In ancient Bharat, a teacher performed the role of companion, guide, philosopher, ideologue, intellectual, mentor, facilitator and transformer. The teacher’s role was “Asato ma sadgamaya, Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, Mrityorma amritam gamaya”. The teacher performed his duties through dedication, determination, perseverance, compassion, humility, love, affection and care. Teachers helped sharpen the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual faculties of the learners to enable them to productively engage with the emerging world order. The guru-shishya relationship revolved around high ideals, morality, mutual trust, care, responsibility and accountability towards each other. Thus, the guru used to be the most venerated person amidst the shishyas and in society as well. The history of the education system is rich with several examples of great guru-shishya relationships to cherish and emulate viz., Vasishtha-Rama, Sandipani-Krishna, Arjuna-Dronacharya, Govind Bhagavatpada- Adi Shankaracharya, Chanakya – Chandra Gupta Maurya, Ramkrishna Paramhans-Swami Vivekananda, Socrates-Plato, Plato-Aristotle and Aristotle-Alexander the great etc. Such great teachers and their disciples influenced human philosophies, ideologies and the overall perspective to observe and change the world since time immemorial. Aristotle said, “Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.”
True teachers are the beacons of light that lead people to success, glory and a contented life. They recognise the inherent potentials of the learners, sharpen their instruments of learning, inspire them to move forward in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom and assist them in reaching the zenith of their potential. A true teacher looks at the student as an organic whole with the desire to be inquisitive, curious, enquiring, inclusive, courageous, humble, conflict resolver, empathetic, collaborator and endowed with life-skills and values. True teacher involves the learners in the knowledge-gaining process, as Benjamin Franklin aptly says: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Those teachers are revered who, through their talent, dedication, patience, wisdom and astute judgment of character, shape the destiny of knowledge seekers and empower them with the wisdom to become torch bearers of society.
Serious concern is growing across India over the quality of higher education necessary for ensuring greater social and economic development and for enriching civilisational discourse. It is recognised worldwide that one of the contributing factors in this context is the student-teacher relationship. McKinsey Global Institute says that out of the 56 skills identified for learners to become successful in the emerging world, 14 are focused on interpersonal relationship building and are grouped under ‘fostering inclusiveness’, ‘collaboration’, ’empathy’ and inspiring trust’. The positive relationship between student and teacher creates a conducive environment for wholesome learning and helps build inspiring trust for each other to bank upon in trying times and also to develop skills for making adjustments in global social settings. Studies have shown that those teachers who develop good rapport with students ensure better student engagement in learning, motivate them for holistic learning and experience better job satisfaction. Contrarily, strained student-teacher relationship contributes to learning loss, adversely impacts mental well-being and hampers the social, emotional and spiritual development of learners.
In fact, the learning-teaching process is a multi-domain construct which includes social, inter-personal, emotional, leadership, cognitive and psychological aspects. It is true that the behaviour of the teacher modifies the behaviour of students and vice-versa. Thus, individual behaviour is not the only determinant of the student-teacher relationship but also the interplay of behavioural traits of both. Though this relationship also depends on cultural context, in our India, students adore those teachers who develop emotional chords and trustworthy relationships with students.
As an inquirer, a student often has to be on the same page and in a symbiotic and synergistic relationship with the teacher. This relationship can be nurtured by dedication, commitment, compassion, empathy, mutual respect and appreciation. Coincidently, today, with the easy retrieval of information from the public domain, students do not solely depend on teachers for access to information. Thus, the student-teacher relationship is becoming tenuous. Therefore, teachers need to be fully learner-centric rather than merely focusing on lecturing. They should understand the learning needs of students and mentor them accordingly.
In this scenario, more beyond classroom interaction between teacher and taught is needed to understand each other and to develop constructive relationship. Teachers need to appreciate that today’s learners are under tremendous stress and anxiety for securing a safe future as they have to thrive in a highly uncertain and volatile world. Therefore, students’ convenience of learning has to be uppermost in the minds of the teachers. Educators and higher education institutions need to work on a strategy to strengthen continuous dialogue between teachers and students so that they stay connected with each other, with the learning landscape and ensure better learning outcomes.
Unfortunately, the prevailing student-teacher relationship is less based on discussion, debate, disputation and acceptance theories and more on denial-based theory. The mindset of understanding each other’s requirements, viewpoints, psyche and coming to terms with each other’s expectations, by and large, is becoming a thing of the past. The teacher-student relationship essentially has to be inclusive in all aspects, and the meeting point of this relationship has to be equidistance from both viewpoints. Obviously, however, the onus of arriving at the consensus is greater on the teachers. Moreover, students should be provided with open space to showcase their talent, and the teachers should always nurture them with the vital sap of wisdom.
The modern construct that education is a commodity, teachers are service providers, and parents are clients is the root cause of the deteriorating student-teacher relationship. Resultantly, the respect for teachers, which was integral to the ancient education system, is on a fast decline. In the current learning ecosystem, teachers for whom teaching is a vocation are outnumbered by those for whom it is an occupation. This is evident from the indifferent, impersonal and non-professional approach that teachers resort to towards the learners. In order to arrest this trend, people should enter the teaching profession by choice and not by default. Those who have full faith in guru-shishya parampara and are ready to implement its essential traits in letter and spirit should embrace the teaching profession. Even if someone has landed in the teaching profession by default, they should accept it wholeheartedly and strive hard to perform accordingly.
Teachers need to appreciate that teaching is not all about passing out information generation after generation. It is, in fact, developing an honest academic, intellectual, social, emotional and empathetic relationship with the students and staying connected with them. However, teachers have to be mindful that students may not respond appropriately in a similar manner owing to several types of stresses associated with real-life situations. We need to customise our ancient guru-shishya parampara to make it current and relevant and to resolve the issue of growing numbers of strained student-teacher relationships with which the higher education institutions are confronting with. Somewhere, Michel Foucault says: “I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.” Let our teachers make windows from which the fragrance of fresh ideas enters inside and nourishes the minds of our budding scholars.