Home » Cover Story, Perspectives, September 2011

Are teachers allowed an ego?

30 August 2011 No Comment

Sangeeta Menon

I would like to present two scenarios that will hopefully lead the reader to the answer this question.

Scenario 1
Teacher A takes up a job at a school for which she is overqualified. Nevertheless, she chooses it as it enables her to better balance home and career. As a new inductee, she struggles to familiarize herself with the requirements of the high school syllabus and the pattern of correction of the Board for the board examination. She has been recruited to replace an older, established, and experienced teacher who had to leave suddenly. The students of classes 9 and 10 respond to her well enough, but perhaps sense her tentative approach when it comes to the board exams and its expectations.

Teacher A has been interacting with the former incumbent, seeking inputs and advice even after the other teacher has left the school. Before the board exams, she learns from her predecessor that some of the students of class 10 have sought her out to study with her and fine-tune the presentation of their answers.

Teacher A feels a twinge of sadness but responds without rancour. If the other teacher enables the students to appear for their board examination with greater confidence than they are experiencing with her at present, then so be it. Teacher A wins the respect and trust of her fellow professionals. She praises the students for their motivation and desire to succeed. She also critically and dispassionately examines her own skills, looking for areas where she could improve, to ensure that her students’ interests are never compromised and that they receive the best training and preparation for the board exam from her. To her, the students and their performance are of paramount importance and everything else is secondary or inconsequential.

Scenario 2
Teacher B is good at her subject and has several years of teaching experience. She is aware of Teacher C who teaches the same subject, but not in the same school. Teacher C has a formidable reputation of being an expert in coaching children for the board exam. Moreover, she is also extremely popular with the students.

faces Some of Teacher B’s students begin attending Teacher C’s after-school tutorials. They benefit from the coaching, gaining in clarity and understanding. Teacher C has an unfortunate tendency to indulge in criticism of Teacher B’s knowledge and ability. The students do not give too much importance to this, merely enjoying and appreciating the learning they are deriving from C. However, they are prudent enough not to let B know that they are being tutored by C.

But B gets to know through the grapevine and reduces the top marks initially awarded to one of the “defector” students in the school assessments. Later, B takes this one step further and reports to the management that Teacher C is slandering the school and B in the course of the tutorials. The management summons the class and defends B and B’s stature as a teacher of repute. The students are requested to discontinue the tutorials with C to avoid getting confused. The students are definitely confused, not about the subject, but by the intense rivalry they perceive between the two teachers.

Howard Gardner, the famous Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in one of his talks said that teachers are no longer mere dispensers of information or knowledge, but in the digital age when information can be processed with remarkable speed and ease, their position has changed to that of becoming “coaches and role models.” While most teachers would agree with the letter of this statement, how many would carry forward its spirit? The inviolable principle must be that the interests of the student must at all times be foremost, the teachers’ conduct and attitude beyond reproach. The students learn not just sundry mathematical formulae, scientific laws or difficult poems from their teachers, but more importantly, they ought to learn the highest aspects of human nature and behaviour that go towards living in harmony with oneself and the environment.

For this, teachers must be aware of “ego” and its functioning. Essentially, the ego can exist in two states – one, wherein it is aligned with the higher consciousness and the other, where it is not in alignment with this consciousness.

When the ego is aligned with the higher consciousness, there is just a quiet assertion of the individual self in a particular direction, which it knows intuitively is right for the fulfilment of its life purpose. This assertion is based on love and faith and leads to a harmonious state of goodwill and cooperation for the greater common good. When it is not aligned with the higher consciousness, the ego can really wreak havoc. It can misguide and misinterpret. Propelled by emotions based on fear and insecurity, it can cause action motivated by the desire for applause, attention, getting ahead of competition, reaching the finishing line first, proving one’s superiority over others, etc. Here, the ego is intensely conscious of the other and derives its identity in comparison with the other. The individual self asserts itself purely from the need to create a position of unassailability from which it cannot be dislodged.

As teachers, the children we “teach” are children who are placed in our care in sacred trust. We are not just the facilitators of their learning, but we are also, in a sense, a subject/object of their study. They see/observe us, interpret our actions or behaviour and the understanding they derive from this is a large part of the material they use to construct their world view.

So what happens when we, the teachers, operate with egos that are misaligned with higher consciousness? What sort of impact will it have on the students and their beliefs?

I leave my fellow teachers with what I consider two very important questions that we need to ask ourselves as we continue to discharge our duties and responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.

The author has been a high school English teacher and is someone who is passionately involved in the process of education in the country. She can be reached at sangmenon@yahoo.com.

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