On teaching

This is a fairly long-winded continuation of the short reflection about the role of the teacher and educator that was started in the previous entry. I wrote about the amount of respect that educators get here in India and how that transcends all the other difficulties that one faces in the classroom. This got a response from Jess back home who noted that in many institutions back home, teachers not only are deprived of the respect that is accorded to them here but are seen more as service providers who have students and parents as clients. The act of teaching is reduced to a service that is provided at a fee. The upper management of some schools concur with this view and encourage their staff to act accordingly.

Modernity and globalisation have given rise to this commodification of teaching and much of the old teacher-student relationship of old is lost. Call me old-fashioned but I do long for the days when the school was a sacred hall of learning and where teachers occupy a valued place in the institution. While I’m all for new and innovative methods of teaching and feel that a top-down transmissionist approach to teaching isn’t the best way of doing things, the attitude that the teacher and students have in the classroom should be different from what we see now.

Perhaps this development has been creeping up on us without us even realising it. The rise of the peripatetic teacher who flits from one institution to another to teach as adjunct faculty could be one reason for this commodification. Not that I’m against it – I’ve been part of this bunch for a while and have seen how much freedom it gives us as teachers but when teachers are paid by the hour or session and there’s a distinct dollar value to one’s time in class, one cannot help but link teaching with the provision of a service. While this could be a problem, I don’t believe that it’s totally the cause of the problems that we see.

I believe that this problem is systemic – a problem that’s arisen because of what society’s become over the years. Gone are the days when things are done for the sake of doing it. People don’t climb Everest ‘Because it’s there’ anymore as Irvine tried to. They do it for commercial interests or to prove some point or other. In the same way, people don’t see education as an end in itself but as a means to something. Be it a degree, a high-paying job or a source of upward mobility, education is rarely done for the learning any longer. Perhaps that’s why I get all the strange stares when I tell them about the MA in Classics but I digress.

But that’s not quite the problem either when I see the students that I’ve been working with over here. They too see education as a means of upward mobility but still cherish the classroom as a place for learning and see teachers as important and respected facilitators of knowledge. Societal norms do have something to do with it – most places here are still fairly hierarchical and since teachers are higher on the pecking order as the students, respect is given. But I believe that it’s more than that – it’s something about the general value that the society places in education. Over here, education is still seen as something of a privilege as many don’t have the means or the opportunities to pursue a higher education. Education and educators occupy a special place in society because they give up more lucrative careers to help spread this privilege to more people. In other places where people tend to be better off on the whole and education seems much more ubiquitous and people think that it’s their right to get educated, the teachers’ role gets reduced to a person who merely provides that education. Educators are just there to fill one of the many service roles in society.

Problem also arises when we think about our jobs as teachers and its relation to society. Are we not supposed to ensure that our students learn and that in itself is a form of service? Yes, it is but at the same time it’s a service that we as educators want to render and we should be allowed to render this service the best way that we know how. What should not happen is unwarranted intervention from either the academic powers-that-be in the schools or students telling us how to do what we do. One rarely hears about people telling the police or fire-brigade what to do but teachers are always at the receiving end of such diatribes. A society that reduces all services, including the essential ones, to a fiduciary relationship is in itself troubling. Though teachers do render a service, they are not and should not be beholden to their students in a financial manner. Students are not clients – they’re students. Money does not buy learning – hard work and the willingness to learn does.

What’s got to happen is for society at large to relook education and the place that the educator occupies in the grand scheme of things. Granted students have to pay school fees and teachers need to get paid so they don’t fall over from starvation but what’s happened is that our ever-so-logical society has reduced the complex relationship between student and teacher to one that most of the commercially minded people can understand. As schools become corporatized and all relationships start turning into commercial ones, one laments the turning of the school into a business and the loss of the real teacher-student relationships that many still cling on to and reminisce about.

When I think about my journey to teaching, I remember the joys that I got when I was in class and how I felt fulfilled every time a student’s face lit up with in a ‘aha!’ moment. I remember praying about this a realising that teaching isn’t just something that you decide to do like you decide what to eat for the day or what shirt matches a particular pair of trousers. Teaching’s a calling that comes from deep inside you that makes you want to get into that class, wrestle with those minds and by golly, get them to learn something…anything by the end of the day. I’m not doing a service. I’m working with the students to create knowledge and understanding. But I digress again.

Perhaps what we have to do as educators is to wrest control from the powers that be and assert ourselves as educators. If we slowly but surely stop seeing ourselves as service providers but as conduits through which our students can learn and do better in whatever they do, then maybe this view of us will change. If we turn the tables on our students and challenge them to do better without an educator to channel their thoughts and energies, then maybe they will see value in what we do. If we believe in ourselves as educators who can and will change the lives of at least one of those who we meet in class, then maybe these students will spread the idea that their teachers aren’t their servants but are educators. It starts small but the ripples will definitely spread. We are educators and we must not sell ourselves short. We owe it to our students, no matter how naughty or unmotivated they are. Because that’s what we chose to do and by golly do it we will.

Why we teach.


6 Responses to “On teaching”

  1. 1 wa'hpn 18 May 2008 at 1:35 01

    Got to disagree with your part on adjunct-ing. It’s given me a whole lot more space and time to devote to developing my students, and thinking through how best to do this, rather than be sucked into the admin vortex and *ahem* assorted other angst. Of course, I can because I don’t have 5 other jobs going on outside. But most adjuncts don’t – they seem to be mostly mothers or stock-players!

    I completely agree with everything else you’ve written. Except I do feel that to some extent I AM a service-provider. And I think we’re less sacred than the cows, like everyone else.

  2. 2 gymstan 19 May 2008 at 10:34 10

    Quite true – I do agree that the adjuncting does bring a certain amount of freedom with which we can bring to the class. But that doesn’t always happen and people might just get all caught up in the actual idea of being an adjunct and forget the developmental side. I do know you and a number of others who do develop, but sadly, I think you guys might be in the minority.

    We’re definitely less sacred than cows but guess it’s not sacredness that we’re after – it’s inculcating a value to education that should happen. After that, everything falls into place. Or one hopes.

  1. 1 In search of happiness « musings of a brush Trackback on 7 June 2008 at 12:03 12
  2. 2 Being a teacher « musings of a brush Trackback on 30 July 2008 at 3:35 03
  3. 3 The abject lack of inspiration « musings of a brush Trackback on 29 August 2008 at 12:32 12
  4. 4 Who am I? « musings of a brush Trackback on 1 August 2012 at 9:42 09

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about the brushhead

had a head like a brush (it's more like an egg now). seeks to sweep through thought and faith with that brush. tries to wax philosophical but often forgets to wax off. trying to be good brush to all, while discerning what kind of brush he's meant to be.

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