Of what (and how) are teachers made?

Kuldeep Garg

Post NCF (National Curriculum Framework) 2005, there has been a significant change in the way we view teacher development. Pre-service and in-service teacher education has now been brought in sync with the spirit of NCF 2005 as is evident in the NCFTE (National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education) 2009 document. We are now working “towards preparing professional and humane teachers”, emancipating them from the shackles of perceived identities and stigma of being a submissive and voiceless entity in the education system.

NCFTE 2009 appears to accept the fact that poorly designed and transacted teacher education cannot produce critical and rational teachers who can teach in ways visualized by our policies and NCF 2005. NCFTE emphasizes the need for careful, rigorous, and continuous support to teachers, through pre-service and in-service teacher education, so that they can become autonomous, reflective, and caring professionals equipped with an appropriate knowledge-base, disposition, values, abilities, and experiences of working and dealing with children. The teacher is envisioned as an empowered and self-learning intellectual who nourishes and enhances the idea of democracy and prepares our young generations for the same. They are autonomous professionals who are responsible for running the education system with accountability to the immediate community and larger society. (NCFTE:2009, pp. 19-21 and 64-67)

cover-story-1 However, there is another ensemble of discourses that look at the teacher and her role from different perspectives almost opposite to our policy discourse. These discourses belong to the Teachers’ Union, DIET faculty members, and SSA officials who socialize our teachers. If we analyze these discourses we perhaps can unravel the implicit visualization of the teacher and her role as being the docile, cunning, opportunist, and conformist who maintains the status quo. Some questions are worth pursuing here: How do these discourses define the teacher and her role? How and where do these discourses deviate from our policy discourse? Is it possible to trace the roots of these discourses through the analysis of their text? How do these discourses shape our teachers? These and many such related questions need to be probed further. Based on actual events, this article presents some cases here asking the readers to probe further into the messy and complex world of education that accommodates contradictory discourses that shape our teachers every day.

The cases
As the events and facts here are sensitive, all the names of people and places have been replaced with fictitious ones.
Time: Sometime in June 2008
Place: Somewhere in North India
Context: Annual In-service Training for Primary and Upper Primary Teachers
Relevance: Coincidently, the large number of participants was newly appointed teachers

Teacher union
On the first day of the training (primary teacher group), a senior teacher came and sat amidst the new teacher recruits in the training hall. As soon as Jeevant Ji, MT (Master Trainer) finished his talk, the senior teacher got up and introduced himself. He informed the participants that he held a key post in the teachers’ union of the district. He ensured the participants that as long as he was in that influential position they had nothing to worry about with regard their jobs. He talked to them about his earlier successful efforts to tackle teacher problems and sought their support to enable him to continue his fight for teachers’ welfare. He gave his contact number and asked everyone to feel free to get in touch with him; he would be happy to help sort out their problems for them. He then turned to one of the organizers, Bhajan Ji, MT and said, “Bhajan Saab, it is enough for today, now let them go.” Bhajan Ji replied, “You see, this (training) is not only for these newly appointed teachers but also for our poor students who don’t have access to private schools.” But the union leader was not convinced with this answer and said, “Toh kya, bachon ki jaan loge?” (So what, do you want to kill them?) “This is only the first day and they have had enough training.” It was only Jeevant Ji’s seniority and polite intervention that convinced him to allow the training to continue as per schedule.

The next day, the same union leader came back to ask the participants to become members of the union. One participant refused to and since she wasn’t joining as a member she did not want to contribute to the union’s fund either. The union leader who felt insulted shouted, “You, you are denying to give money and to become a member! You will come after me beseeching help when the government and officials will not let you live in peace!” The teacher argued saying, “When I feel the need of the union, I will definitely come to you and register myself as a member.” But the angry union leader said, “I will see you,” and stamped out of the room. Later, other senior teachers consoled the ‘rebel’ participant and advised her to join the union as she would need its help in the future. Several times in the past when salaries were not released in time, it was the union and union leaders who helped them get their salaries. Union leaders had accessibility to the bureaucracy and officialdom and therefore were useful in various ways.

cover-story-2 SSA officials and personnel
On another day of the training, a person along with four others walked into the training hall. On seeing him, both the MTs stood up. Jeevant Ji welcomed him and introduced him to the participants as X saab, one of the important saabs. X saab sat down arrogantly and said pointing his finger at one of the participants, “Fold your legs, maasaab!” This participant was sitting down comfortably with his legs outstretched and resting his back to the wall. Suddenly, a fearful silence enveloped the training hall. X saab asked for the attendance register. Bhajan Ji gave it to him. He gave a cursory glance at the register. “Why don’t you take attendance at 7 o’clock? Why have you taken it at 8 o’clock? You yourself are giving them one hour to come late!” Nobody replied. He almost threw the register at Bhajan Ji and looked at the participants. “Let’s have the introductions now,” he said. “Each one will stand up and introduce themselves with their name, place of posting, qualification, subjects, ranking in state-wide exam for teacher selection,” he ordered. Here is how the participants introduced themselves.

