Renu Sara Alexander

Principal – Spartan Matriculation School

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If you’re struggling with self- confidence, then Renu Sara Alexander’s journey will inspire you. As the Principal of Spartan Matriculation School, she shares anecdotes from her personal and professional life that encourage us to live a life of integrity and excellence.
As Principal of Spartan Matriculation School, Mogappair, Renu Sara Alexander has been working in the sphere of education ever since she graduated in 1992. She has won many laurels for her exemplary contribution and service and even received "Woman of the Year" (2013) from the Rotary Club, "The Best Teacher Award" (2014) from Madam J. Jayalalitha, and "Woman of the Year" (2015) from the Malayalee Council of Chennai, among others.

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My dad was an Army officer, and my mother a fabulous lady with huge leadership skills. So one would expect the resultant daughter to be very confident, but I had a very diffident childhood. My parents tried their best to build me up, they weren’t very successful. So my dad had this mantra, that he would keep telling me as often as he could that, ‘My daughter would be second to nobody’. I remember the first time he told me this, I was actually hiding the report card behind me. In a class of  43, I had just got the 42nd rank. I believed what my Dad said because he brought me up like a tomboy.

I didn’t want to be this prim and proper girl. I was always taught to say yes when I firmly believed it was a no. So one day I came back from school, and I looked out for the weakest target and I found my mother and I said, ‘This is my opportunity.’

I realized teaching them physics, chemistry, and math is futile, so instead, I teach them to honour their parents. I teach them to reach out and help the community, give as much as you can, try and remove the plank from your eyes before you can knock off the speck from your neighbour’s eyes, and finally to keep themselves sexually pure.

For no rhyme or reason, I go to her and I blast her, I scream and shout at her. She looked shell-shocked and then she said something that was life-changing. She said, ‘You have all of your father’s angry genes in you and nobody can help you’. I remember going back into my room, my pillow soaked with tears and this was a very simple prayer. I said, ‘Big Daddy, I have fabulous parents. But if You can uproot these angry genes from within me and pour into me Your love, I would be grateful’. So, as a ten-year-old girl, I looked around to see if any miracle had happened. Nothing happened, but the work had already begun. Now, with 29 years of work I can firmly state Philippians 1:6- He’s still working on me.

Today, as a mother of two grown-up boys and a whole plethora of children, I am still a firm mother and I’m still a firm principal, but I doused them with love, affection and compassion – all of which are building blocks for children. When adults want to  connect with children, the very common question they ask is, ‘So what do you want to be when you grow up?’. I had my answer ready, I said, ‘You know what? When I grow up, I want to get married and I want to have lots of children of my own, and I want to take care of my parents and my in-laws’. Now, it seems a little weird, that how can I even think of something like that. God hands you down exactly what you asked, because He gave it to me on a platter. I would have had maybe a football field full of children, but much to my husband’s relief, we have only two children of our own. I’m surrounded by children and I’m soaked in them. We do have the opportunity to take care of our parents and in-laws. These children who I’m surrounded by and the children at home – what do I teach them? I realized teaching them physics, chemistry, and math is futile, so instead, I teach them to honour their parents. I teach them to reach out and help the community, give as much as you can, try and remove the plank from your eyes before you can knock off the speck from your neighbour’s eyes, and finally to keep themselves sexually pure. I just realized that it is not available in any textbook, but it is available in the best-selling book of the world- The Bible. So we introduce generously- the Bible,  and along with that, tons of sensitivity. Why sensitivity? Because it is the need of the hour, because in the era of video games, children feel you can kill three times and live [again]. I would like to share three real-life incidents on sensitivity. My examples will include a lot about my own children and the children in school.

