I discovered teaching only late in life, and since then have not looked back – teaching is my love, my passion. For my confirmation interview at the school I had been working in, I was asked what I liked most about my job. I didn’t have to think for even a moment: “The fact that I wake up every morning smiling at the thought of coming to work.” And it was from my heart. I woke up each day brimming with ideas to share with my students, anticipating their questions and preparing my answers… And I was blessed to get the same enthusiastic response from my students consistently, through the years. Then five years later, I quit. I quit because I couldn’t handle the stress anymore. My body was a wreck, and my mind was in a constant state of conflict – between what I knew I should be doing for my students and what I was actually doing for the sake of records. I prefer not to go into the details – they’ve been done to death here. My point is something else altogether.
An average class in an average Asian school has an average strength of 35 to 42 students. I was a teacher of English, and I had, on a typical day, six teaching periods of about 40 minutes each, handling four different classes across two different grades if I was lucky. (Teachers of other subjects had more teaching periods.) There was a year when I had to handle five different classes across three different grade levels – the less said about it the better. I was also a class-teacher, and had to handle the value education of one class at least. This means we had, at any given point of time, at least a hundred and fifty notebooks to correct, over and above other responsibilities. Then comes the inherent responsibilities of being the ‘English person’ – writing scripts for any given event, training students for public speaking competitions, so on and so forth. Tougher than juggling with 12 balls…
Student to teacher ratio stands at 40 : 1. The average teacher-time a student gets in a period is, in real terms, less than a minute. Now to look at notebook corrections – if a teacher is able to correct 10 notebooks a day, it’ll take 15 good days to complete one round of correction. What miracle can a teacher work, under these circumstances?
Those were the tangible issues. Now to the abstracts. A teacher makes around Dhs 3000 a month (add a couple of hundreds for seniority/experience) for all her troubles. The driver of the school bus gets paid more than her. And the whole world and his mother knows this fact, including students and their parents. And the teacher knows they know. She is well aware of the varying degrees of compassion/pity with which her profession is viewed, instead of good, old-fashioned respect that used to make everything worth it in the past. Imagine what it must be doing to a teacher’s self-esteem…
I choose not to go into the details of the demands that are made on the teachers in the name of inspection. I’ve been reading about those, and if anything, they are understated at times. When the KHDA first started its inspections, it had stressed on differentiation, and we had attended a spate of workshops on the topic. I remember this one cartoon that was shown to us time and again to stress the need to have a flexible teaching and assessment system.
I wonder if this isn’t exactly what the KHDA is doing now. They expect a classroom with the above-mentioned dynamics to work on par with others elsewhere that have a student teacher ratio of at the most 20 : 1, with all infrastructural and other facilities, not to mention teachers whose take-home pay is well Above Poverty Level. They’re expecting the fish to climb the tree at least as well as the monkey or else.
“If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?” the king demanded. “The general,or myself?” (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
If we take away all the extras and look at things at the grass-root level, here’s the gist of what is happening: A whole bunch of frustrated, over-worked, underpaid, stressed and resentful teachers trying to teach a bunch of confused, disillusioned and increasingly cynical (with good reason) children, who will eventually evolve into disillusioned, cynical and materialistic adults with shallow outlook and over-riding negativity. The very opposite of what the KHDA set out to do, I’m sure.
Dear KHDA, if you really want to change the education scene, please look at things from a different perspective. If it is records and documentation you want, ensure that the schools provide those at the end of each academic year. Walk in at random and do surprise inspections. Ensure that holistic education is transacted. Above all, ensure the welfare of the two most vital players of the education game – the student and the teacher. Ensure that teachers are treated and paid well. Ensure that fee hikes are not directly linked to inspection ratings. Understand individual circumstances and aim for supportive approach rather than being just critical. You might be able to work a miracle yet.