WHY DON’T I REGARD THEM VERY HIGHLY
Well, some of you could come lunging straight at me with the intention of arguing heatedly regarding the topic of this essay. Or you could laugh at my stupidity at discounting those people who hold seemingly high reputation in our eastern society as our society has been dominated by the long-held tradition of venerating teachers of every realm as ‘Guru’.
But, wait! We need to be mindful of changing times and consequently the changing roles of teachers. I don’t mean to be disrespectful or ungrateful to my teachers, for I know I value their time and energy they sacrificed to their duty. In today’s times, however, teachers are largely undermined in their roles on account of easy availability of materials beyond the teaching-learning spheres/institutions. Proliferation of printing, electronic media including the new media, widespread and within-easy-reach communication systems have rendered the roles and jobs of teachers largely nominal, especially in terms of textbook teaching. This is specially the case in upper level education.
Well, here I’m summarising some of the causes behind my little regards to my teachers- both school and university (but strictly not those from my elementary levels). The ideas expressed here are my very own and are genuinely grounded on my experiences both as a student and a teacher.
1. Besides your degree how much knowledge you do possess?
Well, it’s not possible to have (sound) knowledge on everything on Earth or beyond. Unlike God we’re not omniscient. If to borrow the words of English theoretical physicist Steven Hawking: ”In Newton’s time it was possible for an educated person to have a grasp of the whole of human knowledge, at least in outline. But since then, the pace of the development of science has made this impossible. Only a few people can keep up with the rapidly advancing frontier of knowledge, and they have to devote their whole time to it and specialize in a small area. The rest of the population has little idea of the advances that are being made or the excitement they are generating.”
Granted, you can’t keep up with all the knowledge being discovered, invented every moment or two. But this doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be a teacher just because you’ve a university degree. Striving for having as much knowledge as possible is a must for a teacher. In my schooldays (and later in college) my teachers lacked any substantial knowledge in their subjects. They were mostly confined within the textbooks. I recall one of my Social Studies schoolteachers in Grade 5 who upon being asked why the Moon looked white replied it was because of having white-coloured rocks and soil there! In Grade 8 there was a lesson about different holy men in Civics book. Jesus was shown crucified but my teacher never bothered to explain why he was crucified and I was too timid and shy to ask. I still feel bitter to recall this. I can state very assertively here that I learned very little of mathematics from my schoolteachers; I learned most of mathematics largely myself.
Later in college, there was a lesson about hydraulics (or mechanics); it was all about more numerical and less theory. I never understood hydraulics (or mechanics) even in its most bare sense. Teacher would come, give his lecture or solve some numerical and leave. Only after many years I came to know about hydraulics (or mechanics) in its broader meaning all on my own.
In retrospect, I think they were just doing their jobs (of teaching) as they were required to do.
In essence, I was hardly impressed by my teachers ever. The only remarkable thing I’ve learned from my schoolteachers which was not in the textbooks was about LTTE rebellion in Sri Lanka. I remember Mr Ramchandra Naral for this.
2. Remote and cold: In order to maintain discipline and silence, most teachers avoid cultivating any sort of closeness or proximity with the students. This is the reason why children view their teachers not as their mentors and guardians but as lords lording over them. Most even avoid touching their students. Respect begets respect, love begets love. But my teachers were largely remote and cold to me.
As a small and timid child, I longed for affection, care and attention from the teachers but to my great dismay I never got them. Teachers wouldn’t even look at me (they would often look at the few prominent boys/girls) while lecturing. I craved for attention and glances from my teachers but there was no such thing in store for me. How poor and miserable little Mr Khanal was!
Teaching course materials is one thing but cultivating a close connexion with the children also matters a lot (to the children) in their elementary or formative years. Fondling or patting in respectable manner certainly proves positive to them. It can give them encouragement. We teachers often avoid being polite to our children. Instead we love appearing like a lord, preferring to lord over.
In college, teachers were even more remote and colder as is the custom in higher level education. They have very little or no share in whatever I’ve achieved in my academic journey.
3. There was something I could’ve learned from my teachers?
Whenever my schoolteachers visited my parents, I would often become pale with fear and apprehension. If they had been a model to me I wouldn’t become so. I now think my respect for teachers was expressed largely out of fear and apprehension. It was not genuine.
Being democratic in classroom activities is important for winning the hearts of the children. But my teachers were like either dictators or too ineffective to be effective. I seldom got any encouragement from them. In schooldays, I recall being the leader of the ‘Mangal House’ (houses were named after planets) as I was the second boy in my class (top four boys/girls from Grade 10 used to be made leaders of four different houses). As a leader I had to preside over the things and it was like a Herculean task to a timid, shy and self-effacing boy back then. But I got no encouragement; I was never assisted and groomed to be a leader. I wonder what it would be if I had been duly assisted in taking leadership.
At this stage I’m still searching for my glory and success seems to be nowhere near. Instead it looks evasively elusive. I think success wouldn’t be this much elusive (to me) if they had taught me to be brave, to take leadership and take chances.
But, alas! There was no such thing. They were confined to teaching textbooks only. They had made prisoners of themselves, imprisoned within the big, impregnable walls of the textbook teaching.
4. Do my teachers have any claim in whatever I’ve achieved in my academic pursuit?
Well I was one of the few first-rated boys in school in terms of discipline and good behavior. Being a small boy I would often sit either in the front or second row. I cannot exactly remember how much attentive I was as I have no strong memories left from those days. But what was true is whenever exam would come I needed to shoulder it all on my own with no aids from no one. Teachers were no help. I wouldn’t understand most of the things teachers said in the classroom and as a timid and introvert boy I didn’t have no stomach to be inquisitive with them. This would put a great pressure on me especially during exam times. In retrospect, I often came to overcome the pressure virtually all on my own thanks to my ability to improvise and inventiveness (in writing answers).
I’m still trying to resolve the question: Where was the flaw, in my learning or in their teaching? What is tellingly true is it is not possible for a teacher to make all the students in a classroom with diverse backgrounds and different levels of understanding understand him.
So what I can derive from my personal experience is learning in its true sense is largely an individual undertaking. And, children in their small age should be attended to individually for their effective learning.
For me books (of all sorts) came to be my real teachers. Nonetheless I hold teachers from my early school years in high esteem. I especially remember Mrs Junamaya Shrestha and Mrs Durga Khanal (who happened to be my aunt) with honor and respect who proved to be the trail blazers in my learning.
5. They had little or no interest in children!
It’s said interest in children is the sine qua non of school teaching. Here I’m not delving deeper on why most people before the serious beginning of their job career dabble in school teaching, for we all know something or more of it. As school teaching involves children from their early years to mid-teen [years], without having enough interest [in children] it’s going to be not a cakewalk but a stumbling block for anyone trying to be successful in this field.
In retrospect, most of my schoolteachers lacked interest in children. As I’ve already mentioned, as an innocent child I craved for their attention but it was hardly granted. Maybe it was their compulsion- like it is for many today- to take on school teaching to earn their living. I’m not saying they’re not responsible and good in their job. What I want to emphasize is without serious interest in children you’re not going to be closer to them, hold sway over them and without this teaching is going to be anything but effective.
Generally we grown up people do have tendency to brush aside the children and their inquisitiveness as of little worth as we feel more comfortable to remain reclining on our high armchair of maturity than to descend down and be a part of their world.