Simran Luthra and Mounik Shankar Lahiri
“Once a teacher, always a teacher” they say. Quite literally, this has been true of the teaching profession for the most part. While teaching itself is so multi-faceted, with the several roles of organizer, manager, material developer, friend, learning facilitator, mentor, role model, all rolled into one – the larger perception of what teachers are has been a limited one. The truth is teachers are a lot more than what they are acknowledged to be. In the recent past, there have been attempts by school managements to extend the scope of their work and career trajectories, to take on roles that are qualitatively and quantitatively more than being ‘just a teacher’! It is now common to hear that in private schools a teacher has been ‘promoted’ to ‘Team Leader’ or ‘Academic Head’, ‘Head – Training and Development’ and other such designations. Does it ring a bell for anyone exposed to the corporate world? Well, they certainly resonate with the corporate lingo and that is no surprise, since the schools leading this trend are those that claim to be ‘corporate’ schools and are part of the larger phenomenon of managing schools in the corporate style. The rationale for these structural changes is the same as that provided in corporate spaces – efficiency.
Efficiency is not a bad word for sure. All of us hope and aim to be more efficient at what we do. However, the issue at hand is how an organization defines efficiency, particularly in the context of imparting education. Schools are entrusted with the task of fulfilling the aims of education agreed upon by a certain society. Anyone who has had any formal training in the discipline of education would be familiar with how complex and nuanced the aims of education are. The very task of determining what those aims should be is hugely difficult,. So before starting out on a discussion on efficiency and teaching, it is important to remember that teaching is decidedly much more complex and quite different from other occupations.
What teaching is has been in fact a matter of considerable philosophical debate. Strangely, the professional status of teachers in a lot of countries including ours is a low one. However, perhaps no other profession demands the sort of intimate and consistent engagement with the minds and hearts of young children, while at the same time also being responsible to ensure that they master literacy, numeracy, community roles and life skills. Given this immense responsibility that involves mastery of content knowledge, pedagogy, emotional labour and care, teachers now are often expected to take up administrative roles as well.
There are two routes to this: 1) Teachers may transition into other roles and give up actively teaching, or 2) They may continue teaching while they also take up new roles and responsibilities. We spoke to a number of teachers working in these environments to find out what they think about the evolving situation:
Suhani, who works as a primary school teacher at an elite school in Hyderabad shares that even when teachers are given positions such as ‘Team Lead’, she still retains her position as the class teacher who is supported by the assistant teacher:
“Most of the time she [the Team Lead] is out of the class and the Assistant Teacher takes on the role. But I feel the curriculum really suffers as she is out of the class for meetings and other stuff. Her responsibility also increases as she is performing a dual role as a class teacher and a team lead. When she goes home she has to continue to perform both the roles as she is accountable to the parents as well as to the organization. And think about the Assistant Teacher as she is handling all the things on her own, and believe me when I say you cannot manage children of ages 4 and 5, that too 25-26 in a class on your own! As far as the coordinators are concerned, they are relieved from the teaching post and thus are solely responsible for managing the team and are able to do justice to their role.”
Prachi, a language teacher who used to teach at a private school, shares that while some designations are in combination with the primary teaching task, others are not. In some instances the teaching load of those who are made coordinators is reduced, but not done away with completely. She also went on to say:
“Generally in schools, language teachers are not given the responsibility of class teacher but in my case the school made this exception. I was thrilled to get such an opportunity in the very first year of my career as a teacher. But I was wondering why? Why me? I asked my coordinator the same. She said that the management really likes the way I handle students, meet my deadlines (before given time), help my colleagues (irrespective of the subject and syllabus), my participation in schools events, etc. Moreover she said they like the confidence in me.
After two years I was made a house-in-charge. There were almost 200 students and 20 teachers reporting to me. This time, other than my other skills, it was the management’s way of holding me in as I was about to leave the school for better compensation.”