Children and adults around are watching us all the time. If we can, we need to walk the talk.- Renu Sara Alexander Click To Tweet

First, I want to thank God because in all my years I have been able to balance out both my family and work, and never ever has God permitted me to compromise on the two. I thank God for my husband who actually gave me the freedom to work. I want to thank God for my spiritual mentor – my mom – who would never waste a moment to instil into me every little small thing that God would want me to do right. Let me share the incidents. Number one, my oldest son and I went for a long drive when he was all of six years old. He spotted a grey hair on my head. He said mama, ‘Do you know you have a grey hair?’.  Ladies don’t like to be reminded about that, but all the same, I said, ‘I know. Shh’.  So, he said, ‘What does that mean?’ I said, ‘It means that I’m growing old’. My son was upset and cried inconsolably for 45 mins. I was extremely glad that he was sensitive to his family, because he thought growing old means dying.

I realized a very wise man said, ‘Talk, talk, and talk; and if necessary use words. Children are watching’.

The second incident is about my younger boy. When he was all of three years old, we realized that he loved his birds and animals. So when he was celebrating his third birthday, we bought him a pair of ducklings, and that night he went missing. We looked for him everywhere on the roads, and he wasn’t there. So, finally fuming and upset about the situation, we went to our kitchen and there was a zero-watt bulb burning there, and my son was horizontal. Switching on the big lights, assuming that something has happened to him, we found a tiny boy in a tiny swimsuit, with the entire snorkelling kit equipment on his face. He had apparently poured half a mug of water on the floor, and two ducklings next to him. I said, ‘What is happening?’ He said something beautiful. He said, ‘Mama I have my Daddy and Mummy. These ducklings have no parents, so I have decided (this three year old boy has decided) to be the Daddy and Mummy to these ducklings. I will teach them to swim’.  I thank God when I look at the level of sensitivity as a 20 year old, nothing has changed.

My third incident is about a very difficult child in my school. He’s in standard 9, so I realized that this boy had issues both in school and home. His mother had come forward and said, ‘You know, I need you to do something.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I had an issue with this boy. He walked out of class yesterday and disobeyed his teacher. I’m going to punish [him]’. So the mom was excited, ‘Wow, so how did you punish him?’ I said I told him, ‘I’m not going to talk to you for a day’. This boy fell at my feet and said, ‘Ma’am, I am extremely sorry. I will never repeat it, again. Please forgive me’. His mother was excited by the innovative method of punishment. She said, ‘I’m going to apply this tomorrow’. She goes back home, comes back a week later looking not very happy. So I said, ‘Did it work?’ She said, ‘Yes, he was very upset. I mean, he upset me, and so I looked at him and said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to talk to you for two days’. It’s unbelievable what he said! He said, ‘Praise the Lord! I will have two days of peace’. So she asked me, ’What is wrong ?’ So, I said, ‘ The boy is the same and the situation is the same. The level of sensitivity is definitely different’. So if you ask me what my purpose is going to be it is definitely to train up the child in the way of the Lord, when he grows old he will not depart from it .

In our school, even if you get the last rank it's not a crime, it's not a sin. But if you've got the fifth rank compromising on your integrity by cheating and telling lies, we have an issue there.- Renu Sara Alexander Click To Tweet

I move on to integrity. Children and adults around are watching us all the time. If we can, we need to walk the talk. Another two incidents that changed my attitude towards integrity, start with my family. We went on this long drive, and our little fellow was just four years old. He was unwell, so he was clinging on to me, and as we were driving in our car he asked me this question, ‘So Dad, what was our first car?’ Dad said, ‘A Maruti 800’. Then, our son asked , ‘So what was our second car?’ My husband said it was a Santro.  Then, again our  son asked,  ‘What was our third car?’ My husband said,  ‘This is the car we are driving in’. Finally, he asked, ‘What is the fourth car going to be?’ My husband was very patient, but this disciplining mother – it took an inner stir – I said, ‘This is my moment’. I took the boy aside for five minutes of counselling, saying, ‘You need to be happy in life with what you have. You can’t be greedy. You can’t be avaricious. You can’t keep saying, what’s next’. He listened to me patiently for five minutes, and asked me a question that left me dumbfounded. He said, ‘In that case you should have been happy with the first car. Why did you move on to the third one?’

