For a teacher there is no better way to learn how to teach than through teaching. A teacher gets an opportunity to interact with the brightest minds. In one sense, a teacher is always successful; they receive much more from their students than they can give them. The learning curve is infinite. The necessity of knowledge of ‘what it is’ is important but more important is to understand ‘what it should be.’
‘Extended’ education broadens a teacher’s vision. For a teacher, the aesthetic development of the senses is as important as the intellectual. Dislike for an authoritarian learning system is now an accepted fact. Einstein was not liked by his teachers; the reason was his independence. It is very unfortunate that in many schools this situation still prevails. Rabindranath Tagore did not believe in formal schooling. He felt “we rob the child of his earth to teach him geography….his hunger is for epic, but he is supplied with chronicles of facts and dates…” He had faith in personalized education. But how many of us can afford the luxury of personalized education? Many support the view that academic credentials are not sufficient to become a successful teacher. Eleanor Roosevelt rightly observed “I have known many erudite and scholarly men and women who were dismal failures as teachers. I have known some less learned teachers who had the gift of inspiring youth and sending them to heights where perhaps they were unable to follow.”
A great teacher not only gives knowledge and information to the students but also gives emotional and moral moorings. It is not surprising that the qualities students like most in teachers are their flexibility in approach, deep sense of understanding of student psyche, communication skills for interaction with all categories and calibres of students, and above all, a sense of humour to liven up the classroom. The quality of the teacher-student relationship depends on how well responsibilities are understood and undertaken by both sides. This relationship cannot sustain unless a student has respect for his teacher and the teacher a close rapport with the students. We have to remember that respect does not come attached to the teaching profession. It has to be earned. One has to take a genuine interest in his students. I tried to understand the problems of my students; the problems were due to parental or peer pressure, low self-esteem, money worries, etc. To keep pace with time some changes are inevitable. But we also know that the “human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein, it rejects it.” But the body cannot afford to reject the strange protein if it is required for survival. In such a situation, whether it likes it or not, it learns to live with strangers. There is no way, other than to evolve and follow the new rules of the game.
The world is shrinking. There is a knowledge explosion. In this ‘shrinking’ and ‘techno bulged’ world the difference between a trained worker and a merely enthusiastic worker is evident. Although the primary role of a teacher will not change, classrooms will be more interactive. Students will have more courses and career options. Teachers will be needed to adapt to new technologies. They will also have to deal with students who presumably know or want to know ‘where they are supposed to be going.’ Increasingly we have to get used to and cope with a less secure environment, students exposed to higher academic pressures, job competitions, consumerism, etc. Due to varied requirements of the profession, a teacher may have to gain experience in the field or type of work he is not trained in.
Schools are undergoing major structural changes. They are making the learning environment more interactive, and that includes modern teaching methodologies, state-of-the-art physical infrastructure, innovative programs, etc. Regardless of how innovative its teaching methodologies are, or how state-of-the-art its infrastructure is, schools are primarily known by the quality of their students and the capabilities of their teachers. Students are partners as well as major beneficiaries of the learning process; in some situations, they offer useful insights. If we encourage their participation in the developmental process, we can help inculcate a sense of belonging and create an environment that encourages the development of an independent thinking mind. The education system should have an inbuilt mechanism to recognize the good, assist the struggling, and get rid of the incompetent. The traditional examination system needs to change. The teachers will be assessed by their peers and also evaluated by their students. Of course, the teaching profession will have to provide incentives and motivations.
Some of today’s students will be tomorrow’s teachers. Einstein put it so nicely “Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by the enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance so that you may receive it, honour it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children.” Mortimer Adler said many years ago: “For many centuries, education was regarded as the elevation of a mind by its betters. If we are honest, most of us living teachers should be willing to admit that, apart from the advantages which age bestows, we are not much better than our students in intellectual calibre or attainment. If the elevation is to take place, better minds than ours will have to do the teaching.”
More than the mind it is the heart that makes a teacher. A teacher knows about his students as much as she/he knows about her/his subjects. Teaching is truly an inward human activity. It is not merely an intellectual or emotional, or spiritual pursuit. A mere intellectual teacher is a cold abstraction of facts. A mere emotional teacher is a narcissist. A mere spiritual teacher doesn’t have any anchor to the real world. A combination of the three, when interwoven into the fabric of the self, makes a teacher.
Teaching is not a mere technique; it requires identity and integrity. Just think of a craft teacher. She knows her job. She is aware of the details of her craft. She respects the material she uses. She can connect ideas and can give a product of the desired finesse, and can convey it to the students with generosity. Teaching opens the heart. As a teacher, we have to make the students aware of their inner reality. A good teacher invokes in her/his students a capacity for connectedness. Methods don’t dictate connectedness, the heart can. The heart is where intellect, emotion, and spirit converge. A good connectedness among a teacher and students helps in resolving unresolved questions.
No teacher knows all, and to accept this fact, teachers need a different kind of maturity. Shadows and limits are as much a part of a teacher, as strengths and potentials are. Teaching is not merely an image-building exercise. We all know that drawing is different from tracing. When we draw, we encounter discontinuities. These discontinuities disappear when we trace. But many of us like to live with few discontinuities. A teacher tells us that discontinuities are normal. Discontinuities help us to form the driving force that takes us to our destination. Only a good teacher has the authority to teach. Authority is not power. It is the capacity to stand on the ground when faced with the challenges of the classroom. Authority comes from a teacher’s inner self.
A teacher is a friend. He gives a feeling of trust. A teacher turns a mirror into a window. For a teacher, a classroom is not a room full of strangers. A teacher’s obligations to his student extends well beyond the classroom and formal schooling. “One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil.” For a teacher the most joyous moment is when she/he is in the classroom exploring uncharted territories with their students. A teacher feels good when her/his students become their teachers.