I believe that teaching is an art and a craft, and a “reflective practice” in which the teacher is always in the process of discovery, with his students and colleagues, of good and bad ways of teaching. Teaching does have a purpose, but there are many paths to its realisation. Formulaic methods of teaching, developed for instance through the precise specification of what the teacher should do in class, and prescribing recipes for good teaching as if there were one right way, are boring and anti-educational.
I believe good teachers are enthusiastic and capable of conveying their enthusiasm to students; constantly look for ways of improving their teaching and trying to keep abreast of developments in their subjects; and are sufficiently mindful and self-aware to be able to laugh at themselves. As a teacher, I believe I have stimulated many of my more able students, but I do regard my weaker students as having priority of attention. I believe the most demanding test of a teacher (and one which I have frequently failed) is what he can do for the weakest in his class. I do expect to give up my personal time, whenever possible, to help my students when they ask for help. At the same time, I expect my students to take responsibility for their own learning. I believe it is my professional duty to do all I can to help them succeed at learning, but I do not expect to spoon-feed my students.
I regard good schools as only one of many places where students can acquire the capacity to think and act with the heart, and develop self-knowledge, including knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses. Bad schools are places where students learn to value the destructive use of power and privilege. I regard the classroom as only one of the sites where students learn, and the teacher as a friend, guide and critic in this learning.
As a member of a school, I am uncomfortable with authority which does not justify itself through competence. I look upon administrators as teachers who have a special role to help their colleagues to do their jobs better, and to stimulate their personal and professional growth. I prefer teams to hierarchies, and a democratic and consultative style to an authoritarian one. I enjoy working with colleagues who are open to new ideas, and are not afraid of experimentation and occasional failure.
I believe that schools, as structured at present, are designed to destroy any capacity a child may have developed of learning to enjoy, and of enjoying to learn. They do learn a great deal, but not necessarily what teachers set out to teach them. They generally learn to dissimulate, compete, obey authority unquestioningly, misuse power and authority, and value cleverness over patient and painstaking inquiry, and cosmetics over substance. If they learn anything of value at all, it is most often despite schools, not because of them. Yet schools are where I work, because I value the experience of working with some of my colleagues, and the experience of being around young people; but also because schools, despite their faults, can be places where youngsters can learn to value truth, goodness and beauty.
One of my dreams is to create a school in my own country based on ecological and democratic values, and which privileges knowledge that enhances the capacities of people for convivial living, and for creating peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies. Another is to write a social and cultural history of India for young people which celebrates the role of ordinary people in changing our country, and which acts as an antidote to the nationalist hagiography that passes for school history.