The teacher - student relationship:
The day you were appointed as the school head prefect would surely be
a red letter day in your life. But if someone says that it is the most
moving incident of his/her life, wouldn't it surprise you? That was why
the Senior Sinhala Lecturer of the University of Colombo, Sarath
Wijesuriya had to have a confidential conversation with one of his first
year university students at the end of the lecture.
Among several answers written on the subject the lecturer came across
her 'unusual' answer - '
The day I was appointed as the school head girl is the most moving
incident of my life.' Giving a fine start to our serious discussion on
teacher-student relationship, the erudite scholar revealed to me the
story behind her 'unusual' answer.
“Discipline matters a lot” Sarath Wijesuriya, Senior
Lecturer, University of Colombo. Pic. Chinthaka Kumarasinghe
"The girl was the eldest of a family of three. Her mother worked as a
domestic servant in the Middle East and her father was a daily paid
casual mason. She had to play the mother to her younger siblings. Amidst
all the difficulties she proceeded with her studies attracting the
attention of all her school friends and teachers.
As a result, her name was nominated as the school head prefect and on
the following day she was supposed to come to school with her parents
for the prefects investiture ceremony." She did not have her mother with
her to go to the prefects day the following morning. Father too had to
go to work on a daily basis.
In great mental turmoil She went home, determined not to go to school
the following day, but she never put her grief into words. To her utter
amazement, her class teacher visited her home that evening with a new
pair of shoes and a newly sewn uniform. " My dear, I am your mother
tomorrow, do not miss this opportunity. Please come" were the words of
She could not resist that earnest plea. So she went to school the
following day and when she was summoned to the stage it was her class
teacher who followed her as her mother. As the teacher headed her way
towards the stage beside this girl, the whole staff got up from their
seats as a gesture of respect to her noble deed."
How remarkable it is to find such noble teachers even in the present
society, where we normally talk of degenerating values of teachers? What
the student had emphasized to him was, though she decided not to go to
prefects day, she had not told it to a soul. But her teacher was so
sensitive that she could even read the minds of her students.
This incident which had taken place about six years ago in a rural
school had instigated the student positively even to get through her
A/L's with flying colours." "The teacher-student relationship should be
such a strong mutual bond and a teacher's responsibility towards his/her
students should not be limited merely to teach the subjects in the
Teacher should maintain close relations with the students as the way
a mother or father would do with their children" affirmed Wijesuriya.
A teacher's role is essential for the attitude development of
students and for the well-being of society. It is normally said that
school is a place where culture is being instilled. The teacher is the
main agent in that procedure.
As ancient books say teacher could be a 'light' to the ones who are
groping in the dark. 'About a few decades ago teaching was considered as
a noble profession (It still is). But this elegant role started losing
its prestige gradually with the intervention of politicians." It is from
the early seventies-with the introduction of open economy that we began
to experience this problem acutely. With matters related to teacher
appointments, teacher transfers political intervention became intense "
The climax of this chaos according to Wijesuriya was the decision to
give teaching appointments to 'Janasaviya' beneficiaries. "Eradicating
poverty is one thing. But it is not atall justifiable to misuse this
noble profession in that context.
It paved the way for several issues. First poverty became a
qualification to enter this profession. Secondly the knowledge and the
skills of teachers started diminishing. Above all the decision was a
huge blow to the 'image' of the teacher. It is teacher who plays the
responsible role of 'creating' intellectuals for all the prestigious
professions. So when that 'figure' who should be exemplary has instead
become a person with a weak personality, it is not possible for him/her
to make a great impact on the students.
Problems may also rise when school teachers conduct tuition classes
on a massive scale. There are instances where the school teacher orders
his/her students to come to their private tuition classes.
If the student fails to fulfil the teacher's demand the former may
even have to undergo embarrassing situations in the school. Also the
student may find the teacher very unpleasant in the school, but at the
tuition class the same teacher would behave in a pleasant manner.
