Travails of a Teacher

I used to enjoy my job.  My job is teaching.  I have been doing it for more than quarter of a century with a lot of excitement.  I normally walked into each classroom with a broad smile because I loved both the students and the job.  But these days when I look in the mirror for checking the length of my beard which should not cross the centimetres I have recommended for it (just as I get my shirt sleeves centimetred much against the current trends set by Bollywood), I find my smile warped.  Is my smile in the class pretentious?  I put this question to another teacher, a teacher like me who teaches in a fully residential school.  Let me call her M.

M’s day starts at 5.30 in the morning.  The classes begin at 7.15 and continue to 1.45 in the afternoon.  In the meanwhile she has to assist at the breakfast of the students.    At 1.45 the classes are over.  She has to assist at the lunch too. She shows me the sleeves of her upper garment smeared with curry stains obtained in the process of serving the students.  Smears which Surf Excel cannot wash, she says.  Most of her salary goes into buying new pairs of “suit.”

M works in a residential school.  Her (current) principal’s irrefutable refrain is: “You work in a residential school and hence your duty is 24 hours.”  Her duty is not over with the lunch in the school mess.  She has to report for duty at 4 pm for what is called prep which continues till 5.30.  She has to make sure that the students study the day’s lessons and do the day’s homework during that time.  Then she may be called for games duty at 5.45, a duty which continues for an hour.  Then she has to report for what her principal calls “remedial classes” (and her colleagues call comedial classes) at 8 pm.  That is followed by the dinner duty and the Hostel duty.  She reaches home at 10.30 in the night. 

Now she has to go for the next day’s classes.  She has to teach according to the curriculum prescribed by the school.  And her school has prescribed the curriculum prepared by a private commercial firm called Xseed.  According to Xseed’s curriculum a teacher has to go through at least 3 books before going to each class: a text book and a workbook given to students, as well as a curriculum manual meant for the teachers.  M has to go through at least 15 books before going to the school in the morning because she has been given 5 different classes to teach.  “Where do I get the time?” she asks me. 

Where will she get the time for her family life, I wondered as she told me her story.

Then M showed me a poem prescribed by Xseed for class 6: The Listeners by Walter de La Mare.  It is a poem which a university may hesitate to prescribe for undergraduate students.  I agree.  I tell her that De La Mare lived in a dream world and wrote poems about such worlds and that she might be in such a dream world, a bizarre world of the kind that only De La Mare could have conjured up.  That was meant to console her.  What else could I do for a teacher, a colleague, a fellow traveller?

There is so much more that can be written about the job of teaching.  I will write that much better after retirement if there is such a life after retirement for teachers like me. 

I started this by saying that I used to enjoy teaching.  Not now.  Not in the current state of affairs.  Because I too work in a residential school whose principal is not much different from M’s.


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18 Responses to Travails of a Teacher

  1. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    My basic problem is this: I think a teacher learns by teaching more than the students do by being taught. But the teacher’s learning has to be leavened by time to ponder over what she has learned in the process of teaching. If the teacher does not get this, sorry, her teaching/learning suffers.

    This is why my father, a professor of physiics he was, told me that he had more than 35 years of teaching experience which really meant 1 year of experience repeated 34 times. I think both you and M have to think on this. Do you have 25 years of teaching experience or 1 year experience repeated 24 years?

    Raghuram Ekambaram

    • matheikal says:

      Raghuram, the time has changed much from your father’s. Today the curriculum in a school is changed almost every year. No teacher can repeat the previous year’s lessons. Except in CBSE classes – ie. 9 to 12. The teachers who teach in lower classes bear the brunt. All the experiments take place there. And most of the experiments are ridiculous. I can say that quite authoritatively because I have been a witness to it for quite some time. What runs the education system today is commerce. Some enterprising fellow finds out a way of selling his textbooks and the poor teacher has to find out a way of teaching the very unscientific curriculum prepared by people with no experience in the field of teaching. From class 9 onwards there is no problem becuase the school is forced to follow the Board’s curriculum.
      Ultimately, I see it this way: the higher you go the eaiser it gets. For instance, a professor in a university can repeat himself ad infinitum and he/she has about just one class per day. A lecturer in a college can also repeat the same lectures until the university deems it fit to revise thre syllabus. A senior teacher in a school also escapes the ordeal of having to revise his knowledge until the Board forces him/her to undergo that firetest! But the teachers at the lower levels have to suffer much because of the “caste” system created by the commercial education system of today,

  2. J.D. Malik says:

    I wonder why the school has to prescribe the Syllabus prescribed by Xseed. I wish the Principal of M., your unduly burdened teacher, added some Genuine Play into the curriculum and made of the Residential school, into a true Gurukula. Allowed life to teach the teachers and the students, rather than tomes.

    • matheikal says:

      Exactly. I am of the opinion that a school, especially a residential school, does not need the curriculum prescribed by the so-called experts (who are in fact novices in the field of education and MBAs by qualification). Ultimately it depends on the principal of the school which curriculum is accepted and how it is implemented.

      • Jose D.Maliekal says:

        I know from experience that education is a matter of the heart, ultimately. May be we are preparing monocultural careerists, by overstressing on Market-oriented curriculum. My Dad, who used to be over-insistent on studies, with us, children, when were young, was heard, saying to my sister-in-law, when he was in mid-fifties, ” Let the child play”. ( my very young niece, who was bent on watching T.V. through the window, when my sister-in-law was trying to teach her after the school-hours). That is wisdom from experience of life.

