I want to become a teacher

Chintan Girish Modi

“They eat meat; I won’t play with them,” said my seven year-old cousin from Vadodara, of his Muslim friends, a year after the riots in Gujarat, post-Godhra. It struck me hard. Last month, the same child asked my mother, “Do you like Hindus or Muslims?” This question was with reference to a workshop that I was conducting at that time with a group of children belonging to a Muslim community. I don’t blame the child. But I worry about the world we are creating for our children. And each time, I’m compelled to think of what I can do. Become a teacher! That’s the answer I usually find myself with.

Teachers do influence, in significant ways, how their students look at the world and think about things. The impact may not be immediate, but it is there, going by the number of people who reminisce about their teachers and talk about the numerous things they feel grateful for. And it is this power to be able to nurture young minds that seems to be a crucial motivating factor for people to take up teaching as a career.

“I know that I have been shaped by a number of very influential teachers and I feel this sense of wanting to be that kindling influence, without sounding too Abdul Kalam-ish,” says Shaunak Sastry. He is a postgraduate in Communications Management from Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad, and is now studying at Purdue University. He already teaches undergraduate students, and will start looking for research/teaching positions once he completes his PhD in 2012.

He shares, “Teaching as a profession is a tough choice, and was a really tough one for me, what with me being a media professional for about two years post MICA. I think the big difference I see in teaching as a profession is how relevant I feel at the end of the day; I’m no longer chasing a random number but making students think, albeit at gunpoint on occasions. I feel that through pedagogy I’m getting students to question and interrogate the world around them, instead of taking it in on a platter.”

Ekta Singla, who lives in Mumbai, thinks of a career in teaching as “a platform to make a difference.” She has had a fair bit of first-hand experience to say so. Ekta taught briefly at Ambhata, a small hamlet in remote Maharashtra. She also worked with the Bhopal-based NGO Eklavya for two months. She conducted workshops with teachers, which opened many new avenues for her, and made her think of education with a fresh perspective. After Eklavya, she taught English for a month at a slum in Delhi (Govindpuri) with an NGO called Katha. She says, “These experiences were mostly with underprivileged kids, and it made me feel good that I was helping them grow by empowering them. That is how I look at the teaching profession. It is really a channel to empower people. The classroom is a free space which makes a teacher very powerful; hence she can energise the classroom with new thoughts and unconventional practices. It gives her the space to be creative.” Ekta will soon enroll in a Master’s program, and so full time teaching is still a few years away. For now, she will continue with part-time teaching assignments.

Aravinda Bhat, who hails from Manipal, shares some of the ideas that Shaunak and Ekta hold. Aravinda is currently writing his M.Phil. dissertation at the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, and wants to become a teacher. Like Shaunak and Ekta, he believes that teaching has a great deal to do with training students to think creatively and critically. “It is the teacher’s responsibility to offer guidance and support to his/her students. This means that he/she is in constant touch with growing, curious minds, and also in touch with the latest scholarship in his/her subject. I find this very fulfilling,” says Aravinda. He thinks that becoming a teacher will enable him to fulfill his obligations to the society. While he was growing up, he used to hear from his grandparents and other elders that teaching is a noble profession, and Aravinda was quite impressed by the picture they painted for him. He is now skeptical of holding such a view, because he is only too aware of the fact that teachers are as human as other professionals. Nevertheless, Aravinda’s belief that education is crucial to personal growth and socio-economic progress has led him to seriously consider a career in teaching.

Aravinda is visually challenged. He says, “I am particularly interested in the education of disabled children and in alternative education. Good education is critical to enable disabled people to become confident and contributing members of the society and to end discrimination against them. I also want to educate parents of disabled children about disability and help them make the right choices for their children.” However, he is quick to add that he would also like to teach in ordinary schools, because he does not want to be pigeonholed and limited.

