Role of a teacher

G. Gautama

Gautama In many many societies, the school teacher occupies a respected place and is seen as having an important role in the growth of children. The teacher today teaches subjects and is also expected to impart values for good living, perhaps even model them for young people. The teacher is part of society, and beliefs related to teaching and learning operate to shape and support the perceived role of the teacher. In a tightly controlled monarchy or a totalitarian state the teacher is expected to fully endorse and support the values of the state. What is his/her role in a democratic society?

For instance, competition and the sense of success that results – the ambition to prove oneself in the eyes of others – are hotly debated, yet considered necessary in most schools. So central is this to the schooling that one cannot conceive of education without competition. Should the teacher communicate these values to children? Or should the teacher ask, “What is achievement? Is it necessarily the result of competition?” Is success not born of helping the young person find out what he/she deeply thinks and feels? What would it mean to support the individual child in dreams that have not yet grown strong enough?

There are many areas of a teacher’s role that do not have easy answers, but expectations. Can a teacher hold hurt or retaliate?

We are all sensitive to criticism and ridicule. Can a teacher be touchy about what students say about him/her? Today you learn that you have been criticized behind your back and ridiculed cleverly by one of your students. And you need to meet this student the next day. What do you bring to the person and the group that is watching? Does one ignore the contempt? Or does one try to confront the student to prove how wrong he/she is? Can one meet the student without the shadow of hurt, holding no anger or ill feeling? It is clear that the teacher cannot indulge in violence or react rudely. How does one come upon right action in situations like these? How does the teacher persist with a difficult question, which applies not only in relation to students, but colleagues, family and others?

Another area – where does competence or viability lie, in a teacher’s own life?

What does the teacher bring to the student? Is it an affirmation of the individual’s being, or a demand for proof of viability in others’ eyes? The teacher’s viability is often linked to student performance. Will a teacher be disappointed if the student is “not working enough” and does not do as well as expected? Is the teacher’s role to ensure that students do well in the eyes of the management, the Board? Or is it alright that each student, without feeling invalidated, goes as far as is possible, remaining whole as a human being? How is the teacher to find out what is “enough”?

The teacher resides in a difficult learning zone, where the main concern is an affirmation of the being of the young. Is the teacher willing to surrender – surrender all expectations of reward for effort? When a student fares badly in a board exam, will he see disdain in the teacher’s eyes or will he still experience value for his personhood?

What is a teacher’s relationship to knowledge?

G. Gautama was principal of The School KFI for over 18 years. During this time several structural and pedagogic initiatives were implemented. He steered the launching of the new residential KFI school, Pathashaala (near Thirukalukundram) where he has been serving as Director-Secretary since 2012. He can be reached at

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