The profession of teaching is one of the oldest in the world and certainly one of the noblest. In ancient India, the teacher was called guru. However, the teacher or the preceptor in the ancient world always enjoyed the honour of society and sometimes the patronage of the king of State. Teachers like Shankaracharya or Socrates exercised a powerful influence in building up the mind and morals of his disciples. But in those far-off days, the profession was not organised. It was an affair of an individual. The learned man would invite and attract pupils, and he would impart to them as the inheritor of his wisdom. He was poor in the worldly sense, but his intellectual life was rich beyond measures. His lifestyle was plain living and high thinking.
The medieval pedagogues were a type of severe task-masters. They would continually thunder instructions over the heads of their pupils and sometimes enforce them by a free use of the cane. Where printed books were scarce, memory played an important role. Teaching was not a profession in the Middle Ages.
The art of teaching in modern times has tolerated a thorough change. It has now become an organization. Most of the teachers in schools, colleges and universities are paid by the State. And teaching has been formal, though there are some informal set-ups too.
The ideal method of teaching is not to put some information in the mind of the pupil but to draw out the learner’s mind. The teacher should try to come down to the level of the students, and the learners should try to catch up with the teacher. Moreover, teaching is now based on the psychology of the learner. Therefore, teaching nowadays is both a science to be acquired and art to be practised. The teacher today guides, explains and demonstrates. His approach must be humane and sympathetic. His highest function consists not so much in imparting knowledge as in agitating the pupil’s mind. He will not instil his own opinions into the receptive mind of the pupil, but he must teach him, rather inspire him – to think originally to form independent opinions. At present, many are taking up teaching as a profession.
However, the great teacher seems to be a rare phenomenon at all times. He is, so to say, born and not made. He is divinely gifted to be a creator of the character of men. The disciples of Socrates have left an indelible stamp on the human mind which disseminate the greatness of their master. In the 19th century Bengal, young Derozio was such a teacher who followed the ideal of Socrates. He revolutionised the outlook of Young Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore aimed at making the teacher be the friend and guide of the students in his scheme of education at Santiniketan.
Now the Teachers Training Colleges have been set up. But that too has become more formal than it was expected to do. However, the status of the teachers has now been improved with their reasonable remuneration. The duty of the State is now to make an ideal student-teacher ratio, as an ideal teacher too cannot import his lessons to all students in an overcrowded class.
In fine, we must say that the teachers today in our country do not enjoy the honour as in the past, though there are still some exceptions. It is forgotten that the teachers are the architects of nations.