I don’t think the saying- those who can, do; those who can’t, teach – is universally true. It may be true in certain cases. Even then there is no need to view it negatively. Take the case of sports coaches. Successful sports coaches are people who may find it hard to be successful in competitive sports now. But many of them have been successful sports persons. In sports and games, age has certain advantages.
But when it comes to fields where mind matters more than physical strength, there have been excellent teachers who also have been scientists, economists and pioneers of other fields of knowledge. Take the case of Richard Feynman who was not only an excellent scientist but also an accomplished teacher and science educationist; or the mathematician John Nash who did pioneering work in Game theory that won him a Nobel Prize in economics. He was a teacher for most part of his adult life. The list would go on.
Even when it comes to the primacy of physical power, Dronacharya was someone who not only was an excellent teacher but also an excellent warrior till the end of his life. In Mahabharata war he was aligned against his favourite disciples who were able to defeat him only because they mixed their skills with a little bit of treachery.
Teachers are not leftovers. I don’t think modern day science teacher is someone who first tried to be a scientist and then when he failed in his mission to be a scientist, he took up the job of a science teacher. Some people have a fascination for teaching and after gaining adequate knowledge they take up teaching suitable for their particular level of competence.
For some, it could be just a way to earn a living. Like it happened with many of my uncles. Those days, after matriculation it was one of the easiest jobs available. So, they ended up being teachers. If any other job, or any better job had been available with the same qualification and ease of effort they could have taken up that. They did not have any particular preference for teachership.
It is interesting to note the classification of teachers of our times. In schools depending upon their functions, teachers are graded as primary teachers, trained graduate teachers, post graduate teachers and so on. Now a days it has become fashionable in so called progressive schools to replace teachers with mentors. Of course it is just a matter of words. These so called mentors do exactly the same thing that teachers would do. Maybe they believe, coining a new word for ‘teacher’ makes the school inherently more progressive than the schools where they still call the teacher a teacher.
The word ‘mentor’ has a negative connotation. Mentor is someone who mends. Here, the underlying assumption is that students are already broken and they need to be fixed instead of the wholistic and positive approach that education is a journey from one level of perfection to another.
We think of mending something when it goes wrong. Literally speaking the mentor should come to the class and wait for the students to go wrong or commit mistakes. Then he has a job in hand. Alternately, he should put in efforts to cause the students to make mistakes. That way he can keep himself engaged in the class.
In colleges and universities the classification is lecturer, senior lecturer, professor, and so on. These being mostly academic ranks, we should not bother much about whether a college lecturer adheres to the literal meaning of the word. All of them are basically teachers.
In Hindi and some other Indian languages the term used for ‘teacher’ is ‘shikshak‘. I don’t find this word being used in ancient Indian Gurukulas. The word Shikshak entered our popular deshi vocabulary after the advent of English education in India, as an Indian replacement for the word teacher.
In ancient India the words used were Guru or variations of the word Acharya. In Tamil, they still use the word achiriyar which has a lot of similarity with the sanskrit word acharya. The words acharya and acharan (meaning conduct or behaviour) come form the same roots. Unlike the teacher, whose job is to transfer knowledge of a particular field from his mind to that of the student, the acharya had the additional task of being an example of good conduct.
In those days it was necessary. The students and the acharyas stayed together in Gurukula for years together interacting with one another frequently. In such cases the students not only learnt from what the acharyas said but also form how they lived.
Till college, I studied in a number of different types of schools. In one of the schools where I studied for a brief period, the majority of the teachers were notorious for being gamblers, drunkards, and womanisers. However, many of the students turned out to be good in academics and the teachers’ personal life did not seem to have impacted the students.
Guru was also an acharya, but the relationship between the Guru and the disciple extended beyond the educational institutions. In many case the Guru was an institution in himself.
Guru also implies a spiritual preceptor. But these days, the word has been demeaned a lot. Guru literally means heaviness. We have made light of the word by referring to any Tom, Dick, and Harry, who is a self styled expert in anything mundane or spiritual, as a Guru.
During my primary school days, we used to address our teacher as ‘Mastre’. At some places the teacher is still addressed as Master ji. In those days we literally had a master slave relationship. The ‘Mastre’ or the Master ji, with his restless cane, held the ultimate power over us. His power was unappealable. If we appealed against him to our parents, this in itself was a crime punishable with immediate effect, the type and the quantum of punishment being dependent upon the moods of our parents.
(In response to Indispire #280 : Can teachers today be called “the untalented leftovers”? Give reasons. #Teachers )