Pragya, a teacher from Delhi adds that while some teachers who are entrusted with managerial or administrative tasks are relieved of teaching, others are not. Pragya believes this is an ‘injustice’ to the students and the profession, since the primary responsibility of the teacher gets neglected when she gets involved in tasks of monitoring and mentoring other teachers. She also adds that in her school, teachers are not compensated for these additional roles they take on. Instead, politics and power games have become the order of the day. Now, while there is no escape from politics in any sort of human enterprise given the nature of people, the structure of organizations can go a long way in dissipating it. Lekha, a Noida-based teacher is from a ‘traditional’ school, where they do not assign designations to teachers, but assign them additional responsibilities nonetheless. She points out however, that it is the new and younger teachers who are given the extra work. She adds:
“Added on to this, once the teacher is expected to perform or cater to any extra responsibility, first, they are not given ample time in order to do that and second they are not acknowledged for the extra work that they do. It is simply brushed under the carpet and is tagged as a teacher’s learning process. Without any infrastructural or staff support, the teacher is expected to perform and fulfill all kinds of work. The added responsibilities are often handed over to the new teachers in the organization as that becomes the most convenient option for the old teachers to shrug off that extra work from their shoulders. The questions asked triggered all kinds of responses from me, as a teacher, and of course made me reflect on my experience of teaching till now. I often feel dissatisfied and cheated because I am unable to execute my academic learning as a teacher.”
Clearly, a situation such as the one Lekha described, is far less desirable than the one which Prachi described, where the teacher feels she has more bargaining power and also receives recognition from the management. Another very important but rarely discussed aspect is that these additional responsibilities most often do not come with additional remuneration. Overall what can be said is then that there is too much variation in the experiences of teachers from different schools and segments. Additional roles and responsibilities have an equal chance of turning out to be learning opportunities or exploitative measures, depending on how the school management operates and implements those structural changes.
Rohit Kumar co-founder of T for Teacher, a not-for-profit that aims to improve the status of teachers in India, provides some interesting insights:
“I see this as a shift in the school ecosystem. Now schools are creating more specialized work roles and are borrowing them from the corporate world, where such segregated, specialized roles already exist. And in that, our schools are assuming more corporate-like culture and ecosystems. This may also be because, now the idea of a person remaining in one role for a very long time is not really applauded, socially or economically. There was a time when people would remain to be teachers for over 20 years. Today, the dynamicity of the world around us has also influenced the way schools function, and not just what is being taught. This is bound to happen and the education systems have to create a space for this. This in fact is a good space to create opportunities for our teachers to engage in more research practices and use more research to complement classroom pedagogy.
I don’t see this as “added responsibility” but as “emerging” responsibility for the purpose of a good quality education that a teacher signs up for when he/she comes into this space. I think many of these roles would emerge out of classroom practices and school conversations and the training and developmental needs would need to be designed around those. Most definitely we can’t copy-paste the corporate practices into education, but I see huge value in being flexible enough to be inspired from all sorts of practices, corporate world included, and innovate for the future designs of education.”
Teachers are at the core of the education enterprise and need to be valued by the organizations they work for. They also need adequate time, resources and support to be able to accomplish the all-important work of teaching in order to fulfill the larger aims of education in a meaningful manner. It is up to the school heads and managements to be invested in this vision for education and teachers, to ensure that these newer roles and responsibilities do not become carrots dangled in front of teachers to reduce attrition or increase efficiency, but to actually develop leaders and teachers who make a difference to classroom pedagogy, and consequently life and society.
Simran Luthra has a masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University and a masters in education from TISS, Mumbai. She is the co-founder of T for Teacher, a non-profit aimed at improving the status of teachers in India. She is currently on a Fulbright fellowship teaching Hindi at Stanford University, USA and studying education. She can be reached at [email protected].
Mounik Shankar Lahiri is an educator and freelance writer on education and holds an advanced PG diploma in Public Policy. He co-founded ‘Fill in the Blanks’, which aims to conduct workshops for teachers and students to supplement regular classroom interactions. He can be reached at [email protected].