While Aravinda appreciates the well-rounded education he received at home and at school, and therefore wants to share it with others, Vivek Sunder (who has just completed his MA in English and wants to do a B.Ed.) wants to be a teacher because he was not happy with the education that he received. Vivek shares, “I faced a lot of problems in life that I was not able to handle. Education did not help in the least bit. Things were so bad that I began to question whether it was worth living this life, whether I had any role at all to play. I wasn’t able to handle my emotions. I went through many such phases starting from adolescence for which I was so ill-prepared. I survived it only to face more problems. So, I felt that education should not just prepare one to get a job or to be multi talented. It has a greater role to perform. It has to prepare one for life, as a whole, which is no mean task. It has to make one strong to face the world. It has to help one make the right choices in life. It has to teach one to love life and live life and make this world a better place for oneself and for others. I want to learn and share so that the few kids I am able to influence will not have to go through what I underwent.”

For young people opting for teaching as a career, the biggest hurdle is often financial. Most parents want their children to be financially secure and comfortable. Other young people, often working in BPOs, media companies, multinational corporations, publishing houses, etc., have bigger pay packets and more glamorous lifestyles. However, the ones who are really committed are not deterred by such considerations. In some cases, the person opting for a teaching career belongs to a family that is financially well-off and may be able to support his/her dreams. But, not every young person hoping to become a teacher has this luxury.

Shaunak says, “I’ve been lucky to have family that supported my leaving work cold turkey and applying to grad school, and they’ve always seen me as the academic type, and so that helped. Although the digs amongst my cohort about my relative poverty never end, I suppose it varies. Some of them look at my choice as non-traditional, some believe I’ve done it because I have parents to fall back on to help me financially. How I wish!” And fortunately for Aravinda, his parents and grandparents think that teaching as a career is a good choice. His father is a teacher, and many of his distant and close relatives are in the teaching profession, so they have a special liking for it. Aravinda shares, “Ever since I can remember, I have never expected to see teachers earn as much as other professionals do. So, I will not be disappointed if I, as a teacher, am not paid as high a salary as some of my peers are paid.”

Ekta feels that a teacher’s job may pay less, but that is compensated for by the immense respect one gets and from the freedom to do things the way one desires. What she also considers a reward is the instant feedback from students regarding whether they are able to grasp her explanation or not. This gives her a feeling of contentment and helps her improve her teaching skills. Ekta says, “During my travels and my experiences with different NGOs, I have met new and interesting people. I realised that many avenues are opening up in the education sector, thanks to globalisation. The education sector is growing three-fold and the demand for experienced curriculum design professionals is growing in NGOs and schools. Teachers with many years of experience and those keen to bring creativity in education are in huge demand. At the same time corporate houses are recruiting teachers and students for their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. The sector is just growing day by day.”

Vivek is not too bothered about the financial rewards or lack thereof. He says, “Money is important but not all important. There are other things that give greater pleasure; for instance, helping people, loving children, sharing whatever you have. My needs are little. I don’t need much to be happy. But I can’t expect my family to be like me, so I need to earn enough to keep them happy as well. I think a teacher’s job should provide just enough. Also, I don’t wish to compare with others. If they earn more, good for them. Happiness does not depend on how much you earn, but how you are able to manage your needs with what you have.”

Santosh Mahapatra, from Sambalpur in Orissa, is currently pursuing his M.Phil. at the same university as Aravinda. He has had some teaching experience, and is hoping to take up teaching as a career. He has an interesting view to offer. He says, “Human beings have always remained mysterious. It is very difficult to say what they are thinking. Sometimes, some noble thoughts of doing things for the benefit of society may push somebody towards taking the decision of becoming a teacher. There are a few people who are reformists by nature. They feel that it is their responsibility to bring changes in the society which in turn may lead to the betterment of the society. Teaching appears to be the fittest option available to them.” However, just like Aravinda, Santosh refuses to be taken in by the romanticised view of teaching as an essentially noble profession. He says, “The above situations are all about making sacrifices. However, there are others who are escapists. They find teaching a less stressful job than other options of employment and therefore, they go for it. Thus, making generalisations about young people getting into the teaching profession leaving behind offers of material benefits is a next-to-impossible thing.”

Whatever else is said about teaching this much is true about the profession: it does allow you the power to influence and inspire a future generation, a power that no other profession offers. Despite the fact that quite a few people are attracted to it because of the other perks that the job offers there still are young people who want to teach because they truly want to make a difference. And that gives us hope.

The author is an M. Phil. student at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He can be reached at [email protected].

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