Growing and Flourishing as a Teacher: Problems and Perspectives

SPECIAL ESSAY

Teaching as a vocation demands the commitment to the process of lifelong learning. To do justice to the vocation of teaching it is important that the pedagogue continuously exposes herself to the world of new ideas and resources that can enrich her each day and enable her to bring fresh innovation in her work. This makes the process a fulfilling experience for both the teacher and the learner.


Shinjini Sanyal is based in Mumbai and working on education/development for over seven years now, collaborating with resource organizations that work on teacher and curriculum development.


What can I say about teachers and teaching that has not already been said before? Everyone talks about the need for teacher development these days, especially given the new-age challenges that have come our way post the RTE Act. We have had new reforms in school infrastructure, teaching and teacher education; and our classes are more challenging than ever before. Today we are accountable, most of all to the children, for whom, education is a fundamental right, no less than their right to life. At the same time, the teaching profession has been at the center of much debate and discourse. Are we born teachers? Is a good human being who loves children capable of becoming an effective teacher? Is teaching an art, or is it a technical skill that needs to be mastered? Is being a teacher like being any other professional such as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. or is it more than that? These are some of the questions that have always come up whenever we talk about teacher education or teacher development.

There is perhaps not much more that I can contribute through this writing than what is already known. I will try to share my own reflections as a practitioner working on teacher education, and my experiences of how teacher development takes place through various modes, and in the process construct my own ideal of how teacher development should be envisaged as a perpetual vocational need.
From what I have understood, teacher ‘training’ (if one can call it that) takes place in our country primarily through two modes – pre-service, where one undergoes a structured programme before entering the teaching profession (e.g. B. Ed, D.Ed, etc.) and in-service (during the course of one’s profession through workshops, courses, refresher trainings, etc.). I do not hold a B Ed degree myself, so I have limited firsthand experience of pre-service courses. However, I have various friends and colleagues who have undergone such courses, and I have spent a fair amount of time myself, studying B Ed curricula of various universities.

These courses are quite structured and rigorous, and have been designed to give students that want to enter the teaching profession a birds’ eye view of teaching and its many challenges. They are constantly reformed according to the new mandates (e.g. the NCFTE 2009-10 and subsequent regulations) and strive to make teaching as attuned to the contemporary context as possible.

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But, is a good pre-service course enough to guarantee a lifetime of effective teaching? It would be fair to say no. Teaching is much more than passing out from a good teacher training institute – it is about learning on the job, practicing, failing, learning and unlearning from one’s own mistakes over time, being unafraid to try out new things and about connecting theories to our real-life experiences. One course before entering the profession is clearly not enough to address the many challenges that we face every day in the classroom or school set up. In fact, our pre-service courses are often so insulated that even the school internship that we undergo as part of the B Ed/D Ed course is in a bubble environment. We are only exposed to the real thing when we start teaching ourselves, and there is sometimes little that we can go back to from that course, that can help us deal with these new challenges that come our way. This is where in-service courses and teacher development workshops can come in handy. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) gives a lot of importance to in-service teacher education. It has been envisaged as a continuous professional development for the teacher, which will help the teacher to gain new knowledge, skills and attitudes which will help the teacher to effectively meet the learning needs of his or her students, and to help provide a relevant and quality education to each child. A teacher, in the course of his or her profession, gets ample opportunities to take part in such in service programmes. However, they are often sporadic, ad hoc, and more often than not have no follow up mechanism. There is no such standardization norm for in-service programmes.

It may be conducted by faculty from state academic institutions (e.g. the SCERT, university faculty), technical agencies and civil society organizations or by individual resource persons on myriad themes and issues. Usually they are based on emergent needs of the region and teachers are deputed to attend these workshops. There is usually no robust training management mechanism to ensure that there is adequate or meaningful representation from all schools – sometimes there is only one teacher from a school who is sent for every training, and one who has had such an exposure only once in his professional life; there are times when a Math teacher is sent for a language workshop and there is no way to ensure that the learning is shared with the language teacher when this teacher goes back to his school, etc. In effect, though perceived to be meaningful, there is no way to ensure that continuous professional development reaches all the teachers at the grassroots.

I am a fairly new entrant in the teacher education field; I have about hardly seven years of experience in teacher education. I have been part of mainly in-service training, where I interact regularly with teachers and school heads that have several decades of experience in the profession, and who teach in contexts that are much more challenging than I have been exposed to. There are situations where the students come from varied language backgrounds and there is a breakdown of communication because the teacher and student do not understand each other, there are issues of social exclusion, larger classroom sizes than our training modules are able to cater to and lack of basic infrastructural facilities like electricity or adequate classrooms. It is in these challenging situations that I try to put myself in, when I think why is it that despite several training programmes, we do not see any transmission in the classroom at the grassroot level?