The greatest misfortune here is the teachers' inability to understand
the negative impact it makes on their image. "As I believe today's
children are more thoughtful and knowledgable than the children whom we
came across about thirty years ago. They have more exposure.
They have more facilities. Most of them have the ability to surf the
Net. So a student can judge a teacher very well. They always check
whether the teacher knows his/her subject, whether the teacher genuinely
cares for them, whether the teacher would stand for them in a difficult
situation, whether the teacher is a good charactered person.
The teacher should understand that it is not only one student who
makes this judgement, but each and every student in the class-that means
generally more than forty students!
So the teacher should be well updated. They should be well read and
well informed. If not they cannot be attractive to the students. Another
important thing is if a student fails at an exam, doesn't the teacher
have a responsibility? In the past teachers were held responsible.
But today with the mushrooming tuition 'industry' some school
teachers too seem to rely on tuition teachers. Recalling an incident of
his school days, Wijesuriya said how his school teachers took individual
attention on each and every student.
The teacher knows who needs extra attention. He used to keep them
after school for extra classes. When the exam was round the corner the
whole class was kept after school.
Those days teachers considered it as their prime responsibility to
make every student do well at the exam. This shows their immense
dedication and that was genuine.
Referring to the dress code of certain teachers he recalled the words
of Maria Montessori, pioneer in primary education. She has said that
teachers have to be very careful when appearing before students. So the
teacher should be well dressed and should be pleasan." Teachers should
understand how much their students love them.
Today we often find teachers in shabby attire, some in T-shirts, hair
dishevelled, with long beard. In schools like Ananda College, Colombo
all the male teachers including the principal come to school in white
attire. "I do not say that all the problems will be solved if teachers
wear white, but it is pleasing to the eye. In fact discipline matters a
Today we could see a de terioration of moral values as well. "I can
tell you with great responsibility " voiced .Wijesuriya going back to
his school days again" that in our days I have never heard a teacher
sexually assaulting a student."
When the students go out station for a match, or for a debate, a male
teacher also went with them for their protection and they always treated
the students as their own daughters and sons."
The main reason for this according to him was the excellent training
given to them (apart from other socio-cultural reasons). The teachers
who underwent that training in the late 50's entered the profession
there after. So in early sixties we had a set of teachers who were well
trained in every aspect.
They had the ability to teach several subjects." Even the principal
used to come and teach us. What I want to tell here is that the teacher
was a person rich in knowledge and moral values.
He was an all-rounder. They always tried to correct the students if
they committed an error. It was done out of genuine love, not out of
Teachers should always set good examples to students. Today in
schools the students who come to school past 7.30 a.m. are being held at
the gate. They have to wait in a line (Parakku polim) as a punishment.
But the teachers who come to school late are allowed to go in. "In fact
it is a responsibility of parents to try to send their children to
school a bit earlier than the starting time. Anyway I think a teacher
should not use his 'civil' power unnecessarily.
Example should be stronger than mere advice." Referring to a recent
incident he said how a set of teachers who had come to school late,
forcibly entered the school breaking the padlock when the Security
officer refused to open the gate.
When the principal inquired them about the incident they had even
assaulted him! So do you think such kind of teachers will be of any use
to the school? Discipline should come first," said a worried Wijesuriya.
"Under any circumstances I cannot justify the recent decision of
teachers to boycott A/L paper marking. They may have their trade union
rights. But do you think it is morally correct to let those poor
students suffer further? See the struggle students undergo to get
through this exam- studying the whole day, skipping meals etc.
Having made all the sacrifices, what would they feel in the end if
the teachers refuse to correct their answer sheets?. As he said where
can we then place 'the noble role' if they too think of getting into the
same line of doctors who constantly keep poor innocent patients as human
shields to obtain their never ending demands?
Favouritism too can be problematic. There are teachers who pay
special attention to a particular set of students. Then the other
students who are either poor or weak in their performance feel greatly
disturbed. "This can be seen in primary section of popular schools to a
great extent. Parents of well-off students make a large contribution to
buy gifts for teachers at the end of the year and the children of the
parents who fail to contribute are viewed with scorn. Some teachers give
undue importance for the 'civil' power of the students' parents.
