We need more than lip service

I come from a family of teachers – some at the school level, others at the university level. Some have had the opportunity to do this as a long-term career and build their identity around this profession. Others have engaged in teaching activity intermittently, seeing it more as a service they have provided rather than a profession. And yet others have played important mentoring and guiding roles without ever having worn the label of teacher.

My husband (also a teacher) often jokes that teachers occupy a relatively low value in the marriage market, and this is, obviously, tied to their social status relative to other more “desired” professions such as medicine, engineering, management or accounting. Academics, or those in higher education, are of course in a somewhat better position, with university teaching becoming quite an attractive option for many – the salaries are nothing to complain about, there is more autonomy and less classroom work, and you don’t have to deal with the bogey of board exams. But school teachers are still marginalized in the public imagination, despite the many efforts to create recognitions and rewards – which of course are important but don’t do much to improve the general lot of teachers even as they may make individual lives a little better.

I suppose all this is nothing new. We have all complained about it and discussed ways of fixing it, including on the pages of Teacher Plus. A teacher’s sense of self-worth is built outside the public imagination, within the spaces of the school and in the minds of children, and indeed, in the collective mindspace of the teaching community. Be this as it may, we cannot stop trying to get society to acknowledge explicitly that this is a keystone profession, one without which other professions cannot grow. This is a complex process, and one that has to do with the way teachers are certified and the way in which their work is organized, and indeed, their time valued. Teachers have usually had to be content with intangible and indirect rewards, such as the quality of performance of their students, and the sentimental bouquets tossed their way by children and parents, and occasionally, school managements. But are there other ways in which to systematically upscale the perception of teaching as an occupation that has stringent and measurable standards of excellence in practice?

In this issue of the magazine, we have two articles, one each by Fiona Vaz and Urvashi Nangia that take a sharp look at the issue of recognition and standard setting in teaching. They take apart the rhetoric around prizes and the promise of policy and offer suggestions that could put us on a path to giving teachers their due. While some of these require the buy-in of people in higher echelons of power, others could begin as conversations within schools, or even within staff rooms. And that’s what we at Teacher Plus hope to do – to spark thought, to open discussion.

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