Food for thought: Would you prefer to see your beloved teacher hung in school?

Education departments across the world are insisting on hanging teachers photographs in school, but the question is 'Do teachers really consider it an honour?' John B Monteiro talks
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam once said, students should remember their teachers in their hearts and not through their photos on the wall
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam once said, students should remember their teachers in their hearts and not through their photos on the wall

Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual. If people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the highest honour for me – APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015), 11th President of India

The heading of this need not alarm readers, though teachers and students committing suicide by hanging in schools are not unheard of. In this case, it is about the photos of teachers to be hung in schools. But first, the facts as reported by PTI from Chandigarh on September 30, 2017.

Haryana government schools will soon display photographs of the teachers who teach there. According to a senior official, Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar has directed the State’s school education department to ensure that photographs of teachers along with their names and designations are displayed in the office of every school head. While stating this, Additional Chief Secretary, School Education Department, K K Khandelwal said that this decision is a step forward in the direction of expressing respect and giving recognition to teachers.

Sounded laudable till we read another report from London about hanging portraits of those who were honoured with a Nobel Prize. Again, the facts as reported in the Guardian (London) on September 29 by its Education Editor Richard Adams.

The Oxford college where Aung San Suu Kyi studied as an undergraduate has removed her portrait from public display and placed it in storage, in a move that follows international criticism over her role in Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis. The governing body of St Hugh’s College decided to remove the painting of the Nobel laureate from its main entrance, days before the start of the university term and the arrival of new students.

In 2012, Suu Kyi was celebrated with an honorary doctorate from Oxford University and held her 67th birthday party at the college. But in recent months, Myanmar’s leader has attracted increasing criticism for her apparent defence of the country’s treatment of its Rohingya minority, who have suffered ethnic cleansing and violent attacks by Myanmar’s military forces.

In a statement, St Hugh’s said: “The college received the gift of a new painting earlier this month which will be exhibited for a period. The painting of Suu Kyi has, meanwhile, been moved to storage.” St Hugh’s student newsletter, The Swan, said that the decision to remove the portrait was taken by the college’s governing body, which includes the college’s fellows and its principal, Dame Elish Angiolini.

If a Nobel laureate’s portraits can be tossed around with such ease, what chances are there for the photos of teachers who have survived, unharmed by students. They might become targets of paper arrows, ink or paint, and instead of “expressing respect and giving recognition to teachers”, they might end up as targets of vandalism by disgruntled students, resenting the academic discipline sought to be enforced by dedicated teachers. The management may have to employ security guards to protect the photos from potential vandals.

Incidentally, on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti recently, one of the chores was to bathe all the statues of the Mahatma to rid them of bird droppings. Frustrated and mischievous students may vandalise photos of teachers on a large scale, adding another dimension to student indiscipline. Then, as in the case of Suu Kyi, one cannot say when teachers will incur disfavour of their management, headmaster, students and the student unions.

As Abdul Kalam implied, students should remember their teachers in their hearts – and not through their photos on the wall.

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