Favouritism could be harmful in two ways. The students who thus
attract the attention of the teacher tend to achieve everything through
that. It is not their talent that matters. So in later years once they
get out of school also they tend to follow the same path and would fall
into trouble. Secondly the great harm done to the second set of students
cannot be overlooked. Though less privileged they are a talented group.
They never get a chanc to outshine others, as a result they become
rebellious and it is with hatred that they enter the society.
Can we judge a child by his/her parents' profession? I asked
Wijesuriya overwhelmed by his vast knowledge on the subject. "Certainly
not " " I cannot agree with the present procedure of allocating marks to
the student's parents at the Grade 1 Entrance interview. If we had that
system earlier most of the people who hold responsible posts in present
society would not have been able to enter good schools as most of their
parents were either farmers or carpenters!
Teacher training programs
Education Ministry should treat teachers with utmost respect. When a
teacher is transferred to another school it takes a long time to get
his/her salary transferred. If there is a promotion and a special
allowance the teacher has to under go trouble to get it. The most
important thing is teacher should be an independent figure , he should
be completely freed from political process. It is a great disturbance if
politicians constantly interfere with the school management. When they
try to develop their 'territory' inside the school, it is the school
staff that gets divided . In the end school deteriorates and poor
students have to bear the brunt.
"There are so many advisors! Master teachers and apart from that
subject directors as well. Once I came across a Commerce graduate who
served as a Sinhala director!" It is not possible to ban tuition
classes. Exams being so competitive students cannot be blamed for
attending tuition. Instead the ' quality' of school teachers should be
upgraded. They should widen their knowledge and should develop a genuine
interest towards the job.
The National Institute of Education (N.I.E.) can play a great role
here. When repeating the same syllabus over the years ,any teacher would
naturally get bored. So the syllabus' should be changed accordingly.
Extra curricular activities should not be merely to overpower another
set. Also teacher participation is not very high in student activities.
For example at the time of a school literary festival it is the
literature teacher along with the students who normally play the major
role. But ideally all the teachers in the staff should get together to
organize such events. The bond between students and teachers would then
"This cannot be done through circular. We have to be practical."
Unlike earlier now our lives are more complicated. Some students come
from fragmented families. With exposure to various types of media, they
are in a way 'marooned' in a massive 'jungle' not knowing their way out!
That is why counselling has become essential.
Though we normally get a counsellor in most of the schools, that
person is not up to the standard. The counsellor should be selected with
care. But ironically today the teacher who is doing counselling is the
most ' untrustworthy' one! " Teachers who normally 'roam around' without
a time table are being used counsellors most of the times! It is a
responsible post and students should be able to confide in him/her. If
that person is not trustworthy, the victim would fall to the fire from
the frying pan!
"I believe each and every teacher should undergo a training in
counselling. Though it is a must for trained teachers to study education
psychology , graduate teachers do not undergo such training most of the
Once the appointment is given, the ministry should monitor the
teacher. While giving increments on time, it is better to check whether
they conclude their higher studies (such as M.A.s on time) and training
It is happy to note that still we have ' noble' teachers like the one
whom we came across at the beginning. They have no greater happiness
than seeing their students holding high positions in the society.
Though I have never seen the lady teacher whom Wijesuriya met in a
teacher training program in Hambantota , I can see her in my mind's
eye-the way she along with other teachers prepare huge meal packets and
distribute it among the needy students is exemplary.
If you do your job properly the happiness you get is immense. It is
the student who 'achieves', but the satisfaction and happiness are
solely yours. I see that happiness even in the eyes of my parents when
they talk of their former students and now I know why it is so .The
verse from ' Parakumba Siritha' which Mr. Wijesuriya finally recited
still echoes in my ears....
"Kaloth Guru Sewe,
Suwanda Pathanala se we,
Noma kara esewe,
Banduma kavunalu bas kesewe"