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Why Lady Teachers are Best When Young

Our teachers taught us many things. In the process, they taught me something about school-teachers and school-teaching: lady teachers are best when they are young, gentlemen are best when they are old.

A few years ago, in the feedback forum of the Old Boys’ Association website, students from the 1970s and 1980s posted comments recalling their teachers, at times naming a few. What struck me was that some of the lady teachers who earned the praise, would have to beg for such expressions from later students. Simply put, they did not enjoy a healthy reputation by the 1990s.

Lady teachers who were good and popular when I was in junior school had turned bad and unpopular by the time I was in high school. Their counterparts in senior school too were good and popular, but invariably lost sheen by the time I left Loyola, or within a few years.

What do I mean by a “good” teacher? A good teacher is one who treats students like her own, tries to innovate in class, or encourages students to realise their potential in extra-curricular activities. A bad and unpopular teacher is conservative in the classroom, spends little time with students, hurts students through harsh methods of punishment, and appears to hate students than love them.

If we plot a teacher’s age on the x-axis and a teacher’s “good”ness on the y-axis, the career graph of a lady school-teacher would be a downward-sloping curve from left to right.

What could be the explanation for this? Is it that people grow tired over the years and prefer to go over the motions? Is it that the salary is not attractive for constant innovation?

My pet reason is as outlandish as the observation: the lady teacher’s son grew old.

Let me explain. A lady teacher enjoys solid reputation when she teaches students who are older than her own child. She is at her best when her students are roughly the same age as her child. As her child outgrows her students (remember, a teacher remains in Std IV while her son or daughter moves up), the teacher gradually turns indifferent, impatient, and generally less-liked. The lady teacher grows with her own child. So, typically a retiring lady teacher is likely to be less popular than in the past because her son or daughter would have entered college by then. That seems to have been the case of teacher X in senior school, who was popular in the 1970s and early 1980s, but less so by the 1990s. Teacher Y in junior school was popular when I was her student, but less so ten years later, because her child was by then studying in the senior school.

(The internet’s permanence endows it with an ability to be damaging and nasty. I also recognise that my article is based on anecdotal evidence, not a scientific survey. So, in all fairness, I desist from naming teachers.)

I do not see such an unhappy coincidence in the case of male teachers, though. Indeed, the opposite seems to hold true in their case. A male teacher is at his best when he approaches retirement (or teaches after retirement).

If we plot a teacher’s age on the x-axis and a teacher’s “good”ness on the y-axis, the career graph of a male school-teacher would be a wavy curve that initially rises, then falls, and finally rises.

Let me guess what’s happening. As a new broom, he is adventurous and popular. After a few years, as he is reined in by “realistic” colleagues and withdraws, his career curve starts falling. In this phase, he is a bad teacher: shunning innovation, strict, inward-looking, and apparently hurting students in words and deeds. Somewhere along the way (I haven’t found an inflection point like the lady teacher’s son’s age) the male teacher matures, turns accommodating, becomes open to students’ ideas, is less spiteful, and is most knowledgeable in the subject as well as pedagogy.

I repeat, I do not know why this happens. Probably, he has reflected on his career and is trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. Like the lady teachers, the male teacher’s children too may have grown older than his students, but that does not seem to have adversely affected the male teacher’s performance in school.

The male teacher seems to be career-driven while the female teacher is family-driven.

There are two reasons why I share my outlandish observation and theory publicly.

  1. If what I have sketched is true, then it has an implication for hiring teachers, and training them at appropriate stages in their careers. An “experienced” lady teacher, not the “pretty, young thing”, might be the one who badly requires a refresher course in education. Similarly, the middle-aged male teacher needs help and should be encouraged to reflect actively. A combined refresher session — male and female teachers of all ages sitting together — may not be the best course for Loyola to adopt.
  2. I seek validation or repudiation. Is my observation true? What has been your experience at Loyola or any other school? Is my explanation correct? What could be happening here? (Please do not identify teachers by names, especially if you are portraying them as “bad” teachers.)

Post your comments

Products and Services for Loyola Alumni

Products and Services for Loyola Alumni

Last week, we launched a Loyola search engine here at loyolites.com. Users searching anything related to Loyola School, Trivandrum will now get more relevant search results. You will no longer have to wade through pages of Google results because, instead of searching the entire web for your keywords (search terms), the Loyola search engine will give you results from a specialised search of blogs and websites of Loyolites. It’s powered by Google and to start with, digs 55+ blogs and websites. Try it yourself.

The Loyola search engine is a product/service that improves our lives in a simple and small way. It is not the first of Loyola products, but it highlights the potential and likelihood of a new generation of products for Loyola old boys.

