I keep hearing from the parents of toddlers, youngsters my daughter’s age and many ex-students far older, finishing their master’s courses, even in very ‘prestigious’ places, how bad the new crop of teachers has become: all those in their late 20s and 30s, that is to say. And I recall that I used to say to so many pupils who attended my classes fifteen-twenty years ago: ‘What on earth is going to happen to this country when irresponsible and lazy dullards like you become teachers?’ That nightmare has now come true.
And no wonder. For a very long time three very nasty things have been happening. a) public examination standards fell through the floor, b) only the dregs generally took up teaching: those who had always been backbenchers in their own student lives, and lacked the energy and intelligence needed even to become BPO hacks or sales agents, and c) the best students routinely shied away from teaching – as they are still doing as a rule, despite the payscales having been revised quite sharply upwards – because teaching is supposedly hard, unglamorous, thankless work and ‘lacks status’ (apparently a glorified mechanic-turned-file-pusher, aka engineer at a steelworks or an MBBS on a government salary in a rural health centre or even an IT worker drawing Rs. 25K a month has more ‘status’, God help us!). As a result, all our teaching positions are being filled up by nitwits with bloated and brittle egos (I have heard despairing parents say, ‘aar kichhu toh pelo na, tai teacher-y tei dhukiye dilam…’). I know directly how little English and History and Economics the English and History and Economics teachers know – they are helpless without their notebooks, many skip classes regularly or spend whole classes in idle chatter or make the pupils merely read out from textbooks, mark homework and testpapers in the most hurried and shoddy way imaginable, most of them would fail miserably if they were forced to take an impromptu test themselves – and I hear the same thing about those who teach math or biology or physics from my students who are themselves good at those subjects. This, despite the fact that they have loads of degrees: one can easily guess how those degrees were obtained, how easy and meaningless it has become. On top of that they are by and large lazy and totally uncommitted – teaching to them is little more serious an occupation than selling paan and cigarettes (one of these creatures actually told me that it’s just ‘time-pass’ until he gets a ‘real’ job), and bribery plus sycophancy are all you apparently need both to get and hold on to teaching jobs. They naturally suffer from a huge sense of inferiority in class, so it comes as no surprise that all they can do is bully and shout down the more intelligent and curious of students, threaten them with all kinds of dire consequences if they don’t blindly toe the line, reward only shameless flatterers and witless crammers, take no responsibility for their pupils’ progress, and spend all their spare time thinking up excuses why they are not to be blamed for the whole system going to the dogs. Amartya Sen has been warning us for a long time about the pathetic state of our government schools in rural backwaters – if he did a survey of the most ‘elite’ schools and colleges in our metros, I don’t think he would survive the shock. Why do you think everywhere we private tutors are making hay?
I hear from quite a few ex-students that they are now teachers of one sort or the other – some at schools, some at colleges, some at BPO training centres and hotel management institutes – and all I can say inwardly is ‘My God, that idiot too?’ (I am reminded of a girl I called ‘daab’ in class, because even among very silly people she stood out prominently, and a few years down the line I heard she had become a teacher in one of the well-known plus-two level schools in this town. I leave you to draw your own conclusions…). Incidentally, the very few among them who are both learned and sincere repeatedly aver that before they started teaching they had no idea how much effort, serious concentration, dedication and constant self-correction it entails, how awfully challenging a vocation it is, how little time and energy it leaves you for anything else. So imagine the kind of teacher who is by choice a party animal or mall-hopper! No wonder the one idea that scares their pants off is that their careers should be made to depend on student-evaluation alone. And yet I have maintained since my own days as a class representative in college that the only people competent to pass judgment on teachers are the students who actually learn or suffer at their hands…
I was chatting with a truly brilliant old boy the other day, someone on the verge of passing out from university, and he was telling me about a classmate who thinks Shah Rukh Khan is a ‘great actor’, Gandhi was a disgusting fool, and anyone who asks her why is stupid and rude: she just happens to think that way, she has a ‘right’ to her opinions, and of course it’s very old fashioned to say that one ought to base one’s opinions on knowledge and reason. It occurred to me that this girl was not only going to be a parent in just a few years’ time, but, armed with a good degree from a first-class university, quite possibly a teacher or even a college lecturer too. My God. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in imitation of the Naxalite era, students started hurling bombs at teachers once again: this time not driven by ideological hatred, but simply because they have had their fill of uncouth illiterates masquerading as teachers.