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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.)

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