“He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in his play ‘Man and Superman.’ Teaching has always been considered a noble profession. It still is. For most school going students only what the teachers, not their parents, teach or say is correct. And, if in life learning is a continuous process, “to teach is to learn twice over”, as the French moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert put it.
There was a time when only classroom teaching was all that mattered in our educational institutions. Students attending tuition classes were few and far between. These days there are perhaps more private tuition centres than “real” teaching institutions that can boast of dedicated teachers. Teaching is no longer considered a mission and has steadily become commercialised. Cities in Punjab are now known for the huge number of private tuition centres that “excel” in various disciplines from medicine to engineering to commerce and what have you. While teachers taking tuitions are laughing all the way to the bank, those in public or private sector educational institutions have become indifferent to teaching.
Within the tricity there are institutions that are believed to admit students only to make money, leaving them free to attend tuition centres that have mushroomed everywhere. The attendance of such students is duly marked, their forms are processed and they take their respective exams on schedule. It’s a well-oiled industry! Call it either choice or chance, parents too appear to have developed a fondness for such an arrangement.
Suresh Kumar, a retired school headmaster in Bathinda, told me a true story. There was a schoolteacher well known for his skills in teaching mathematics. He would offer “free” guidance to students who cared to approach him at work or at home and at any hour. His commitment to classroom teaching was religious. He had earned the respect of parents and helped many students give up their phobia of mathematics. His teaching methodology and the way he explained and simplified mathematics had built up his reputation.
One day, under tremendous pressure from a leading lawyer of the city, he agreed to undertake formal tuition for his daughter. That was his first wage-tuition. Barely a month into his job, one evening the learned lawyer-father sauntered into the room where his daughter was being taught. “How is she doing”, he asked, as any anxious parent would do. The teacher replied she was picking up the nuances of the subject well. The lawyer, satisfied with the answer, turned to leave and then stopped in his tracks. Turning around he raised his index finger and said sternly: “If you don’t do well in studies, I’ll marry you to a schoolteacher and you’ll cry for the rest of your life!”
Not only had the lawyer-parent left, it had also left the teacher stunned and bewildered. It took a few minutes for him to recover and then he continued to teach. However, he did not turn up the next day and that was the end of his tuition venture. He vowed never ever to take up private tuition again, not till he was in government service.
Years after his retirement, on the persistent demand of parents and students, he started taking tuition classes with the aim to enable students educate themselves for a brighter future. A majority of students who flock to him come from poor families and are taught free!
As we celebrate Teacher’s Day, let us spare a thought for teachers of yesteryears like the Bathinda schoolmaster and pledge not to make teaching a money-making exercise.
(The writer is a former information commissioner of Punjab. The views expressed are personal)