Let me say this again. Teaching is not parenting. Teaching is not mentoring. Teaching is not facilitation. Teaching is not lecturing. Teaching is not helping students pass exams. Oh, and teaching is certainly not bullying, hectoring or cajoling. And equally vehemently, teaching is not entertaining.
Teaching is an act of energizing.
It borrows tools from all – the parents, the mentors, the facilitators, entertainer, and the administrator. But the core activities of teaching is never just one of these roles. Teaching is performance art at first sight. But really, teaching is a skill that draws on various disciplines to enable and direct a transfer of energy in the classroom.
This is why training a teacher is a tough challenge.
Because teachers grow and evolve in their skills. Currently, teacher training is treated as a one-time vaccination, maybe one with a top-up dose every once in a while. The key to getting teacher training right is to understand teaching and teachers better.
Teaching is an act of transformation. When a teacher teaches, their task is not merely to transfer knowledge from a textbook to the answer notebook in an examination. The teacher opens up a new level of understanding and enthusiasm in their students. True, every student is not enthused or transformed by every teacher interaction. But this is the dripping of water on stone. Once exposed to a new level of understanding, a student can never go back to the previous level. That is what a teacher does. Step by painstaking step. This transformation takes energy, and it needs skills and tools.
In doing this a teacher uses many tools. Sometimes the tools of parenting – affection, instruction, negotiation – even bribery. A teacher uses the tools of mentoring – gently guiding and supporting them through a journey of self-discovery. Often nudging them along, more often than not giving them access to things that will help the students achieve results faster. Teachers are administrators too. The attendance register, the lists of tests and marks, the progress reports, the reports of the parent-teacher meetings and so much more.
The planner’s tools come in handy here – one plan ahead has games and charts ready, activity sheets planned, the board comes alive, peer learning is managed. The tools of an entertainer come to the fore – when the teacher ups the energy levels in the room. A tiny bit of bullying – but never to hurt, never so much that it is remembered as more than a joke. And some micro-power play. For the moments when one needs to call the whole class to action. For the moment of teaching, a teacher is everything rolled into one, responding to the gaps in the classroom. Everything in balance, everything in small doses, everything applied for a purpose. And everything within limits.
Using the tools of parenting does not make the teacher a parent. There are bounds that a teacher cannot cross and responsibilities that a teacher cannot, and must not handle. While professional affection and care are essential to good teaching, every teacher knows that there is a line they cannot cross. As mentors they may even hear personal stories from the children, may know more about the student’s state of mind and home life than they want to know – but that does not put parental responsibilities on a teacher, nor does it make a teacher wholly a mentor. A teacher cannot be responsible for feeding, clothing, sheltering a child. Nor can a teacher provide family values or indeed demonstrate long-term care and loyalty. A teacher has a line may overlap with parenting – but the teacher cannot cross that line.
Nor should a teacher cross the line when it comes to being an entertainer. A teacher is neither wholly a crowd-pleaser nor a bully. Often the process of teaching in many classrooms is more bullying than energizing. It is hard to energize the unwilling. If a teacher must bully, or hurt the student in any way to ‘teach’ them, then this is not teaching at all. It is an admission of failure on the part of the teacher, it is a cry for help.
And this is the call, this week, as Teacher’s Day approaches in India. Teachers are asked to be so many things at the same time, and yet receive such little help or support across the various competencies and skills. Those who do receive support, encouragement and constructive feedback have done wonders. Now, create mechanisms for supporting and growing teacher’s skills. Give them reasons to want to do better for their students. Give them ways to renew their energy, to return reinvigorated to their classrooms. Give them the tools to be leaders, fighters, tutors, administrators, artists and more – these are the tools they will pass on to the next generation. For who else can design the future, but our teachers.