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Is Teaching a Worthy Profession? – Prof. Shruthi Nanjappa

Dec 13, 2021.

I am a teacher. I am passionate about teaching and love my job. Nothing gives me more excitement than waiting to meet a new batch of students to find out all that they are. I think there is no job as exciting as teaching. Each class can be a revelation of new ideas, new perspectives and new possibilities. Teaching is experiential, the teacher learns as much as the student from the teaching experience. And as a senior colleague put it, it is a job in which you never grow old as you constantly interact with the younger generation year after year.

Like every semester, this semester too I was assigned invigilation duty for the University exams. I was assigned to a different college as our college is not an exam centre. During the course of invigilation I was pained to see students copying. Repeated warnings and threats fell on deaf ears and the students continued to cheat shamelessly.

This made me question my choice of profession and its value in this day and age. Where does the problem lie? In the education system?  In the examination system? Or in the way we teach? What makes children from decent families cheat in an examination without any fear? What forces them to do so?

In India importance is given to marks scored and not the knowledge acquired. Marks obtained in final exams become the benchmark for everything. The manner in which the exam papers are set, aids rote learning which in turn encourages cheating. Bangalore University has tried to change its syllabus, by including experiential learning. But this has resulted in widespread plagiarism. If students finally cheat or plagiarize subject matter, is there any point of teaching? When students are judged purely on their performance in exams and nothing else than getting marks by hook or crook and this becomes of paramount importance.

Educational regulatory authorities want to make the subject Universal Human Values compulsory for all courses under its purview. Will teaching this course stop the students from copying and behaving unethically?

But this brings me back to my basic question…Is teaching a worthy profession? Today all knowledge that one requires, is available on the internet and most skills can be learnt there too. Teaching is no longer a noble profession, that is was thought to be earlier. In today’s consumerist world education is a business like any other. The students are customers and teachers are service providers, whose pay depends on the fees of the students. Respect for teaching as a profession has fallen in society. It is no longer considered respectable as it is not lucrative. Today the money you make decides the respect you command. Few parents, if any, aspire for their children to join the teaching profession as teaching jobs pay poorly.

Training and selection of teachers is skewed. The art and the ability to teach have been traded for degrees. The psychological attributes of a good teacher are completely overlooked, while selecting a teacher. And to this day the saying “Those who can do those who can’t teach” holds good. I joined my first teaching job in 2010. A friend and colleague who had been in the profession for longer, told me that if one observes carefully, a large number of people who haven’t made it anywhere, join the teaching profession. Over the years I have realised this to be true. People who do not have the skill to teach, passion for it or psychological bent of mind for teaching, end up doing so.

Evaluation of a teacher’s performance, more often than not depends on the performance of their students.  I have never understood how my competence as a teacher is dependent on the performance of my students? Students are humans who have their failings; they may not study for the exam, may blank out during the exam as a result of anxiety or be evaluated by an exceptionally strict teacher. When in a class some students get above 80 percentage, some get 60 percentage, some just manage to pass and others fail, how can the teacher be held responsible for such varied performance? It is one teacher, teaching the same subject to a class of students, and each of them gets different marks. So are the marks dependent on the teacher or the student?

Another means of performance evaluation is the “Student’s Feedback”. To begin with, how sincerely do students fill these feedbacks? Are they serious about it or is it something that they complete under duress? Teachers who are strict in class and as evaluators often receive poor feedback. Those teachers who are lenient and liberal get better feedback. Can these be used the assess teachers and their performance? Am not sure they can, because I have seen students taking this exercise extremely lightly. They do not care that the management of the institute takes them seriously and that feedback can have negative repercussions on the teacher.

The recent pandemic has again highlighted the vulnerability of the teaching community. A large number of teachers lost their jobs. They had to shift to virtual teaching with no prior experience or training for the same. They had to adapt their teaching skills to the requirement of the new normal. A lot of teachers did not have access to laptops and had to make do with their mobile phones to conduct classes. They found innovative ways to use the mobile to ensure that knowledge was transferred as optimally as possible. Despite this many had salary cuts for close to a year, as students defaulted in fee payment. Doctors, policemen and other essential staff have been hailed as “COVID Warriors” by all, has anyone spared a thought for the teaching fraternity? Teachers had to manage household responsibilities and classes parallelly, while ensuring that no child was left behind in learning because of the virtual classes. And still remain forgotten by society at large.

The case of Government teachers has been worse during the pandemic. As a rule they have to assist the State Government in elections, which they did during the pandemic and as a result many succumbed to COVID. Many of them have not received any compensation from their respective Governments as they do not come under the category of “COVID Warriors”. In spite of doing their duty and paying with their lives, the Government will not acknowledge their contribution to the state.

Then what makes me continue in this profession? It is those two students in a class of 40 who make the effort to understand and do an assignment sincerely. The one student who thinks that she can speak to me about something that she can’t speak to her mother about. The few who even after years have passed remember me on Teachers’ Day and acknowledge that my classes made a difference. The excitement to see how a new batch is and how different and diverse from the previous ones. I believe that teaching requires an enormous amount of self-motivation. And it is these few students that keep me going hour after hour, trying to make a difference in the thinking and perspective of the students I teach.

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