A bitter pill to swallow: Teaching profession these days doesn’t attract bright young people

Firoz teachingBy Firoz Bakht Ahmed*

My friends who are lawyers, doctors, journalists, architects, chartered accountants or politicians, often ask me, “Why did you join teaching? What’s there in it? You wasted your education…” I always tell them that I have always treated teaching — my hobby — as a mission and not profession and that I am fully satiated in what I get. It’s a contentment that eludes even some of the greatest celebrities.

Besides, my grandfather, Maulaba Azad, the Freedom stalwart and India’s first Education minister, instructed us to prefer teaching and never to join politics as it is a dirty game. Teachers might not roll in money but their contribution is greater than anyone or everyone simply because they may not be the kings themselves but — kingmakers! The just wonder rather unbelievingly.

Imagine almost 5o faces peering at you; some alert, some intelligent and inquisitive and others with mischief writ large on their faces, some giggling, a few indifferent and engrossed in their own world, while a few feeling drowsy and ready to sleep. They are all lovely! The most cherishing part of a teacher’s routine is the bright spark in his pupil’s eyes after the child has understood the point.

A teacher’s job is to touch all these kids lives by multiple roles. A good teachers always takes care of three basic parameters — his subject, students and the professional ethics. The pupil’s eye-view of a teacher goes through many phases. To the little one embarking on his or her school life, the teacher is an omniscient being and a role model.

The teacher and the taught relation is one of those few that continue to be charming and enchanting long after they have ceased to be. How often we remember a particular teacher and cherish the memory as a treasured one!

Ms Jennifer Tytler, my teacher, once very rightly mentioned that no one knows where a teacher’s influence stops as it goes to eternity. This quote from the Sutra literature defines the greatness of a teacher: Guru Brahamma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo. Maheshwaraha, Guru Sakshat Para Brahamma, Tasmai Sri Guruve Namaha (A teacher is equivalent to God, and he should be regarded and respected). In fact according to the Indian traditions, a guru has been in the image of God. Even Lord Rama and Lord Krishna had a guru.

Their tomorrows are affected by what we do for them today. Even a few words can change, kindling light unto dark hearts as happened with APJ Abdul Kalam whose Physics teacher’s single sentence implored him to be the great human that he had turned into. . And this the most significant reason prompting us to teach. Their imaginative faculties have to be honed, inner potentials drawn out and moral, aesthetic and spiritual philosophy awakened. For carrying out this mission, the teacher must be patted on the back by the management and supported in all manners by allowing him a fair amount of autonomy to act and experiment with freedom.

You get your reward when you see that on the solemn occasion of farewell to the outgoing students once tottering kids of the kindergarten, turn into pulsating, confident and charismatic personalities. It is one occasion that every teacher loves to hate. Most teachers on these occasions see their eyes well up with tears. But these tears are quintessential of joy of the completion of a mission of moulding clay into gold.
Whenever you see a “child” of yours, you feel a warm glow in your heart. But do they really go or leave you? No! After dormant memories are nudged awake, you see them all.

Your “children” find you at the airports, in ministries, on trains, in libraries, at exhibition grounds, stadiums, clubs, hospitals, joy parks, newspaper offices, shopping malls, universities and in fact every nook and cranny to baffle and greet you—may be to embarrass you if you don’t remember their names after they wish you, “Good morning sir! Do you recognize me?” When there’s even a little bit of hesitation, they may start like this, “Sir, I am…” If you don’t remember their names correctly, there is a sense of guilt.

Unfortunately the teaching profession these days doesn’t attract bright young people any more as it was a few decades ago. A bitter pill to swallow is that it does not attract any one these days—at least at the school leaving stage. Perhaps there may be valid reasons for that.

One wonders what makes some teachers so memorable while some others fade with time. It is an uneasy feeling that today’s children have few teachers whom they can look up to. True? Teacher’s day every year is not merely the occasion for the pedagogues to receive cards, awards or bouquets, but an appropriate time to introspect and speculate if it seems romantic or foolish to teach in these cynical times when everyone is busy worshipping Mammon God. So September 5, for all of us the—schoolteachers—is a day of self-analysis and stock taking of our performance as teachers.

*Teacher at Modern School, New Delhi, grandnephew of Maulana Azad

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