DU teacher declines to be considered for teachers’ excellence award
The Foundation Day of Delhi University on May Day is the most ironical as the University has witnessed an unprecedented stifling of its workforce in the last few years. The teachers’ excellence award given by the University today is based on feedback collected from students when the flying squad visited colleges. The same feedback is also referred by the University officials as carrying data of so-called errant teachers against whom the University is mulling punitive action. Hence the teachers are being used as pawns by the administration to muzzle all voices of dissent. It was communicated to me by the members of the student feedback committee that my name had been considered for the same award and I needed to give my consent for the same. I had no option but to decline the offer politely as I felt morally obligated not to agree with any method which can have disastrous and divisive consequences for the teaching community. I mailed a detailed reply (see below) to the concerned members citing numerous reasons for my decision.
Dept of English
Thank you for informing me that my name has been considered for the teachers’ excellence award instituted by the University of Delhi based on the students’ feedback. I have already sent you a message yesterday morning not to consider me for the award meant for college teachers based on the feedback collected from first year students. I wish to put on record that I really feel honoured and overwhelmed by the fact that students have found my teaching useful and contributive to their learning process. However this is hardly an adequate reason to make me eligible for this award and I furnish the following reasons to prove my point:
- First and foremost, I must acknowledge that whatever I have become today in life – supposedly a decent teacher – is only because of some legendary teachers who taught me in my college and later in the DU English department and transformed me from a cipher to a rational individual. These outstanding teachers, most of whom are still in service, have never received any recognition from this University for their contribution to the teaching-learning process. Hence it is not possible for me to accept this award as most of my teachers, who inspired me to join this profession, are yet to be recognized for their teaching.
- Second, I must point out in this context that in the English department of Kirori Mal College, we have developed an informal mechanism of student feedback over the last many years. This process involves a detailed and informed feedback on various parameters from both the undergraduate and postgraduate students registered with us. The accumulated information over the last few years, which is a fairly large sample size, has pointed out that there are colleagues in our department who have been consistently rated higher than me by students (and I am really proud to declare that I have been taught by some of them). Since none of them have been felicitated till date by the University for their teaching, I feel morally obligated to decline this award for myself since I am well aware that I am not in their league at all.
- Third, in my teaching career of fourteen years both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, I have tried my best to conform to the highest level of professional ethics without any consideration for any award. In my opinion there has not been any sudden and substantial change in my teaching skills in the last few months which can merit any special award. If I have worked unrecognized for all these years, I fail to understand how I can suddenly become eligible for an award for outstanding teaching now.
- Fourth, I have been informed that the feedback for the aforesaid purpose has been taken only from the present first year students of various colleges; this, in my opinion, does not constitute a proper, well-informed sample size. While appreciating my students for being generous towards me, I feel that the first year students, fresh from school, are new to the university system and require some time to mature and understand the nuances of higher education. Moreover any feedback mechanism for teachers need to include maximum number of students from all years in order to become comprehensive and holistic; the freshers in the first year of college can only supplement and not outweigh the experience and wisdom of students who have spent more time in the university system.
- Fifth, I am of the opinion that this new award for teaching excellence is instituted by the university to promote the newly launched Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP), especially the much acclaimed Foundation Courses. In this context, I need to admit that I have not taught any Foundation Course to any first year student of my college. Hence I have neither exposed my students to new vistas of interdisciplinary knowledge as envisioned in the Foundation Courses nor have I mentored them according to the innovative principles of FYUP. Therefore I cannot be considered for any teaching award whatsoever, especially when I have not done anything to deserve it now.
- Sixth, my engagement with the first year students of my college is not only confined to my own discipline, that is, English, but also only the teaching of DC-1 papers: a non-descript feat clearly out of sync with the global standards aspired by our University. What I have done at best in the last academic year is to desperately complete the syllabus within a reduced time-frame of a semester. There is nothing special in this achievement which merits an award for me and not for others who have been doing the same thing all this while.
- Seventh, I am appalled to know from my students that they have been made to answer questions on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teachers. I feel such questions make the feedback mechanism utterly farcical and dangerous: instead of promoting a free and fair atmosphere for teaching and learning, such prejudiced feedback can reduce the entire process into cronyism and populism. Moreover linking such arbitrary feedback to a teacher’s promotion (as constantly claimed by University officials) is a sure recipe for disaster as it will vitiate no end the academic environment of the university. Hence I find it morally unacceptable to agree with any feedback system which can lead to manipulation and victimization.
- Last but not the least, my twenty year long association with the University of Delhi (both as a student and a teacher) has convinced me about the importance of student’s feedback provided it is objective, transparent, comprehensive, continuous and enabling for both teachers and students. However the feedback mechanism employed in the present case tends to be instant, reductive, opaque and inherently flawed. Just because I have benefitted today from such a flawed mechanism cannot make me oblivious to its dangerous possibilities for the teaching profession: especially in terms of promoting favouritism and persecution. The job of feedback is to ensure an all-round excellence for the entire teaching-learning process and not to promote exclusivity and isolation among the teaching community.
In the light of the above-mentioned reasons, I express my regret that I have no option but to decline the offer made to me by your email correspondence. I hope my position on the matter will be appreciated in the right spirit and will not be construed otherwise.
With warm regards,
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Kirori Mal College
University of Delhi.