SO YOU ARE A TEACHER. HOW STRESS-FREE IS THAT?
An ode to all school teachers who have dark circles under their eyes
Bansuri baj rahi thi. Non-stop. And when Bansuri Chaddha wails, there’s no sound on earth that can overshadow its gravitas. I tried playing music — the really loud, nightclub variety. The wailing grew louder, as expected. I finally took a deep breath, and went over to the Chaddha house. ‘How do you think crying like a wolf in wilderness, and introducing kids in the neighbourhood to nightmares will help in any matter that’s stressing you?’ I asked Bansuri. She looked at me with eyes that should have had tears, considering the amount of crying they had indulged in, but, well, there were none. “Shhh. Papa ne suna kya?” she asked. ‘The volume at which you’re crying, everyone’s papa in India should have heard you,’ I said. But then Chaddha ji is different. He doesn’t do what everyone does. I found him sitting in the adjoining room, playing Sudoku. Just that he was filling letters in place of numbers, in the grid. ‘Your dil ka tukda is driving the entire mohalla insane with her cries, and you are busy turning Sudoku into crossword?’ I asked. “Rone do usko,” he replied, and shook his head wildly enough to have caused a minor earthquake. Mrs Chaddha soon made her grand entry and told me that the father-daughter argument was about Chaddha ji insisting that Bansuri takes up a teaching job in a private school, while the damsel was resisting it with all her might. ‘It is best for girls to do a teaching job,’ Chaddha ji thundered. “A teacher’s job is not easy these days. Stay back karwaate hain, every day,” Bansuri ji retorted. I got out just in time to save my eardrums. For once, I agreed with Bansuri.
There was a time while I was growing up, when it was considered a premium in the marriage market (apologies for all politically incorrect terms, just stating it as it was) if the girl was a school teacher. This was the period when the grooms’ family had progressed from demanding a coy, home-loving girl (with a Godfearing, pious mother) to wanting a ‘financiallyindependent’ one. ‘If she wants to work after marriage, we’ve no problem. But it’s better if she is a teacher, so that she comes back in the afternoon and takes care of the home’ – used to be the catchphrase.
Rest assured, I was fascinated by my aunts who were school teachers – they were back home in time, all relaxed and ready to ‘prepare lunch’. In front of them, the women who did a 9am-5pm office job and got back home all hassled and tired, seemed so luck-less.
Cut to present. Yesterday, I met an old classmate of mine who now teaches at a reputed public school. “You have dark circles under your eyes,” I joked. Didn’t realize it touched a raw nerve. ‘Just dark circles? I have high blood pressure, panic disorder and anxiety issues too,” she said.
The next 10 minutes were a bolt from the blue. I didn’t even know how badly, and sadly, the definition of a school teacher had changed from the last time I checked. This friend of mine (she insisted I can’t mention her name or the school’s as if the mafia would go after her or me) teaches a minimum of six 45-minute periods to grades eight and nine students. And has to stay back till 5pm every other day to correct notebooks and prepare assignments. And has to do bus duty twice a week – which implies accompanying kids in the school bus till the last stop and ensuring they are dropped-off safely.
And take extra classes in what is called a ‘zero’ period that precedes regular school timings. And has to prepare display charts for notice boards on a weekly basis for school inspections (she says she palms it off to ‘creative’ parents). And has to prepare the students for – hold your breath – a dance performance for cultural functions that happen every second month, including arranging for their costumes, makeup and accessories.
Phew! She was such a bad dancer in her own school time that letting her get anywhere near music is sacrilege, but whatever. “I reach home at 6pm, and I’ve not seen an off day in the past two months. We are not even allowed to sit during the teaching sessions. There are no chairs in the classroom for teachers, as a rule,” she said, re-examining the dark circles in the mirror.
Well, well. Don’t know what to say, but a teacher’s life – at least those who work in nongovernment schools – is just not what people perceive it to be. Notwithstanding a recent court order that stated that non-teaching jobs in schools will not be enforced upon teachers, a private school teacher continues to be – a choreographer, a tour guide, a chart-maker, a canteen coordinator, a costume-arranger, a transport manager – in addition to, of course, teaching classrooms full of 48-50 students and ensuring that syllabi get completed despite usual vacations, smog vacations, religious vacations, extreme-weather vacations. Clap, clap. We are living amid super humans, did you know?
Before you ask me what’s the alternative, let me concede and tell you: I don’t know. Our education infrastructure is nothing to be proud of. We have schools that are bustling with children, but are shortstaffed. The principals can’t be blamed either. They not only have to deal with management targets, but also disgruntled teachers and khunkhaar parents.
Khunkhaar samajhte ho? Ready to pounce, at the drop of a hat. Gaali mat dena yaar, I’m also a parent, and totally understand the need for concern for our kids. But the aggression of some of the new-age parents is to be seen to be believed. The other day, I went to my daughter’s school to pick her up after classes. The kids ran out as soon as the bell rang. “Itni dhoop mein hamare bachchey nikal rahe hain? We should talk to the Principal,” thundered a woman wearing Prada shades, standing next to me.
I looked at her, then the kids who were happily running out, just as we would when we were kids and the school got over. Then I looked at the sky. Yes, there was dhoop. But I, honest to God, don’t know what the Principal could have done about it. Whether we like it or not, parents who whine about everything are a tremendous source of stress for the teachers.
In any case, teachers these days are not allowed to even scold kids, let alone disciple them the way… err… we were disciplined. The kids, thankfully, are as naughty, as kids should be. Actually even belligerent, knowing that their dad or mom is waiting for an opportunity to sue the school. Bechaare teachers. Placate the kids, placate the parent, placate the Principal – and then hear relatives say they are in an ‘easy’ job because they are just school teachers. Hats off !