Let me begin this article with a very personal experience. A friend of mine went to see his bride for his arranged marriage. He liked the girl. But after a few days, to the utter dismay of him and his family, he came to know that he was rejected by the girl. My friend coped with this but it was rather difficult for the older members of his family. They could not believe how a girl can turn down a groom. But we have to concede this for we live in a changed society and the change is good. Society today, thanks to the Worldwide Web, is much more transparent. Gone are those days when the brides would sit veiled and affirmed to whatever their parents would decide for her. In a very similar fashion, gone are those days too when students came into a classroom and paid respect to the teachers. This is really a very pertinent question that why should a student rely on his teacher when he is just a single click away in his computer from getting a world of information whichever he wants? As the patriarchal society must show the due respect to the ladies, we teachers must keep in mind that respect cannot be demanded in the classroom. We have to earn it.
Now the question is, does this problem of the degrading teacher-student relationship depend on the above mentioned simple fact or does it have a more deep-rooted cause? Is it a stain of today’s society or has it been being carried on from the past? Of course situations were better in the days of yore but it cannot be said with conviction that they were perfect then. The older generation has a general mistrust in the younger generation but they often tend to forget that at some point of time they also belonged to the class of younger generation and were regularly castigated by their elders. So generation gap is not the problem. We have to dive deeper to seek the cause of it.
We live in a corporate world today. Here the give and take is the primary motivating factor in setting up the relationship with the client and so the win-win situation plays a major role there. In the cut throat competition of the post modern 21st century, teachers have almost become the client for the students who demand necessary tools in return of the fees that they pay, to be successful. But it is hardly believable that the scenario has become so rotten. Isn’t there, then, any place of values in this world? A student, at least in his school days, I think, remains too immaculate to be tarnished by the experience of the world. He/she thrives on his/her teachers for anything even if he/she lives in a very affluent environment. It is the teachers whom he follows; it is he whom he imitates. Alexander, the great once said:
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
This, as it posits the teacher in a great parental stance and probably even more, also puts greater responsibility on his shoulder because with great power comes great responsibility and it is a great power that teachers have on the minds of the students.
Empirical studies show that the teacher-student relationship, though based on a common platform, varies from culture to culture in different nations. The post modern western society has redefined the teacher-student relationship in the ways different from ours. In fact, the contemporary western society prefers to see both the teacher and the student on the same level and emphasizes friendship in their relationship. On the other hand, in our society, traditionally, this relationship is viewed as parent-child relationship. Such perception is rooted in our religious traditions, be it Hinduism, Buddhism or Islamic. In Upanishada(2000B.C), a major Hindu scripture, ‘guru-sishya’(teacher-student) relationship is centred around transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. It is thus evident that sub-continental religions provided the teacher with full authority over the students. This, in turn, produces an imbalance in teacher-student relationship placing the teacher in a high position. In the sub-continent, religions have shaped the teacher-student relationship even in the sphere of secular education. The traditional relationship was straightforward and was based on one to one relationship. But the institutionalisation of the education and the subsequent commercialisation of it, have transformed this relationship into many scenarios adding various complexities to it. Again statistics show that many who experienced problems in their relationship with the teachers was because the teachers got the things wrong from their positions, on the high pedestal. Some teachers, in reality, show utmost authoritarian attitude to their pupils. Many students, out of fear, cannot interact freely with their teachers. Those who raise a voice are silenced. Einstein was generally disliked by his teachers because he had an independent mind. Hence, this process can hamper the academic as well as the mental development of the taught.
To facilitate the better communication environment, the west has emphasized on establishing a friendlier relationship between the two. But too much friendliness can have adverse effects too. Teachers in Europe, including U.K have lost their ability to control the students as the law prevents the teacher from taking any step against the unruly student. Many young students frequently take this advantage to disobey their teachers. This sort of behaviour is not at all congenial to have a learning environment. I recently had an opportunity to meet the principal of a reputed school of U.K. He, by watching the students of our school, was lamenting on the lack of showing minimum respect to the teachers in the students of his school. He was amazed at the spontaneous respect that our students show to our teachers.
Now, having discussed both the merits and the demerits of authoritarian and friendly teacher-student relationship, the problem of making a choice seems quite intriguing. It is evident that no universal prescription can be given for defining an ideal teacher-student relationship for it depends on the socio-cultural context, age-groups as well as the taste of individuals involved into that relationship. Nonetheless, some precepts can be offered in the present context in which this article is being written.
In order to delineate the ideal teacher-student relationship the following diagram can be of little help:
Specific actions in developing good relationships can be summarized as follows:
French philosopher Rousseau once formulated the theory of Child-centric education which propagates that child is not for education as it was conceived earlier, rather education is for child. We teachers have to formulate and mould education to fit the requirements of the student. Apart from lectures in the classroom, there are some soft nuances of this relationship which should be carefully nurtured.
# Show the student that he/she matters by:
Giving regular, positive feedback that is specific genuine and brief.
Showing belief, trust and high expectations
Showing that success, safety and well-being are of concern
# Show acceptance of the person but not their behaviour by:
Stating what students are expected to do rather than what they shouldn’t be doing- information is much easier to hear than accusation.
Offering comfort in distress
Giving choices which gives the student some control and promote self-efficacy
# Develop a sense of inclusion by:
Using the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ to include and not to exclude
Avoiding unfavourable comparisons or put downs.
According to the post structuralist Michelle Foucault’s theory of Micropolitics and the game of power and domination teachers and doctors enjoy the upper hand of superiority over the minds of common people. And in so far as the duty of a teacher is to manifest the proper potentials of a young student it is recommended that he should be apolitical (at least before students), not to influence or bias their own way of thinking from the very childhood.
