I think Teacher’s Day is a great idea and I’m quite proud that we thought this one up. I was one of those socially awkward, permanently mortified nerds who just did not fit in. I was saved by teachers who showed me that not fitting in was not just alright, but maybe even a strength to be discovered with hard work and commitment.
On Teacher’s Day, standard declarations of gratitude make us laugh or go teary-eyed. There may even be some token discussion about the terrible work conditions of public school teachers. But I propose that from now on, Teacher’s Day also require some reflection about what sort of student to be.
I started teaching a little at my old college over ten years ago, with a feeling of idealism and an honorarium of Rs 500 for a 90-minute class. It felt important to give something back, to try and pass on the encouragement and possibility I had received from my teachers to others.
This worked out great for a while before it began to change. At first it was an occasional amusing display of effrontery. My first encounter was this email — “I had missed your last two classes because I hurt my foot. Please email me about how to write a script.”
I laughed and controlled the urge to respond with — “Sure thing. Here’s my account number. Just ask Papa to deposit Rs 10,000 towards private tuition fees.” At the time it was a good story to tell at parties.
In the following years this expectation of special treatment became increasingly common. When asked why their home assignments were haphazard, students began to say, “But you have to give me some points for trying.” The first time, I was shocked and retorted with, “I think it’s up to me to decide that, not you.
” In one class, students texted each other and did other things while a film played. When asked why, their response was, “Our generation is good at multitasking.” Of course their assignments did not show evidence of this. The little zigzags of irritation at my temple began buzzing louder each week.
More and more around me I began to see some full time teachers trying to win popularity contests. Let’s go out with the students, let’s be their friend, let’s discuss their love lives. It was like watching grown-ups make funny faces for an infant who manipulates them with crying and sulking. Soon they were constantly complaining about the parents who would land up to take teachers to task for not giving their kids good marks, for not recognising that each child is special, for not praising them because at least “they tried”, when in fact they hadn’t.
I decided to cut down on teaching because it was making me feel pissed off too often. I am sure it makes me a lesser person that I did not nobly persist. I admire those who continue to teach despite this cloying and lazy culture of privilege with which the middle-class young want to be treated. But that’s like admiring the Mumbaikar spirit when the whole damn city is falling apart. Or memorialising long-suffering moms and wives. A more fitting tribute would be to fix the city and give moms the option not to suffer long.
And so, yeah, I think it would be the best tribute to teachers if students and their parents stopped singing stock paens to the gallery of saints who taught them and started talking about what they can do to make learning better; how they can seriously fulfil their end of that relationship called education.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.