Participant 1: My name is A. My place of posting is P1. My qualification is Q1. My ranking is R1.
X saab: Oh! You are from ***** community (a tribal community). Good! Give me two measures to develop your community?
Participant 1: (After some thought) ***** community should have teachers from our own community.
X saab: Tell me the minimum qualifications required to appoint a member from your community as teacher?
Participant 1: Senior secondary.
X saab: OK. If you can get me even one person with a high school certificate, I will appoint him/her as a teacher.

He then boasted, “I have appointed many young people from your community as teachers. At a function on Lal Bahadur Shashtri Jayanti, a girl child from your community danced on broken glass pieces. I myself went to the DM (District Magistrate) with a request that the child be given a certificate in appreciation of her talent. Many young people from your community are appointed in the police department. I recently saw a few of them struggling to control a crowd of people. I told them if they didn’t know how to use the lathi to control the crowd, I would teach them. I am after all from Bahadurpur (fictitious name). Now, tell me, they are policemen but don’t know how to behave like one!”

He then turned to the second participant.
Participant 2: My name is B. My place of posting is P2. My qualification is MA in political science. My ranking is R2.
X saab: What is the difference between rajneeti shastra and rajneeti vigyan?

X saab was asking participants questions as per their subjects of specialization. At one instance he asked a physics graduate:
“What is heavy water?”

Similarly, he asked a post graduate in Hindi:
“Tell me, what is the meaning of this statement, “sajna hain mujhe, sajna ki liye”

To a graduate in biology:
“How many valves are there in the heart?”

To a post graduate in geography:
“Recently, there have been some changes in our solar system. Can you tell me about them?”

To an economics graduate:
“What do you mean by inflation?” and
“What is the difference between bad currency and good currency?”

To a graduate in agriculture:
“What is the difference between culture and agriculture?”

To a graduate in English literature:
“What is the difference between ‘sink’ and ‘drown’? and
“What is the spelling of ‘Psychology’?”

After this interrogative introduction, X saab stood up and came to the blackboard. He pointed his finger at one participant and instructed him to come to the blackboard to write the word “Teacher”. The scared and hesitant participant came and wrote the word on the blackboard. And then, X saab began on his one and a half hour long lecture on “Teacher”.

Against each letter of the word “TEACHER”, he wrote its supposed meaning.
T = Teaching effectively
E = Evaluation, evaluation of intelligence, diligence, labour of students
A = Attitude
C = Character
H = Head/Heart/Hand – A teacher must have control over these three things.
E = Examination, he advised all participants never to “show” 100 percent results in the very beginning. He said, “If you show 100 percent result now then what will you show next year? And suppose, next year, your results come down to 90 percent then your performance will be questioned.”
R = Reporting; the teacher should know each and everything about his/her work since he/she has to report to the seniors.

cover-story-3 On the eighth day of the training, Z saab, another important saab, came to the training venue and asked, “How many participants are B.A. B.Ed. here?” Many participants raised their hands. He then asked a second question, “Have you been trying to get other jobs before coming into this profession?” Again many participants answered “Yes.” “Very good”, he said. “Keep it up till you don’t achieve your real goal. Go to civil services. Be IAS and IPS. Don’t look back; always move ahead. Use each and every opportunity you get in your life. You see, you have tried for many jobs, but could not find them. However, you kept trying and finally got this job. Similarly, keep studying and prepare yourself for higher jobs now. My dear friends use this post as a springboard. Opportunity is very dynamic. Don’t be bhagyavadi (fatalist). Be purusharthvadi (who believes in effort).”

He then asked another question, “What is the aim of education?” The participants gave different answers. Some of them said “to develop responsible citizens with the ability to think rationally,” while others said “to develop democratic values and sensitivity among students.” Z saab stopped for a moment and recited a shloka:
“vidyam cavidyam ca yastadvedobhayam saha
avidyaya mrtyum tirtva vidyaya’mrtamasnute”

He explained the aim of education as mentioned in the Upnishad, “One who has the correct knowledge obtains mukti.” He then went on to say that, “The education we are providing cannot be called ‘correct education’ unless it gives importance to ‘adhyatmic chintan’ (spiritual thinking). We have been living in a democratic country for the last 50-60 years. Tell me, what development have we seen in our society?” The participants indicated many areas where our country has shown improvement or development. For instance, medical facilities, education, science and technology, etc. But Z saab was not convinced with these answers. He invoked traditional Hindu scriptures to prove that ancient India was already practicing advanced medical science (he cited the example of Lord Shiva transplanting an elephant’s head on to Ganesha’s body). He urged that it was not the development of the country that they were seeing today but a deterioration of our culture, where students are introduced to Shivaji as a lutera (thief) and Muslim history is taught as an important part of India’s culture. He ended his talk thus, “Aapne Shikshak ka chola pahna hain. Apko bachho ki duaye milegi, vey apke charan sparsh karenge. Bus apna kaam dhung se karo.” (You are now a teacher. You will get the good wishes of your students. They will touch your feet. Just do your job properly.)

