Opinion

Our gratitude to all the teachers who dedicate their lives to this calling.

Dr Gunmeet Bindra
Our gratitude to all the teachers who dedicate their lives to this calling.

Image used for representational purpose only.

This term began seeing me start taking economics classes for grade nine. The first topic I was to take up, as per the scheme of work, was “People as resources” and the overview of the lesson focused on ‘Human capital formation’. It set me thinking. Human capital formation? Well, the most important contributing factors to this human capital formation are medical, education and training. Ironically, the one resource which has been missed by the wide-eyed spectrum is the teacher whose role is multifaceted and multidimensional and yet her/his recruitment is as linear as possible.

Portals of excellence in Teacher Education churning out young teacher trainees after being fed with a bland diet of a curriculum does not augur well for those thousands of students who will be taught and shaped by them. As long as policies do not change, we as a nation will continue to drive conformity through dead-end curricula and we will continue to churn out teachers with underdeveloped creativity. A catch -22 situation is all one will be left to empathise with if we do not see a paradigm shift in the establishment of teacher education institutes which are at par with the premier institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology. The prospect of such institutions of teacher training will at least ensure that teachers will be trained adequately and will have a head start with the nuanced understanding of the responsibility of teaching. Till this reality dawns in our educational landscape, we will have to relook and realign our teacher recruitment processes.

Teaching in India is not a first choice for the majority and this has been an accepted indifference to this pitiable state in the growing reality of the above. In this framework, recruitments through headhunters, standardised tests, etc. do not yield the desired output and this is evident in the way most of our well-meaning institutions end up transacting curriculum in the same blinkered manner.

The sieve used for recruitment of teachers must be more comprehensive and must look at qualities such as adaptable, creative, motivated, reflective and hitherto not paid attention to, but my favourite is a good sense of humour. The sense of humor does not only render the environment happy but also helps in building it in the students, the ability to ‘laugh away’ difficult situations. It is equally important for teacher candidates to have the ‘child’ in them kicking and alive. They must be able to switch between, the parent-child – adult, roles skillfully. This will allow them to engage in meaningful conversations with their students. This sets away from the conformity which is set at the starting point by heavily leveraging selection procedures on degrees. It is unfortunate to have a young teacher prospect who has manifold attributes to be a good teacher but in the absence of a teaching degree is cast away.

It would rather, be more enabling, if such prospective candidates are taken under the wings of institutions of learning such as schools and are groomed in a staggered manner to become trained professionals who are fueled by their passion to teach and become a value add to not only the institution but also to the larger teacher fraternity. The redefinition of competence with the new paradigm would include not only high academic performance but also, abilities which will enrich the lives of many students who will grow under their tutelage.

The paradigm shift must have a narrative of looking at avenues where the trick is to catch them young and energetic when the capitalist market has yet not cast its spell, where degrees are not debilitating but rather enabling, where teacher qualifications are more integrated with the working environment and provide job satisfaction. Programmes like Teach for India, Teach for America, Teach for Indonesia, et al are glaring super examples of the above. But we fail to keep them excited about their roles as teachers, we fail to fuel their passion, we fail to compensate and reward them commensurate their effectiveness, and then we lose the most effective classroom teachers to administrative roles.

Teacher compensation is a closely related issue. Tragically, remunerative packages for teachers do not adequately take care of even the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Traditionally, teacher compensation has been based on qualification, experience and last salary drawn. Tragically, it continues to do so. Some schools in their zeal to promote performance, have introduced pay-for-performance systems wherein teachers receive a bonus according to their measured effectiveness. Again, tragically, this measured effectiveness in most schools in India, is read as Board exam results i.e. student achievement is measured purely in terms of scores attained in board exams, and believe it or not, some schools pay an x amount per 90 percent (or whatever benchmark they set ) per student, paid to the teacher as bonus.

Scholarly research does support the inclusion of experience as one of the myriad factors/ parameters for teacher compensation. But the efficacy of a good teacher compensation system would also factor in knowledge (and I am not saying qualification), skill (and I am not saying practice), student achievement (and I am not saying Board results or pass percentage) and roles and responsibility (and I am not saying post/ designation). This obviously gets tricky. But if worked well, a robust compensation system will not only allow teachers to see opportunities for increasing their compensation but will also inspire them to enhance their knowledge, hone and upgrade their skills, move from ‘Teach to the exam” to “teach to the concept” and of course, take on additional responsibilities. Of course, a compensation system cannot be a one size fits all strategy. But a good system will reward effective teachers.

In the middle of all of the above reality is also a fact that despite all challenges, we are blessed to have a group of people who believe in what Alyssa Edward had to say – “The greatest gift I’ve received is being a teacher”. Our gratitude to all the teachers who dedicate their lives to this calling.

God bless!

About the author:

Dr. Gunmeet Bindra is Principal, Welham Boys’ School

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