Sunday, October 02, 2005

Are Teachers Really That Bad?

A lot of people seem to be having a take on their teachers these days. Read this post by Anirudh for instance. If you ask me, I really don't know. When I look back at my life, the fourteen years of my schooling and the two years here, at IIT Kanpur, I find that I've encountered a large number of teachers both good and bad. And its difficult to summarily brand most teachers as bad.

Because what most people seem to be talking about is an ideal situation. That is what most people do - idealise things - when they set out to analyse anything. It's probably a sin stemming from overuse of science in this century (I have something to say on that too, but will leave it for another occasion, another post). What we have to remember at all times is that the real world is not ideal.

The first thing is that most people in this world are not doing what they would like or want to do. So is the case with teachers too. Many teachers are teaching in schools or colleges because they could not do anything else in life. Indeed school teaching is perhaps the last option left to any unemployed graduate these days. If that is the kind of people who are teaching, how do you expect quality from them.

Second is that teachers are also humans. This was the point that one of my teachers drove hard into me at a very early stage of my life. She was my class teacher in class eight and taught us science. The class was having difficulty with the math teacher. What she told us at that time (I don't remember the exact words - I never do) was something like this. The math teacher is also human. You cannot expect her to work independent of external things like an automaton. The teachers performance in a large part depends on the response of the students. If the students don't respond at all or respond in a negative manner, it becomes very difficult for the teacher to teach. Although, the situation did not improve at that time, the advice certainly struck home with me. As a student it is very important to treat the teacher in the right way and send the correct "signals" to him/her. It is only then that learning can be efficient.

Third, when I look back at life I find that I've encountered more good teachers than bad ones in my life. For the benefit of people who like to do such things, I'll define what I mean by "good" here. Since the function of a teacher is to facilitate learning, a good teacher is the one who helps in learning. A bad teacher is the one who inhibits learning. But there are also people who do neither or are somewhere in between. As I'm an optimist (something that Yash would probably not agree with!) I'll call all those teachers good who do not inhibit for most of the time. That is - neutral parties are good too. After all you don't expect this world to be full of Einstiens, do you? (As an aside, I had to use a metaphor that was unconnected with the topic. This is sad. Why have I never heard of a legendary teacher? If it is just my ignorance, do educate me.)

Using this criterion, I find that most teachers that I encountered were good ones. It's only once in a while that I came across bad ones or really horrible ones. Thus, I find it hard to believe that teachers are bad.

But yes, the kind of interaction that you have with teachers changes over the course of your life. When you are a child it is very easy for you and also for the teacher to become personally attached. That facilitates swift learning. As you grow older, your ego and the teachers takes over and it becomes difficult to form that bond. You are able to do it only in very few cases. In colleges where a professor may be interacting with hundreds of students at a time, it becomes humanly impossible to form a personal connection. The ideal situation is when you can interact with the teacher on a one to one basis. But that is not possible where large numbers are involved.

About classroom teaching, we have to understand that charting out a syllabus is necesary. On one hand it does force you to study what you don't want to study. But I will ask just one question - do we really know what we shoudl study and what we should not. When I was in school I hated history and sanskrit. But now I do appreciate the fact that I was tought these things. Sometimes you have to undergo hardships to reap the benefits later on.

Also I have an opinion about why most people hate teacher. Its just because it is human nature to resent authority!


  1. My Professor stole my reserach project....

  2. Richard Feynman was a legendary teacher of science; Lionel Trilling, the humanities. There are many other examples, I'm sure.

  3. Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was a great teacher in whose honour we celebrate 5th September as the Teacher's Day here