As we rejoice at the dawn of a new year, there are huge sections of students gearing up to write their board exams. It is a time when the role of teachers becomes even more important. Their attitude can help turn around students’ nervousness into positive excitement, at the prospect of completing a major milestone. The role of teachers becomes further complex and crucial when it comes to preparing children from underprivileged backgrounds in rural areas.
For over a decade now, I have been working with schools in rural India, catering to underprivileged children. Any such school, which has a high population of students coming from poor disadvantaged backgrounds, deals with a multitude of issues, low learning attainment levels being just one of them. Most students in these schools are dealing with really difficult life situations; many of them reach schools tired because they finish morning household chores before starting for school, or have to walk long distances since they cannot afford transport; or are hungry and emotionally disturbed because of family health issues — the list, of course, is longer than this. When a student enters the school, he/she brings the weight of their situation along with them. The first job of teachers in such a scenario is to give a sense of sanctuary where students feel comforted. Teaching and learning can happen only after that. Schools would not achieve desired attainment levels unless they have ensured a safe and comforting space for their students and teachers who are deeply engaged with their well-being.
On a normal day, such schools have a variety of issues affecting students and therefore the teaching-learning process. So, the responsibility of teachers, when students start getting ready for summative exams, especially the boards, increases manifold. Teachers literally have to navigate studies, understand the gaps, family issues, belief systems and other pressures that a child may be facing. All this would be true for actually any school as successful teachers always look at their students holistically.
The leaders of the schools, which are situated in rural areas, must encourage, guide and mentor their teachers, especially those whose students are going for board examinations, to work as a close-knit team. The management has to build a team culture which ensures that all teachers of senior sections cooperate with each other seamlessly. Teachers should willingly distribute work among themselves, support each other by taking extra classes and become one cohesive team during this period. It is their prime job to ensure that there is calmness around students in school as well as their homes. Parents, most of them being uneducated, should be guided on how to monitor a child’s study hours at home, as well as to protect the child from exam-related stress. For most students in rural schools, teachers are their only guides and mentors, so it is exceedingly important for teachers to continuously project confidence in front of the students. Teachers’ confidence encourages students to try hard and not lose their own confidence. Some students require individual attention and thus counselling becomes critical to keep them motivated. For students, it is important to know that their teacher is invested in them and cares for them. So, teachers should continuously cheer on their students and become their mentors and cheerleaders. Schools have to create a circle of positivity in which teachers, parents and students work together towards a common goal to help students remain calm, confident and do well as per their potential in the board exams.
Making a difference
Board exams are not only an important period for students but also for teachers. To achieve success, teachers too require constant guidance, support and motivation from their principal and the management to successfully navigate through the complex requirements of various students. Principals must stay connected with teachers to keep their motivation levels high. They must organise timely academic support or training, if needed by teachers. Every input makes a difference to a teacher’s performance and ultimately the child’s. There is no better reward for teachers than to know that their efforts could change the course of life for a disadvantaged student. And, it is for school leaders to ensure that the teachers achieve that.
The writer is COO, Bharti Foundation.