I Am Just A Teacher

Saturdays With Shivani- I Am Just A Teacher

“I am just a teacher working in a school. Not an expert like you.”

This statement came when I requested someone not to address me as ma’am because I do like it when I’m referred to by my first name. I replied, “If it wasn’t for my school teachers, I wouldn’t be where I am.” I added, “Our country may not care much for teachers but that can’t take away their importance.” Our conversation ended at some point, but his words kept echoing in my mind.

That brought back an oft quoted line- Those who can’t do, teach. What was George Bernard Shaw thinking when he said this (in ‘Man and Superman’)? Those who quote him support their statement by saying that no one would take a lower-paying job of a teacher if one had the skills and training for a better-paying one.

That makes me sadder because I feel a teacher is at the core of any education system… the cog of a wheel. We entrust our little ones in their hands to make something out of them. Our huge expectations should bog them down, but they must, and they do trudge along.  That has led me to hypothesize that only the brave can teach. Yes, you need courage more than anything else to venture into teaching. Imagine facing a class of teenagers and trying to drill in a concept of physics or a nuance of a poem. Trying to make your voice heard through a haze of hormones and irreverence that comes with that age. Or to make sense in the cacophony of a Montessori.

Add to it the constant pressure of adapting not just to update their subject’s knowledge but also to the changing face of education. The recent times have tested their limits of adaptability and we can see that they are trying to rise to the challenge.

Joyce Meyer said, “Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges.” Think of a teacher in your life who trusted you when you yourself had lost faith in yourself. We all have had atleast one of those and yet we grow up to belittle their jobs and contribution to the society. Why?

I know a lot is going wrong with our education. We have disgruntled parents, frustrated teachers and clueless students. Parents naturally blame the teachers but just because that’s an easy road to take, is it also the right one?

I still haven’t recovered from the shock of knowing that education can be ‘bought’. When I was growing up, my parents would tell me about Lakshmi and Saraswati and how the twain shouldn’t cross each other’s path. This was so deeply ingrained in me that I still cannot accept the have-money-will-buy-education attitude. Knowledge is no longer a pursuit but a commodity to acquire.

I hear parents hiring home tutors with the diktat- hamare bachche ko pasand aana chahiye. Excusez-moi? Are we talking education or buying candy for the kid? At this rate, the country will soon be gunning to bring it under the ambit of Consumer Protection Act (on that note, pause and think what it has done to healthcare). Imagine the plight of the teacher who must worry more about his/her ‘appraisal’ by the kid than putting the concepts in place. To make matters worse, consider that with this shift of power, how long will it take the child to lose respect for a teacher?

Compounding to this are the private colleges and deemed universities that are sprouting in every corner, peddling their wares to over eager parents who are scouting around to buy degrees for their children. Rules are bent, money sullies hands and what do we get in return? Diluted education, incompetent graduates, exploited teachers and a broken education system.

When did we sink so low? How and why are such institutions allowed to flourish legitimately? No wonder then we reminisce about our good old days when we had wonderful teachers.

Teachers are only as good as their students. The response of pupils is what eggs them on to better their craft. If students (and their parents) treat education as a commodity, how can we expect dedicated teachers? Somewhere down the line, quite a few of them throw in the towel and start functioning on auto mode.

Teaching may still not be a lost art but the regard for it is on its way to become a lost tradition. When someone says, I am just a teacher, it is time for us to pay attention. The damage has been done but can we undo it? Is all lost or do we still have hope?

Your thoughts are awaited.

Meanwhile, a very Happy Teacher’s Day to the inspiring teachers we’ve had. May their tribe prosper, despite the odds because we need them if we want our future generations to amount to something.

-Dr. Shivani Salil

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