Teachers all over the world, I salute you. Like a soldier going out to battle, you hold great tomes in your hands, daring the system to make a change. Yet time and again, it disappoints you; you feel cheated, your ideals are trampled upon by callous administrators as they go about the ‘business’ of running a school. In the end, you get cynical of the system, silently joining the bandwagon of lukewarm colleagues, justifying your decision with the thought that this is, after all, your bread and butter, nothing more.
As a young graduate, fresh out of college with stars in my eyes and bells on my feet, I began teaching at a boys’ school. At that time, being unmarried, I was unfettered and carefree –no household chores, no babies, no workaholic husband. Life was just me and my ‘career’ and I was determined to be a phenomenal example to all erstwhile educators.
In just a matter of one year, however, all that idealism went underground as I found myself bogged down by tight deadlines, repeated book-and-paper corrections and endless criticism by the senior staff, who, hardened with the years, had grown soft and complacent. I joined the madding crowd in an attempt to win their approval, knowing I had to fight tooth and nail to survive. But my spirit would not let me. I felt like a coward; a traitor; a total failure. Teaching became hectic, stressful, uneventful and unfulfilling.
Our free periods (when we did not lecture) were usually spent in corrections of books or in training boys for extra-curricular events. Little wonder then that we chose those who were good in studies so they wouldn’t miss anything going on in class. One Principal put an end to that and we were forced to take practices after school instead. How we grumbled and cursed! The boys were not too happy either, for they too were inconvenienced. Some of them had tuitions to go to, so they would back out of the activities.
All teachers will agree with me when I say that the sheer numbers bogs us down; a teacher, who cannot get the names of her students right, has already lost the fight. In an academic year, one has to know around 6-7 classes of, on an average, 40 students per class. So that means that a teacher must be intimately involved with around 240 students in one academic year. If she has two subjects in a single class, it may reduce to 200 but I want to make the point that it is an impossible task for a single individual. Take an ‘office’ scenario in contrast. How many clients are you expected to be ‘intimately’ involved with in one financial year? Once, in a fit of rebellion, I had suggested to the administration, that each teacher be given just three classes to teach, two subjects per class to meet the ED requirements. I also suggested that we lighten the bag- burden of the students for we were undoubtedly creating clones of the Hunchback of Notre Dame! An average schoolbag sans books weighs around 2kgs, believe it or not. Then, with textbooks and notebooks, it increases to as high as 10kgs. Our students will most certainly qualify for jobs as coolies and, who knows, some may even aspire to the lightweight category at the next international sports meet. My suggestion: A simple lightweight canvas satchel and books not more than 100 pages, preferably paperbacked.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ These words, spoken by the greatest teacher of all times, Mahatma Gandhi. should be your motto, teachers, as you chart a different course with the implementation of the RTE Act. Live out your ideals, teachers, don’t give up. You can do it, one determined and dedicated educator at a time.