Who is a good Teacher?
What does it mean to teach?
These are questions I have asked myself constantly and continue to ask as I enter my fourth decade of teaching. Teaching for me has been about striking a balance i.e., balancing pedagogy with lived experience inside and outside the classroom. Pedagogy to me is a method and a practice of teaching that is like a science or an art and somewhere I feel we have indeed forgotten both as we compete with larger forces beyond our control both in the classroom and outside it.
The aim of any pedagogy is the full development of the individual or the human being. There is no doubt in today’s evolving times we need a holistic pedagogic practice. But what does this entail? Does this mean a practice that changes the education/educating process/and questions our roles as teachers or educators? Does it mean that we need to raise questions about whether we as teachers are free thinkers in how we perceive our role as transmitters of knowledge, values and ideas. Or does it mean that we raise important questions about how we practice the art of teaching and aim to provide a holistic environment for our students and their growth as individuals.
Let us right at the beginning ask ourselves whether we are truly engaged in the process of educating or have we abrogated our responsibilities as teachers. One way of addressing this question, I believe, is by asking ourselves whether we are true enablers of knowledge or merely mediators of a curriculum. That is, have we become mere “masters of regurgitation” and relics of the lost art of dialogic conversation. Indeed, we live in a time and age where we have to try and find a balance between curriculum, knowledge and the market. The education system is facing an increasing need to respond to the new skills and demands generated by a rapidly changing and globalizing world. The teaching fraternity has become like a middle man between industry and society as educational institutions today are focused on churning out skilled and qualified manpower resource that can also be efficient work force in the future.
No doubt, educational institutions are required to respond to the process of innovation and adapt their organization and pedagogies to cater to the needs of diversified groups of students, society and industry. And in this institutional churning teachers are key role players in the overall transformations taking place. For we as teachers have to find a way to ensure that as the world around us changes and becomes more global and liberal, there is a groundedness in reality that we are able to provide young minds.
Thinking with these ideas in hand, I believe what we need today is a holistic education that addresses the need not only for academic excellence but also individual growth. This can only be possible if we have a feasible enabling environment that comes institutionally and ideologically from the pedagogic framework and the curriculum and how the teacher interprets this in the classroom. The classroom as the institution, the individual pupil as the stake holder, and the teachers as the shareholders, are the critical elements of the holistic education process that has slowly lost its foothold as we compete with other systems of knowledge. The mastermind behind these new knowledge systems are the technological advancements being made daily and their intrusion not only into our lives but also the rampant taking over of our minds.
It was J. Krishnamurti who long ago stressed the need to constantly create a balance between the outside and the inside and the psychological and the technological. He believed that nothing can exist in a vacuum and we must constantly search for a fine balance between the elements. What a visionary he was. And this is where the dilemma of education and teachers arises – for the classroom is not just a part of an institution or physical structure, it is in fact a moral space and an ideological construct where the external order represented by society constantly engages in an interface through questions, conflicts and contradictions and new ideas. The social reality of the classroom is made up of what the different participants bring to the table and in this interface an important question to consider is whether teachers and students have the same goal.
A student can be oriented to success and clear goals, acquiring knowledge, carving out a future or just passing time, as many back benchers do. On the other hand, a teacher is committed to her classroom through a pedagogy and a knowledge framework. But do not forget she also has a desire for professional advancement, personal gain and status transformation. And it is in this space and environment that change has to come from dialogue that develops qualities in both participants by enabling them to an engage on multiple levels. We as teachers have to ask ourselves the important question of what legitimizes us as a teacher and what is our role. Is it to teach, to impart knowledge, to raise questions, to alter institutions and structures or give our students agency and a space to grow?
But we must also ask ourselves do we as a teacher have agency? Are we prejudiced? Are we rigid and intolerant or are we open to criticism, and do we dare to question ourselves? We must each of us also introspect and enquire if we still have the will and heart to teach or have we become slaves to an ever changing curriculum and methodology and the ultimate aim of getting the numbers! I believe that the classroom today is a debated space where we have forgotten how to think out of the box, to engage, to churn our own thoughts and methods as we engage with students who themselves are floundering confused slaves of a competitive environment!
And so, we must stop, and reconsider our methods and our goals. We must look inwards as teachers and confront ourselves and accept and believe that the only way forward is to change and reconfigure the equation between the teacher and the taught; between the pedagogy and knowledge. Yes, there is no denying we have lost the art of teaching and have become masters of regurgitation. For me to rethink our pedagogy, we must begin by asking a fundamental question: how do we as teachers nurture the creativity of our students and appreciate their world and make them step out of it with confidence and self-belief that they can deal with the vicissitudes of the wide world they are training to confront, come what may. How do we tell them that the education system is not to there to vex them, but it is a forum through which they may discover themselves and their potential and acquire an exactness of purpose, i.e. an education of the being not just of the mind.
We can only do this when we recognize that nothing is trifling for a young mind. As Julian Opie, said once children are faithful and committed to their own folklore and it is the duty of a teacher to negotiate this space that is the conscious culture of a young mind. Piaget too has raised questions about who we are teaching and what is the young minds conception of the world which includes us, the teachers. A young mind sees everything from her point of view and believes it is right and all others also think like her. She maybe blind to a multiplicity of perspectives and has her own sense of truth and her own reality. The contents of her thoughts and speech are a unique system of intimate beliefs, mental tendencies and predilections. There is prejudice fear and preference as well and yet an unquestioned acceptance of life around – young minds are unperturbed and go with the flow.
And as teachers it is here that we face our first stumbling block. We as teachers do not know how to traverse into this world of young minds having long forgotten it ourselves. Thus, following the curriculum blindly seems the easiest way to negotiate this terrain. But we must not seek the easy way out or the path of least resistance however tempting it may be. Instead, we need to re-engage with the world of the classroom elementally, as today we also struggle with the monster of technology that has replaced traditional knowledge sources. We need to go into the classroom and engage with our young students and teach them to tinker with the world around, for their own world has become insular and they are blindsided by the hydra-headed monster of technology and the sloth that comes with it.
It is our ethical and moral obligation to reach into our students’ minds and teach them to look up, to think, to question and engage with the world around them. For if we fail to do this then we are abrogating our responsibility. At the same time, we too have to overcome our own egocentricity, our pedagogic pursuits and the fear of failing to follow the curriculum. To all of us I say, the curriculum is only a peg, let us not hang ourselves from it! For it is only when we have a liberated conviction, we will be able to return to the art of teaching. We need to ask ourselves if we have done our duty towards our students, I believe we can do that only when we stop seeing ourselves as teachers and mediators of a syllabus and instead see ourselves as enablers of knowledge. As an enabler a teacher has to be a risk taker, like an entrepreneur and a risk taker is someone who believes in a whole different pedagogy.
Ask yourself every morning before you step out of home on your way to teach:
Do I have a mission and do I give my students some vision?
Do I give them choice and create social value?
Am I relentless in my pursuit and am I constantly learning?
Do I see myself as accountable and a student willing to learn?
Am I thinking?
But most importantly, Am I listening?
I believe if we do not have these questions in our mind before we enter the classroom then we are no longer enablers of knowledge and have indeed lost the art of teaching.
Sociologist at Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi