“As teachers, we influence generations of youngsters”

Dr. Prita Mallya, Principal of Shree Damodar College highlights her journey from a school teacher to Principal

Dr. Prita Mallya was born and brought up in Pune. Her father was a scientist at National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) in Pashan, Pune and her mother taught at the NCL pre-primary school. Her childhood was spent at the NCL colony amidst children and adults of all ages, where they screened movies at an auditorium every week and participated in the 11-day Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav programme every year. She did her schooling at St. Joseph’s High School, Pashan, Pune where she played field hockey and went on to represent her school, college and university as captain, as well as the State of Maharashtra in women’s hockey.

She completed her B.A. in Economics from Fergusson College and then joined the renowned Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics for her Masters in Economics and topped Pune University. At that time, the qualification for becoming a College teacher was a Master’s degree and an M.Phil degree in the subject. She stayed on at Gokhale Institute for her M.Phil, which she completed with a UGC Junior Research Fellowship, and was awarded the Pune University prize for the ‘Best Dissertation’.

Dr. Prita speaks on what attracted her to teaching as a profession. “I think all children go through the stage where they want to become teachers – probably because that is one of the first professions that they come in contact with. For me however, it lasted. And it got reinforced when I joined college – we were already on the semester system and had regular internal assessments. For all our courses we had an oral test for 5 marks.

I remember two of my Economics teachers telling me, during the course of the test, that I should do my MA in Economics and become a lecturer in a college.” Her parents, especially her father, was very particular that their daughters should have post-graduate qualifications and while her sister did her M.Sc in Chemistry, Dr Prita completed her MA in Economics. “Once I entered Gokhale Institute, there was no question – our Professors took it for granted that we would become teachers at the Undergraduate or Postgraduate level and/or researchers. And I think most of us did just that.”

Dr. Prita enjoyed her years as a teacher, meeting new students every year, seeing fresh faces, watching them in the corridors and outside, laughing and enjoying themselves. “I loved the actual act of teaching itself – introducing students to concepts and theories, giving them examples, demonstrating the relevance to real life, seeing the understanding on their faces, showing them that Economics is not difficult – I loved it. My only disappointment is that in my 30+ years of teaching, I must have come across just 2-3 students who asked questions. When students ask questions, especially uncomfortable ones, we become better teachers.” For her, class control was never an issue and says that one doesn’t need a loud voice to control a class. “Make the class interesting, make sure that the entire class has understood, and you get everyone’s attention.”

She elaborates on her experience as a Principal. “As Principal, it has been a mixed bag. I went from teacher to Principal in the same College, with the same colleagues, some of whom were my seniors. For the first year or so, it was difficult to shake off the idea that I was no longer one of them; it was not easy to assert authority.

I must say that I have received tremendous cooperation from all my teacher colleagues and the non-teaching staff. We have implemented several new ideas and practices, some of which have meant more work for them, particularly the teachers, but they have done it all, without complaint and with full enthusiasm and zeal. The amount of respect that you get in society as a Principal is truly amazing and very humbling. I would be lying if I said I do not enjoy that, but you also have to live up to the image that people have!”

When Dr. Prita joined Shree Damodar College in 1992, she had no thoughts of becoming the Principal. She was content to be teacher and given that her children were young, she wanted to spend as much time as possible, with them.

“After I completed my PhD, the then Principal appointed me Assistant Principal of the College – this was a position he specifically created to get me into administration and decision-making. In that position, I gained administrative experience, particularly in the College dealings with Goa University. Still later, I became the Vice-Principal of the College and learned more about the functioning of the College. When the Principal retired, I was selected to the post. As you can see, I have basically worked my way through the ranks”

All through her life, Dr. Prita has admired different people along the way. “One is my English teacher in high school, Ms. Kiran Karandikar, under whose tutelage I learned the art of writing. My Professor at Gokhale Institute, Prof. Neelkanth Rath, who insisted on conceptual understanding and strong fundamentals and lastly my late husband, Dr. Dayanand R. Mallya. He was the most resourceful person I have ever known; he was a dermatologist, but very interested in engineering, architecture and design, he was a vociferous reader and remembered that everything that he read; he was fiercely independent, extremely progressive, and very unconventional. My husband was a pillar of strength and support. He personally believed that everyone should be financially independent and not have to ask anyone for money – it is important for one’s dignity. ”

Dr Prita also attributes her success to her peers and her seniors from whom she has learnt so much. “Younger colleagues who willingly cooperated and collaborated with me and a large part of what I have been able to achieve, especially after becoming Principal, is because of the support from my colleagues.”

She concludes with a message to aspiring teachers. “I would say that you should take up teaching only if you have the skill, if teaching excites you and if you really enjoy teaching. To be an effective teacher, you have to have command over the subject, you have to be absolutely, 100% clear on your basics and fundamentals, regular reading and updating of knowledge are a must, communication skills are crucial, you should be able to engage the class and you have to have loads of patience.

Prepare for every class – whether it is your first, hundredth, thousandth or millionth–never ever go to class unprepared–it is very unfair to students if you don’t give of your best. Watch your behaviour, your actions – your actions speak so loud, students cannot hear what you are saying. As teachers, we influence generations of youngsters; more often than not, students themselves don’t realise and recognize the influence, but it is nonetheless there”

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