I realized a very wise man said, ‘Talk, talk, and talk; and if necessary use words. Children are watching’. I am a principal who sits amongst the children, I don’t have a room of my own. So, the other day in school, I had this vision of a child, a first standard child, looking very fierce and angry, and he was actually pulling a teacher who was laughing and smiling. I said, ‘What is this?’ I watched him come towards me and he was literally dragging. He put his answer paper in front of me, he said, ‘Do you know ma’am, how hard I worked for this examination?’

I firmly believe that if your purpose matches God’s purpose for you, and you maintain a great deal of integrity, you’re on your road to excellence.

This teacher, after all that I’ve written, has given me only 50 marks.’ So I looked at the teacher, and said, ‘How dare you give only 50 marks?’ She looks at me with a smile, and says, ‘Ma’am,  I gave him 50 on 50. The boy couldn’t understand’. I took out my green pen scored out the fifty and put 100 out of 100. This boy looks at me, he looks at the teacher and says, ‘I told you we have a very fair principal’. So I realized that it is very important for us to have integrity, and even from the child’s point of view. In our school, even if you get the last rank it’s not a crime, it’s not a sin. But if you’ve got the fifth rank compromising on your integrity by cheating and telling lies, we have an issue there. So we don’t talk to those children for a whole day. They do know that these days it’s fashionable to get the last rank, and not to compromise and try and get the first rank.

My second thing is, every school has a little bit of cheating and thieving, so it was there in our school. I categorize parents into two clear categories: one is extremely generous parents who give them a lot of money and give them no time at all, the next category is those who completely starve their children of money in the name of discipline. The Bible says, ‘Don’t make me so poor that I may steal. Don’t make me so rich that I may forget you’. So I decided that I’m going to start a 10 rupee method. I said, ‘If anybody is hungry, and your parents have denied you, no problem come to the principal. I’ll give you up to Rs. 10, you can take it next day and don’t give it back to me. But tomorrow, if any other person needs the money, make sure that you give it to them’. The children were very excited, but they came and told me, ‘Ma’am, soon you’ll be a very poor principal’. So, I said, ‘No, I just realized in life that the more I give, the richer I become’. So if you have children of your own, or you plan to have children of your own, I feel Matthew 18:6 which says that, if you cause any one of these children to sin, it is better you tie a millstone around your neck, and be cast into the depths of the sea. This fear is what is keeping me alive after 25 to 29 years as a principal.

If you’re feeling down in the dumps, feeling useless and terrible, remember you may be the Joseph in the jail who can’t see your excellence, your prosperity. But if your purpose matches with the purpose of God, and I promise you if your integrity is going to be 100%, not 99.9%, you will be Joseph the governor.

I move on to the last topic – excellence. I firmly believe that if your purpose matches God’s purpose for you, and you maintain a great deal of integrity, you’re on your road to excellence. My favourite character in the Bible is Joseph. In  Genesis 41:15-16,  Joseph asked to come in front of the Pharaoh and Pharaoh says, ‘I  heard you have the ability to interpret dreams’.  Joseph was dealt the biggest raw deal in life. For almost 75% of his life, his mom died, his brothers sold him, Potiphar’s wife accused him wrongly, he was in jail, and all sorts of things happened to him. So, I realized if I were Joseph and I’m going to be in front of the Pharaoh, what would I reply to his statement that I can interpret dreams? I’m Joseph. I would have definitely said, ‘Yes sir, I can interpret dreams but I also want to tell you something else. You have to get even with my brothers. You know what they did to me? You know my mom passed away, and I had no sympathy at all, and no family or friends. I came here and Potiphar’s wife was accusing me, and I jumped into the jail and this cup bearer who’s standing here never even thought about me when he came out’. What did Joseph say? In Genesis 41 :15, Pharoah says, ‘They see you have the ability to interpret dreams’, and Joseph says, ‘It would be beyond me to interpret dreams, only God can’. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, feeling useless and terrible, remember you may be the Joseph in the jail who can’t see your excellence, your prosperity. But if your purpose matches with the purpose of God, and I promise you if your integrity is going to be 100%, not 99.9%, you will be Joseph the governor.

 

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