In classes, we often find even the attentive students getting inattentive. Playing truant has become a regular issue. I misgive how many schools follow the proper fatigue index of the subjects while preparing the Daily-Class-Routine! Fatigue index is an index of the subjects which show the declining order of the subjects by virtue of their acceptance in pupils’ brains. Mathematics, English – these are the subjects which maintain a high rank in fatigue index among the Indian students. These subjects need be put in the earlier periods in which students’ minds remain at their most fresh recipient states. On the other hand low index subjects like Life Science, Physical Education should be put in between or towards the last to replenish the vivacity in students. If this can be accomplished, attention of the students, to some extent at least, can of course be brought back.
Authoritarian attitude is a big No-No but trying to be the best friend of the students is not also a very advisable thing. It may be hard to discipline the students if they are used to palling around the teacher.
Respect is reciprocal. You need to earn the respect of your students just as you respect them if they earn it as well.
Arriving at this juncture of our discussion, we must take into account some outside elements that influence or vitiate teacher-student relationship. Criticism of positive teacher-student relationships relate to the effectiveness of these relationships. In a study that relates to teacher, student and peer support, it was found that positive relationship with teachers, while an important aspect, it does not alone stem from positive school behaviour.
“Perceived teacher support alone is not effective; teacher support must be
perceived in combination with perceived support from parent or friends,
albeit the best combination is perceived support from three providers.”
(Rosenfield, Richman and Bowen, 200)
In this light, the evaluation of teacher-student relationship will bring out some unpleasant facts which, unfortunately, cannot be eschewed by guardians and even those professionals who are not teachers. I have previously mentioned the post modern corporate culture, which, by its hyperrealistic construct, like anything and everything, has commoditized the teacher-student relationship also. Solvent parents think of the teacher to be a tool to earn grades which will help their kids to secure a safe job. But the guardians cannot be blamed alone. The whole system has become so demanding, so sapping that grades and not the knowledge has become important in their eyes. But it needs to be rectified. Often parents criticize the teachers in front of their children. It should not be encouraged because it leaves an adverse impact on the minds of the students.
There is, again, a common attitude of hate, mistrust and jealousy against the teachers in the non-teaching professionals which jeopardises the teacher-student relationship. This comes mainly regarding the ‘private tuitions’ practised by the teachers. The concept, among mass, became so much popular that the government of West Bengal went to the extent of imposing a ban on the private tuitions of the teachers from school to university level in the year 2001. Later on, the decision proved to be hasty and idiosyncratic and the ban had to be revoked. The ban was abolished, but the attitude of mistrust remains the same as usual. It pains me very much when I have to hear, even from the high rank government executives, sardonic statements of derision about our profession. According to most of them, ours is a profession which is very relaxing, with plenty of vacations, least pressure and yet with high remuneration. And in spite of that we indulge in private tuition to earn more. Now, isn’t it hypocritical for them to criticize teachers for private tuitions and send their own kids to the same? Teachers are always looked down upon. The image of an ideal teacher has been being imagined as one who is meek and sheepish, wearing shabby clothes, interiorized within his own self – a social outcast. It is extremely sad that in our country it is a matter of adjudication whether a school mistress should or should not wear ‘salwar’. I don’t know whether it makes any difference to teach here or in the orthodox Afganistan! The analogy sounds cruel, but it is true! Why should it be? Isn’t a teacher a human being? Can’t he/she luxuriate when a doctor can or an executive can? Well, who does not yearn to earn extra? I had an amazing opportunity of watching the driver of a Mercedes Benz offering shuttle near Sector V in Salt Lake, Kolkata. It looks ludicrous, but he does it because he needs extra money and he is not doing anything illegal. Why do doctors of the government hospital practise privately? And why do the ones, who condemn private tuition more than unhygienic sanitation, go to the chambers of the doctors first and not to the hospital? It is primarily because such is the society structured and secondarily because they are hypocrites. Of course it is undeniable that there are some teachers who contrive many tapestries to inflate student rate in tuitions, starting from leaking question papers to the discrimination in giving grades, ill treating and threatening students and the likes. They are shame in the name of teachers. But again, there are many corrupt doctors, executives, businessmen and professionals of every field. We have to keep in mind that exceptions do not comprise the whole structure.
Hence, it is evident that teacher-student relationship depends on a number of determiners and they all need to work together to improve the cult. A teacher has to understand that his job is to educate the pupil and not to teach him. He should not show off what he knows but he has to improvise in order to impart the proper education in the student. In this regard, evaluation of the teachers by the students can be carried out in a written format in a regular interval. In this way, a teacher can assess himself/herself, for the students are the best evaluators of the teachers. Moreover, a teacher needs to remember that a student, in spite of imitating Hollywood and Bollywood icons, idolizes his/her teachers. So, he/she should be honest to the demands of the noble profession. On the other hand, parents should realize that teachers are not from a different planet. They need their own space and honour in the society to be faithful to their job which is to sculpt the citizens of future. And it is also the sacrosanct duty of the parents not only to perceive it by themselves but make their children realize this too so that they can grasp the need of showing proper ovation to their teachers. The teacher will always forgive, no matter what, if the student is truly prepared to honestly follow the ethics of the relationship.
It is to be remembered that no relationship can equate the teacher-student relationship as this is a selfless relationship where the student stands to win and the teacher only basks in another’s victory. It is only when the teaching is over, and the student stands on his own, battling for victory in the perilous world, that firm and reassuring support of the sheltering and protecting teacher’s hand is mostly missed.
Rosenfield L.B, Richman J.M & Bowen G.L. Social Support Networks and School Outcomes: The Centrality of Teacher. (Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal2000, Vol. 17, Issue-3, page- 205-226)