Generation 1 Products

The earliest Loyola alumni products were the newsletter and the directory, both launched by the Loyola Old Boys’ Association (LOBA) between 1990 and 1992, when P.A. Murukan (1984) was the secretary. Since then, the newsletter has invariably appeared twice a year. The revised editions of the directory have been less frequent. Bringing out a revised directory is a mammoth task, one that calls for a Pradeep Kumar (1974) to lead and accomplish. An online version (partially revised) appeared in July 2004, but is no longer available on the web.

Gen 1 products were initiated by the Association, and were used by LOBA members of various batches. These products emerged in an era when people looked up to the Fat Man to deliver the goods. If one or two Loyolites had an idea for the alumni community, they would approach Fat Man, and after deliberations among office-bearers, Fat Man would either accept (and implement) the idea or reject the idea. If the idea was rejected, Little Boys would go home, instead of implementing it on their own. Because even though LOBA members did not account for even 1/3rd of the students who studied at Loyola, the Association was synonymous with the Loyola alumni movement.

Generation 2 Products

Somewhere in the late 1990s, things changed. As the economy liberalised, people became confident of trying things out on their own; looking up to the state went out of fashion in India. In LOBA’s case, more than the social environment, it was probably technology that ushered in a new era. The internet made it possible for Little Boys to ignore the Fat Man.

1988 batch logoIn several batches, one or two Loyolites created e-groups. Little Boys did not bother to pitch the idea to Fat Man; they just set up the groups and started exchanging mails. As the internet became ubiquitous and more Loyolites joined the infotech industry, e-groups mushroomed and buzzed with activity. Some batches (like 1988, 1991, 1998 and 2001) set up their own websites.

These Gen 2 alumni products/services were initiated by one or two individuals, and were aimed at serving their own batch. An exception was the 1991 batch’s website, but that too was set up initially for the batch, and was only later extended to the entire Loyola alumni community. The ‘batchward’ sentiment of the era is also reflected in the rise of batch names. Boys of Seventy-Seven (BOSS – 1977), Ninety-One Batch LoyolitES (NOBLES -1991), Knights (1988) and Sabse Aage (2001) became prominent.

Generation 3 Products

And now we have Gen 3 — products initiated by a few individuals, but for the entire Loyola community (and possibly beyond). The Loyola search engine is an example, but not the first of this kind.

Loyola School Trivandrum community at OrkutThe earliest Gen 3 products were the communities of Loyolites at Orkut, which helped old boys get in touch with friends, including seniors and juniors. The Loyola School Trivandrum community, the biggest of them, was set up in 2004 by Christophe Manshoven (2001) and handed over to Deepak Madhusoodanan (1996). Note the inter-batch co-operation without mediation by LOBA. loyolites.com too sprang up in 2007 at the initiative of a few individuals of different batches, and serves all Loyolites; it was neither conceived nor implemented by LOBA.

The shift from Gen 2 to Gen 3 too has been driven by technology and how people use it. Today, tools for creating small products are available on our personal computer, and the expenses involved are negligible. Preparing an audio-video feature on Loyola no longer calls for signing a deal with a TV production company; if you or your friends are talented and tech-literate, it can be readied over a weekend. I think we’ll see more Gen 3 products coming from tech-savvy Loyolites who are in college: they have ideas, they are enterprising, and they embrace technology.

What product/service can you create?

Memorabilia and other alumni products

T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs or any of the merchandise typically produced for universities in the US and Europe? How about a Loyola alumni letterhead that old boys can use to write letters to teachers? Heard of the guy who created a “Cheer Loyola Sons” ringtone? Why not offer an MP3 collection called “Songs of Loyola” for download? Students of Loyola, why not publish the LENS on the internet? Why not sell a CD of the school magazines? Why not…

Contrary to beliefs, it does not take much time to create a product. It took me only one day to set up the Loyola search engine. It may have taken me 25 hours (spread across months) to set up the system for the monthly e-newsletter; it takes less than two hours a month to deliver the service.

Why would you create a Loyola product? For the sheer fun of it. There are bonuses in store too. If your product is offered free (like my blog or the e-newsletter), you’ll be happy when a Loyolite calls you from London to say that he enjoys using your product. If your product is sold at a price, you can earn a few bucks. In my experience, there’s a vast pool of Loyolites eager to consume Loyola products. There are buyers waiting for sellers.

In the past, people expected Fat Man to do things, and complained whenever Fat Man failed to. Today, Little Boys take the road less travelled, and oh boy, hasn’t that made a difference! So, think of a Loyola product and run with it.

I look forward to hosting a “Loyola Shop” at loyolites.com in 2008.

What’s your idea, mate?

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