Let teachers introspect

Let me begin with a quote of William Arthur Ward, an often quoted writer of inspirational maxims. Commenting on great teaching traditions, he said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”  You must be thinking why I am quoting this maxim about teachers, when Teachers’ Day is already over as it’s celebrated on September 5, and today it’s September 9.  Of course, the quote was most appropriately quotable on Teachers Day, but the way it was celebrated here at our place (J&K region) merits a debate post Teachers’ Day celebration.

On every Teachers’ Day, the spotlight is obviously on a teacher. It is actually a day for introspection, a time for reflection, a day for new resolutions and promises for the coming year. As a teacher, this day is always significant – personally and professionally. They must be remembered by their students for the right reasons. At the end of each day, they must ask themselves not what they have taught, but what they have learnt. A well known American philosopher, Sidney Hook, has said: “Everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.”

As it was heartening to know that one of our teachers, Ruhi Sultana, was among 47 teachers who got national award on this day for their contribution to the field of education, at the same time it was disheartening to come across a lot of criticism over student-teacher relationship debated over local FM channels and even some newspaper columns highlighted the role of a teacher and the circumstances around him.

Before coming to the sensitive issue of student-teacher relationship in this present modern era, Ruhi Sultana as a personality merits a mention. I know the lady as one of the finest broadcasters, a drama artist of par excellence and a dynamic anchor who knows how to make best use of her voice. Getting a national award for her teaching capabilities, specifically for her innovative performance towards teaching, in a situation where imparting education is an uphill task, was a beautiful surprise at least to me as I was expecting an award for her in the field of broadcasting. Remarkably, Ruhi was a lead anchor of a radio program broadcast from three stations of All India Radio, which I was scripting and producing for more than a decade. She deserves kudos for her achievement in the field of education and fervently hope that her talent in the field of broadcasting and as an artist also gets due recognition.

Now coming back to the core issue of student-teacher relationship, let me not hesitate to state that it is not so healthy in our region as it appears on the ground. The tremendous fall out of events due to turmoil in the past three decades have triggered social and cultural changes in our society. And the kind of change can be summed up as a moral breakdown – a phenomenon in which a major degradation or complete loss of moral values takes place. The kind of stories of moral breakdown surfacing here in recent times only indicates that we are on the verge of more violent situation in the coming times.

One of the most disheartening moral degradation stories is about disrepute to the student-teacher relationship – a trend catching up fast here under the nose of authorities. In recent past media pounced on some scandals that involved inappropriate teacher-student relationship in educational institutes. And I am privy to such nasty immoral stories where a fatherly figure in the garb of a teacher developed inappropriate relations with a student. It’s now too often to see the word, “teacher” in news headline quickly followed by the word, “scandal”.

In the past teacher – student contact was confined to the classrooms. But the emergence of new technologies enhanced the possibilities of contacts between them. The simple fact today is that technology has removed all barriers and has virtually encouraged student-teacher relationship beyond classrooms.

Despite aware of this ugly situation we prefer to be in a denial mode, which is not going to help but lead to further deterioration in student-teacher relationship. Let me reproduce a historical fact when a ‘disputed’ student-teacher relationship in thirties became a talk of the town. It’s an episode of student-teacher relationship which took Kashmir by storm in 1931. A school teacher hailing from Srinagar controversially claimed himself husband of his teenage widowed student, hailing from South Kashmir, in the court, which shocked not her parents alone, but the whole south Kashmir was left in deep shock. Unsuccessfully fighting the case for a year or so, the parents of the girl student through some acquaintances engaged Mohammad Ali Jinnah to help the family to get rid of the misery. Jinnah got the case dismissed just in one hearing and the girl was respectfully relieved from the ‘clutches’ of her teacher. The girl later became a known educationists and a reformer in the school education system in our region.

Trend of inappropriate teacher-student relationship seems still in its infancy. Before it plagues our society, all of us have a role to play. Here onus lies more on the parents. What we have observed that today’s parents have shed their responsibility towards their teenage kids to the ‘modernity’. Unfortunately they feel glad in leaving them exposed to the countless risks in unknown territories, especially in the world wide web. They have to understand that parental neurosis is far more detrimental to childhood development than the ease at which the internet will corrupt the personality development of their teenagers.

As outbreak of coronavirus pandemic has triggered a shift in the teaching methodology and online classes have become inevitable, the behavior of the child while on Internet needs a close monitoring. There are several things you as a parent can do to protect your child from being a victim of toxic childhood and vulnerable to online evils. If your kid is on social networking site, create an account for yourself on the site. Give clear and specific expectations on who they should add as friends and what type of personal information they can or cannot give on their profile page. Most importantly, you should know the account information like password etc. of your child’s page. This way you can periodically monitor the activities of the child on the site.

Meanwhile, gone are the days when a teacher would mostly be talked about his/her teaching capabilities. Today, a teacher’s success is measured in terms of money he/she makes at private teaching shops run under the banner of coaching centres.

Our teaching community need to understand that they are operating in a most dangerous conflict zone and children are the worst sufferers of this situation. This unending conflict situation has caused Kashmiri children lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm. Whether the child is a direct victim or a witness of the conflict, adverse impact of the violence is inevitable. Regressive behavior, anxiety, depression, aggression and conduct problems in Kashmiri children have now turned a normal thing. Under these circumstances, the teachers’ responsibility in classrooms is beyond routine tutoring. They have to simultaneously help the students not to feel the burden of conflict on their shoulders.

It’s also true that the prime responsibility of giving a suitable environment to the students in schools, colleges and other educational institutions fall on the shoulders of the government. Here the teacher has to act as a guardian of their students when it comes to any violation of their educational rights. It’s the dire need of the hour to protect students’ basic human right to education. They have to understand that they are having one of the most vulnerable sections, the children, under their umbrella. Notably, education is considered an important intervention in conflict situation, which can provide physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection to children.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for).