A teacher affects eternity, you can never say where his influence stops, said Henry Adams.
Teaching is often hailed as a noble profession. Teachers are held in high esteem by society even to this day. However there appears to be rapid deterioration in the quality of teachers, thanks to the temptations and snares of modern living. ‘Simple living and high thinking’, the old dictum is slowly giving way to ‘high living and simple thinking’. This in fact is a most unpleasant and pathetic development.
A nation cannot rise above the level of its teachers, affirmed several learned reports on education. If teachers go down in the esteem of society, it would spell the doom of future generations. Is it really true that today’s teachers lack the commitment and devotion of their forebears? To seek an answer, we need to study the mindset of the present-day teachers and the complexities that beset them.
Teaching was a noble and much-respected profession once. The educated ones in the community used to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, bankers etc. So teachers were categorised among the upper strata in the societal hierarchy. Financial return was not a matter of much concern those days, when life was a lot simpler. Mostly agrarian, the gap between the poor and the middle class was marginal. The rich were few and far between, and never a threat as it is today.
Society was a close-knit community. Relationships mattered a lot. Joint families were the norm. Urbanization had not yet spread its tentacles. India was one string of villages. The village community remained united and peaceful, without communal divides. Values were practiced almost uniformly. Teachers were believed to be not only learned, but trustworthy and respectable. The village schoolmaster was often an arbiter in matters of dispute. He was held in high esteem. A teacher by definition was a person of integrity and character.
Industrialization and the consequent change in the value systems of the society created a new ambience in the field of education as well. Standard of living rose gradually, and money started becoming an important criterion for success in life. More professions and businesses came into being. Lots of consumer goods started flooding the market. People’s lifestyle changed. People turned into compulsive consumers. The temptation to own newer things started occupying the minds of people. Overnight we turned a consumerist society.
Every profession has undergone some kind of erosion in its basic tenets. With consumerism ruling the roost, the craving to possess various articles and gadgets started overpowering people. The desire to make more money became an all-consuming passion. Teachers started getting more and more organized and their collective bargaining brought them various benefits. They slowly climbed up the social ladder.
Even though teachers started getting better paid than before, they still continued to be way down among the professions in terms of the material returns they get. Naturally teaching is not one of the top choices among the youngsters of the present time. Academic pursuits and continuous learning are not seen as marks of superior brain power.
The net result has been the steady decline in the quality of teachers. Those who do not fit into other professional courses either because of their low academic performance or reduced financial capacity started coming into the teaching profession. In other words, teaching became one of the last resorts of ill-motivated and less studious ones.
Teachers of the present generation, by and large, belong to this category. Some however start liking the profession, and they put in their best effort. They are an exception rather than the rule.
The majority of them either do their jobs half-heartedly or do it only for the sake of making a living. Such teachers are a curse to society. They are the ones who have brought down the fair name of the teaching community. They are neither committed to teaching nor to learning. They find teaching a burden and students a perfect nuisance.
When a teacher becomes money-minded, he becomes a mercenary who works for money. The moment the passion for teaching is replaced by the passion for money, the teacher in him/her dies.
A teacher without firm grounding in the subject and lacking in communication skills will find teaching a burden. When they lack interest in the subject, they will remain shallow, and tongue-tied. Students will soon find out how boring and listless the teacher is. A teacher who doesn’t have a passion to teach soon exposes himself or herself and the students develop an indifference or even aloofness from such a teacher. There is no mutual respect or rapport between the students and the teacher. This is where the relationship breaks down irrevocably.
We need to take several pragmatic measures to retrieve the lost tradition of teachers and regain the lost glory of the profession. The policy makers need to address the issue with a wide range of strategies. They include reforms in education, depoliticising the academia, upgrading the teacher-training courses and making the profession more challenging and rewarding. Vibrant professionalism must be infused into the educational arena in order that we eventually redeem the sanctity of the teaching profession.
(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi)
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