A good teacher takes pride in motivating students and encouraging learning. What is it that makes a teacher good and very often, inspiring?

Last week, many school and college students, as well as alumni took the time to wish their professors, mentors and gurus for Teacher’s Day. Every September 5, the country celebrates the day in honour of the second President S. Radhakrishnan, himself a university professor. Yet, amid the celebration and nostalgia, it remains a stark fact that not too many of the smart young graduates thanking their teachers are keen to pursue a teaching career themselves.

Today’s teachers say it is a satisfying profession. “A teacher who cares for her students… and can get them to participate and learn from each other can make such a big impact,” says Teresa Sitaraman, physics teacher at Sishya School, Adyar, who moved from banking into teaching and has never regretted the move.

“I get to fulfil my passion for both journalism and for teaching by becoming a lecturer,” said Helen Thimmayya, who teaches at the English department of the Women’s Christian College.

“My biggest pride is my students. Whatever they achieve is my achievement,” says veteran teacher Mrs. Y.G. Parthasarathy, founder of the PSBB Schools.

“It is especially satisfying to teach government college students. So many of them are first generation learners, and their level of knowledge is so low that they are so keen and so eager to listen to you… They will actually hero worship you as the teacher,” says Nalini Ravindran, who taught at several government colleges across the city before becoming the Director of Collegiate Education.

What skills and training do you need to have to become a teacher? Almost all teachers, both at the school and college level, are unanimous in asserting that aptitude and attitude count for as much as knowledge or education. “A good teacher needs to be articulate. Of course, you need to know your subject well, but it is more important that you are able to get across your knowledge to the student,” says Ms. Sitaraman. “A teacher needs to be able to motivate her students to do their best, otherwise all knowledge is of little use,” adds Mythili Premkumar, a Botany teacher at the CSI Ewarts Matriculation and Higher Secondary School.

“Creativity and a passion about your subject are important,” says Ms. Thimmayya. “Also, a teacher must have confidence in herself… Only if you are sound within can you help in building up your students.”

Of course, training and qualifications are also important. For high school and higher secondary school teachers, a B.Ed. degree must be added to the degree in whatever subject you intend to teach. (For those looking to work as primary school teachers, or in the special education field, articles are available inside.) For college lecturers, the government now requires that teachers write the National or State-Level Entrance Tests (NET/SLET) conducted by the University Grants Commission unless they already have a Ph.D degree. At the college level, an appetite for research is also important.

The Tamil Nadu Teachers Education University is now the affiliating university in the State for all B.Ed colleges. The B.Ed programme has courses such as Education in Emerging Indian Society, Psychology of Learning and Human Development and Educational Innovations and Management. Elective subjects include specialisations in guidance and counselling, using computers in education, curriculum development, physical and health education, human rights education, peace and value education, environmental education and safety and library and information management in schools. While the syllabus may be impressive, the quality of B.Ed training can vary widely depending upon the college where it is offered, teachers say.

“The practical aspect of the training needs to be improved,” says D. Kumaran, head of the department of education at the University of Madras. “Once you are in the classroom, effective delivery of the content is important, so teaching teachers to do that should be more of a focus.” The University of Madras no longer offers a B.Ed degree, but it does offer the advanced degrees of M.Ed, M.Phil and Ph.D in education, which are important for those who train the trainers.

He also rues the fact that teaching is now a last choice option for many students. “It is largely average or below average students who go in for the profession today. The top students want to become engineers or doctors and teaching has been pushed way down the list,” he says. Others point out that among first-generation learners, teaching still holds the status of a respectable career. Also, many girls and women students prefer teaching because of the summer vacations and early hours.

In schools and even arts and science colleges, the problem is largely one of quality, not quantity. In fact, there are more teachers than jobs available in schools, say officials of the School Education department. Better incentives could help attract better students into the profession, and among arts and science colleges, the new UGC pay scale should help convince more students to become teachers.

However, in the mushrooming engineering college sector, there is already a serious shortage of teachers even in number terms. “Especially in the IT and Computer Science engineering departments, only 80 per cent of seats are filled, and most of these are just B.E. graduates. Ph.D holders are rare,” says P. Mannar Jawahar, vice-chancellor, Anna University.

At the national level, there are about one lakh teachers, but only 10,000 to15,000 hold M.Tech of Ph.D degrees, says Mangal Sunder Krishnan, an IIT professor who heads a government programme to put IIT courses online and train teachers as well. “We are only producing 10,000 Ph.Ds per year, and not many of them stay in academia,” says Dr. Krishnan, calling for better salaries, infrastructure and management, so that teaching can be on par with other job options.

It is today’s students who can fill the teaching gap tomorrow. As one teacher said, “My best Teacher’s Day gift would be for my student to come up and tell me she wants to become a teacher as well.”