To be or not to be a performer teacher

Dev Pathak

An image of a performer-teacher from my childhood memory often inspires me. Many of us must have grown up watching him every week on Doordarshan. His name was Yashpal, a professor of physics. He performed some of the lessons of science in the manner that they became part of my daily practices. The performer teacher, Yashpal enabled us to hear music in science, see poetry in physics, and smell life in lessons. I could relate to them and began to see those lessons unfolding in my surroundings. With every performance of Yashpal’s I grew independent in my enquiry. Not that I have become a scientist, but those lessons have stayed with me, which I impart to children as stories. Never could I, unfortunately, find a teacher who could perform science for me! I am sure there are some teachers like Prof. Yashpal around. But they seem to be too far and few between. Why? To engage with this curiosity, it seems imperative to ask another important question.

mask What comes to our mind when we think of a teacher’s performance? A teacher’s performance in helping students get good marks in the examination! At least, this is what matters most to principals of schools, barring exceptions. Every student expects a teacher to be a good performer, as a service-provider! A teacher, an employed service provider should help the clientele of students in winning grades, marks, scores, and laurels of certification. In universities, we often come across students expecting us to help them join some research projects, which could take them to places. This seems to be a bureaucratically defined idea of a teacher’s good performance. It imagines a strictly utilitarian relation between teachers and students. Students evaluate teachers’ performance on the basis of these delimiting concerns. Teachers’ performance thereby is a term to indicate a teacher’s ability to give notes in the class, make the lessons available on power-point slides, maintain record of endless evaluation, set tough and tricky examination questions, invigilate exams, value-neutrally, and also help a school win all kinds of (im)possible competitions. The teacher as a performer is popularly imagined as an endless winner! It is in this scheme that teachers of mathematics, physics, chemistry, or commerce, statistics and economics begin to think that a performer-teacher is a non-scholastic category. Thereby a teacher of music, art, theatre and some of the teachers of social science could be performers. But this is not applicable to the teachers of sciences and mathematics, according to this view. This literal meaning of performer-teacher has amounted to deepening the divide between science and arts, learning and doing, knowing and feeling. Moreover, it has fortified the prison of officially defined practices of teachers!

Let’s put it hyperbolically, so as to drill into the thick walls of institutions: teacher as a performer is languishing in the prison of official-bureaucratic definitions. Is a teacher comfortable in this definitional stricture? I guess, not. The performer in a teacher craves to perform the ‘real role’ beyond the official mathematics of performance. And hence, a teacher repents for feeling more like a professional in a job of teaching, than like a person creatively responding to the calling of teaching! How can we bridge the divide of profession and vocation? How can we remind ourselves that we are teachers not by the virtue of bureaucratic definitions? How can we remain passionate teachers making lessons in science and mathematics, as much as in social sciences, relational, contextual, and personal?

This is the reason why a perpetual learning from some of the famous thinkers of education is imperative. Unfortunately, we tend to read them only due to the requirements in the official-bureaucratic design. We read them when we have to write an essay; when we have to appear in an exam we read in the guide-book what some of these thinkers have said; when we have to write an academic thesis or paper, we partially read them to find a ‘good quote’; when we are bureaucratically forced to attend the in-service professional development workshop, we hear about them; our engagement with thinkers of education remains shallow, utilitarian, and parochial. In sum, we reduce our thinkers of education into a few slogans and we do not allow them to revolutionize our thoughts and deeds. Thus, we become informed and clever teachers, suitable for the official-bureaucratic design. But we do not become ‘performer-teacher’! The becoming of a performer-teacher is indeed a life-long process with a never-ending engagement with thoughts of our thinkers.

Educational thinkers have amply underlined the necessity to be a performer-teacher. Be it in a remarkable discussion on ‘Pedagogy of Hope’ by Paulo Freire, or in the insightful lectures of J. Krishnamurty, a teacher is not a mere cog in the institutional machinery. A teacher is a critical performer in the Gandhian scheme of Nai Talim and indeed an artist par excellence in Tagore’s imagination. This is only an allusion to the vast domain of educational thoughts awaiting a teacher’s personal and perpetual engagement. The educational thoughts remind me of the significance of a performer-teacher. It summons from me not only an ability to impart relationally valuable stories but also be a critical pedagogue. It demands my ability as a teacher to recognize the yokes, the chains and the bars of the prison – the enslaving conditions for learners and teachers. Thus, a performer-teacher paves the way for all of us to endlessly imagine an awakened life ahead!

The author is currently the Charles Wallace Fellow at Queen’s University, Belfast and teaches sociology at South Asian University, New Delhi. He can be reached at

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