I am a little late with my teacher's day post the reason being my dilemma as to whether the celebration of teacher's day is required or justified any more. Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for teachers since they train young impressionable minds. But teaching is not a preferred career these days. When I was growing up teaching was considered as perhaps the safest option for working women. I know of a friend whose mother would allow her to leave town and work in another place some 250 miles away only on condition that she worked in an all girl's school with a teacher's hostel attached. The rules for teachers in this school were only slightly more lenient when compared to students. If students were allowed a weekly outing and had to return by 6 in the evening teachers could go out daily if they wished but had to leave whatever they were doing and return by 7 in the evvening. Teachers could go for a matinee show on Sundays while an occasional film was screened for students in the school auditorium. Yet these teachers gave their best services and students loved and respected them.
My own brothers were schooled in a primary school where there were benches only for the seniormost class ie the 5th standard. The rest would sit on wooden planks with all sections of a particular class being held in the same hall. Their first standard teacher was a widow who had taken a 2 year diploma course in teaching after finishing her matriculation. When my brother joined school he cried so much that I sat through the class for a whole week. I was myself in standard 10 and studying in an expensive boarding school. My father had just passed away and the family could no longer afford costly education for my younger siblings. The week I spent in a corner of the class was an eye opener. They were being taught by a born teacher who inculcated a love for learning in them. Today my brothers are doing well in life with one of them having graduated from IIM, Bangalore in the mid 80's and another a product of Anna University, Chennai. The headmaster, a simple unassuming man came home to meet my mother on Gandhi Jayanthi Day along with my brother who had been awarded the first prize in an inter school speech competition. He was perhaps in Standard 2 or 3. My mother treated him to some salted buttermilk. He recognized some potential in the boy and predicted a great future for him. This man was given the President's award for best teachers on Republic day. Those were days when merit was recognized and lobbying was unheard of. A good school may not have tall multistoreyed buildings but they certainly need the right person at the top. Unfortunately I forget the name of this great man but he certainly led by example and motivated the teachers under him to do their best.
Fast forward by 40 years. I was approached by a saleswoman who frequents our apartment complex to help her daughter with English. The girl was in standard 9 and studied in a government run Hindi medium school. I asked her to bring her English text and saw that she had a few good pieces in her book. Poems by Shelly and Wordsworth, an abridged version of part of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice etc. I was delighted. I had studied 'The Merchant of Venice' in the original for my 11th Boards and I welcomed the idea of reading Portia's piece on 'The quality of mercy..........'. But unfortunately I was not prepared for what I got. That the girl could not read a line from her text book was bad enough but she could not write the full 26 letters of alphabet or frame simple sentences using 4 to six words. How she managed to land in standard 9 was a mystery. I asked her to write a paragraph on her school in Hindi. She barely manged to write something but her writing was bad and spellings worse. What about science I wondered. She had managed to scrape through her exams. The teacher had written out a few answers that she had memorised and managed to pass. I wondered if this was the state of affairs in North India and if it was always so. After all my brothers and many others like them had studied in vernacular medium schools and were very successful in life.
"It was never like this" said my colleague and my mentor and Ph.D guide Dr. AKP endorsed her view.
"Your brothers sat on wooden planks but I had to carry my own mat to school" he said. "I had to cross a river on the way and very often the flimsy bridge made of bamboo poles would sway during cyclonic weather and yet we braved adverse weather conditions to attend school.
"Sir, government school teachers are being paid well what are they upto instead of teaching their students?" I asked.
"One can hardly blame them." said my guide. They are given all kinds of odd jobs. They are involved with counting cattle and livestock, they participate in polio eradication drives and carry out door to door surveys to identify below poverty line families that qualify for BPL ration cards. Census counts, distribution and rectification of erroneous voter identity cards or any work that the government wants them to do is gladly taken up by government school teachers. Our teachers only had to teach but these people have to do everything but teach. Does the DEO have the moral right to ask them why their students cannot write a simple sentence or understand basic science or Indian history for that matter?"
I seemed to understand something though not everything. We are a densely populated country and millions of young men and women are unemployed. Why cannot the government appoint them on adhoc basis to do such work and leave teachers to do the job assigned to them at the time of their appointment? If this is the way we treat our teachers do we have the right to celebrate teacher's day?
However I still admire those that take up the profession and struggle to do their best against all odds. It is these men and women who still allow us to hope that all is not lost.
Happy teacher's day to all teachers!!