It was the period after interval. The music period, for which every kid eagerly awaited. “This boy punched me, that boy kicked me and I was called names…” would be the cacophony of complains that reverberated in Miss. Sircar’s class. Probably, we all loved renting out our anguish in her period simply because she loved hearing us out. And not just that, she, like some Panchayat sabha would even try to settle the matter by finding out who was right and wrong. The period ended with the culprits shaking hands with each other and all would be friends once again. But today, my daughter informs me that when she approached her teacher to discuss a small problem, the teacher said, “Sit down first. Come later with your problem.” And sadly, that never happened.
Like it or not, let’s face the bitter fact that we have moved far ahead of the traditional guru shishya parampara, which was like a trademark of Indian educational methodology at one time. We have left behind the culture which emphasized that teachers are our second parents and school, a second home. Children wake up to a morning with the stress of travelling an hour to reach their schools, with the worry of not submitting a project which was to be done by their parents and with the heavy thought of coping with the assignments given by their coaching institutes which will give over at 8 pm, that they have forgotten to smilingly wish their parents a good morning. The long and boring school assemblies are further going to squash the little energy they groped with and perhaps put them off for the whole day. No wonder when the teacher wishes them, “Good morning,” there is no reply. In present times, where dummy schools are mushrooming and coaching institutes on the other hand are considered to be a hot spot for most kids who are aspiring to realize their big dreams in engineering and medicine, the role of a school as well as that of a teacher is getting constricted and strained. Very often, in school assemblies the Principal has to repeat his morning greetings after failing to get a response to a ‘Good morning’ said over the microphone.
Teaching has become mundane just like any other profession. With small sized classrooms and overcrowded students, the teacher finds ‘less room’ ironically. A handful number of students show genuine interest and inquisitiveness towards learning. Contrary to this, today’s classrooms are grossly occupied with children less focused, easily prone to distraction and talkativeness resulting out of their restless and hyper sensitivity, finding the teachers’ lecture method highly outdated and senseless, compared to their updated knowledge and understanding they acquire from the internet.
I heard this interesting story of the cap seller and monkeys, at a teachers’ training seminar conducted by Fr. Jose Philip. It is worth recalling this story which apparently has a sequel.
The version we all grew listening to, has the hat seller waking up from his nap to find all his caps worn by monkeys atop trees. Despite all his abusive yelling and stoning, he was unable to retrieve his stock. Only when he flung his own cap on the ground, did all the monkeys throw their caps below. The cap seller gathered all his caps and smilingly continued his journey. He had learnt a lesson. Let us not undermine the lesson also learnt by the monkey clan alongside. Realizing they were tricked by the clever cap seller, they hoped he would return and pass by their forest another time. But the clever cap seller never made another similar mistake of carelessly napping. Years later, probably a generation later, the cap seller’s son traversed the same route and rested for an hour. Waking up, the young lad was taken aback to spot his bag empty. He remembered his father’s mistake and quickly found the remedy by flinging his cap on to the ground. Shockingly, not a single cap came down. He impatiently repeated his action over and over again in vain. Frustrated, he collapsed to the ground. Suddenly, a tiny little monkey tugged him and whispered, “Our parents informed us about a person like you who cleverly fooled them and got back all the caps from their heads. We are known for our ‘monkey tricks’. You should have known us by now!”
Today, all of us are living in a world where everything is ‘smart’. From cellphones to televisions, from CCTV to net banking, from digital information to accessing the very latest, everyone is updated and smart. Students are surely not coming to school to receive a lesson being taught in lecture method. Smart kids of the 21st century probably have access to the very latest information and technology with which even a traditional teacher might not be aware of. The teaching fraternity today has a larger challenge to meet, a more scientific mind to deal with and probably a highly complex mind to nurture. The responsibility and accountability of a teacher is more inclined and crucial than it was ever before. The time has come for teachers to upgrade and match the ‘monkey tricks’ of the smart kids of this generation.
Fr. Wilzbacher, an American teacher taught us English in Class XII. He took time to read every word of our answers which were soaked with sloppy grammar, incorrect spellings and poor expression. He also took pains to write in red ink what the correct word or sentence should be, facilitating us to understand our errors. Apparently today, notebooks of students have to be checked so speedily, else the teacher will never be able to finish off notebook corrections for the day. At times, to save time and mounting pressure, the teachers simply put their initials without even caring to read a word.
A good teacher teaches, a better teacher illustrates while the best teacher inspires. Today’s league of students is not merely looking up to a teacher for sheer mentoring but is searching for a relatively practical, rational, logically intelligent and motivational personality in a teacher. Bookish knowledge is freely available online. Preparations for competitive examinations are being taken care of by coaching institutes. Schools and teachers are getting misty as dummy schools are running alongside.
