Interrogating What Reproduces a Teacher

The study “Interrogating What Reproduces a Teacher” is a study of teachers labouring lives, situated in an industrial working class neighbourhood in the city of Raipur, Chhattisgarh. Primarily, it looks at what sustains and reproduces an elementary school teacher in low-fee private schools in the area.

Within a highly stratified system of education such as ours (NCERT 2005), both at the level of school and teacher education itself, as well as in the context of a highly stratified society where the imagination and reality of ‘a teacher’ is informed – at once – as much by a historical domination of teaching by specific caste groups as it is by a contemporary reality in which the bulk of the teachers in schools across the country are women (UDISE+ 2019-20), how do we understand the working lives of teachers and the work of teaching? This study thinks through this question by inquiring into the labouring lives of teachers in our fieldsite – centring tensions between productive and unproductive labour and paid and unpaid work, thus drawing inspiration from social reproduction feminists - in particular the work of African American intellectuals on women’s work - and the work of anti-caste thinkers. The study is a qualitative inquiry carried out over one year. Initial data was gathered through a questionnaire filled by 30 teacher participants followed by in-depth semi-structured interviews of 12 teachers, unstructured interviews with school heads, school visits, group discussions and field notes.

Our findings reveal that the teacher workforce in the low-fee private schools in our fieldsite is in fact women (often aged under 30) from working class ‘lower’ caste communities who are paid salaries much below the minimum wage. Further, across such schools one finds a male director often actively involved in his caste-association, and an all female staff, enabling a relationship not only of extreme exploitation that is strikingly similar to unpaid labour within household, but also cementing Brahminical and caste-patriarchal norms as the disciplining forces of such labour. By looking at policy documents and court rulings in conjunction with the responses of teachers in the study, the report also opens up a conversation on the myriad ideological formulations that govern teacher status in India, which work in tandem with forces of capital to devalue teacher labour. It makes a plea to acknowledge teaching as work and teachers as workers, arguing the need for more detailed empirical studies into teachers everyday labour both within and outside the school. Drawing on data gathered in the field, it makes a case for studies to to go beyond a gendered analysis, stressing the need to weave caste into a structural analysis of teachers work.

The need for this study emerged from our own location and practice as teachers as we were compelled to grapple with questions such as what wage and what social support systems allow women to fight pressures of marriage and caste society to continue working as teachers (and activists);, what kind of in-service support allows for a reflective and critical teaching practice; and, why is there resistance even among progressive movement spaces to acknowledge the labour of teachers as political work? It is a study conducted collectively by four practising teachers themselves.

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