The Great Indian Teacher Talent Show

Friday, May 01, 2009

This last one month, in the most opportune moment in the cosmic chrono-spatial readjustment of suspended particles, I saw an overwhelming movement of teaching talent in the country.

Consider this – 6 of my teacher friends have moved schools in the last one month. 2 of them, from the school where my kids go to. And many more that I do not know of. Considering I am not a hugely networked human face on this side of the equator, 6 is a hell of a huge number. And guess what? Smita (my wife) is preparing overtime, writing (by hand) those volumes of teaching assignments that once submitted as part of her B.Ed (Bachelor of Education) certification, will be duly consigned to the first available bin in the Department of Education’s sullied corridors.

Welcome to the Great Indian Teacher Talent Show!

With the mushrooming of umpteen private schools and with curricula ranging from IB (International Baccalaureate) to PYP (Primary Years Program) to i-Discover-i, to U-unearth-me to I-am-reinventing-myself-because-I-have-been-laid-off scenarios, the teachers in schools in urban India are happily smiling all the way to their banks. Today Gurgaon alone boasts of at least 10 different new schools that kick off every year – for the last 5 years. How many of them will really see the light of the real day, is anybody’s guess.

Like the way Corporate India struggles to manage the rise and rise of any new industry – the most recent being the BPOs – the business of education brings with it a similar set of challenges. The top amongst them is the ever popular Tom & Jerry show, where the talent demand and supply are in constant chase of each other. Surprisingly though, compared to anything trivial that you type in Google that churns out those thousands and millions of pages on that subject, there are only 7,250 pages of electronic debris on Google explaining the ‘churn’ of teachers in Indian Academia. Just type ‘teacher attrition in schools in India’, and you will know what I am talking about.

Which tells you that the teacher talent is too insignificant in the entire scheme of things to devote time for analyses; that dedicating consultant energy and converting the output into visible action to develop and retain teachers is a sheer waste of time; that there is enough teacher talent available out there and this is just a trickle, and shouldn’t bother us – really; and that the 6th Pay Commission has really armed the teacher community with weaponry to negotiate with the new crop of schools that keep popping up – so why bother, they would move anyway!

For the teacher talent, the mantra is – just SUMO – Smile Up and Move On…! ‘Moving on’ in the teaching industry has a few interesting connotations and consequences. Here are the Top 5 that I discovered when my teacher friends moved schools. Forget why they moved. Just see the world of possibilities once they did.

1.     Hired for New, Unique skills – Customer Orientation.

After the schools have marketed and advertised themselves through glossy brochures as the most promising of cathedrals of education to happen to humankind, promise fulfilment is next – amongst other things – the teachers who are expected to develop vocabulary that would give any service brand a run for its money. So much so that, one of the schools that I know puts its teachers through ‘customer orientation’ and ‘brand management’ workshops. And two of the teachers that moved were hired for their customer orientation skills – in a ‘competency based selection process’.

2.     Teacher Get Teacher Incentive Schemes.

Are the next best thing – with handsome incentives thrown in for internal referrals. It’s a pack of teachers that is moving these days. School Management Teams are aware that this behaviour is a growing threat that they face for now and the future. While it wipes off a part of the talent base in one school, it creates a new talent pool in the new school. The Management in the new school ‘employs austere retention measures’ to ensure that this coterie is broken over a course of time – so that the next new school is unable to hire the entire pack again a couple of years down the line. The reality is – if it can happen to Peter, it sure can happen to Paul!

3.     Create a “Least Pestering Parent” Group.

In English, this means satisfy the parents by bending your back, forward or backward till it breaks. With an increasing set of neuro-urban parents to whom schooling for their kids is next to a 5-star club experience, handling ‘customer’ complaints is a routine for the teachers. ‘Teaching’ is one of the bottom two KRAs (Key Result Areas), the bottom-most being – (at least) 35% coverage of the syllabus. The newly moved teachers are ‘encouraged’ and ‘incentivised’ to ‘influence’ such elite set of ‘least pestering parents’ to move their kids from the old school to the school where the teacher has moved.

4.  New School, New Building and the Smell of New Paint.

Sick of the old walls and bored of the same 3 subjects that she was teaching for the last 3 years in two different schools, this teacher has now become a ‘start up’ specialist. Doesn’t matter which subjects she teaches – because the new school doesn’t care as long as she stands up and manages the bunch of kids; the kids are too young to figure out that she has job-hopped too fast too soon; nor the unsuspecting parents to whom it doesn’t occur that they check out the skill pool of the school that will groom their wards – as long as they get admitted in a school – any school.

5.  Move for Higher Education – Literally!

You have been teaching in junior school? Sick of communicating with kids who do not understand your adult vocabulary or your frustrations in life? Welcome to the new school. Welcome to teaching the higher classes. Well – you don’t know how to? You haven’t got the experience of teaching higher grades? No problem – this is your OJT (On the Job Training) for you. Learn while you earn!

This electronic space on “Fursat Friday” is dedicated to all my teacher friends who have moved in recent times to life improvement opportunities – just like you and I – have moved brands and workplaces. Unlike the corporates which are a ‘Going Concern’ irrespective of employee movement, I truly wish the teacher talent churn doesn’t become a ‘Growing Concern’ as we grow!

Have a Great Weekend!

Ravi Kodukula

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