As a teacher when I talk to other educators the main reason we often shake our heads and sigh is obviously our students. Teachers are in a unique position of privilege- we see our class almost every day, we know their faces and personalities, their anxieties, the way they interact with their peers. We shut down the sniggerers who mock the fat kid, we praise the shy ones, we push the clever ones to work harder. We see who is passing notes to whom, we observe the blushes, we pretend not to notice them. Like parents we are invested in our students, but as teachers we are well aware of the limits upon us too. And when we have students who have no thirst for knowledge, it is upsetting. Most of the teachers I know are people who take their work seriously. They aren’t killing time while the children are in school- they love their jobs. They worry for their students, they spend hours putting their lesson plans together, they refer to their class as their ‘kids’ or ‘bachay’. That kind of teacher really wants to teach you something that goes beyond ordinary transmission of information. They hope they are changing the way you think about the world and making you a better person in some tiny way. Which makes a student’s indifference particularly painful- you’re just a teacher, standing in front of a class, wondering why their faces aren’t lit up with the same joy you’re feeling when you teach them.

We’ve moved away from a cultural norm of reverence for a teacher, at least in more modern educational setups. A lot of teachers don’t want to be venerated any more, but the beautiful, grand idea of knowledge being a precious thing and the keeper of that wisdom being held in high esteem is fast fading. Without that respect, education goes from treasure to commodity.

The attitude to school is increasingly one of insolent economics: me/my parent pays a fee for this service, so you better deliver. The idea that a teacher is doing you a favour by sharing their knowledge and wisdom is extinct now. A lot of parents now only see their child’s education as a stepping-stone to a lucrative career, and their approach leaches into their children. The result is students who stroll into class late, without pen or paper or book, and expect to be accommodated. Students who miss class regularly but still expect that they will pass the course, usually by trying to strong-arm the teacher. I’m from a generation where you went to school no matter what- the only way you could skip school was if you had the plague, broken both legs or were on your deathbed. Now students miss class with ease, enabled by parents who don’t care what their kid is up to as long as they get As.

We tut and sigh at “kids these days”. But what we fail to realise is kids these days are the ones we are raising. School is not a magic cauldron into which you throw a child, say abracadabra and expect something extraordinary to happen. Many parents would peevishly ask me to “do something” to help their child’s English improve. Since the only way to better a language is to read, write and speak in it, I’d suggest books to read and activities to do at home- and would be met with a kindly silence meant to convey “aren’t you sweet to think we’re actually going to do this- this is YOUR job”. I have your child for a few hours a week, but the rest is up to you, dear parent. When you pooh-pooh education, when you treat it as merely a means to an end, you’re taking a child’s natural curiosity and throwing it into the dustbin. The result is blasé young people who have the world at their smartphone fingertips, but have no desire to explore it. Young people who are, essentially, asleep to the glorious world of the mind. You don’t have to be Socrates or Einstein to appreciate art, to read history, to find meaning in mathematics or wonder in physics. But you do have to be hungry, to have questions, to want to dive into the world and learn everything you can. Those kinds of children are the ones who change the world. Teachers know this; if only parents thought about it too.