This is a long celebration of Teachers Day. Unlike Long Covid, you’ll enjoy it! I’m sure!
Its been an India First Policy for close on 7 years now. While the world celebrates international Teacher’s Day on the 15th of October, India celebrates it on the 5th of September, which is also the birthday of the famous teacher, academic, philosopher and the second President of India, Shri Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
All teachers in India were feted with roses, gifts, hugs, social media posts and PMs (Don’t get me wrong – that’s the acronym of Personal Messages) the day before yesterday -because it was their day. Their day to relax and be celebrated by family, friends, and students – if they didn’t have household responsibilities to fulfill and the compulsion to prepare for the virtual world that had become theirs since March 2020. They are in the unique position of having to work from home and at home! While their tech-savviness has increased, the syllabus has decreased! That’s a win-win situation that won’t be allowed to last long! Children may be the assets of the nation, but the assets of the school cannot be allowed to idle away!
Teachers teach values, inculcate scientific temper, ingrain physical and mental wellbeing, identify, recognize and nurture talent in their wards who then blossom into all kinds of people – the rich, the famous, the criminal, the gangster, the savvy businessman who can take a loan without paying it back, the politician, the social server, the fixer, the burglar, the accountant, the government servant, the domestic servant, the artisan, the artist, the artiste, the tax collector, the terrorist, and at the other end of the spectrum, the average lower middle-class joe, like you, and me, trying hard to keep the home fires burning.
They all outgrow their teacher in some way or the other, like they do their parents, while the teacher remains stuck in the trench he/she created for him/herself to protect him/herself from the bullets of the world, by taking up a teaching job – the same standard of living over time, unfortunately in some cases halved by the Pandemic and its effect on the temples of learning, the same status, the same respect of course, and the same jugalbandi of treating somebody else’s kids and their own – as their own. But they make the world – ask the teacher who taught the entire political science to an individual. It’s due to his laudable efforts that we are now headed towards one nation with one body politic!
Given this scenario, I’ve often wondered why a teacher does what he does – with love and passion and, often frustration with the system day in and day out, for close on 35 years of his / her life. Is it the pay? Is it the lack of an alternate option? Is it the satisfaction of seeing someone outgrow you? Is it the respect one gets from the World when one becomes aware of your profession? Well, an answer to that question will require a survey of teachers, and I picked an American one – the Americans believe they are the leaders of the world, but after Afghanistan, sadly the world doesn’t think so. Anyway, I quote from Ni, Y. & Rorrer, A.K. (2018): Why Do Teachers Choose Teaching and Remain Teachers: Initial Results from the Educator Career and Pathway Survey (ECAPS) for Teachers. Utah Education Policy Center: Salt Lake City, UT because it predates Afghanistan, the answers to the question as to why they became teachers are as noble as the profession or is it that the profession has got a good name because of the teacher’s motives? Judge for yourself.
• Desire to make a worthwhile difference in the lives of children (85%)
• Desire to contribute to the greater societal good (70%)
• Experience working with children/young adults (64%)
• Sense of personal achievement (62%), and
• Subject matter interest or expertise (59%).
The five factors with the lowest combined percentages of “very influential” or “extremely influential” in their decision to become a teacher were:
• Retirement benefits (22%).
• Insurance benefits (18%)
• Participation in early career program during my high school years (6%)
• Lack of other available job opportunities (4%), and
• Salary (3%)
While I rest my case – it’s a briefcase and quite light – I must say that the Indian surveys may provide different results, but I really don’t think it will be much different, because the pay and benefits arising from the teaching profession (except perhaps at the Ph.D. level, where there are alternative methods of increasing pay) are limited like everywhere; so there must be another motivation.
The interesting thing is that teachers don’t follow Abraham Maslow’s theory of hierarchical needs. They go straight to level 3 Love and Belonging, then climb in self-esteem and elevate themselves to their level of Actualization. Thank God for that, else students would be out of pocket very quickly and look to filling it up very quickly after leaving school! They still do out of medical school!
Given the inverse measure of intention to serve vs the pay for service, one must teach both outsides and inside the school. Evening and weekend classes are for everybody, both teachers and students alike. Apparently, it’s not the schools that Make India the powerhouse of intellect that drives America including, ironically the White House, but these evening and weekend classes. That’s in-tuition for you! They are important for Atmanirbharta in more ways than one. They are the back end and front end of the Education ERP!
