Today, during an informal discussion with a retired Principal and a couple of other educators, the matter of calling oneself a teacher and its implications cropped up. The idea was that for an educator to claim that he or she was a teacher came with riders and implications that literally shook us up a great deal. To claim that one was a teacher meant one was ready to accept the responsibilities of being a teacher. What came up in the discussion was that the role of a teacher entailed within it the responsibility of ‘judging’ others in a way that dealt with the inherent demands of meeting the standards of the role which is in a way full of responsibilities and duties that demand stringent requirements of being neutral, fair, unbiased, and a person holding the highest possible qualities found in some of the best teachers that the world has seen till date. Some of the best known teachers that the world has known include people like Jesus Christ, Gautama Buddha, Dronacharya and so on, people who were exemplary giants in their own ways. The argument was that to call oneself a teacher meant that one had the abilities and qualities of the famous people mentioned above! So then what are the alternatives that would best define our roles of educating others? Do we, as teachers have the same qualities of Christ, or Dronacharya or perhaps even Buddha? The answer is probably a hesitant, ‘No!’
If to be a teacher entails imbibing the qualities of neutrality, and great wisdom, where do we as professionals stand? The answer is probably that very few of us probably even meet one fifth of the qualities of the great personalities that have guided us down the ages! This brought us to the question of the other job titles that we can use to define our roles as educators. These included job titles such as, facilitator, guru, instructor or, perhaps educator. Which is the best title that suits those who have taken up the profession of conducting instruction in a controlled environment? Looking at things as they are, it is very difficult to claim that we are teachers, more so if we are doing a job for emoluments rather than a passion or a desire to be the source of change and enlightenment in a society that is increasingly dependent on material rewards. If to be a teacher means doing a job for a pay, then I guess we fail the very tenets that the great teachers of the world have stood for.
This brings me to the need to define the roles of a teacher, facilitator, instructor or even educator! The Collins COBUILD Student’s Dictionary 2006 edition defines the role of teaching as, ‘The teachings of a particular person, school of thought, or religion are all ideas and principles that they teach.’ The question is, do we as teachers really teach schools of thought, ideas and principles? Kahlil Gibran, in one of his Twelve Books titled, The Prophet, writes ‘How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay without a wound in the spirit…Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.’ Do we, as so called ‘teachers’ have a heart ‘made sweet with hunger and thirst’? Or, for that effect can we meet the brilliance of Jesus as a teacher, or for that effect the dedication of Dronacharya? I doubt if the answer would be a ‘yes!’ These questions bring me to the descriptions of Jesus as a teacher in the New Testament. The book of John, chapter 3, verse 2 reads, ‘The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’- A Rabbi, according to the Collins COBUILD dictionary ‘is a Jewish religious leader. Now the question is, do we as professionals perform the miracles that come from a strong conviction in God? In the Book of Mark, chapter 9, verse 17, John the disciple says to Jesus, ‘Master, I have brought unto thee, my son, which hath a dumb spirit.’ – It is the expectation of the parent that the ‘Master’ or the teacher will be able to handle a child with special needs. The same book of Mark, chapter 6, describes how Jesus went about, ‘villages teaching.’ In the book of Mark, chapter 4, verse 1, Mark describes how, ‘he began to teach by the sea and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea’. Are we as so called ‘teachers’ able to initiate hunger in our learners for teachings that deal with life and all its complications? I guess the answer will be a no!
If we fall short of the requirements of a teacher, can we not then take up the role of a Guru? In order to understand this better, we need to define the meaning of a Guru. The Pocket English Dictionary defines the Guru as, ‘A Hindu spiritual teacher, an influential teacher or an expert on a particular subject.’ Do we as ‘teachers’ offer spiritual learning to our students today, or for that effect can we call ourselves experts in our subject areas? The answer to both questions would be yet another ‘No!’ We as teachers today cannot label ourselves as gurus for the basic reason that Spirituality rarely finds its way into the day to day pedagogy of today, and moreover, we cannot claim to be masters in our subjects in times when our learners are often better informed than us. How many of us are interested in updating our knowledge in our subject areas in times when information and new facts keep challenging our knowledge and expertise? Again looking at the answers to the questions it is clear that we, as educators fail in meeting up to the requirements of being true Gurus. This in itself brings me to the story of Eklavia giving his thumb to Guru Dronacharya. What was it that convinced him to part with his thumb, when asked to give the Guru Guru Dakshina, or for that effect the fees that was the dues that the Guru was entitled to? In the days when the Guru –Shishya tradition existed in India, the Guru Dakshina was often in form of services and donations in the form of provisions and goods that the Guru in the Ashram would require in order to carry on with life. The giving away of his thumb by Eklavia should not be seen as a wilful sacrifice of one’s body part, or for that effect self-induced mutilation. Rather, it was all about recognising the services of a dedicated teacher. It might also be seen as Eklavia’s recognition of his teacher’s qualities as a master of his subject area. How many of our students would today readily part with their thumbs to acknowledge their teachers? The answer would probably be yet another, ‘No.’
What then, can professional educators claim to be if not to be teachers in a world of technological advancement? The least that might be claimed is that they are only facilitators, guides, and supervisors who supervise and conduct the daily routine of promoting an instruction that might at the very least, equip the learners for exam skills and probably groom them to answer all the questions in a written exam to the best of their abilities. In such a context, to call oneself a ‘teacher’ would be a great travesty in that a person calling himself or herself a ‘teacher’ falls short of the qualities of a teacher which include the spiritual uplift of the student, to be a healer of hurt feelings, a performer of miracles, a master of the subject, and to have an emotive, empathetic quality. How many of those who claim to be ‘teachers’ can claim to perform even the least duties of a ‘teacher’?
Looking at the demands of being a ‘teacher’ and not being able to perform all the roles of a teacher, (what with the pecuniary liabilities and and demands of living a demanding life in today’s times) would it not be perhaps relevant to identify a better an more suitable job title than that of a ‘teacher’? With the changing demands down the ages, and a changing job profile, it would perhaps be more pertinent for educationists to claim to be ‘facilitators’ rather than ‘teachers’! That would bring us to identify the role of a facilitator. The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary explains the meaning of ‘Facilitate’ as, ‘make something easy or easier’. Is time perhaps, that we revisit our roles as ‘teachers’? Perhaps we need to redefine our roles today, and take up the more achievable role of a ‘facilitator’ rather than that of a ‘teacher’ in today’s context! It is clear that to call our selves, ‘teachers’, or ‘gurus’, might not be an accurate indication of the challenges and the job roles that we have today as educators. In view of all the arguments and examples provided in this article, it is perhaps high time educators redefined their role as that of ‘facilitators’ rather than ‘teachers’ or ‘gurus’! It is apparently high time educators revisited their roles as teachers!
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