Empowering teachers

Motivated Educators

Empowering teachers

Maya Menon, founder director of The Teacher Foundation, believes that a great teacher is the perfect blend of head, heart and hand, learns A Varsha Rao

A majority of reports and statistics point to one thing today: teacher absenteeism in the classes of the country. Did you know that as many as 6,404 schools of the 7.6 lakh primary schools in India do not have a teacher at all?

Or that nearly 14% of government secondary schools do not have the prescribed minimum of six teachers? These numbers portray the sad reality of the current education scenario.

But there’s some hope. The Teacher Foundation (TTF), an organisation dedicated to equipping teachers with all the necessary skills, has envisioned a contemporary pre-service teacher education. TTF has rolled out a new programme, The New Teacher (TNT), to develop and nurture trainees to become thinking, competent and compassionate teachers, who are well-versed in international educational practice.

In a conversation with Deccan Herald, Maya Menon, founder director of TTF shares her views on the many aspects of teaching in the country, including the quality and quantity. Excerpts:

Why do you feel there’s a need for teaching courses today?

Pre-service or initial teacher education has for long been dogged with deep systemic and structural problems. It’s not about anything being wrong with teachers per se — it’s more about almost everything being wrong with the way we impart education in our country. Learning and education are merely seen as passing exams and securing high marks.

Teachers in schools are conditioned to teach at a surface level rather than delve deep into any concept or idea. Unfortunately, teachers themselves are victims of rote-based teaching having had very little opportunity for making meaning and seeing relevance of whatever they learnt in school or college. Their experiences while undergoing initial teacher training too are more or less the same. Teaching is a very complex and demanding profession and our BEd or DEd courses don’t equip their trainees with the wide and deep range of knowledge and skills required in today’s classrooms.

What makes for an ideal teacher?

I would prefer to use the term ‘great teacher’ rather than ‘ideal teacher’. Ideal suggests ‘perfection’ and teaching, like all other professions, is a craft that one needs to constantly hone right through one’s career. To me, a great teacher is one who is a blend of head, heart and hand — a thinking head, a caring heart and physically healthy & active. A great teacher has to have a sound knowledge base.

They need to have other intellectual interests and pursuits apart from teaching their subject. A great teacher is also empathetic, caring and courageous to take risks for the greater good and wellbeing of every single learner. A great teacher exudes purpose and positive energy, is someone who is gentle but firm, with a strong sense of social justice and abundance of joy. She or he is driven by the moral imperative that every child deserves a good education regardless of their backgrounds or other disabling circumstances.

What kind of teaching aids and implements would you recommend for every teacher?

Anything and everything one encounters can be a teaching resource, ranging from the humble textbook to outdoor excursions to the Internet. The blackboard continues to be in use alongside interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, tablets, laptops and smart phones. However, the one key teaching aid that all teachers, even in resource-starved schools can use intelligently and creatively is questioning. The ability to ask thought-provoking, challenging questions forms the backbone of any good teacher’s lesson plan.

Many don’t consider teaching to be a viable career option today…

I think people who consider teaching non-viable as a career are misguided and misinformed. I say this because, young people need to be actively encouraged by their teachers and parents to find their passion and purpose in life, instead of pursuing careers for purely monetary reasons. It’s truly heartening to see hundreds of bright, intelligent young people these days making career switches and seeking to be teachers or wanting to work in the education sector. Besides, teaching is not a poorly-paid profession any more.

Moreover, schools are seen as a sunrise industry — and by 2020, India will have the largest number of under-18 years people in the world — approximately 400 million! Currently, despite India’s estimated seven million school teachers, we are facing a shortage of teachers somewhere between 500,000 and one million teachers. We are, therefore, in dire need of school teachers who are ready to take on inarguably the most complex and moral enterprise in the world — education of our children.

The battle of Internet versus teachers…

The abundance of information, especially on the Internet, only highlights the need for thoughtful, competent, compassionate teachers. Young learners need help to navigate through the surfeit of information and only thinking teachers can equip them with the skills to discern the useful and relevant from the useless or irrelevant, to synthesise information from various sources, to examine ideas from different perspectives, to generate one’s own opinion etc.

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