Interview with the teachers at my local school

We are now in our 5th week volunteering in and Indian school in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. When we started working here at the school, the acting Head teacher did not even acknowledge our existance never mind engage in any form of converstaion. The last few weeks he has been choosing to mark his class' homework outside, directly opposite where we are teaching our class outside due to the lack of classrooms. He has slowly been warming to us over he last 2 weeks and has appreciated the effort I am making to address him in Hindi rather than English. I decided to request a meeting with him and another female teacher to find out more about the way things run in the schools here and mainly just to break down the last few barriers.

The questions and answers were as follows:

Do you enjoy your job and why?

(male): Yes because I have to earn and I also had an interest in social work.

(female): This is the best job for me, I feel I can give more to a job like this.

What inspired you to teach?

(male): When I was studying I always thought of teaching so when I graduated I just applied to the government for a job.

(female): Mainly because it is a safe line of work for the woman.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

(male): I don't really have a favourite thing . I find maths the easiest to teach but we also have to cover English, enviromental studies, Hindi and history.

(female): Nothing in particular really.

What do you find frustrating about your job?

(male): I have to walk very far to come to the school (he lives in another village in the mountains about 2 hours walk away and it is a dangerous route). I also find it frustrating when the children don't listen or fail to follow instructions. The thing that I find most frustrating is the childrens' parents as they do not communicate with us enough to find out about their children's progress or encourage them to do their homework.

(female): Sometimes if locals are arguing outside when I am teaching because it distracts my class.

What is the minimum required to become a teacher in India?

(collectively): An elementry teacher training course which takes two years and a 60% pass and you are qualified. However most of the teachers who have been teaching for a long time have not needed to to this because they are already established teachers.

How much training did you undertake to become a teacher?

(male): I graduated, applied and then have been given jobs on a promotion basis. I have been teaching now for 11 years.

(female): I did my elementary teacher traing course and I have been teaching for four years.

Would you be interested in undertaking anymore training and learning about new teaching methods?

(male): We have to go to training days from time to time, I have had the training but I have not really applied it.

(female): I don't feel any need. I recently attended a 5 day training day.

Is there anything you would change about the school or education system? How would this improve your job as a teacher?

(male): Yes. I think it should have more practical and creative work rather than a very complicated syllabus that we have to get the children through regardless of their capability. The syllabus should be flexable according to the ability of the child.

(female): The syllabus is not practical and it too difficult for most of the children but we have no control over this.

Do you think that teachers get paid a fair wage in India?

(male): It is a reasonably fair wage yes.

(female): No, I do not think it is fair. A little more would be better and motivate teachers more I think.

What discipline methods do you find most effective? Why do you think these methods work better than others?

(male): I discipline the children according to their behaviour. I do feel that fear is sometimes necessary but only to a certain degree as if the children are too scraed, they will not answer any questions even if they do know the answers. A big problem is that the parents do not communicate with us enough to find out about their children's progress or encourage them to do their homework. This in-turn gets the children into more trouble at school making life mor difficult for the child and the teacher. ( It was implied that violence is sometimes necessary but he did not actually disclose it. However, we have witnessed one or two occassions where he has hit the children as a form of discipline)

(female): I also discipline the children according to their behaviour.

How do you feel about the laws changing in favour of the children? For example, the fact that it is now illegalto hit children in Indian schools?

(male): Sometimes it can be a good thing for the children who have teachers that use severe beatings as punishment but sometimes it can be bad for the teacher to loose such freedom in the way they feel they need to discipline the children. For example it can sometimes be difficult to control a class without some fear.

(female): I agree. It can be a good thing when controlling a very young class or the teenagers.

Do you think the Government has made people aware enough of these new laws and the consequences of breaking these laws?

(male): I am personally aware but there are so many who are not. Also, in rural areas the teachers may know about the laws but they don't feel they are implemented because even the parents do not know that the teachers have no right to hit their children as discipline. The rural community are not very aware of their rights in general.

(female): It is not made very clear or seen as very important in many schools.

How do you feel about the work that we as volunteers are doing? Do you think it is successful and worthwhile or not?

(male): I think it is very worthwhile now. You are the fourth set of volunteers to come to this school. The first were ok. The second could not control their classes what so ever and the third did not have any real interest in the children or in teaching them. They mainly taught colours and their lessons were not very practical. Your group, however, has made a big difference to these children. In 5 weeks they can now read, write, spell and have a reasonable size of vocabulary as well keep continuous control of the children without violence. You are by far the best volunteers to have come.

In the next 10 years, what changes in the Government education system would you hope to see?

(male): I would hope that the GOvernment schools would have more in common with the private schools in terms of resources and more teachers to split the classes and levels up more. The children here only pay 8 rupees per month whereas the children in private schools pay 400 rupees per month so the school can obviously offer them better facilities. Mostly, I want to see more community involvement and support from the parents. They need to be a part of their children's education for their children to have any real future prospects.

I was really happy about having this oppertunity and I decided to share it with you. I hope you have taken something from it. I would like to add that now I greet the acting head in Hindi every morning by saying, "Good morning Sir, how are you today?" and before leaving I always say in Hindi, "Goodbye Sir, see you tomorrow!" and not only do I get a reply for a change but I get a genuine smile with it no less! He is really warming to us now and continues to watch Jenny and I's class outside. I often translate part of my English lesson into Hindi to ensure that the children understand the concept and he always smiles and calls over, "Yes really good! That is correct". I think he appreciates that I am really making the effort to learn their language; instead of just expecting everyone to speak mine, which to be fair many Brittish people do when they go abroad. I am really enjoying my placement now more than ever and I am certain that my intensions of making a change, no matter how small, are becoming a reality.

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