Introspect, Dear Teacher!

Greater Kashmir

These impressions I pen down with respect, and with agony. I write this as a student and a conscious person, both. With the incessant decline of teachers’ position and growing disbelief among parents, it raises questions regarding teachers’ role as educationalists. We tend to believe that teachers are nation builders, that they prepare future generations for a better tomorrow: enlightening, rather inspiring, students to make this world a better place. Teachers hold the most sacred and significant role in every society but are they living up to the society’s expectations? Sadly, the answer is “No”.

In my eleven summers as a school kid, I witnessed the diminished stature of teachers in our society. We are witnessing the decline of teachers’ position, not financially, but intellectually, socially and ethically; and I blame teachers for this self-destruction.

Every teacher tends to command respect in his or her classroom either by stick  or word, for stamping authority in the classroom. This is the modus operandi of teachers, especially school teachers, across the world. Such a teacher fails us when he or she forgets to focus on the mutual respect in the classroom, rather than respecting only teachers, leaving students out. Education is the process of learning, both master and disciple learn and unlearn to attain education. Respect for a teacher in the classroom has to be earned by a teacher, and not commanded by fear or punishment. You can’t expect to be respected by the backbenchers who complain about the teachers’ bias for first benchers or class toppers and prejudice against backbenchers. Can teachers hold a hand over their heart and claim she or he is not prejudicial against backbenchers and low ranking students? Class toppers receive more attention and assistance from teachers than backbenchers and low-rank students. Shy students are hardly encouraged to get out of their comfort zone. Teachers’ bias is prevalent and harming the democratic and educational health of students in the classroom.

Also, their role as counselors and career guides, is further adding to my agony. I remember hearing some very condescending words from my school teachers and the most prominent ones being:

“Child, take your studies seriously, otherwise, you will end up like me and you’d regret it for your entire life!”

“Beta, padhai kia karo, warna hamari tarah teacher ki naukri karni padegi. Umer bar pashtaogey phir!”

This was a usual uninvited career advice from our school teachers, both in private and public schools, where an “giver of education” claims to be a failure in front of the students. A student looks upon the teacher for inspiration, ends up identifying the teacher as a failed person, and failures don’t create winners. Obviously such teachers lose respect from students, and with certainty I am stating that there are thousands of such teachers in our society and sadly they are failing students, society, and overall education.

Also, at the intellectual level, the teachers’ role is on the decline due to their undemocratic approach in class. In September 2019 at the United Nations summit, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in her emotional speech called out world leaders by saying ‘We are at the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of economic growth. How dare you?’. Her speech was celebrated all over the world but the point which we are missing is her right to say ‘How dare you’ to world leaders. Imagine Greta Thunberg in our classroom, will the class teacher or university professor let her exercise her academic freedom or freedom of expression against teachers or school authorities by saying ‘How dare you?’ The answer is a big no. Teachers, students, educational institutions will look upon her with contempt, and might as well add a few comments like “Your parents have failed you!” or may easily character assassinate like. This is a visible undemocratic culture in our classrooms which teachers revolutionize.

Why is it when a student commits a mistake in school he is made to sit on the floor of the staff room? Punishing him as prescribed by school authorities or imposing a fine upon him is the way, but forcing him to sit on the floor of the staff room makes it no different than that of the olden days police stations where criminals were forced to sit on the floor in front of Daroga Sahab. This practice is deeply rooted  across schools in Kashmir and as a school student I would find it humiliating just like thousands of students. Mumbling on their cups of chai and mouths full of samosas, their words cut through self-esteem of students.

When a student starts questioning the teachers’ ideas, point of view, syllabus curriculums, their methodology, or techniques, he must be appreciated and acknowledged. Such a student is not only giving answers but asking questions which is basically just critical thinking, and this can be a teachers’ achievement, where it is now a two-way road and he has succeeded in providing this space. However, teachers resort to contrarian practices if students, especially school students, start questioning established practices, he or she is looked upon as disobedient and indisciplined.

Unfortunately, teachers across Kashmir are continuing with the same old traditional or conventional mode of teaching where the prescribed syllabus is to be completed at in a rat-race way . Teachers are yet to accept the fact that their teaching techniques are non-effective. In the world of technology, information and smartphones, ‘rote learning’ in schools and colleges has failed, where smartphones are doing a more effective job than that of teachers.

So, what’s the role of the teacher in today’s world? To inspire students, teaching is about inspiration and not information. Take the example of Maths, I don’t know why I studied trigonometry in school. Maths teachers could never explain to us what’s the importance of trigonometry in real life. Perhaps we both were ignorant about it. When a teacher is ignorant of his subject’s application in life, what will his student learn?

On teacher’s day, I write as an individual with a desperate cry for teachers to understand that what they do is not just a profession. It’s a service- a sacred service, a contribution, a duty for a better society, where producing moral beings should be their motive and not future government servants who will continue with the status quo which is filled with corruption and class consciousness.

Yes, teachers are not paid adequately; yes, teachers face difficulties dealing with students, their parents, good grades, and results; and yes, most of the times students can be rude and least thankful. But imparting learning, inspiring students and performing duty as a teacher is selfless. It deserves more devotion and patience despite the challenges and difficulties.

On Teachers’ Day, teachers must introspect, reflect and rethink upon their duty and role as teachers. If not, future generations will hold them responsible for focusing more on degrees and qualification, and not on education.

Badrud Duja is a student of Law