At home in school
When you have what is called a ‘9 to 5’ job you are away from home for a major part of the day. If the commute is not long and the traffic not too heavy, you are among the lucky ones who make it home in time to cook and eat a meal with the family, discuss what the day was like, grab some television or reading, and then hit the sack. Have you ever thought of what happens to those people who live where they work?
“The school is my home now,” says Shiv Kumar Sen, Director of Sports and Head of Boarding at Sreenidhi International, a residential school on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Shiv Kumar grew up in a boarding school and knew that he wanted to return to that way of life as an adult. While as a student he had learned independence and discipline, as a teacher, he says, he’s found fulfilment. “Parents leave their children in our care and trust us to guide them toward what is best for them. It stops being a job when you realize the responsibility you have in shaping not just their lives, but the individuals they become. I get to see them grow up right in front of my eyes,” he says.
Shiv Kumar and his wife Anjalika work and live in the residential school. Anjalika works as a coordinator and is involved with primary school students. What does she think about living on campus? “We used to stay off-campus earlier and I envied the teachers who stayed on campus,” she states. Anjalika believes that working in a school just for a few hours each day prevents a teacher from engaging with the students in aspects of their lives outside the classroom. In a residential school, she’s found that the interaction and association is more intense and the bonds that are made here, between teacher and student, often last for life. Contradicting the common assumption that teachers in residence feel tied down she says, “Living here is like getting the best of both worlds – an atmosphere filled with freshness and laughter and an occasional weekend in town with friends.”
Asha Chandran Perinchery, Senior Academic Supervisor at Our Own English High School (Girls Branch) in Sharjah, presents a different picture. Based on her experiences, she believes that the ambience of boarding schools is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially those who look for solitude and silence and like having time to themselves.
“What often happens is that you fit your schedule to suit what the school follows,” says Thejaswi, a teacher from Centre for Learning (CFL), a semi-residential school outside Bangalore. In a school like CFL where the number of students and teachers is small, interactions are fairly informal. “CFL,” he says, “is a school run by teachers. The teachers work very closely and conflicts, if any, are resolved through dialogue.” The intense interpersonal relationships with students and colleagues allows for a sense of family and community, where one finds themselves accepting responsibilities in someone else’s place and putting the school or student’s needs before one’s own.
Teachers in a residential school have the added responsibility of ensuring that children learn to be independent in a wholesome manner. Being away from parents, there is a tendency for students to become dependent on teachers. Asha notes that the proximity between teachers and students can result in the student considering the teacher a friend or a peer. The responsibility of clarifying boundaries to avoid issues of partiality and over-friendliness lies with the teacher.
According to her, working in a residential school at a young age makes adjusting to the system a lot easier. After marriage and the responsibilities of family, it becomes harder for teachers to meet the demands of a residential school and the schedule of a day school seems more attractive. However, Jayashree Swaraj, a retired science teacher, feels that given the demands on time and effort that a residential institution has on its employees, her decision of waiting until her own children were grown up and away from home before joining the residential program was justified.
Shiv Kumar and Anjalika, both being passionate about children, enjoy the absence of the clear division between their work and personal lives. As Anjalika points out, those living in a residential school live in a world of their own. “The interaction between the students, teachers, and staff is a beautiful thing, like the coming together of a community,” she says. While as a couple they have managed to find the balance between their personal and professional lives, things may be different for singles in a residential school.
“There is a large commitment needed by ‘single’ teachers who are willing to work in a residential school. Living away from home and one’s family could get taxing on the teacher if he or she does not enjoy what they do,” explains Thejaswi. He teaches the older students statistics, biology, and geography and often takes science classes for the younger ones. Thejaswi believes that teaching in a residential school is not just a job, but a way of life.
In the Krishnamurti Foundation of India’s Valley School, Bangalore, teachers often take part in the morning and after-school activities. Practising yoga along with the students or playing sports with them enables teachers to interact with students outside the classroom and at the same time, stay fit. Living in a residential school allows teachers access to facilities that might not have been possible in a day school. The reduced expenses in terms of rent and transport are an added bonus.
However, not all schools have the comforts and the luxuries that the more exclusive schools provide. Jayashree has worked in both government and private residential institutions and believes there is a large difference in the quality of living and education offered by both. “The facilities provided in most private institutions are understandably better than those provided in government institutions, whether it is the size of the rooms, the access to technology, or the variety in the food that is offered.”
“But, what is important,” she continues, “is what is common. Both boarding facilities provide stability for children whose families have erratic work schedules or are frequently transferred. And as teachers we strive to create for them a balance of belonging and independence.”
Boarding schools are sometimes seen as places that offer children with learning disabilities a chance to flourish in a safe environment. Special one-to-one sessions for students who have difficulties keeping up with the others can be easily organized. Asha adds, “Teachers are expected to not only provide academic support but also valuable mental and emotional support.” While abroad, the presence of therapists and psychiatrists in boarding schools is common, schools in India are yet to acknowledge the requirement. For guidance and counselling on issues that range from quarrels with friends to dealing with being ‘neglected’ by parents, teachers in India are expected to have the skill to handle children.
The qualities that John Matthew, Principal of Parkwood School International, looks for in his teachers are an open mind, an immense amount of commitment, patience and the willingness to make adjustments. Apart from these, he believes that the core values of the teacher must coincide with the practices of the school in order for the teacher to fit into the system. Painting a real picture, Asha also warns of the hardships that come with the job of taking care of others’ children. Dealing with the requirement of an elite school or with the budget constraints that come with working in a government school, are some of the other issues that prospective residential school teachers need to consider.
Other requirements expected of residential school teachers are listed in the box.
For those who love teaching and do not want to compartmentalize their lives, teaching at a residential school seems the likely choice. And a major plus – no commuting, no traffic, and thus no time wasted. The flipside to working in one is that your life ceases to be yours alone. Most residential schools have time-honoured traditions and teachers may face adjustment issues on shifting to a non-residential setup.
So like the qualities Minerva McGonagall, from Hogwarts displays, or for that matter, Miss Potts from Enid Blyton’s famous Malory towers, living in a residential school requires a strong sense of dedication, a real passion for teaching, and a need to nurture the students that come into your life. To be a teacher ‘in residence’ you really have to love what you do.
What’s expected of me? A residential school teacher answers
Asha Chandran Perinchery
- In this day and age, I would need to keep abreast of all the new technologies, software and gadgets that students are handling. It can be a challenge.
- The students look up to me. And as a role model, I have to do what I preach.
- I need to be gentle, non-judgmental and yet, be firm. It is definitely easier said than done.
- If I want students to come to me for guidance and counselling I have to be capable of giving them fair advice. I would also have to draw the line to keep the interactions comfortable yet professional.
- I need to find the balance between time for the students and time for myself.
- As a residential school teacher, I might have to supervise the activities of students even after school hours.
- As a teacher, I would have to put the interests of the child first, even if it would mean fore-going personal matters.
The author is a student of MA Communication (Print and New Media) at the University of Hyderabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.