One teacher, too many roles

Hriday Ranjan

‘Guru Devo Bhava’ (the teacher is God), this is what our scriptures say.

If the statement was to be revisited today, it would read ‘Guru Disciplinarian-Exam setter-Annual Function Organizer-Answer Sheet Corrector-Syllabus Completero Bhava’.

If you’re a teacher, you probably have to rush back to the staff room to finish that pile of notebooks you have to ‘correct’. But stick on for a bit longer here, because that’s exactly the issue we are tackling with in this article.

The teacher of today is saddled with myriad responsibilities, and we aren’t even talking about teaching. A teacher has to correct books and answer sheets, play a role in the administrative procedures at school, often organize annual and cultural functions for the school, enforce discipline, take extra classes and revision classes. Not to mention filling in for absent teachers and taking a few subjects if there isn’t a teacher.

A day in the life of a teacher consists of many different responsibilities, and it is debatable if all of them require all the years of experience and expertise that a teacher possesses.

This raises several important questions on the role of the teacher at school. Do these many extra responsibilities make life difficult for the teacher? Or are they a part and parcel of the daily life of a teacher, and one can’t be separated from the other?

Do these extra responsibilities have an adverse effect on the actual process of teaching? Is there a clash between the expectations that teachers have of parents at school, and the reality of everyday at the school for the teacher? What do students feel about this issue?

*****
When parents send their children to school, they have a certain expectation in mind from the teacher. When I spoke to some parents, I found that there isn’t much ambiguity in what parents expect of teachers at school.

Mohit, 40, is a self-employed father to two children (aged 13 and 8 ) in Hyderabad. Mohit sees himself as the primary teacher for his kids at home, for both curricular and extra-curricular activities (movies, books, art, history, etc).

When asked what he expects from teachers at school, he is clear. “I expect attention, knowledge of the subjects, and a genuine desire to teach.” P. Sunitha, mother of two children aged 10 and 8 says, “I expect the teacher to be more interactive with children while teaching. See that students understand what they are teaching, not just teaching their subject and leaving.”

Radhika Murali, a mother of two opines, “Since the foundation stone of every kid’s life is laid by the primary teacher we have to expect more from them. Kids spend most of the time of a day with the teacher and most of them imitate their teacher’s mannerisms.”

Reading through the responses, it is hard to miss that the first things that parents stress on are more or less the same – attention, interaction, time.

Yet, the school system takes away most of the teacher’s time in various ways. Does this affect the classes in any way?

I spent a good number of afternoons outside the Kendriya Vidyalaya School in the University of Hyderabad campus to speak to students and know their thoughts on the subject. Between rushing for the buses and gossiping with their friends, they spoke to me. And I found they were surprisingly considerate of their teachers.

G. Rakesh of Class 9, feels that apart from the 10-15 minutes lost in every period in disciplining, his teachers have a lot on their hands. “Our class teacher also takes up assembly duty, lab work, and other such activities.”

Does it affect you in any way, I ask him.

“Yes, it does. Our sir has quite a few responsibilities apart from teaching us. All class teachers have these responsibilities. Sometimes, we get a lot of free periods due to this.”

Surely he can’t have a problem with free periods? I“Yes, but also when examinations come, we are rushing to finish the syllabus, and that is when we realize the many things that teachers have to do.”

It’s a thought that Durgapratap of class 4 echoes. “If our teachers spend more time in other responsibilities, we lose out on the time and attention they can give us.”

Another commonly noticed phenomenon is that of teachers being assigned an additional subject to teach, if a teacher hasn’t been appointed yet. Does this extra subject feel like a part-time business?

Taking up an extra subject means more pressure for the teacher, it also brings with it all the associated work that comes with taking up another subject. This also means that teachers often teach a combination of subjects that might not have a relation with each other – like chemistry and English.

I wanted to know what the students thought of this.

Upon questioning the students, I found that in the lower classes (1 to 6), it was rather common to have a teacher who taught more than one subject. In the senior classes, however, we found that there are more or less specialized teachers for all subjects.