In such a bleak scenario, it becomes mandatory for teachers to self- evaluate themselves and take a peep into the features of becoming professionals who function graphically and vibrantly to transform their traditional teaching styles to more creative and illustrative methodologies.
Arpan Singhal, of Class X was a brilliant student but hardly interacted with his teachers in class. The timid looking teenager, however, admired the diction of his English teacher and wished he could also have a fairly good command over the language. Motivated by his teacher, Arpan gradually became a voracious reader and two years later launched his novel, ‘Selection Heroes: Rise of the Dark Cult’ on Amazon.com.
Gone are the days when kids showed fear and ultimate discipline before a teacher with ‘Hitler attributes’. Today, this trait will call for an FIR and police complaint as CBSE and other boards have banned corporal punishments. Knowing this, overall discipline management has become a concern. How does a teacher control indiscipline? How is misbehavior or disrespect addressed? How are issues like irregularity or poor performance dealt with? Such questions boggle school authorities. What is the new definition of strictness? A raised voice and glaring look can send a timid student into depression. Raising the hand is out of the question. Can the teacher still instill discipline or be authoritative among students without getting harsh and mean?
The image of a teacher is grim. Just like a corrupt police officer who gets mauled in Bollywood, the teacher is a vulnerable being. Certain reports of physical and sexual abuse by teachers have undoubtedly tarnished the image of a teacher. It is shameful that on the one hand teachers are synonymous with parents and on the other, some of their deeds can be deplorable.
Thousands of students graduate from their alma matar every year carrying the impressions of most of their teachers for the rest of their lives, which is quite common. At alumni meets, usually ‘teachers’ occupy the foreground of their discussions. They would jibe at the ones who made their lives miserable for good or bad reasons. But there will be small a mention of a good teacher in their conversation. They will be reminiscent of the forgiving teacher with a kind face who gave them another chance to make amends. They would regard the one who encouraged them or put them on stage even though they lacked self- confidence. They would express gratitude for that one teacher, who spoke to them outside class, in the corridor instead of demeaning them in front of their friends. They would remember the name of the teacher who taught them something besides the subject. They would recall the name of a friendly and sporty teacher who remembered their name much after passing out school.
I had never been on stage till I had reached Class VI. I always wanted to participate in a play at school level. I was unable to take lead roles as I was not good at learning lengthy dialogues. My dad requested my class teacher to give me a small role, so that I just a chance to get on to stage. Mrs. Tankha was kind enough to lend me a small part. All my inhibitions faded away and I realized I could put up a decent act.
Being a language teacher, I keep finding ways to ask children to submit projects innovatively. I realized most children are online these days. I shared in my class something about blogging. I was surprised to know that 75% of the class had never heard this term before. I encouraged them to write anything creative and original, never mind if it was a one liner, a two stanza poem that does not rhyme, an imaginary story or a weird experience. It seemed pretty motivating. One bright kid raised his hand inquisitively and darted out, “Sir, do you blog?” I was quite prepared for this query. I gave the class my blog address and invited them to read some of the contents. The following day, a few reported to me what they read in my blog while a few others mentioned that they were developing content to trigger their new blogs.
The teacher today must acquire greater skills and tact besides simply imparting information or subject content. The teacher ought to be a leader who directs students into a world of independent thought, mindless of orthodox and stereotype learning. A new challenge must ignite a teacher to charge the brilliance of a kid with a fire that kindles other fires. Braced with youthful energy, the teacher needs to penetrate the young and questioning mind of the present generation with full supply of updated knowledge and information which will make classes more exciting and interactive.
Students need collaborators who understand them better and not misunderstand them easily. Today’s toddlers will be post graduates and then professionals. The learning they received from their parents and later on from teachers at schools and colleges will certainly go a long way in defining their plan of action to fight for justice, for human equality and strive for excellence and success empowering every citizen to function towards nation building. Whether they become doctors, engineers, politicians, business or corporate heads, artists, bankers or philosophers, they will be mindful of the morals and values that went into making them righteous and responsible citizens of the country. Future leaders of India will emerge from the classrooms of today. If teachers claim to be stakeholders in the academic industry, then they can surely be referred to as LEADERS who are doing their bit, small or big, in shaping a country with bright minded and positive leadership. If a teacher has been able to inspire even one student, I am confident the job we do is fully justified and rewarding.
Over the past 26 years that I have been teaching, I feel that I am learning everyday. The youthfulness of children and their vibrant inquisitiveness and effervescent smiles is a power filled fuel to energize any kind of monotony.