There is no dearth of stupid ideas! This is especially true of administrators who try to micro-manage when they are in leadership positions. Here is a recent idea that may have been well-intentioned, but ranks among the most idiotic when formulated and implemented: The National Council for Teacher Education in India is setting up a central portal where teachers and those who train teachers will be required to ‘log everything they do – the material they use, tests, readings’. India has about 15,000 teacher training colleges that graduate about 900,000 teachers every year (which translates into a total of several millions of active teachers at any given time in the country). All these teachers will now be expected to upload their materials into a national database, but it is not clear to what effect.

There is no doubt that India’s teacher training system is broken. It has largely failed at preparing people to become good teachers. The system is good at producing a large quantity of teachers, but poor at ensuring that the teachers it graduates meet even basic quality standards. The problem is compounded by school and college administrators who treat teachers as labour, investing little to no resources for developing teachers’ content knowledge and soft skills. As a result, a very large proportion of India’s teachers fail to achieve their true potential, are unable to bring about a positive change in their students’ lives, and ultimately end up being the kind of teachers they used to dislike (or even hate) when they were students.

In recent years, I have had the chance to visit with teachers at several college campuses in India. I have used these opportunities to emphasise what may be the single most important attribute of a good teacher: passion. A passionate teacher is one who loves what s/he teaches and enjoys helping students learn the material. Passion is the reason some teachers see their job as a calling, as opposed to those who merely consider it a way to earn their livelihood. Passionate teachers invest time and effort in advance to prepare for their teaching, try to make the class engaging and illuminating, and go beyond what the students need to know for scoring on the exam. In other words, passionate teachers do not teach to the exam, but seek to encourage students to become interested in the course. Research has shown that, at almost all levels of education, from primary to doctorate, the passion a teacher has for his or her topic is the strongest predictor of students’ interest in the topic. I am the first to admit that there is no one way to be a good teacher. Fred Stephenson’s book, Extraordinary Teachers, presents insights from many award-winning college teachers about what makes them good at teaching. To my knowledge, no such book exists about teaching in India. Perhaps even more alarmingly, few teachers in India actually make the time to read books (or even articles) about good teaching. It is hard to become a good teacher if we do not invest time in staying abreast of what good teachers do, the challenges they face, and how they overcome those difficulties. To be honest, I struggled with convincing Indian teachers about the importance of passion. A large part of the problem, I believe, was that most teachers had never been asked to think about passion as an attribute that could help them become better at their jobs. Passion is not something you can help the teachers find in an hour-long session (or two). If the NCTE, and its Chairperson Santhosh Mathew, is serious about strengthening India’s teacher training programs, they should start by focusing on how to help teachers find and develop their passion. And, of course, all teacher training programmes should encourage teachers to read books about good teaching, so that they can see how those who came before them found their passion for teaching. India is the country of Chanakya, who saw teachers as ‘architects of society’. Much work needs to be done to bring Indian teachers back to their central place in society.

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