stanford University in the States to which I took a dozen pipes, which happened to still be in a drawer of my desk and I bought a pound of tobacco, throwing most of it away when leaving to return to India.
Ten years as a school principal is rather lengthy for a Jesuit as for anyone; few last that long since it can be a tiring and frustrating job when problems surface every day. Nevertheless I enjoyed it enjoying knowledge and I enjoying sharing it with others. Each class affords opportunity for a creative approach and they frequently result in a new appreciation of the subject itself where I found a deeper understanding of my subject when I had to explain it to students.
Quality of Indian students
They are as intelligent as those any place in the world, but with more enthusiasm than many, because of the spirit of independence which carries over from political independence in 1947. My former students, and concurrently active friends, have provided their families and India with lawyers, government ministers, advocates general, generals, admirals, inspectors general of police, CEOs of million ton steel plants, doctors in India and abroad as well as teachers and local small business men.
They live by the principals strengthened during school days, with realization of accountability to God. Loyola School turned a blind eye to caste differences, which have been outlawed but which can still hold sway in promotions and in elections, as is true in any country, however modern it claims to be.
The cloistered life of Jesuits, living together, praying together, enables us to concentrate; concentrate on God and on our work, mainly of teaching, in which one feeds the other. However this tends to isolate us from the daily concerns of students and of the families of our students. Knowing this we try to stave off this isolation from the world in which we are living, and to the extent that we are successful we live more closely with God; We give time and energy to devote ourselves to students, recognizing God within them, whatever be their beliefs and rituals, which we may not share but which we respect. In return students respect us in the same way.
My tenure as principal had to come to an end because for the last six years I also had the responsibility of being Rector of the Jesuit community for which six years is full term and requiring a change.
I like to think, and I have reason for it, that my students were lastingly challenged mentally and that they moved on with an enhanced ability to think and to be grateful to God.
My next assignment, as principal of De Nobili School, was to last seventeen years.