The inservice training programmes are well conceived, important, and have been designed to help teachers deal with diverse situations on the field. We all need some outside help, and the training programmes have been designed as such. However, like the pre-service courses, they are clearly not enough either. We need something more substantial, more sustainable, something that can be applied effectively to suit the complex needs of the reality.  Lately, I have been thinking about this quite often. What I have realized is that these above programmes are more like outside interventions. More often than not they are thrust upon the teacher as a compulsory requirement, for which they have to leave their classrooms and attend long workshops which may or may not have solutions to their problems. These workshops are not connected to the personal journeys of the teachers in any way. They may not always have a solid understanding of the teachers’ contexts and realities. Let me clarify, I am not negating the role of an outsider here. There are many valuable lessons that we can learn from other contexts that we can effectively re-contextualize and then apply to our own. What I am trying to say is that the key word here is ownership. The workshops are organized either by the state government, or in case of private schools, by the school management. Hardly ever are they conceptualized or arranged based on the teachers’ own felt needs.  Ideally, workshops should be a platform for teachers of various institutions to come together, ideate, share their own successes and failures and go back (with some much needed outside help) with a concrete plan of action to implement the new practices in their own classrooms. There should be a mechanism to track and provide ongoing support to these teachers during their process of implementation. It is not entirely impossible. I have seen very active WhatsApp groups where teachers share pictures of their students working together on a new task, their new classroom arrangement, or accounts of their experiences. An active follow up mechanism where the onus is transferred to the teacher is just enough to ensure effective transmission. The key words really are ownership and autonomy. Otherwise workshops are reduced to tick mark activities with no hope of any real change on the field.

It is in this context that the role of school clusters and resource centers could be especially relevant. This is an idea that has been implemented successfully for years all around the world. In India too, we have school clusters and resource centers, especially in rural areas. The purpose of these resource centers is to provide the teachers of these otherwise isolated schools with a platform to interact, ideate and share resources with each other. These centers often have a library, resource persons for academic support, TLMs and other resources that may be pooled and used across the schools in the area. A thriving resource center can be a very good platform for teachers to come together and benefit from the shared knowledge of colleagues who have firsthand knowledge and experience of their local realities. Block and cluster resource centers are popular in many states of India. If capitalized and used in a meaningful way, they can be a powerful and dynamic mechanism to empower teachers and become a catalyst for a positive, qualitative and sustainable change in teaching-learning. We need to empower these teacher networks and give scope and freedom to teachers to come together willingly as a collective and act as a catalyst to improve the quality of education in their schools.

What I am trying to insist is that we need to reshape our discourse on teacher development in favour of our teachers. Teachers have long been posited as the problem, and training as the solution. It is time to reverse the situation. Teaching has been reduced to a profession with little autonomy. The teacher seldom has a say in how he or she conducts the class, in setting the scope of the syllabus or influencing the class routine. He or she is answerable to the school head, managing committee and/or parents for his actions. There is hardly any scope for self development. There is no time for the teacher to discuss with colleagues, read, share or learn about innovations in the field, or from the experiences of their colleagues. We need to rethink the teaching profession as that of a researcher who is on his/ her own journey of contributing to knowledge. Teaching is a lot like research, because every time one goes to class, there is a new situation, which though similar to an earlier one, may throw up entirely new surprises for the teacher. It is how the teacher negotiates this in novel ways that can contribute to the knowledge base of the teaching profession, and thus expand it further. The entire discourse on being a reflective practitioner is based on this above idea that the teacher, through a cyclical process of research and action, will be able to effectively deal with the learning needs of the children.

Unless there is scope for the teacher to take responsibility for his or her own self development, be it through seminars, training workshops, courses, sharing forums or through self learning, I fear that all efforts for teacher development will be like outside interventions with little hope for sustainability.
We need to acknowledge and empower the teacher, and entrust him or her with the responsibility of being the flag-bearer of learning. After all, teaching is all about learning and unlearning. If we cannot trust our teachers to take responsibility for their own learning, how can we expect that children will do the same?


This article is published in The New Leam, DECEMBER 2017 Issue( Vol .4 No.30-31) and available in print version. To buy contact us or write at  thenewleam@gmail.com

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