Sunday, July 29, 2012

Teacher Educator Mentor

I recently attended a beautiful, thought provoking session by our school's management consultants Sandeep and Manisha. Though, we were all sulking as it entailed a working Saturday, the session was surprisingly insightful. We began by falling into the traps of their tricky questions, like fish caught in a net, as they asked us 'How intelligent are we?'. As we went through the various aspects of trying to define how intelligent we are and furthermore, quantify it as a rating, most of us realised the futility of this self evaluation! We needed to have understood that when it comes to teaching, it is not about 'How intelligent our students are', but about 'How are they intelligent'! Having experienced this first jolt, all of us (our Primary school team of 60 teachers) became more alert and involved, totally forgetting that it was a Saturday afternoon!

We enjoyed exploring the ethos of teaching remembering multiple intelligences and multiple pathways to learning, two educational beliefs that also form the backbone of our school's vision and mission! At the same time, it was heartening to see the commitment level of most of our teachers in teaching students of today... and embracing in the same hug, the challenges and the rewards. Here is a summary of some of the insights shared, beliefs reinforced and questions planted:

What is it and how can one define it? As we see the greatest people in their respective fields, we realise that they all circumstantially evaded the journey of schooling. So does education actually nurture intelligence or streamline children into competitive race-course tracks? What is the purpose of holistic education... to help each child manifest the Buddhahood within and bloom like a lotus in all its natural beauty and glory... or to wither into a well groomed and manicured flower that can merely adorn hotel bedside tables? As teachers is it not our moral responsibility to acknowledge the unique potential and mission of each individual, help them realise it and guide them on the path to manifesting that inner potential, which in Buddhist terms, is nothing but Buddhahood? Should education address the needs of the learner and help him/her connect his inner strengths to the dynamics of the world outside, or the needs of an economically or industrially driven society which needs humanoids to fill in jobs? Having been born in a family of so called intellectuals, and always being reminded (throughout my upbringing) of my ordinariness in 'that department', it was reassuring to find others who believed in an intelligence that went far beyond knowledge and information and celebrated true wisdom.

The facilitators also raised the whole perception of "Teaching as a noble profession" and as educators of a progressive education system and an internationally minded school, it was heartening to see the debate. Is the phrase 'noble profession' an oxymoron? What makes a profession noble? We explored in groups, what we felt personally and professionally about this oft used, cliched statement, and each group shared some amazing insights. 'Noble' brings into mind selflessness, giving and sacrificing. Yes, we do all of that as teachers and our best rewards are the joys of seeing our students grow from strength to strength. In the ancient times, when the select few were educated and had the power to educate others, a distinction from other occupations could have been used to demarcate teachers as higher beings. But what adds hypocritical complicacy to the statement is when the word 'noble' is added to 'profession'. A profession implies something specialised and something which also brings in income. And that is where the hypocrisy begins. Do teachers not deserve to earn? How is it different from other professions then? Yes, we shape the future citizens of the world and yes, we not only invest our time and knowledge, but also our emotions. But if these things can be easily accepted by all as a teacher's duty, then why do employees of MNCs earn much more than teachers? Why does the ability to build bridges or create computer programmes garner a higher monetary value than creating good human beings and caring global citizens? Is it wrong to be paid well and appropriately for shaping the future society and future leaders, but absolutely acceptable for others to earn millions of dollars for ensuring profits in a company that is doing nothing remarkably different than what East India Company planned and did in India? Then why do countries and societies demean the value of our contribution in economic terms? On the other hand, if we, as teachers, get paid decently, as we are in international schools, is it something to feel guilty about? Is society the way it is because for generations, the financial rewards of a teacher by its employer has been meagre to say the least and that not all teachers would deliver their best merely on the nobility factor? Is the profession that a prostitute chooses any less noble? Questions that shook the basic foundation of my own value system and put me at peace with the fact that the nobility of a profession is not by its nature, but more determined by the nature of the individual engaged in it. The examples of shocking and most often not noble behaviour by teachers is widely publicised in the media these days with a scary incident being reported every other week... but does it really bother us as much as it would if the stock market crashed or the Sensex dipped many points or the price of gold increased by a few more thousands? 

The final aspect of the workshop was to help us realise our humanistic mission as teachers. We explored our understanding of the role of a teacher viz a viz an educator and a mentor. In today's world of helicopter parenting, as so beautifully coined and explained by Rachna in her blog on children losing their innocence these days, is it enough being an authoritative fountain head of knowledge? Or do children need more compassionate teachers to help them educate themselves? Or is the role of a teacher much larger to a disarrayed generation that is lost in its life tracks and thus, be the mentor to guide them to finding their own truths? In the PYP, we are all of these rolled into one. Not only do we need to be receptive to the backgrounds and experiences that students bring in to the class room, but also be aware that each child is uniquely intelligent and each child has a unique way of learning. We need to compensate for the role models which may be missing in their lives... lives wrought with broken homes, domestic abuse, ignorant parents, absent parents and the dependence for entertainment and comfort merely on inanimate objects and the digital media! We have to be the parent, the friend, the guide, the sibling and the guru. We need to be role models to these children, as they perceive and imbibe all that they witness around them. At the same time, we need to make them independent learners, who will be able to fit into an ever changing world, wherever they are! The challenges and the responsibilities are immense but the rewards at the end of the day are much larger than a fat bonus cheque. The rewards are rewards of the heart!


Subhorup Dasgupta said...

the concept of an educator has undergone several changes in the last century, and your post really makes one think about the role of educator/mentors. congruence between what we say and what we do is perhaps the greatest teaching we can pass on as parents and as teachers. for this to be achieved, there needs to be a greater level of interaction between the educator/mentor and the student/disciple. the way children are thrust into the machinery of school and vocational education system, and the way most families need two incomes to live the way they would like, children are robbed of the opportunity to be who they truly are and to learn from experience. very thought provoking post. thanks for sharing, abhimanyu.

Rachna said...

Abhimanyu, this is a wonderful post that makes us see things from the POV of an educator. You have raised some very valid points about the "nobility" of the profession yet teachers are expected to do so much on such meagre salaries. It angers me that the same schools that charge us such hefty fees don't invest in their teachers as much as they should and don't pay their teachers well. Like you rightly pointed out, the challenges for teachers are many with kids coming from varying backgrounds and home environments! I think teaching methods and teachers have undergone a huge transformation. What I would like to see as a parent is a balanced curriculum more focused on the methodology than the actual content. Is it more important that the child have a better handwriting or that the child understands what he writes. Is it important to complete the chapter or to see if the children have imbibed anything? No one can replace the value of a teacher in a student's life. Good teachers are like surrogate parents -- friends, philosopher and guides!

conversingwiththebuddha said...

You must explore the PYP then as that balances all these aspects through its very design... lucky to be working at a most fulfilling job/profession/mission! :D

mom said...
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Anonymous said...

You have brought out the role of today's educators and mentors very well. I especially liked the part about the oxymoron of a noble profession and your conclusion that the nobility is not in the profession but the one practising it honestly. The education system is going to pieces trying to balance impossible curriculum with new teaching methods, often with disastrous results and even less of human touch than is there at present. More such workshops and seminars are required to keep the teachers in touch with their profession and the joys it entails -- of creating responsible and human future citizens.