Our columnist has a dream. That one day teachers will be allowed to fulfil the purpose of their calling. To facilitate the impartation of knowledge, skills and experience. To mould young minds, to educate and to teach.
AFTER having been in the profession for more than half my lifetime, it may seem a little late to be asking the following question.“Who is a teacher?’ or rather, “What really is the job description of a school teacher?”
But these are questions that have been in my mind a lot lately. To confirm my own answers that have become a little patchy and clouded over the years and to prevent any ruffling of feathers among education authorities, I actually did a bit of research on this one. And the summary of my findings confirmed my earlier hunch. A teacher’s job primarily is to teach. Certainly not a mind-blowing answer is it?
Extending that a bit further, it would refer to facilitating the impartation of knowledge, skills or instruction to students.
Fine-tuning that phrase may mean that a teacher’s job does include the development of schemes of work and lesson plans, preparing classroom activities, selecting learning materials and resources. It also includes observing and evaluating students, providing appropriate feedback, assigning and grading student work, maintaining students’ academic records, managing student behaviour and discipline, supervising extra-curricular activities, helping with the organisation of school functions, counselling students with academic problems and providing student encouragement.
Come to think of it, that’s a whole load that is required of teachers but most of the time we are so busy carrying all of it out that we don’t actually stop to think about it.
In fact stopping to think about why we are doing and what we are doing is a luxury these days. Who has the time for that anyway?
And so we carry on doggedly day after day, hour after hour, taking in whatever new duty that is thrown in our direction, mentally deciding which part of the wobbly haystack on our overloaded backs that extra piece of hay could fit in and resume our journey, albeit this time a little unsteadily.
I try to think as far back as my teaching memory allows, to a place when “‘other” duties began to creep into the teacher’s job description. When did some of us become the school’s unofficial technicians, electricians, storekeepers?
When did teachers begin to take on duties such as keeping stock of school furniture?
I went through my first list again, carefully this time to see if I had missed anything out but nowhere in the job description does it talk about teachers having to be responsible for the painting of walls, landscaping, or patching up cracks in cement.
In fact, there was nothing about teachers having to collect payment for various school funds either.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that any of these “unorthodox” jobs are menial or beneath our teaching dignity.
If you enjoy doing all that and if it does not affect the performance of your actual teaching or jeopardising teaching integrity, then you should by all means carry on.
Also, if this is part of the teaching-learning experience, if students are involved and if any educational objective is achieved then it is totally fine and perhaps even to be encouraged because after all teaching extends far beyond the walls of the classroom.
Otherwise, there should be some serious rethinking involved before the delegation of such duties to teachers.
Should teachers be made responsible for the chairs and tables in the school? For the electrical wiring? For the public address system? Should these jobs be imposed upon them when it has little or nothing to do with what they were meant to do in the first place?
How do teachers who are constantly called to fix technical glitches or spend all their non-teaching periods keeping a record of furniture, writing receipts or updating student data, be able to plan and prepare new pedagogical strategies, classroom activities or even upgrade their personal professional development?
How does one find the time and more importantly the energy to meet students, counsel if needed, advise, coach, train, or mentor when the greater part of the time is spent on these “other” duties?
This definitely is not anything new. For decades teachers have been crying out to anyone who was willing to listen about workload that was not related to their profession, and about the unnecessary filling of forms, the preparing of redundant and overlapping files.
All this, apart from other duties like monitoring the weeding of school garden patches and the cleaning of window panes.
Yet each year, we see the files getting thicker and higher as the list of “other” duties grow. Another non-teaching duty is created and an extra document is added.
There may have been a time when something about teaching really troubled you.
You saw the injustice, the incongruence between teaching ideals and what was happening and maybe you wanted to go out and take the whole system by storm.
You may have wanted a change so badly, may have even wanted to be the change.
But after many years, sometimes, your eyes may get a little clouded and things that mattered so much to you in the past may not bother you so much now. And what happens is that after some time you get used to it.
Things that seem to have irked or unsettled you in the past may not seem to matter so much anymore — just like you get used to that niggling pain in your elbow or the twitch in your little toe sometimes.
Losing the zeal
After so many years, even your spirit can get a little dull and the zeal you may have once had to bring out the potential you recognised in your students, slowly slips away, submerged by all the other urgent, but not nearly as important duties.
Things that jabbed, that even pierced or hurt at one time may have become so familiar that you couldn’t imagine it any other way. It is a little like going for a wax job or a foot massage.
At first it hurts and then your body slowly gets accustomed and you feel numb to the pressure.
The argument here would of course centre round the word “related” in teacher-related duties. Stretching the boundaries of the word “related” would include doing all the things that are thrust your way, some might say.
After all, managing data, wiring and furniture does make the teaching environment more conducive. So it enhances teaching and learning.
This way of reasoning may not be as far-fetched as some of you may imagine.
Clusters of school authorities thrive around ideologies such as this. However the issue in question here perhaps should be one about priorities rather than inclusion.
There is something wrong in a belief system that promotes the appearance of things rather than the substance. That attaches a greater importance to how well something looks on paper rather than how it really is. Or is impressed by objects rather than the people who use them.
There are undoubtedly places where teachers have to take on a whole gamut of non- teaching duties simply because there is no one else to do these things. If teachers don’t patch up the cracks no one else will.
If teachers don’t control the information communication paraphernalia no one else will. If teachers don’t manage student data, records or payments, again no one else will. So we are basically left with no choice. Should that even be, we sometimes wonder.
Lately I’ve been thinking how much better teachers could perform if they were allowed to do what they were meant to do in the first place.
Sometimes I think of an almost utopian school system where jobs like collecting fees, disbursing books, managing enrolment, data, chairs, tables, wires and window panes, will be performed by school personnel who are not teachers.
Yes, I have a dream. That one day teachers will be allowed to fulfil the purpose of their calling. To facilitate the impartation of knowledge, skills and experience.
To mould young minds. To educate. To teach.
TEACHER TALK By MALLIKA VASUGI
Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday February 19, 2012