#WhatIf we could see multiple stories of teachers in complex school systems?

“What’s a word or phrase that comes to your mind when you think of government school teachers?” 

“they don’t work.”

“Incompetent.”

“Don’t care enough about kids.”

We often hear something similar to the following responses in formal and informal spaces. Disha Nawani, professor and dean, School of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, wrote,“ School teachers, particularly in India, are caught in a strangely paradoxical situation — they are revered and ridiculed at the same time. The framing of teachers and perceptions around their work is rooted in mistrust,” This is further validated by a certain dominant narrative, particularly about teachers in government schools, in this panel discussion by India News where a panellist said, “the teachers who work in government schools have no interest in teaching.”

This has become a dominant way of looking at and thinking about teachers in government schools by many. While many of these may be true for many teachers based on people’s diverse experiences, in Apni Shala’s seven years’ journey we have had multiple instances where we have been presented with alternate examples from many teachers in the government school systems. These are experiences of teachers who have been working very hard, teachers who go out of their way to make mid-day meals possible, teachers who continue to teach despite a pile load of administrative work, and teachers who despite having received limited or ineffective trainings, continue to learn from each other to do what they can do. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has presented some awe-inspiring examples of how teachers in municipal schools have stepped out and gone beyond their zone of comfort, embraced new possibilities, and have gone ahead to do what could help their students. 

“The HM (school principals) from this school has ensured that the partner-NGOs can continue their session. Teachers are also working on multiple possibilities on how they can reach out to students,” said Pranali Patil. She added, “during one of my online sessions with the partner government school, the class teacher requested me in advance whether she can take 2 mins during my session to make an announcement. And the announcement came as a surprise for me. The teacher actually asked the students whether right after my session they would be able to attend an academic class online. She provided her students with options if they wanted to reschedule the academic class. Seeing how this teacher honoured students’ situations and created an opportunity for them to practice decision making and agency was so heartwarming.” 

From a similar conversation with a teacher, Shahbaan Shah mentioned, “the teacher shared why they like teaching and teaching is not only a profession of giving but also of listening and learning from students.”

Not only in their ways of teaching or intentions, many teachers have extended themleves in so many new ways to support their students’ learning during the current pandemic. Pooja Gate noted, “They are making themselves available for students outside their working hours. In many families, there is only one smartphone and if the parents go to work they come back home at night or in the evening. So when students are sending their homework in the night or asking questions related to study teachers are responding immediately.” This is further highlighted by Diksha Pandey, “when I reached out to teachers to know how they are working with students, one of the teachers shared that many families don’t have smartphones so the teachers call them personally and explain the study.”

Many teachers in the government schools have gone beyond the learning support and have also been actively supporting students’ families for basic needs such as ration, medicines and sanitary requirements. Aditi Ganguly shared an experience from our Community Outreach and Relief Support initiative, “As part of this, we were supporting our students’ families through providing rations and doing mental health calls with students. One of the teachers from our partner-school helped us to reach out to all the families and not only he gave us the list, but also created the list according to the urgent needs of the family by personally contacting them. Later on, many teachers also shared our donation page for relief support and contributed to it with their own money for our students’ families.” 

Abhijeet Dhurve further added, “I am noticing how teachers are giving their maximum support to the students! They are doing a check-in with each student and to know if they need help with ration kits or resolve other issues they are facing because of a pandemic. Teachers are reaching out to different organizations and connecting them to help the students.”

Like teachers, many principals have also been working to ensure that while teachers are doing all of this, they also find at least some care and support. Krutika Khare shared, “HMs (Headmasters/Principals of the schools) are centering teachers’ wellbeing by creating opportunities for teachers to attend workshops that are relevant and will help to make their work easy online. Apni Shala team has created language-group based online sessions so that teachers could also find a space to process their emotions.” Mayuri Golambde adds, “teachers are adjusting and learning new skills for online teaching. Their professional development needs are high, the climate is intense but they are not giving up. They are picking up new skills and doing what’s possible at the moment.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an author, said in her TED talk, “…All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Many of these teachers we have been working with for years, have been stereotyped for not having an interest in children’s education or in teaching. However, these alternate experiences invite us to look into the alternative stories of teachers who work in government schools. What we are able to see is that many, if not all, of these teachers have shown care for their students, are passionate about their jobs and, so often they step out of their comfort zone to fulfill the work requirements even during such a pandemic. 

At Apni Shala, we believe that people are not the problem. The problem is the problem. People, whoever they are, are always taking action in response to the posed problem.* These teachers, who are often stereotyped and at times even vilified, have many alternate possibilities and stories to tell. We need to recognise that the problems these teachers facing are multifaceted and complex. With the limited meaningful support created in the system, it may become challenging for us too to see their full potential. 

This Teachers’ Day, the Apni Shala team invites you to engage with these multiple possibilities and reimagne – What if we could see the multiple stories of government school teachers and build systems of care and support for them to do more meaningful work?

Call for action:

  • Share with us an alternate story of a government school teacher in the comments. 
  • Donate to Apni Shala so that we can continue to support our children’s social and emotional wellbeing in this pandemic.

Authors:

Akash Gaikwad and Rohit Kumar with inputs from Abhijeet Dhurve, Aditi Ganguly, Diksha Pandey, Krutika Khare, Mayuri Golambde, Pranali Patil, Pooja Gate, and Shahbaan Shah. 

References:

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