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Op-ED: Teachers shouldn’t be tyrants

  • Published at 07:43 pm September 5th, 2020
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Students should be involved in the classroom decision-making process

Last week, during one of our regularly scheduled online classes, the teacher suddenly cancelled the class and told us that he would take the class during the evening. This incident reminded me of the many times the same thing happened when we used to attend classes in person. Teachers would cancel classes out of nowhere and schedule make-up classes during nonsensical times of the day without even consulting us. 

It didn’t matter if we had something important scheduled for that time, nor did it matter if it was during one the very few off days that we looked forward to each week to blow off some steam. If they scheduled a make-up, we had to attend their classes and dance to their strings no matter what, and we were regularly penalized for not doing so. We were like slaves to them, and they knew this very well. 

From flimsy justifications like the world isn’t fair and real-world employers would be worse (I will never understand why some people justify their behaviour by pointing to other people), to the go-to show of power and dominance through lines like, “Your only job is to study. Then why are you complaining?” (Never mind that a university education entails so much more than just sitting in the classrooms and staring at the supposedly highly educated professors reading points off of a PowerPoint that they downloaded from the internet.). 

The teacher in question who called the class was competent enough (in comparison to his peers from the semester), and had the class taken place during normal hours or even during a make-up class where he took our opinions into account for setting a time, I would have at least tried to follow his class. 

(It was during the middle of the week and we were drowning in assignments. A lot of us wanted to use the evening to sleep. But the sudden announcement punctured holes in that plan. And that’s just sleep, which is flexible to a certain degree. What about all the other things that people do during the evening that had to be postponed due to the whims of this madman? Is the comfort of one teacher more important than the convenience and plans of a hundred students? Why? Just because he was in a position of power? But wasn’t his position of power given to him so that he could be of service to us?) 

I started contemplating whether I should take his class at all. And when it dawned on me that this guy could come down on us with divine retribution if people missed his class, I forced myself to stay awake until his class was on. Then, I forced myself to stay awake throughout his class, and the grunts and nods and the people that forced themselves to talk reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my struggles. 

All in all, what could have been a semi-decent class turned into a disaster because the teacher decided that his convenience was more important than the convenience of his students. And this is not something that happened only in our university (which I will not name due to obvious reasons, and some more obvious reasons which the users of a certain social media platform will know). 

Go to any social gathering that involves university students and you will inevitably hear about how bad their professors are and all the things they wish they could do to their teachers in retribution (similar cases also exist in the primary and secondary level, but the dynamic there is vastly different, and while a lot can be said about that as well, I don’t think that’s a topic that our society is ready for). 

Now, the perfect justification that is always coming out of the mouths of our teachers is that they know better than us, and they should be the ones to make these kinds of decisions, even though the primary stakeholders in these cases are us. And if we have seen anything with incidents like the boycotting of online classes by people all over the campus in SUST and the administration’s crackdown on key figures of the movement, it really makes you question if these people in power really have our best interests in their minds. 

A market for graduates

It’s an open secret that the goal of a university is to supply the market with graduates as effectively and efficiently it is possible for them. And with the forcefulness with which institutes like SUST have imposed online classes on their vast numbers of students without any kind of consideration for the people who might not have access to these online modules, any kind of doubt about the previous statement should have been thrown out the window. 

And even in cases like ours where accessibility is not a problem, the conduct of teachers such as the ones mentioned above and certain behaviours of theirs where they publicly talk down to and sometimes downright humiliate students that are struggling, it is clear that they care about nothing but the bottom line and their university’s reputation. 

The last thing should be focused on specifically, as some universities have gone as far as to codify the rule that none of their students can speak out or criticize their institutions, while other institutions don’t have these rules but implicitly follow them anyway. 

Bottom line 

But the bottom line for these institutions is turning out fine and their institutional image has been doing well too, right? If you take a peek under the surface and try to analyze things, you will soon find out that it is not the case. 

For example, the university that strictly codified the rule that its students can’t speak out against or criticize their institutions is already getting flak online with students across the spectrum taking the name of the institute with a look of distaste on their faces. Then there’s the problems I have with my institution. 

Focusing on the bottom line and focusing on the convenience of only the teachers while discarding the students altogether has led to other schools that started in the same field after us overtaking us in terms of educational infrastructure and quality teachers, and they are slowly but surely aiming to overtake us in the race to be the number one institute of a certain discipline in the country. 

The higher ups in the institute panicked while having the audacity to blame the current crisis on us, and while they tried to make some flashy changes on the surface, the underlying problem still remains and there seems to be no attempt from them to solve it. This brings us to the incident I opened this article with. 

Instead of focusing on us and what time works best for us to learn, the teacher was more focused on his convenience and proceeded to pick a time that would benefit him, not us, even when it was his job to give a service to us, and I would imagine that taking our input to determine how best he could help us to learn would enable him in performing his job in the best way possible. 

But like I said, under the guise of doing what is best for us, these institutions are more focused on their bottom line and the image of their school. And while the image of the institute I go to is still stellar due to past achievements and a strong alumni, the only thing they have currently is a brand value that enables them to attract the best of the best in the country, and even that will dwindle fast when its educational infrastructure and graduate output gets overtaken by other schools that are putting in at least some work that will benefit their students. 

Not your slaves

But is catering to students actually worth it? Is treating students as the primary stakeholder and not your personal slaves actually worth anything? First things first, teachers aren’t even allowed to re-schedule like this based on their whims and convenience. This is generally the standard rule when it comes to the international arena, but we all know that rules like that don’t apply in the case of our country. 

While there has been a lot of such research done on the relationship between leadership styles and performance, the academic side of things haven’t gotten that much attention when it comes to things like this. Nevertheless, there have been some studies that have been conducted in this sector. For example, a study was published in the 1980s, where research was conducted upon two groups of students comprising of learners from third grade and up to the sixth grade. 

The results coincide with what I have been talking about, in that they show that students who were involved in the classroom decision-making process developed more favourable attitudes towards the school and the subjects they were being taught, interacted positively with their peers, worked more consistently without supervision, and learned a lot more as well. Another research published in 2012 that was conducted on the students of a public university showed similar results when it was found out that democratic leadership styles have a positive effect on modifying student behaviour. 

And a look at social media where Bengali students share wholesome stories about foreign teachers who adopt such a style and have mostly negative things to say about their teachers and institutions (who generally act like tyrants) shows why a similar approach should be adopted in Bangladesh as well. We repeatedly find ourselves at the bottom of the ranks when it comes to education, and even university students get disheartened after getting into their alma maters of choice in the country. I think it is high time we adopted a democratic style of teaching throughout our classrooms, both for the sake of the institutions and the students that are under their care. 

Nafis Shahriar is a freelance contributor.