DIET personnel
On the third day, Y saab came to the training hall and said, “I will not take much of your time.” And then he shared his few concerns with the newly appointed teachers. “Have you ever thought about what it means to be a teacher? The government is spending huge amounts of money on teachers. Why? What is the purpose of this? Do you know that you are not common people? We think of ourselves as intelligent but do you know how much of our minds we use? We use only one percent. It is assumed that scientists use about 6-7 percent of their minds. Now you can compare!”

He went on to remind the participants about the importance of time and cautioned them from the usual practices of coming late to school but making false entries in the register. He likened this practice to theft and told the participants that if they themselves are in the wrong then they cannot expect their students to do the right thing. He reminded the participants that students are like barren land and teachers have to prepare the land and sow the seeds. So unless they are certain that they want to do this job they have to quit right away. However, if they want to continue in the job then they have to prove themselves worthy of it because teachers are the national heritage of a country.

cover-story-4 Analysis
The cases presented above are part of a teacher’s everyday reality. They have to negotiate and interact with these situations on a daily basis even as they carry out their responsibilities as teachers. Any education system will work well if the various entities within the system work towards a common goal. However, the cases above show that we have a fragmented understanding of education, and that we are not working together to achieve a common good. And this fragmented understanding is the guiding force that determines and visualizes the roles and responsibilities of inducted teachers. Moreover, in the absence of appropriate pre-service teacher education, these poorly prepared teachers become more vulnerable to such pulls and pressures within the education system. Sometimes, this prevailing ethos and fragmented understanding go against the spirit and values of our policy discourse, which was never subjected to a careful examination by all the stakeholders of the system. As we see in the cases above, against the spirit of NCFTE 2009 which aspires a “professional” and “humane” teacher, our educational system aspires a teacher who is cunning, submissive, and selfish. Teachers are expected to be “dabbu” (submissive), who obey without questioning. X saab taught the newly appointed teachers to sit properly with folded legs, to stand up when they talk to officials, only to give answers and never to ask questions, to keep quiet even if higher authorities are rude to them (just as Bhjan Ji kept quiet even when X saab threw the attendance register at him).

X saab, Z saab, and the union leaders taught teachers to be hypocrites. While pretending to be idealistic, teachers were told to do whatever was needed for their survival in a highly corrupt, political, and bureaucratic education system. This was clear in X saab’s talk when he gave his definition of the “Teacher” – a person who teaches effectively, has positive attitude, good character and teaches children with proper planning. But in the very next breath, X saab urged teachers to temper their results in order to show an improving performance over the years! Z saab told teachers that they had an important role to play in the lives of students and that they had to do their jobs well. But he also told the teachers to strive to be an IAS or IPS and work towards that goal; to use their teaching jobs as a springboard. While the union leaders assured teachers that the union was there for their welfare, they also demanded bribes from teachers to solve their problems.

The expected role of a teacher also took on religious contours when Z saab introduced the aim of education as being restoring the importance of ‘adhyatmic chintan’ and respecting our ancient texts that supposedly reveal India’s achievement in the field of science and technology (transplant of head of Ganesha by Shiva, and gist of Einstein equation in the Gita). He cautioned teachers against politicians who were promoting their own ideologies by presenting Shivaji as a thief and forcing students to learn Muslim history and telling them how entwined it was with Indian history. Similarly, X saab established an anti-underprivileged community attitude with his condescending attitude towards a particular tribal community. Although people from this community seemed to be inducted into various jobs they didn’t seem to have it in them to perform their duties to their best whether as policemen or as teachers.

Our system expects teachers to have a sense of false pride and greatness. This is obvious from the various statements such as “Aap rashtra ki dharoharhai”, “…do justice with your extremely important role of a teacher”, “Aapne Shikshak ka chola pahna hai” etc. However, does our system really give teachers any importance, do we give them opportunities to be proud of the fact that they are teachers? No, because pride and greatness cannot exist with submissiveness, hypocrisy, cunningness, imposition of things, and mediocre behaviour and treatment. If we assume that teachers operate in such conditions as mentioned above then we can easily figure how teachers cope with this system fulfilling expectations and develop a compromised fragile and fragmented identity.

The cases above seem to be representing the traces of two contradictory perspectives on education: one is the colonial and the other is ancient Indian. From the colonial perspective, education seems to have an instrumental worth which helps inculcate and foster those skills that can serve imperial causes. Here, the teacher is nothing but a non-specialized dispenser of the content selected for this purpose. However, from the ancient Indian perspective, the teacher enjoys a respectful place in society. Here, the teacher seems to be an autonomous authority, who bears the responsibility of giving an appropriate direction to the society. He/she also seems to be looked up on as a custodian of our culture and knowledge. These two perspectives are like two swords that our system is trying to keep in one scabbard. This is neither possible nor relevant in the present society.

With regard to these findings, it is indeed an uphill task for the system to be more conscious and sensitive in developing our teachers in future. These findings and further research in this area will help us understand how we have to emancipate our teachers from such systemic problems so as to help them realize their full potential.

NCTE (2009): National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education. New Delhi: National Council of Educational Research and Training.

The author holds a Ph.D. in geography and has completed his M.A. (Elementary Education) from TISS, Mumbai. He works with Digantar, Jaipur. He can be reached at kuldeep@digantar.org.

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