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Why Are We So Stingy In The Gratitude We Need To Show Our Teachers?

Posted: December 16, 2019

Teachers, more often than not, are the people we spend most of our times with. However, a lot of us don’t respect them as much as we should. The author explores why.

Each year we celebrate 5th September as Teachers day. It is a day we pay tribute to those who have taught and mentored us and made significant contribution in our lives.

On a trip back home, while rummaging through my old stuff, I came across school pictures of a Teacher’s day function. I believe it was from grade 8. As I held one of the photos in my hand, I was reminded of a quote from one of Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman, “He who can does, he who cannot teaches. “

I do not know whether it reflects Shaw’s opinion on the teaching profession or if it was just a quote meant to portray the beliefs of the character. But it had certainly resonated with me when I first read it, and it has stayed on.

I do not belong to the teaching fraternity. And hence bring an outsider’s perspective based on my personal experiences, perceptions and prejudices gathered over many years as a student, first, and then as a mother of three students.

The academic life of a student typically spans across two decades from age 4-5 to 20-23. During this phase, apart from our homes, the longest time we spend is on campus.

They mold us; they teach us 

A major role during this, is played by teachers. Teachers are supposed to mentor, and guide us, impart knowledge, mold our personalities, educate us. All this, in a manner, that equips us to not only potentially excel in the workplace but also face the practical world.

Next to our parents, perhaps it is our teachers who have the power and the responsibility that can potentially shape us into good human beings and model citizens of the world.

Like most of us, as I moved from the academic phase of my life to the next, I carried forward anecdotes, memory snippets and most of the teachers who were part of this journey, got relegated to the metaphorical memory dust bin. However, some were not and cannot be forgotten. Some for their brilliance, their command on the subject, teaching skills, their personality and some others for the exact opposite reasons.

Some you remember, some you don’t

One such teacher was my grade 6th class teacher at St. Mary’s Pune. She was from the beautiful land of Coorg. Always dressed in her trademark Coorgi style saree, with pleats at the back, she brought a little of the beauty of Coorg into the class.

She taught a class of 30-35 students and yet made each student feel special. And made learning fun, and challenging with no compromise on class etiquette and discipline. Over the years, only few have matched up to my perception of a good teacher.

Both at my graduate and post graduate level I was fortunate enough to have couple of teachers who made their individual classes worth attending. The rest, as I said earlier, were relegated to the memory dustbin.

What IS a good teacher?

There have been many attempts to define a good teacher. And set certain qualitative measures to establish the inter-linkage between quality of education (as imparted by the teacher) and adult outcome of the students.

One such study titled, ”Assessing Teacher Quality in India” (2014), refers to a study undertaken by Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Jonah E. Rock off. They used statistical measure called Teacher value-addition (which is a statistical measure of the extent to which a teacher is able to improve student learning during the period of time that they are responsible for teaching the concerned student). And linked 2.5 million children in the US to their adult outcomes to measures of teacher value-added in grades 3 to 8.

They found that teacher quality measured by value addition is strongly predictive of adult outcomes including college attendance, quality of college attended, and wages. Teacher quality in school is also positively correlated with social outcomes such as reduced teenage pregnancy and improved quality of neighborhood lived in. (quoted verbatim)

My definition of a good teacher

Based on my experience, I define a good teacher as one who not only has command over the subject that he/she teaches. But more importantly, is able to explain it in a language that is understood not only by the smartest but the weakest student of the class.

A good teacher encourages the students to be curious, to challenge, to question and to learn by application and not rote. And can and does have a substantial impact on the lives of the student.

This brings me back to the oft repeated quote, “he who can does, he who cannot teaches.”

Why aren’t they respected, then?

Why is it that the profession that has the potential to have such an impact on our individual lives and the society does not get the appreciation, recognition, respect and the remuneration it deserves? Is it that the practitioners of this profession are to be blamed? Or is it the system that does not provide them with an enabling environment?

There have been enough studies and researches done that reflect on the “quality of education,” the fault lines, the draw backs and perhaps the remedies. But my perception is based on personal experiences and anecdotal evidence.

The perception that exists with reference to this profession is that teaching is a relatively easier profession to practice. And particularly in case of primary school virtually anyone with a degree can teach.

In case of middle and secondary school where subject specific specialization is required the level of expertise and standards may be a notch higher.

The assessment of the quality of education being imparted by individual teachers, leads parents to seek tuition and coaching for their wards, outside the school premises. It is not that all is not well with the teaching fraternity, just like any other industry it has its share of exceptional practitioners, the competent lot and the below par performers.

It definitely isn’t an easy profession

A lot can be said about this profession but one thing that it is not, is easy. On the contrary, I believe that teaching is a very demanding and tough profession. Just like a doctor, a teacher takes responsibility for the life of another individual. The teacher shoulders the burden of another life, the teacher carries the responsibility of setting the young absorbent minds on a path of meaningful learning and success.

I wonder, how can we as a society while burdening the teachers with the responsibility they carry not compensate them in a manner that is in proportion to the criticality of the responsibility they carry.

According to Monster-salary index-Jan-2015, The information, communications, and technology sector has the highest median wage in the Indian economy, at INR 341.8 per hour, the lowest median wage is found in the education and research sector, at INR 186.5 per hour.

Picture credits: Still from the movie Taare Zameen Par 

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