The Education system in India is a Public-Private partnership. Like in any marriage, there is tension and one-upmanship, and the better half is always the latter. It is the educated who know how to make money from Education – or is it? But experiments with truth in some states are slowly altering the balance and the marriage is beginning to look more equal! But the concept of the more you pay, the better the product will remain ingrained for a long time to come. It’s the same as in Puma vs Amup shoes! Both are made in the same factory in Vietnam!
But the teacher is no longer a Guru as was the case in the days of yore. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Guru, (Sanskrit: “venerable”) in Hinduism, is a personal spiritual teacher or guide. From at least the mid-1st millennium BCE, when the Upanishads (speculative commentaries on the Vedas, the revealed scriptures of Hinduism) were composed, India has stressed the importance of the tutorial method in religious instruction. In the educational system of ancient India, knowledge of the Vedas was personally transmitted through oral teachings from the guru to his pupil (pupils were always male in that period). Classically, the pupil lived at the home of his guru and served him with obedience and devotion.
Today’s teacher, or for that matter, student, doesn’t have that opportunity. They have at least 80 students per class and naturally, they cannot live at the teacher’s house as they did long past. It’s like Lays – you can’t eat just one! because there are just tooooo many. What becomes of them after they leave school though is anybody’s guess – which is the western way of saying karma!
The tag line of the hit 1967 film ‘To Sir with love’, starring Sidney Poitier, goes like this: “A story as fresh as the girls in their minis, and as cool as their teacher had to be”. It’s the story of a teacher who became one not by choice, but by circumstance, moulding a class of hyperactive students rejected by other schools into achievers, and more importantly human beings. He remained a teacher for life.
But it is what prompted me to write this poem dedicated to all teachers. It first appeared in my article “To Sir with love”. Its been modified since.
It’s called ‘Despite Me’!
It’s been so long since I’ve been to school
And I marvel now, that if I didn’t,
Would people have thought me a fool?
Maybe, maybe not,
Coz life too has been a teacher
And has taught me a lot.
But my parents weren’t all that cool,
And despite my protests, they sent me to school
And all I can say, it started there
My learning of life, for life
My lack of ability laid threadbare.
I had thought I was really good,
Didn’t realise could be bad nor better,
Till my teacher one day,
Was terribly rude. I then asked my mother,
But what did I do?
At home till then, I was
a rising star allowed my every mood.
But my teacher, she was rude,
but also good
Like a potter, she moulded me
Like a shepherd, she herded me
Leading me to where I’d be
Were it not for me.
But then, my parents had already paid my fee.
I’m grateful now, for I’ve become
What once I thought I’d never be
Because of her, and despite me.
Thank you, teacher, for setting me free!
After you finished moulding me…
My school days are over, and respect has replaced the fear of failure. Respect for the struggles of my teachers to make me a better person. My first-grade report card read “Studious and Industrious but can do better”. All the teachers try to do is to make you a better person – at sports, at studies, at relationships and in your values. They don’t succeed in all of these all the time – there are many reasons – lack of time, infrastructure, the multiplicity of tasks, lack of interest or willingness on the part of the student, and sometimes interference from the parents, but they don’t stop trying. Many would argue that they are paid for doing just that, but my experience both as a student and as a parent is that they never stop trying. For many, if not all, it is a lifelong vocation, not merely a profession and we doff our hats to them. But that’s not all we must do, every Teacher’s Day.
It’s also self – belief of the student as can be seen from the story of Teacher’s whisky which dates to more than 175 years ago, when the new ‘Excise Act’ was introduced in Scotland, and William Teacher a 19-year-old, former-cotton mill worker with an uncompromising attitude and a whole barrelful of self-belief created the one of the largest selling Whisky brands in the world. Often it is used for celebrations – except on Teachers Day!
India is different. It’s a land crazy about degrees and percentages with little respect for education and knowledge, and a teacher who tries to impart the latter is often berated for his / her involvement beyond the call of duty by students and parents alike; realization dawns much later when lacking employability among the qualified but uneducated peaks.
No doubt, as time goes on, the tribe of those who believe teaching is a profession vs those who believe it’s a vocation will increase because of the nature of India’s demography and economy; this would be to the detriment of the nation; the government must make efforts through certifications, accreditations and rewards to sustain teaching as a vocation rather than allow it to deteriorate into a profession which at best can get you qualified, but will never qualify you.
Thank you, Teacher, for the shape of me. Round is a shape, but I’m well rounded – that’s next level!
This Article is written in a lighter vein. It hopes to bring a smile to your face, and you must not ascribe motives to its contents. There is no connection to events and characters in real life and if perchance you find a connection with any such real-life event or character, rest assured it’s purely coincidental.