      • matheikal says:

        First of all, Maliekal, I must say I am flattered by your returning to this post.
        Secondly, I agree with you totally that education should not be a burden for the students. I do my best to make teaching fun. When my students tell me or even speak from the stage at the farewell function that my teaching is like chatting I’m happy. My boss too should be happy. But my boss like most principals think education should be a burden on both the students and the teachers. My “chatting” gets the desired result, as far as I see and as far as the results of the Board [bored?] exams are concerned. “Let the child play” I repeat with you a thousand times. Why don’t the experts understand that, that’s my question.

  3. iblog4acause says:

    Interesting post..It is true that not all have to follow the same path, after all there are always better ways of achieving something that we often keep ignoring.

  4. Pingback: Travails of a Teacher | Γονείς σε Δράση

  5. Aditi says:

    Matheikal, when I had read the Right to Education Act, what had also struck me was that teachers were expected to put in a minimum of 45 teaching hours per week. Also, in higher classes, every teacher is statutorily required to work for a minimum 220 working days in a year and log a minimum of 1000 instructional hours. Even without being a teacher myself, I thought the structure reeked of deliberate possibility of exploitation, because the minimum was prescribed while the upper boundary was deliberately left unsaid, in my opinion, any private school falling in the purview of RTE could exploit the loophole and teachers could not really protest.

    • matheikal says:

      Most private systems exploit all loopholes to the hilt, I guess. But the employees also get some benefits in the process. Teachers usually end up with only more and more responsibilities!

  6. Jose D.Maliekal says:

    Dear Tomichan,

    I too am flattered and shall I say, humbled to receive your prompt response to my reply. Yes. Teaching should be a mutual chatting. Let the children play on…. in allusion to a little known incident from the annals of the oratory in the late 1870s or early 1880. DB had sent his missionaries to the Argentine Republic and he did need all the good will, of the powers that be, whether ecclesiastical or secular, to keep his Project going. A Bishop – name not known, happened to visit Valdocco and was sojourning, in those early days, following the Expedition. The Prelate, after the journey’s tedium, was just beginning, his well-deserving or say, habituated siesta. He was put up right on top of the band-room of Valdocco. And was evidently disturbed and came out of the room, to the verandah. A cleric, who was passing past the Monsignor, whose discomfiture, was more than evident, stopped by, to ask him, before he could hurtle down the stairs, with scores of music scores in his hands, whether he could do anything for him. Monsignor, not hiding his irritation, replied, ” So much raucous from below and I have not slept for the last whole week, in the ship, across the Atlantic.” When Don Bosco was alerted about the Monsignor’s plight, he relpled, ” If the Monsignor so wishes, he could shift himself to some other quieter and agreeable quarters of Turin. But my boys will play on”. Boys must play…. notwithstanding the importance of the Bishop, as churchman and man most needed… as important as their saying the rosary, which need was emphatically affirmed, by him to Count Cavour, humanist, but anti-clerical minister of Internal Security.

    • matheikal says:

      Maliekal, thanks for that wonderful anecdote. I wish all the bosses on the earth read it AND UNDERSTAND it.

      By the way, I’m on leave today and that’s the only reason I have been able to sit before the computer for so long (after completing the work for which I took the leave).

      I am myself a product of Don Bosco’s pedagogy. I have been trying to put that into practice in my own humble way though I don’t agree with some of his ideas (about sin, for example; about women, for another exmaple). But there’s much that has remained with me consciously or unconsciously.

      You know, I hated it when the Salesians brought Don Bosco’s relic to Delhi and displayed it from place to place just for some cheap popularity. I wanted to write a blog on Don Bosco on the occasion of the anniversary. But when I saw the display I desisted. I would have ended up writing against the perversion of displaying a corpse-like statue of Don Bosco. I would have ended up writing about how all religions end up worshipping the corpse of their founder!

  7. dawnanddew says:

    Fine I really enjoyed the blog and the conversations and comments here though I could n’t understand the DB’s episode because of the so called lack of interest that shrouds me because of my disturbed routine. In actual fact, I need to be free to think. I too am working in the same kind of school stated above. Here sometimes I do get free time because of some experience in my job, yet I’m not free! My case is not as worse as M’s, to state honestly. I feel sorry for her. Sometimes I even wonder whether I’m alright or not. Thanks to my boss’ exploitation, I too have lost my smile. 😦

  8. benny says:

    A private school is a private school. They will wring out the last drop of blood from your body, that is it. For every pie you earn, you repay with your very own exitence.Come to think of it. Do companies follow the same methods. No at all. There is innovation and fredom. But they are private too. Just come out of the rigmorale of this nonsense. And you will see how things change suddenly. Can I guess the M?.

  9. benny says:

    A private school is a private school. They will wring out the last drop of blood from your body, that is it. For every pie you earn, you repay with your very own existence.Come to think of it. Do companies follow the same methods. Not at all. There is innovation and freedom. But they are private too. Just come out of the rigmorale of this nonsense. And you will see how things change suddenly. Can I guess the M?.

    • matheikal says:

      The blood-wringing is not necessary at all. It depends on the leader. There are leaders who make the job easy, too easy infact, for the staff and get excellent results. That’s smart work with right vision. Where the leader is visionless, the staff suffer.

      Yes, your guess is right.

  10. Autar Nehru says:

    Bringing out a Teachers Special of Curriculum magazine, would like to use this piece. I would urge u to send me a test mail so that we can exchange a few notes. If somebody can write a critique about Xeed, it will be a good idea. Our current issue can be viewed online at the following link curriculum/16072011/home.aspx

    Autar Nehru

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