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07/01/15 Issues

First a Learner, Then a Teacher

In 2013, Dream A Dream was invited to conduct a Teacher Development workshop for a group of government school teachers in Samastipur, Bihar. Over 40 teachers in the age range of 18-65 participated in the workshop, some working as part-time teacher support staff and others as principals of schools for three decades or more. 

It was a pilot project to address the challenge of very high-levels of school dropouts (nearly 58% in the state). Our role was to help transform the teachers to bring more creativity, empathy and develop facilitation skills to keep children excited and engaged in a classroom.

It didn’t take us long to realize that some of the challenges faced by the teachers were, beyond doubt, huge. Some schools had one teacher for 150 students and others had different age groups and children with different learning levels sitting in the same classroom.

Contrary to popular perception of rampant absenteeism, lack of motivation and resistance to change amongst teachers, we saw them as inspired, determined and resilient individuals deeply committed to educating our children, especially in under-resourced places like Samastipur. We also learnt that these teachers and principals were deeply committed to the children; were desperate for solutions that will help reduce dropouts and had not given up trying yet. We realized the resistance was coming from having been battered with experts telling them everything that was wrong but not giving them workable solutions. The profession had lost its dignity and the popular perception was people who didn’t get other meaningful jobs became teachers. This was highly de-motivating.

At the end of Day 1, a senior principal pointed out to us, in no less a threatening manner,  that they had lost a whole day and they had not found a solution to the problem of high-dropouts in school. He went on to pointing out, that we had just 2 more days and they were really hoping we will give them a solution. The atmosphere was tense and the day ended with foreboding.

At the beginning of Day 2, the principal came early, took us aside and said, “I have not being able to sleep a wink last night. I have realized that you can’t give me a solution. I have the solution within me. Your attempt is to help me realize that I have the empathy and creativity within me to find my own solutions.” He further added, “I have realized that the day I stop being a learner, I stop being a teacher.”

We were moved with the depth of this self-reflection and how he changed the game from there on. On Day 3, a young man who was just starting as a teacher and had been uncannily quiet all along finally spoke up. He said, “I observe my 8 year old young brother go to school everyday. He hates it. He feels it to be a burden. He is scared for he might be punished or reprimanded. He is 8 years old and has already lost his sense of curiosity and joy in learning. We cannot blame him if he chooses to drop out of school. We have to look within and fundamentally ask ourselves, if children are dropping out of our schools, what do we need to change about ourselves?”

“We are the problem, not the children and we need to find solutions that require us to fundamentally change our approach to teaching and engaging children in learning.” We believe, all of us human beings, have an innate sense of empathy and care. We are wired that way. We lose it along the way, increasingly fast now. Through our work with Teachers, we aim to unlock their innate of sense of empathy and care and bring joy, curiosity and creativity back in our classrooms.