Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy teacher's Day

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!!


Anonymous said...

You seem to relish cribbing about any and everything. why can't you write something positive and be done with it?

dipali said...

As long as there are some teachers who make a difference to their students' lives, all is not lost.
But in general, education in our country is not in a happy place:(

Renu said...

Still there are some teachers who take their job seriously, my children remember quite a few of their teachers very fondly.

Ugich Konitari said...


I agree with so many things you have written. Teachers in our time were different. And so were parents. I find todays parents more concerned with the side infrastructure of schooling rather than the schooling. How many of them see their childrens' books, or read to their children when young, or consult the teachers about , say, a learning difficulty ? No one has time. And so we churn out people like the 9th class girl who couldnt read and write a proper sentence. Its all about marks on the result sheet, and fighting for them. And to hell with what the child is learning or , not learning....

Usha said...

Education in government-run schools is pathetic. It is a miracle that they manage to turn out some brilliant students each year despite the condition of schools and the quality of teaching.
I agree with your guide - these teachers are given a lot of "extra-curricular" activities to handle with the result their teaching suffers. Not that there are many brilliant teachers to start with - Teaching is not a preferred career option any more and so it does not attract the best.
Perhaps it was good that until forty years ago women's career options were limited to teaching, medicine and nursing. Our generation benefited from some of these excellent, passionate, committed and dedicated teachers. God bless them.
@Anon: She cares about what is ailing this system. She knows it is possible for things to be better and that is why she Points them out.
I have never known this blogger to lose hope or take a negative attitude toward any issue. So your accusation is not warranted at all.

shoba said...

Passionate teachers are few and far between , nowadays. Things are totally reversed now. Teaching is almost the last profession that one thinks of, when looking for a job. I still remember so many of my teachers fondly, which I doubt if the younger generation would.

Sujata said...

Very thought provoking post!

Shachi said...

Dear HHG,

Lovely post. Teaching is such a noble profession. More people should take it up. And so many women in India who are brilliant can make a choice to become a teacher.

I have a friend who recently quit his 20+ year engineering career to become a teacher....he is loving every bit of it.

When I get tired of working as an engineer, I might do that too.

Hip Grandma said...

anon:what you call cribbing is what I call concern.Different perspectives I suppose.

dipali:Even in the present times there are a few who do their bit for society. Like a teacher in Dhanbad who'd contribute 10% of his salary to educate need and meritorious students of his school.His retirement is due and he plans to contribute 10% of his pension for the same cause.

Renu:you are right.I still remember some teachers who made a difference to my life by their kindness and concern.

Ugich:It is very often parents who indicate that they can see to it that the child tops the class and very often the teacher is under pressure to do so.after all a teacher who supports a family on his/her income may not want to risk his job.I don't think we had any/many parents doing that when we were in school.

usha:mediocre teachers who take up the profession just because they had nothing better to do as well as the lazy ones who do not prepare well for their class would definitely prefer to roam around collecting data.They are given duty leave as well as remuneration.

shoba:all is not lost yet tho' the situation is pretty bad.Teachers ought to command respect affection for them will automatically follow.

sujata:Thank you.

shachi:'When I get tired of working as an engineer, I might do that too.'

Please do.we have an acute shortage of teachers in engineering colleges.

Jaya said...

Times have changed and education needs to reflect that.

Earlier teachers were also mentors but no longer so...

Hip Grandma said...

joy:you say-

'Earlier teachers were also mentors but no longer so...'

May be you are right but don't you think that mentors are no longer in demand?

Poornima said...

The question is, Adorable G, why do teachers TOLERATE being paid peanuts? Why on earth ARE they herding cattle & taking the census? If they impart intelligence, they must have a surplus of it, right? I truly believe that the answer to that is a resounding 'Right'. So how come they’re not using their brains to better their lot? We Indians argue over gothras, moothras, on whether the sky is blue or green,& God (ya, Him too) knows what else; is it that difficult to negotiate a decent salary? We strike over head scarves & saffron robes, never ‘struck’ you to do it over your livelihood? I understand if teachers in villages don’t have that kind of bandwidth…what about IIM professors who woke up recently & protested about their pay?? Gosh! People will sell everything to get their kids into that august institution; the salaries their students command after the course boggles even my unbogglable mind…not to mention the lifelong positive impact they (& all other teachers) have on impressionable minds..& THAT faculty is underpaid?!! Come on, they TEACH Business Management…what more can I say?

Why do people choose to be teachers? Why do they accept being among the lowest paid professionals in the world? Please don’t tell me its idealism. [That, probably comes once theyve landed the job & theres no other choice…and besides, a lot of the ‘idealism’ that’s out there is actually a convenient cover for mental & physical laziness] Or that all teachers are wearing haloes & thinking ‘’this is my calling’'. Is it really just a combination of decent-job-for-‘laydiss’-cum-safe-job-in-general-cum-have-to-lend-financial-support-cum-wow-all-those-holidays!-cum-not-cut-out-to-be-in-sales-cum-low-self-esteem-cum-no-better-jobs-out-there?

Think about it.

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

We used to celebrate Teacher's day in our small town ... everything was taken care by the students and we all loved thanking our teachers. I was quite surprised when not much importance was given to this day during my later years when I moved to bigger city.
I think there were and still are some good / passionate teacher (few in my family included) who love their job and take it very seriously. Unfortunately they are rare to find
I still remember all my teacher from Kindergarten ... and would still thank them for what I am today. Along with parents, I think teachers' influenced me a lot and I will be ever grateful to them.

Hip Grandma said...

Poornima:The answers to the point you've raised is not as simple as you think.Not all teachers are underpaid- atleast not the government teachers.But they often pay a price to get in.When the powers that be have sold themselves for money can they ever expect sincerity from teachers who will first see to it that they earn what they've spent for the post?No,I don't say that it is the case with every teacher.These are grey areas that need to be addressed.Moreover, the kind of teachers that are being recruited for a price would happily count cattle rather than teach young children from a rural or uneducated background.I think I'll do another post highlighting some positive work being done in and around my town.

CA:Like you I too remember my primary school teachers and such teachers are there even now.But expensive private schools do not pay well and teachers working in these schools do get frustrated.

Poornima said...

HHGrandma,I’m absolutely not disputing the fact that there is good work being done by a lot of teachers out there...but by the same standards, there’s a lot of good work also being done by some politicians, Bollywood actors, doctors, nurses,...& why, in a country where bridges & buildings collapse the month after they are built, engineers who build lasting structures should be given an award! :-)

My issue is with our misplaced reverence for professions and people who have long stopped deserving it. & with attributing MOST individual’s choice of career to anything nobler than practical necessity. We don’t have good teachers, mostly because they are poorly paid.

I’d rather recognize & respect a job well done, and reward it wholeheartedly. Whether by maid or monarch. When we blindly revere an entire category of anything, (out of centuries of habit), we are paving the way for apathy, boredom, & a lack of motivation to prove themselves..

This is not a topic I would normally get worked up over, so thank you for writing this thought provoking piece. :-)