Updated: September 7, 2021 8:19:26 am
Several years ago, I invited Gopalkrishna Gandhi to address 500 principals from across the country at the National Progressive Schools’ Annual Conference. He started by saying, “You are a teacher and are obliged by your own sense of self-esteem and not of others. You have to keep your smiles within an ambit of permissibility, your laughter in a decimal count, your tears in a milligram drop of admissibility, for you must not seem too common, too regular, too weak.”
“This is not easy! A father may frown or berate, a mother might shield or forgive, but you are meant to be different, for you are a teacher. How do you scold without causing hurt, how do you instruct without seeming to be preaching, assist without seeming to patronise? How can you join in a celebration without feeling loss of form, lament without appearing to compromise your stoicism? And yet, you try to do so, for you are a teacher,” he said.
This made me think that the life of a teacher is a challenge — complex and unbelievably demanding. We are supposed to be enlightened and look dispassionately at our own personal vision and mastery before the shared vision process begins. How do we translate ethical dilemmas in a world where awareness is incomplete?
The greatest teachers, whether the Buddha, Christ, Rama-Krishna, Aurobindo, Yogananda or Nanak, never taught in classrooms. They had no blackboards, maps or charts. They used no subject outlines, kept no records, gave no grades. Their students were often poor and their methods were the same for all who came to hear and learn. They opened eyes, ears and hearts with faith, truth and love. They won no honours for their wisdom or expertise, and yet, these quiet teachers changed the lives of millions because they were inclusive and their minds were laboratories of compassion, empathy and reflective thinking. They were stoic and equanimous.
As teachers, we are meant to inculcate a love for community but not become sectarian; a love of reason but not become parochial; a love of country but not become jingoistic.
Teachers often feel they are not in power and yet in a position of great responsibility. The world is changing so rapidly and the context that our schools confront is so dynamic that we, as educators, must embrace change and make adjustments or potentially lose the franchise for preparing the next generation.
Today more than ever, we need to challenge prevailing standardised education policies and practices in favour of more individualised holistic approaches that prepare children to live productively in a rapidly changing world. We need to implement processes which foster student autonomy and leadership, encourage inventive learners with skills, understand and channelise the creative spirit, maximise liberty to make meaningful decisions and develop global partnerships.
With globalisation, a dilution of boundaries has taken place, creating both interdependence and insecurity. In fenceless societies, all of us, strong and weak, majority and minority, rich and poor, feel equally threatened by the other.
In order to avoid distances between communities and people, we as teachers need to emphasise partnerships and alliances that will help move from self-centred existence to coexistence, from confrontation to interaction and from alienation to collaboration. To achieve meaningful education, we must enable our children to live together in mutual empowerment.
We have to give greater attention to the happiness and health of our children. If we do not empower our youth with strength from within, they will find other ways of expressing their concerns.
We take decisions every day, which may have tremendous moral implications for the students in our care. Teaching, after all, is not just a set of technical skills for imparting knowledge to students. It involves caring for children and being responsible for their development in a complex society.
We must make time to look inward — to become aware of the realities that we take for granted, the ways we create knowledge and make meaning in our lives, and the aspirations and expectations that govern what we choose from life. We must also look outward, explore new ideas and different ways of thinking and interacting, connect to multiple processes and relationships outside ourselves, and clarify our shared vision with our students.
A shared vision is a very powerful idea that connects a collective learning consciousness. The time for us as teachers is now. Now is the time to make real the promise of good education. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunities to all our children, weak or strong, rich or poor, disabled or abled. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of inertia and shake off the work-from-home culture by building a foundation for our children through robust offline teaching, learning practices and values.
As I stand in the hallways of learning, I ask myself: Do I always adhere to ideals? Do I not need someone to see my own realities? Do I walk, talk, comfort, teach like one who is a fully evolved human being, the perfect specimen who has absolutely no cares? I have to continue to ask these questions, and reflect on these conundrums. In spite of it all, I have to continue to envision, engender and enact a new culture of learning that addresses, supports and develops the core existential aspects of a human life: The sense of being, becoming and belonging and the sacrosanct celebration of life, because I am a teacher.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 6, 2021 under the title ‘Teaching a new world’. The writer is chairperson and executive director, Education, Innovations and Training, DLF Foundation schools and scholarships programmes