'Pvt school teachers always overstretched and stressed'

'Private school teachers are always overstretched and stressed'

Unlike their counterparts in the government, teachers in low-fee private schools get little support

Varsha Gowda of DH in conversation with Khushboo Awasthi of Mantra4Change, which works with low-fee private schools

What are the challenges that teachers face in low-fee private schools?

Teachers in low-fee private schools come from diverse backgrounds. Their personal lives are not always comfortable and their salaries often don't match their counterparts in larger private or government-run schools. Trying to deliver their best with resource constraints are some challenges these teachers face on a daily basis.

Also Read | Coming year might see a shortage of teachers in private schools

What kind of educational qualifications do they have?

Most teachers have formal degrees but budget schools also employ first-time teachers opting for a career change.

In the absence of institutionalised or department-mandated training for teachers in budget schools, the need for continuous learning is strong. Structures like 'Learning Circles' where teachers can share and learn best practices from each other are crucial to help them navigate teaching and learning.

What are their working hours?

Teachers in low-income private schools work for eight hours a day, sometimes ten hours in case there are extra-curricular activities for students. There’s always concern about the safety and well-being of students whose parents are working. We have seen innumerable instances of teachers staying back with their students till evening so that they don’t indulge in any untoward activities between school and home.

How do private schools spend their resources?

Budget private schools provide affordable education to children from low-income families. Parents often do not pay more than Rs 1,000 per month as school fees. Most schools use these funds to improve their infrastructure — set up computer labs, internet, expand the school premises, bring in resource persons for extracurricular activities, and have in-house counselling facilities to cater to students — aspects that parents value as an offering and get attracted to. The investment decisions in such schools are guided by the 'demand of the customer' as in any enterprise.

Also Read | 'Best way forward is to open schools with all precautions'

With growing awareness about the need for teacher training and professional development, schools do take steps towards ensuring this. Since this structure in low-fee private schools is not a mandate, it falls upon the robust leadership of the school to invest in the professional development of teachers.

How was the morale and motivation of teachers in private schools before the pandemic affected their livelihoods?

While many teachers join budget private schools due to convenience, like proximity to their home, steady income to support their families, what often goes unnoticed is that teachers in these schools go the extra mile to ensure that their students are nurtured in a safe and encouraging environment. The reality is that over 75% of teachers in budget private schools are always stretched and stressed.

We have seen school principals taking measures like 'Teacher Appreciation' to ensure that teachers feel recognised. When presented with training opportunities, scores of them take up the same to improve their own teaching practices and bring something new to the classroom every day.

Also Read | Teachers in private schools fight to survive

What’s the way forward for teachers of low-fee private schools? 

One of the biggest woes of budget private schools during the pandemic was the lack of clarity on how they would operate going forward. We heard many teachers say, 'We don’t know why we exist anymore'. For a teacher, this feeling can be very unsettling. We believe that government and non-government actors have to come together to think creatively and devise ways to provide continuity of education outside the school premises.

Our focus should be on building strong school-community linkages, parental-awareness, equipping teachers to engage students in project-based learning. Teachers have the chance to use this crisis as an opportunity to unshackle education from the bounds of textbook and syllabus and reimagine their own role as a facilitator of the child's learning process, getting comfortable with the idea of virtual learning and use it as an opportunity to reinvent themselves.