Primary teachers suffer from an inferiority complex. There is an inexplicable, implied, and rampant “dumbing” down of the profession. It is as though the vulnerability and perceived intellectual level of the students in their charge automatically pegs them alongside lab assistants, no offense meant. To add to this dowdy visage, there is the punishing class schedule that leaves them no time to be of any nuisance value.
Schools that practice the mother-teacher system in the Primary, place such an onus on the personal resources of the class teacher that she is done for with the very first school bell. A typical Primary class teacher today handles the academic load of forty-odd children in addition to preparing daily absentee lists and keeping up with a battery of duties: bus, stay back, break duty. She is also a subject-in-charge, bulletin board-in-charge, and club-in-charge. There are records to be maintained such as the teacher’s diary, attendance registers, bus attendance registers, gifted as well as remedial cases, assessment-related paraphernalia including report cards (online and hard copy), certificates, mark lists and not to mention the information booklets for the successive class teachers at the session end. There are the annual day and sports day rehearsals to get through. Quite a merry go round! They magically find the time to pack in a dozen seminars in a year and there are the staff welfare events to attend. Somewhere amidst this whirlwind day, a reasonable amount of effective teaching-learning is also to take place.
The 7th pay commission is supposed to justify all of this as also the accompanying ringing of the ears, spinning of the heads, and palpitating of the hearts. And it goes without saying that there is always that universal echo permeating the busy hullabaloo, “But what does the Primary teacher do the whole day?”
To begin with, the Primary is a world unto itself. A planet inhabited by raw, range of the moment, unique young people who are crying for validation and attention. It is not enough here to give them mere knowledge. They need and take a part of the teacher, if not a pound exactly. A good Primary teacher invests a lot of emotional energy in the classic manner she begins to identify with her class. This is a stake of a very personal nature. It is some of these crusading teachers who identify and nurture the wilting clovers, they back and showcase the tiger lilies, and they nudge and coax the humble heather. One has to hear that tinge of propriety in their tone when they say,” My class….”
Fortunately for this intrepid band, their love is returned in full measure. In many schools, the KG parent orientation marks that rite of passage, switch of loyalties. It is understood that from thence on, the tots will heed their teacher more than they will, the counsel of their father and mother. You have to see how they hang on their teacher’s words, how they look at her as though they will lay their lives if asked. The flowers they make. The cards they painstakingly craft. Perhaps in a Primary teacher’s life, they are the only ones who say, “Ma’am, you are looking very beautiful today.” They are loyal. They are a sight the day their teacher goes on leave. Of course, there are the odd fists pumping the air at the news but for the majority, there is a sense of sails deflating, a ship gone ashore, anchor lost. Watch them how they follow their teacher blindly where she leads them.
And oh yes, they come back after years, looking for that one Primary teacher, their faces beaming up if she happens to remember their names.
It is here, in the Primary that you need the wisest, the kindest, and the most driven amongst the teaching community. Oddly enough, the enemy is within the ranks. It is not uncommon for colleagues to ask of a particularly high caliber teacher, “What are you doing here, wasting your time?”
And I have been one of this band once, many moons ago.
There were days when I would sit in a room full of high achieving professionals, many working at far greater levels of intellectual and financial remuneration and there would be this curious sense of pride. I could never keep the smile out of my reply when someone asked what I did for a living. I would find myself being very specific.
I wouldn’t just say, “I am a teacher.” For some reason, I liked to say “I am a Primary Teacher.”
I taught the numerically gifted of Class 5. My eligibility? Well, let’s say this assignment went a begging every year. Maths was not my favorite subject in school. But I would have you fooled those days.
When it was first suggested that I take this on, all I saw was the challenge, quietly telling myself I would figure it all out. It’s another thing that my band of Number Crunchers believed I was born to teach the Fibonacci sequence.
They would troop into my Resource Centre every year, clutching brand new Maths Club notebooks, a boxful of sharpened pencils under one arm, eyes a shade wide. They had been identified to possess an aptitude for the logical and had parents who declared wholehearted support for the program. Some were even familiar with the Soroban and Vedic Maths. Without losing much time and very soon at that, we would be a bunch, regularly biting off a whole lot more than we could chew.
We would start with the fascinating story of numbers. We marveled at the audacity and clarity of the legendary Mathematical minds. There was a lot of scribbling, poring, and manipulating. I knew we were on track when I would begin to hear the long-suffering sighs of their class teachers as they watched the gigantic magic squares materialize on their green boards. Before long, this lot wanted to miss other activities to work on a puzzle or a pattern or a sequence. They would puff up their little torsos and prattle how zero was not “nothing” but an “absence of something”. They would tell you a thing or two about the Sieve of Eratosthenes, rules of divisibility, painted cube question, pole in water working, and why we placed that darned x or 0 in double-digit multiplication; short of the universal truths…they were hearing a lot.
As we progressed, I would become the wiser too. I would realize how much the children loved to learn. They were intellectually resilient and quite up to the high demands placed on them. In fact, they mirrored you right back. There was something altogether unique about that class. Their similar aptitude; that ease with numbers, and the residence we are all forced to take out of the box lent itself to a cohesive group effort. We made short shrift of several topics. I would begin in the lead but there would all too suddenly be these four feet geeks stamping all over my toes. We happily and routinely missed our play/break time to deal with worksheets. Inside my huge, well-lit center, they were a maze of small heads bent over the Dienes’ block but when I gazed up into space, I saw an array of outstanding professionals…there was a geomatics engineer, photogrammetrist, geodesist, environmental mathematician, robotics engineer, cryptologist, inventory strategist, an actuary, attorney, economist, and air traffic control analyst….as the capsule advanced, our alliance would become stronger. They would begin to appear at my door out of nowhere, “Ma’am, I have a doubt here.”
The year would go by in a blur; the school was such a roller coaster of a place. Before long, I would be compiling a list of the mathematically inclined for the incoming sections. Another set of numbers happy! My graduating batch would by then have ridden into the senior wing’s horizon until one fine day, during a regular Parent Teacher Meeting; I would sense a tall figure shuffling in my peripheral vision. Rohan! Precisely five years from when I first gaped at him, calculating in the air! That day I remember, he was clutching two papers.
I remember flipping the first over, it was a Maths question paper in Greek! As I reached out for the second, he leaned over shyly and pointed at his score in Maths. I looked up and saw his Dad in the shadows at the door.
I had trouble comprehending his paper but I could read the two smiles perfectly. It is hard to explain.
You have to be a teacher to know that high.