"In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else".
Ask my three year old what she wants to be when she grows up, and she's likely to say "teacher". In fact, ask most three or four year olds in a playground and their dreams alternate between becoming a teacher or a doctor depending on the day of the week (with a superhero or ballerina thrown in for good measure). However, ask the same question of a teenager, and few will mention teacher amongst their 'loftier' ambitions of becoming an engineer, doctor or MBA.
Some of this, of course, stems from our gendered assumptions about the field. As with any profession dominated by women (3.8% of India's working women work in education in some form or the other, and education remains the only discipline at university level to see more female than male participants), we assume that teaching is somehow easier or less substantive than a cubicle job that needs excel sheets to decide the marketing budget of a company selling fizzy drinks.
Another issue is a culture that prizes technology and science more than painting and singing and reading. If you don't believe me, check the year's Union Budget which cuts overall spend on education, at the same time announcing more IITs and IIMs effectively strangling schools and liberal arts education. We want our children to work in Infosys and IBM, and think of a career spent working in Delhi University or Delhi Public School as a failure of sorts. At the same time, in a startling display of double standards, we bemoan the quality of education our children are getting in said universities and schools.
But over the last few years, things have taken a turn. A new breed of professionals is selecting education and academia as a vocation, and not as an alternative to a different job. A new breed of women are becoming teachers because they want to, and not just because it is the only respectable profession open to them. Last year, 13,000 graduates applied for a chance to work in the Teach for India program. Even more interestingly, two-thirds of the program's alumni have continued to work in development and education. And yes, I know that the plural of anecdotes is not data, but one hopes that this ripple of change will eventually turn into a wave of some sort.
So this Teacher's Day, we spoke to a few teachers - ranging from primary teachers to college professors - who have learnt to love teaching and all the joys it brings.
Why They Choose Teaching
A lot of the women we spoke to said that they always knew they wanted to teach. More than one talked about it being their childhood dream. Others walked into it a bit more hesitantly. Aloka Fernandes, an elementary IB school teacher, recalls coming into teaching after working in IT. She remains adamant though that teaching is a vocation, and only those who really want to do so should join the profession. As S, an assistant professor at a Delhi-based university pointed out, it is academia she is interested in, but she is increasingly enjoying her identity as a teacher.
The Hidden Perks
K, a high school teacher in Dibrugarh, enjoys how teaching gives her a chance to stay in touch with the latest in her field. Sneha Alok from a Bangalore-based PU college enjoys how education keeps her young. Aloka sums up both the every day pleasures of teaching as well as its ability to keep you on your toes, by asserting that:
"No other job gives you the chance to attend a prom every year."
How Teaching As A Profession Can Be Made More Viable
While it is easy to blame the salaries for potentially making teaching unattractive, there's more to it. S says that she worries a bit about the devaluation of teaching as a profession.
"For many of us, what can potentially make teaching 'unattractive' is the increasing neo-liberalization of universities whereby teachers are treated as service providers and students as consumer."
Aloka points out that the entire image of a teacher in media needs to be revamped, with the teacher transformed into an inspirational or motivational figure and not just a stodgy figure of authority. She, and others, also point out that while salary increases alone are not sufficient, in a world where what you earn is intrinsically linked to your self worth, they need to be brought at par with the rest of professional fields.
Are They Teachers For Life?
More than any other profession perhaps, teaching encourages dreams and also enables one to be a learner for life. A good teacher continues to seek ways to expand her horizons. S tells us how she sees herself as an academic for life but that doesn't preclude her from exploring other passions at the same time, such as writing fiction. Another teacher, K, also wants to write a book some day, while Sneha wants to learn more in her field itself.
With Inputs from Gargee Baruah
All September we at mybigredbag.com are publishing stories and ideas about India's Female Workforce. If you have an idea (or two), talk to us!