Follow by Email

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Supreme Salary - Teacher's Day Observations

Dear Teacher by choice, default or auto-correct...

While on this Teacher's Day I salute your 'yeoman' service to the society, I have a wish to make. I would rather see you 'a freeman' who makes 'the difference' between the cultural growth of human civilisation and the stolid march of a utilitarian society and stand for the former than the latter. I have a few paeans to sing, not before I have etched my observations.

Teachers should take up employment or profess only out of personal conviction, not due to financial considerations. This is not to say that teachers should not seek prosperity or social status. After all, they are human beings with feelings too. The two can be inclusive - personal conviction and prosperity, I mean; but financial considerations must be subservient to personal conviction.

What is this personal conviction? It is to touch lives, to impart not just language or technical knowledge as Einstein observed, but humaneness and empathy as well. What does this personal conviction stem from? It stems from a deep-rooted need to create human beings who grow to understand the unfettered urge to give more than take. Is this happening today? No.

The majority of today's teaching fraternity is insecure, anxious and scared.

Insecure because they fear the loss of integrity that some of them fail to realise they do not possess since they took up a teaching 'job'. They fear to be questioned because they do not have answers acceptable to the younger generation that seeks honest, simple and lucid answers. This is because the world of the teacher's youth and the world of today's young generation are different. Teachers cannot provide answers and caveat from their time and space to another spatio-temporal reality whose world is wider, more complex and more cluttered. Most teachers realize this, but fail to accept it, unwilling to let go of outdated habits in which they seek comfort zones and refuge.

Today's reality just cannot be wished away by yesterday's practices. This status quo is best exemplified by two stereotypical day-to-day realpolitik of family structure: young teens or adolescents who see the redundancy in certain beliefs and practices of their parents and swear in youth not to become like their parents, but to be an understanding adult to their children when they eventually grow up. They seldom succeed, rarely retain their vow. Time does it to them. The reality of everyday world bites hard. The next analogy is not dissimilar, but somewhat different: that of the caterpillar-daughter-in-law's transformation into the stereotype of an ugly butterfly-mother-in-law she swore not to become.

The teachers - those who chose to become, that is -  end up falling into the trap they saw some of their anxious forbears in, which they swore not to fall into, if at all they became teachers. Where does this anxiety arise from?

The anxiety, as I see it, is a result of their aspirations to provide a provocative and energising transfer of knowledge (at the beginning of their careers) in conflict with the system's need to complete "set" objectives. This "said" objective can be to produce 'the best results' or 'the need to be competitive in enrollment' in a dog-house system or simply 'the compulsion' to complete syllabi.  It all has become number crunching war. Whatever the latter is, it is a compromise. The system may be at fault, but what of the teachers themselves? Such people must not take up teaching, or if they have, must pronto give up, and had rather served in a brick kiln even as Howard Roark did. It is not idealism that I am professing, but a salvo against those who want to marry financial success with ideological achievement. It just does not work out both ways.

The life of a teacher is fraught with more challenges, adventures, risks and dangers than that of Odysseus on his travails. The teachers knew this as they took it up. This might sound idealistic, but such an uncompromising stance is the only way forward for the teaching fraternity, to resist the subversive investment culture in education these days. This, though fraught with personal perils, is the only option left to revert an educational system that is entrapped in the fangs of a bunch of fascist monkeys also known as the tribe of educationists, most of whom have 'invested' their finances in the pursuit of creating their respective visions of 'glasshouse' intelligence that is filled with 'snowflake world'! You shake it, it is all flaky and silvery, in an exciting flux, romantic to look at from outside. Once the confetti inside settle down, the spectacle is vapid, inane, banal, mundane and as spiritually devoid as Eliot's wasteland. These investment educationists (like investment bankers) are the Eliotean hollowmen who gnaw at our social fabric today like the rats in the attic. Teachers worth their salt need to and must, out of self-belief and spinal self-respect, shake off this anxiety of 'the objective of the system.' They have to be bold as warriors and choose their battles carefully to fight.

Now, what are they scared of?  Loss of job?  Loss of financial security - an essential motivation to lead life? Loss of self-esteem? Financial security and job are no doubt interrelated and understandable; but more important are the erosion of pedagogic faith and learner-centric values.  If jobs are lost, so long as one retains their self-esteem, earning is still possible. Tucked somewhere in this struggle is also 'the circle of societal expectations' we have created around ourselves. It is not a suraksha chakkar, but a cage we build around ourselves. Why does one really, even if we are social animals that cannot exist in isolation, have to be bound by others' expectations of how we must live?  There is greater dignity in so-called cheap labour, if integrity in oneself as a human being worthy of higher mental notion is retained.  At that level of existence, there is no dignity of labour as the class-conscious society sees it... but only the pride of dignity that one is still capable of earning without sacrificing one's soul.

Here, let us talk about 'loss of self-esteem.'  This is something not without, but within.  One has a soul that is 'not for sale.'  It should never be sold.  Or even temporarily pledged or pawned.  The only difference between the other vertebrates and human beings is this soul-awareness. This is more so true of artists. By artists, I choose to include the teachers as well.  Are they not performers on a daily class-room stage?  A boring performance is often the difference between a monotonous class and stimulating atmosphere.  It is this stimulating atmosphere that leads to learning.  Otherwise, we will end up with a classroom full of students who have teachers chasing them in circles (not exactly the kind of cultural revolution we desire in education!), pleading the students to return their boardmarkers.  So, this soul-awareness!

Every person has a price, no doubt. Some are priceless, others priced less. Which one, I ask the teaching fraternity - every single one of you who may stumble on this rant - do you want to be remembered as? Even if the Don Corleones of investment education ask you to name the price, make it unaffordable. Good teachers are a rare breed and should not sell themselves cheaply (I do not mean financially alone here!) to organised exploitation of knowledge transfer. Good teachers do not hesitate to work and go the extra country mile to help students beyond the confines of structures. A good teacher is spinal to the creation of a good citizen. So, anyone worth harbouring aspirations of themselves as good teachers must retain their self-respect and take pride in saying that 'I do not take the easy way out at work.' I do not use previous years' notes, I do not rely on existing material to regurgitate in front of x no. of students... There are Mephistos everywhere. Do you want to be Dr. Faustus? And cringe and grovel on the day of reckoning? Or do you?  Wouldn't you rather be that teacher who inspired a generation of fearless individuals who stand up on top of their tables, quoting Whitman?

Throw the dead teacher in you, focus only on imparting provocative knowledge, help discover the seeker, not typecast functional automatons who only build or design or drive or cook or stitch or 'teach.' There are many ways to skin a cat, but you can't escape the pain. The society will wince, cry, caterwaul, even claw back painfully at times; but without pain, no real gain.  The Pain is the teachers', but the gain ultimately is the society's. They will recognise and remember. In most cases post-career or even posthumously. At times, miraculously within the service period and automatically financial rewards would take care of themselves. That financial reward is sweetest that comes unexpected. However, yes, they will recognise and remember. Ultimately that is the Supreme Salary!

a Learner.