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Is teaching a joke?

Huzaima Bukhari

Effective teaching may be the hardest job there is”William Glasser (American psychiatrist)

Well into the 1980s, new teachers were recruited on the basis of their qualifications, mannerism and above all, their ability to teach. During their probationary period, the institute’s administration would eavesdrop to find out their teaching methodology and their behavior in the class. After due diligence with respect to their skills in imparting knowledge, they were confirmed as permanent employees. Regular checks were maintained even afterwards with a seasoned retired professor or expert, made to oversee their performance regarding course material, style of marking work done in the class, at home and assessment instruments. Feedback from parents and students was also taken into account. An instructor is essentially meant to train, groom and communicate with the students so that knowledge with understanding is effectively transferred from one mind to another.

Over the years, with education becoming more of a business bonanza, quality of teaching has also deteriorated in both the private and public sectors. Those who are unable to find a hi-fi job or are waiting for one, resort to teaching more as a past-time. With the way our successive governments have evolved educational policy, with greater stress on rote as against analytical and constructive thinking, tuition centre teachers too have formulated notes which their students are expected to learn by heart for obtaining ‘A’ grades in examinations. Majority of the candidates vying in the governments’ competitive exams too fraught these institutes where the so-called teachers help them pass with flying colours to bag important and sensitive positions without the requisite skill or knowledge. No wonder our governance with influx of such bureaucrats, hand in hand with politicians of same standards has made a mockery of our governance.

Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) deemed to be led by ‘intellectuals’ of great merit has become instrumental in demoting teaching, once considered to be the most noble profession. Dr. Ayesha Razzaque, in her article “Where did the teaching go?” [The News, September 22, 2022] aptly writes:

I blame the standards set by the HEC’s Tenure Track System (TTS), its take on the US university faculty tenure system. The HEC’s TTS makes faculty career progression in academia contingent on meeting a single poorly set and easily gamed benchmark – publish a certain number of journal papers, regardless of discipline, with a quality control condition that still permits many predatory and fraudulent journals yet excludes many others from credible and long-established publishers.”

She has brought out major flaws in determining the criteria that cater for everything except teaching, for promotion of teachers in the higher educational institutions. An assistant professor in a public sector university expressed her dissatisfaction on the attitude of HEC towards gifted teachers who are ignored for promotion just because they may not have had the time from their main occupation (teaching) to write and submit shabby research papers.

William Arthur Ward describes teachers thus: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires”.

Rather than enabling teachers to develop their acumen in adopting sly means to meet promotion criteria, it would be more appropriate to empower them with teaching tools and techniques used by ‘real’ instructors. Feedback from students and colleagues, volume of demand for their courses, their student success rates in practical life could be better yardsticks to determine fitness for promotion.

A. Bartlett Giamtti opines: “A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching” while at the same time Bill Gates admits: Teaching’s hard! You need different skills: positive reinforcement, keeping students from getting bored, commanding their attention in a certain way”.

Debates have been held to find out whether teaching comes naturally or is an art one can learn. Peter Drucker, an Austrian-American educator concludes: “In teaching we rely on the ‘naturals’, the ones who somehow know how to teach”.

Just like any other profession where a natural aptitude is required, teaching also demands that those who intend to take this up as a career must first subject themselves to a rigorous self-analysis to ascertain whether they are honestly committed, they have the requisite knowledge and ability to communicate, they are blessed with the capability to address their students’ fears, they have the strength to answer their questions no matter how acidic, they are above all gender and ethnic biases, they can instill discipline, they can keep their conduct within respectable parameters, they have the capacity to adapt themselves with modernity in the sense that they are open to new ideas, they have the flexibility to cater to the needs of different types of students, they are adept with the skill of engaging attention of their audience with their humour, wit and mode of communication, they have enough empathy not to openly embarrass a slow learner but sufficient rigour to maintain discipline, they are capable to guide their students to face the real world and share best practices and most important of all, whether they are willing to continue learning.  

Good teachers will constantly be in the pursuit of learning and perhaps that is why HEC has laid so much emphasis on writing research papers. According to an undergraduate student: “Those who are dedicated to their subjects with a passion for learning make the best teachers”.

Be that as it may, a balanced approach would be appreciable where the fate of teachers is to be decided. Despite the necessity for acquiring knowledge and scholarship, a teacher’s true calling cannot be denied. There must be some solid benchmarks to ascertain their quality of teaching before they are actually promoted to higher grades.

We cannot downplay the role of teachers in a person’s life and by all means, this profession is not to be viewed lightly or taken as an option exercised reluctantly when no other choice is available.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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