Being a teacher, particularly at a place like Ambedkar University is one of the most stressful experiences that I have so far gone through. Most teachers at Ambedkar are there, because they love what they are doing, which makes it more difficult. We find it very difficult to see it as a professional commitment that can be switched off at a particular time of the day. It is a matter of feeling responsible for students, wanting to do a good job. In a standard university system, responsibility of what teachers teach does not lie with the teachers, only of how it is taught. This can be very liberating, because the fault of a student not learning may lie somewhere else. In AUD the entire responsibility lies with the teacher who is forever struggling with the idea of what is best for the student versus what can realistically be taught in a semester. For young teachers who have never taught at undergraduate level at colleges, it can lead to a wide gap between the expectations of the teacher and the capabilities of the students. Most of us do try to translate our research into classes, which is very good for us, but not necessarily for the students.
Most teachers in personal interactions report a very high level of stress, as they are always ‘preparing’ for a class. We are always thinking of best ways to keep students interested and invested, anticipating questions to which we may have no ready answers. The teacher is expected to be the “know all” that s/he often is not. This is distressing. Students think that they are being evaluated. It is teachers who are evaluated each and every day. It is distressing to realize that that student at the back hasn’t understood what is crystal clear in a teacher’s head. It is distressing to not be able to answer.
Teachers are always formulating assignments, correcting them, commenting on them, sometimes on assignments that deserve just to be trashed. They have to run assignments through google because a large number of students copy, quite unimaginatively, from the internet. But it still takes time! You don’t want students to fail, because they will come back to you! But you do want most of them to go with something that they will be able to connect with, at some later stage in their lives!
Besides in most universities now teachers are expected to do quite a bit of admin work, which leaves them very little time to invest in teaching and learning. After the first few years, rather than take up new challenges, teachers stick to courses they have been teaching for years. To be promoted, teachers have to show ‘research work’, for which they have little time. Unlike universities abroad where research time and funds are built into the teaching schedule, in India it has to be fought for.
All this affects our personal lives. By the time we get appointed Assistant Professor in AUD, we are expected to have finished our PhDs. We are likely to be in our thirties, may even have started families. The starting salary of an Assistant Professor makes for a precarious living in Delhi. Uncertainty about medical claims or pension status leads to further anxiety. Being plugged in 24/7 means that our interactions with our families suffer. Particularly women teachers are constantly struggling with anxiety of being able to be “good” parents while being good teachers.