Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Teachers are a controversial lot they are eulogized as the builders of the nation – and they are also condemned as a bunch of opportunists – grabbing money at the cost of the innocent students. In fact society is chockfull of contradictions when it comes to the role teachers play in it. They are glorified as the noble people, who have keys to the windows of the mind – and at the same time they are looked down with contempt and dismissed as yet another breed of merchants, who sell their knowledge (not often good quality) at an enormous price – and who play havoc with the lives of the students. They are respected, feared, loved and hated.
Broadly speaking, the teachers are the builders of the nation and they shape the character of the future citizens, some of whom might one day make great contributions for the development of the country. Hence in an important sense the teachers may be called the destiny-makers. They help a great deal in bringing out the potential of the children by giving them a nudge here and there. A good teacher relates to the student and helps him to achieve his goal through thick and thin - his role is not confined to the class rooms - but it spreads over the student even outside, which goes beyond school hours. A teacher is always a teacher – even after his retirement – and undeniably his profession is one of the noblest. Without him the society is doomed, as without his able guidance, the children would forever live in darkness - deprived of even a gleam of light.
Society recognizes the importance and value of the teaching profession – yet few want their children to grow up and teach in schools. And to be fair, even the teachers do not ever want their own children to take up their profession. Society eulogize the teachers, – get lyrical about their performances - but at the same time do not have the least interest in them. From the ancient literatures we find that once in India, teachers or ‘gurus’ as they were called, were venerated by all sections of people - from the lowest to the highest. They were recognized as founts of wisdom, kindness and spirituality. They led a simple life style-dedicated to the welfare of humanity.
After some lapse of time the venerated teachers fell down from the pedestral and being bogged down by poverty it was only natural that they became demoralized. They were treated with veiled contempt and tolerance by the society. No wonder that the teachers became frustrated and disillusioned. Of course the situation has changed for the better in present times- though in this age of inflation, their salary is not enough to keep them in comfort. They have realized that it is money that rules the society and so they are trying to supplant their salary by private tuition, which has been believed to be indispensable for the student’s success, rightly or wrongly by the parents. The name and fame of the teacher is based on the success achieved by his students. Whenever a student with a particular tutor achieves some brilliant recognition, it’s the private tutor who walks away with the plum. Many frown upon this money- grabbing instinct of the teachers and castigate them. But can you wonder at it? The teachers have tasted poverty and have realized that society measures you with the yard stick of your bank balance. They know that it does not really help to “keep high aspirations, moderate expectations and small needs”. They have to make hay while the sun shines - as all are doing. Now they are keeping themselves, if not in luxury, at least above the poverty line. Yet they have not been able to shrug off the humiliations meted out to them by an unfeeling society for years. The very word “teacher” conjures up the vision of a man, perpetually worried, hungry and afraid of life. That is the reason why parents do not ever want their children to take the teaching profession - and no teacher ever wants his children to follow his path - as he knows only too well the pitfalls of the job.
Usually a teacher is portrayed as the “kind, noble and hard- working man”, who finds it difficult to make both the ends meet. With the motto of “simple living and high thinking” they carry on with their pride, desperation and hope. They try hard to maintain their dignity against all odds. It’s nice and refreshing to think that one takes up teaching for the nobility of the profession and you feel quite proud of the fact that there are still people who want to do this noble work in a world obsessed with social status and material gains. But many of those already in the profession regard the choice as a kind of anachronic decision. That’s why they never encourage or want their children to go for the profession- as they know that society only lends lip service in eulogizing the teachers. In practice they have very little opinion of a teacher. Teachers regard the job as entirely thankless.
Very good students never want to take up teaching - even mediocre students opt for it as a kind of last resort- and they keep their options open. If they manage to get more lucrative opportunity, they grab it with both the hands. Naturally you cannot expect dedication from such ‘temporary’ teachers who use the profession as a stop-gap. In today’s world only women like to take up teaching as a profession. And those who prepare for the B.Ed. degree show their preference for the job.
Standard of teaching has alarmingly deteriorated, because there are very few good teachers. A first class degree holder in Physics or Economics or any other subject does not want to go for a teacher’s job and our examination system also has made conscientious teaching pointless. The stereotyped repetitions of questions year after year and flooding of ‘guide books’, ‘notes’ or ‘Sure successes’ have made the teacher redundant. The present examination system also has served as a deterrent to skilled and sincere teaching. Administrative ineptitude has added to the chaos prevailing in the educational institutions.
A teacher’s job, contrary to popular belief, is not an easy job. A good teacher is expected to put lots of hours into study. Teaching over populated classes is an unhappy and hard task. Woeful lack of educational facilities have pushed the teacher closer to the brink. Naturally, the teachers, who want to give their best to the students, feel frustrated. In some schools the management refuses to give even a globe or an atlas to supplement Geography lessons. The Science teacher has to give theoretical lessons without any equipment to generate even a spark of interest in the students. The dream of a teacher to get more effective educational equipment is never fulfilled. Little kids are not taught alphabets and numbers through games- which bore them to tears. The nightmare of school haunts them even at night. Such lacklustre performance of the teachers do not impress the students in the least- and you cannot blame them for their limitations. The teacher’s income is lamentably inadequate to meet his needs.
That is the reason why many teachers offer private tutorials to supplement their income, which in turn has spawned another malaise in the present educational system. Many people try to blame the teachers for this malady-but it’s too simplistic a criticism. The question is not whether a teacher should take private tuition - but whether the student needs it. Many teachers defend themselves by saying that students do need tuition and it’s unjust to blame the teachers. But why do they need them? If they regularly attend their classes and if the teachers are sincere in their job, surely they do not need any private coaching. If a teacher can teach so well in private, why can’t he do that in the class rooms? That’s why we can’t avoid the doubt that the teachers are perhaps neglecting their school duties to strengthen their private business.
As the charges and counter-charges continue, experts claim that the teacher-tutorial nexus is not an isolated phenomenon. According to them, in the Post-Independent India, education has been regarded as a tool to move up the social ladder. With the rapid changes in the urban middle class society and values, influx of the people of rural areas to the cities, and rising unemployment, a teaching career is considered to be less than “glamorous” or achieving. Such an attitude has been nourished by the government’s consistently myopic educational policy. In its plans it has never had any notion of attracting students to the teaching profession in its agenda. That’s why women are increasingly joining the rank of the school teachers and more and more men are after establishing values of achievement and status. What is left over is kept for the women.
Then the present crop of teachers are dabbling in politics. There is no doubt at all that the unholy alliance of politics and education is doing the biggest harm to the educational system and the status of teachers in society. To do justice to their profession the teachers must be able to resist the lure of power, money and social status - and try to do their best without limitation. May be, then only they will have the job satisfaction and a kind of achievement.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)