Let’s nurture our teachers

Chintan Girish Modi

Valerie teaches English to 8th, 9th, and 10th graders. When she accepted the job, she was to teach only the 8th and the 9th. Six months down the road, her colleague who taught the 10th graders English and history resigned. Valerie was asked to take on the additional workload till the management appointed a new teacher. She had no choice in the matter. After a month, she approached the head of her department to check when the new teacher would join. “You are doing a great job. The students love you. It would be difficult for them to adjust to a new teacher this year. Why don’t you continue? You’re perfect for this class,” she was told.

Riaz teaches art. He works with three classes of students from middle school. There is another art teacher for the other three classes. Riaz prefers to get the students to explore paper, clay, jute, and other materials the students are interested in. The other teacher works differently. He comes to class, assigns a topic on the blackboard, and asks the students to draw something with that topic in mind. Last week, Riaz was invited to the principal’s office for a conversation. “I see you are doing a lot of interesting things in your art class but it is taking up a lot of time. I know you are a very good writer as well. Why don’t you help with the school magazine? Perhaps you could plan your art classes differently in the next month. Give them a topic, and ask them to draw, just like your colleague does, and you can work on the magazine on your laptop while you supervise them.” He cannot bear the thought of doing an art class like that. He cannot refuse the magazine work either, because he joined the school only a year ago, and does not want to risk his chances of the contract being renewed.

Tara teaches mathematics and physics to grades 7 and 8. She is brilliant at her work. She has been made in charge of the school’s upcoming science exhibition which will host exhibits from 20 different schools in the city. She is also the head of the Annual Day Committee, and Special Advisor to the Principal for recruitment of new teachers. Apart from this, she is expected to mentor the B.Ed trainees who come to the school for the practice teaching component of their study programme. Due to all these responsibilities, she has not managed to complete assessing the students’ exam papers. Two days from now, the results need to be announced. She has no choice but to take the papers home. She is suffering from severe stress. The school management has refused to lessen her workload or give her an assistant. Her family is upset with her because she has been bringing work home.

Zubair teaches economics to grades 11 and 12. The Human Resource Development head of his school has enrolled him for a three-day Professional Development workshop, which will be held in the school premises after work hours. Zubair has a one-month old child, and he wants to be home to look after the baby. “Your wife can do that,” he is told. “You do not want to lose out on that workshop. It will add to your resume. The school is paying for it. You cannot opt out,” is the response he gets after he tries to protest. He is upset, and so is his wife. If he does not attend the workshop, he will have to pay back the school.

The four scenarios mentioned above are fictional. Yes, the names too. However, they will seem all too familiar to a large number of school teachers in India. Being a school teacher is not just about teaching but about being prepared to execute a never-ending number of tasks without complaint, and there are few avenues for them within the official spaces of school to articulate what this pressure is doing to their minds, bodies and overall well-being. They are expected to be caring on call, even if they have not had the time or opportunity to nurture themselves. How unfair, isn’t it?

What I find absolutely atrocious is the enthusiasm with which school heads are keen to invest in smart boards and shiny new equipment but are unwilling to hike their teachers’ salaries. The to-do list keeps growing and teachers are expected to accommodate every demand, without any extra payment for extra hours of work. Why? Because teachers are supposed to be in a noble profession, and it is considered wrong to think in terms of money. They are told that passion is what they must work for, not money. Of course, nobody tells them who will pay the bills. No wonder a lot of teachers who would have been teaching in schools decide to offer their talent and expertise at private coaching classes. Meanwhile, school teachers continue to suffer, without any opportunity to negotiate their pay or workload.

Is there any hope? Yes, there is, if teachers get together, express their needs, and campaign for their rights. To be a teacher is a challenging job, and anyone who does not realize that should try it out for a day. It takes a lot out of a person — emotionally, intellectually, physically. If we wish to improve the learning environments in our schools, we need to look after our teachers. They need to feel that they are not cogs in a wheel, that what they do matters. That, they matter.

The author has an M.Phil., in English Language Education. He has worked with private and municipal schools in Mumbai. He is currently offering workshops exploring connections betweeneducation, arts and peace building.He can be reached at chintan.backups@gmail.com.

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