Do the children notice this?

I asked them the question and they acknowledged that teachers were often required to take more than one subject. Is it a clear giveaway, I wondered? Are teachers better and more comfortable in one subject, than the other?

‘Yes,’ says Rakesh. ‘Our maths teacher also taught us social studies. But we enjoyed his maths classes better. Our social studies course was completed in the last few months, when the examinations were round the corner.’

*****
Additional work not only adds pressure on the teacher, it also eats into the teacher’s time at school.

It is not uncommon to find teachers correcting notebooks while the class is going on, and almost all of the students (from different schools as well)I spoke to said that they had at least one teacher who would correct notebooks in class, or who came in late.

Having additional work also means that the teacher has to leave the class in the hands of a class monitor to step out to attend to those works.

And yet, while it is easy to point fingers, one cannot deny that the amount of pressure on a teacher in a single day at school means there is no other way out. And since time is of utmost importance in a school, I asked parents what was the one thing that they wished teachers spent lesser time in school doing.

Mohit opined that,“Most schools spend too much time and attention on getting the course done, and too less on giving space and opportunities to the kids to excel in activities of their choice.” It was an opinion that was echoed by Satabdi Mishra, an artist and mother of a young boy. ‘I hope teachers spend a little less time on disciplining students. Most of the times, the kids do some harmless thing, but the teachers spend a lot of time in reprimanding them, and this eats up into a lot of school time. A school is an important part of adjusting to social norms and constant microscopic disciplining will only scare the children and put pressure on the teachers.”

The students I spoke to also understood that additional responsibilities were a burden on the teachers, and saw a direct link between how the teacher’s time was spent, and the amount of ‘cover up classes’ required at the end of the academic year. When I asked them if teachers who had lesser responsibilities were able to finish their courses earlier, they agreed in unison.

*****
With the advent of technology into teaching, teachers now have a plethora of options in front of them, to make teaching fun and engaging. A few teachers I spoke to had experimented with software like Edmodo. Edmodo (and many similar websites on the Internet) helps teachers organize much of the work that is outside the classroom. It provides a platform where students can submit their work and be graded, resulting in a less cluttered desk and a less burdened mind when the teacher is in class. It is like Facebook, but for teachers and students.

There are also applications like Hyper Office that help a teacher reduce the everyday hassles of books and papers. But there is only so much that technology can do in this regard. Most administrative work requires the presence of the teacher, and this eats into the time and efforts of teachers.

If this is such a common problem, and both parents and students uniformly agree that it is detrimental to the interest of both the students and the teachers, one wonders why it is such a common practice.

Could there be a solution to the problem?

I asked some of the parents if they could think of a way to reduce the burden of the teachers at school, and Satabdi Mishra had this to say. “Since most administrative work is repetitive, I don’t see why teachers who have spent years teaching students should be spending a chunk of their time in attending to them?”

She suggested that schools could appoint specific people to do the administrative work. Having taught in a school herself, she has faced the large gap between the expectations of parents and what teachers end up doing for most of the day. Now a parent, she can’t help sympathizing with teachers over the issue.

“As a parent, I expect my child’s teachers to spend attention and time on my child. But I also know that schools do not make that task any easy for the teachers.” Is it a good idea to have specific people to attend to the large chunk of administrative work in a school?

Most of the students I spoke to agreed with me. M. Pramila of class 10 thought about the solution for a while and agreed. But she also raised an important point. “If the work required teachers to be present with the students, it might not be a wise idea for the younger grades.”

*****
If the primary responsibility of the teacher is to teach, and teach well, this is an issue that schools and administrations will have to look into.

If there was one thing that everybody I spoke to agreed on, it was on the fact that anything that helps a teacher teach better, should be considered a positive step. “If a teacher is spending more time in the day doing things apart from teaching, there is definitely a problem,” Satabdi signs off.

The author is a blogger and aspiring novelist. He can be reached at heartranjan@gmail.com.

Related articles

The Uncounted tasks of a teacher
The reality of overburdened pedagogues
Let’s nurture our teachers