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  Opinion   Columnists  20 Feb 2024  Devi Kar | Hiring teachers gets increasingly harder for most schools in India

Devi Kar | Hiring teachers gets increasingly harder for most schools in India

The writer is a veteran school educator based in Kolkata
Published : Feb 21, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Feb 21, 2024, 12:00 am IST

From flawed applications to uninspiring demo lessons, the process of selecting school teachers in India faces numerous hurdles

During the interview, some strange trends are seen. When interviewees are asked to say something about themselves, they repeat exactly what they had submitted in their CVs. Asked about their weaknesses, they say they are too much of a perfectionist, or that they are too emotional or spend far too much time agonising over every child in their care. All very safe and innocuous. When asked if they had any questions, they either say “no” or ask about school timings or other mundane information. (Representational  Image: DC)
 During the interview, some strange trends are seen. When interviewees are asked to say something about themselves, they repeat exactly what they had submitted in their CVs. Asked about their weaknesses, they say they are too much of a perfectionist, or that they are too emotional or spend far too much time agonising over every child in their care. All very safe and innocuous. When asked if they had any questions, they either say “no” or ask about school timings or other mundane information. (Representational Image: DC)

It is well known that there is a serious shortage of schoolteachers in our country. But the quality of the limited pool we have to choose from is also a problem. Some senior educators and school administrators have made some important observations about the new teachers aspiring to join schools.

Let’s begin with their applications. I think teacher-training courses need to include the principles and techniques of writing résumés and facing interviews. The other day a senior colleague was bemoaning the casual manner in which some applications are sent. Here are a few examples:

“Have done my masters…” (there is no apostrophe before the “s” or mention of the discipline); “My hobby is surfing the net” (How ridiculous is that!) Some applications are formatted in a decorative manner and yet important information is omitted. Now many schools have designed their own application form to elicit relevant and complete information from candidates. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop applicants from making spelling and grammatical errors.

Obviously, they don’t think the document should be checked/revised before submission. Earlier, such applications would be rejected outright. But even if one sees simple words like “separate”, “accommodate”, “colleague” and “opportunity” are incorrectly spelt, this would probably have to be overlooked if the other parameters are found adequate. Given the shortage of teachers, the old adage, “beggars can’t be choosers”, comes to mind.

During the interview, some strange trends are seen. When interviewees are asked to say something about themselves, they repeat exactly what they had submitted in their CVs. Asked about their weaknesses, they say they are too much of a perfectionist, or that they are too emotional or spend far too much time agonising over every child in their care. All very safe and innocuous. When asked if they had any questions, they either say “no” or ask about school timings or other mundane information.

The next step is the demo lesson. To their credit, the shortlisted candidates usually follow all the principles of teaching in a classroom, such as distributing questions evenly among all the students, using technology through power point presentations or showing exciting YouTube videos to enrich the lesson. Class discipline is assured as the principal or vice-principal and a “subject expert” are sitting in the same classroom.

However, it has been noticed they don’t try to elicit questions from the students, nor do they have the boldness to foray into new territory. The examples or case studies that they give to the students are mostly commonplace ones that have been cited in prescribed textbooks.

When we probe a little deeper, teachers proclaim that students are not interested in learning anything beyond their examination syllabus. This is one of the root causes of our educational problems. Yet, teachers too readily fall into this trap and are soon conditioned to “teach to the test”.

There has been much discussion about over-dependence on textbooks, yet most teachers insist on referring to chapters instead of “topics” and horrifyingly, some even ask students to take out their textbooks and underline or pencil through matter which are important or unimportant respectively. It is to be noted that “important” is in the context of the syllabus and scope laid down by the board. Some teachers are so structured and rigid in their approach that they won’t mention an interesting and relevant point just because it is in the syllabus of a higher class. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it is possible that they had been instructed by their seniors to stick to the syllabus. Some uninformed parents too complain that their child is being over-burdened with extraneous matter.

As for the much publicised inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary approach of the New Education Policy, teachers have a very limited understanding of the two concepts. Many teachers do use knowledge from different subjects to teach a topic, but getting strands from different disciplines and projecting a synthesised whole is not done in most cases. It is perhaps premature to expect this. But we must guard against a mistaken notion that if the school offers a mixed bag of subjects across different disciplines, the goal of an inter-disciplinary approach is achieved.

Recently, there was a dilemma in a certain school about choosing between two mathematics teachers who had satisfactorily completed the process of application and subsequent assessment. Both had given decent interviews but one’s demo lesson, though error-free, had turned out to be deadly dull, while the other’s was exciting and animated but a basic mistake had been made while explaining a concept. To add to the complexity of the issue, the application form of the first candidate was full of mindless responses.

Clearly, we could not take the risk of picking a teacher whose own concepts were not strong nor could we appoint a teacher who would not be able to instil in her students an enthusiasm for mathematics.

Once in a while, we are delighted to find the right teacher who has met all the criteria and even delivered an excellent demo lesson. To our dismay, we soon discover that the newly appointed teacher has poor people skills and poor work ethics. In such cases, we remember Carl Jung’s words that sometimes there is such a discrepancy between the genius and his human qualities that one has to ask oneself whether a little less talent might not have been better.

I feel that similar problems are being faced by school administrators all over the country. But I also believe strongly that India has no dearth of bright, young people who will prove to be worthy teachers if they are given proper training. The solution is to invest more in the education and professional development of our future and current teachers.

Tags: education system, teacher quality, training programs