Empowerment and Subordination: The Dual Identity of Teachers in Bureaucratic Systems

Empowerment and Subordination: The Dual Identity of Teachers in Bureaucratic Systems

Posted on: Sat, 07/06/2024 - 13:46 By: admin


  Empowerment and Subordination: The Dual Identity of Teachers in Bureaucratic Systems


Until last month, bureaucratic interventions in the Bihar Government schools were making the news. This time, it was the capital city, Delhi. On the night of the second of July, more than 5,000 teachers were transferred. These were teachers who had completed 10 years in one school. It was not an abrupt decision; the department had already informed the teachers about this policy through a circular in June 2024.


The mass transfer of teachers drew media attention, and there are arguments both in favor of the transfer and against it. However, what is important to note here is that it also raises the question of teachers' professional identity.


Teachers in government schools maintain a dual identity: one as a professional educator and the other as the last link in the large bureaucratic chain, as established by several academic works. The contestation between these dual roles is visible in the day-to-day lives of the teachers as well.


The profession of teaching brings teachers very close to knowledge production, and any work of knowledge production is empowering. The sense that "I can help somebody learn" is powerful, and every teacher experiences this empowered feeling to different extents. On the other hand, the bureaucratic structure expects them to comply and submit, which is totally against the empowering experience that a teacher receives in the classroom. Therefore, for a teacher working in a bureaucratic setting, this conflict is inevitable. Over time, teachers try to resolve this conflict and they have one path to choose from the two available: either accept themselves as part of the large bureaucracy and submit to its power, or maintain their professional identity as a teacher who has the power to construct knowledge, and resist subordination. The first path is one of peace and acceptance; often, teachers who choose this path are the most respected in their schools, have a good rapport with the principal, and develop greater expertise in several administrative tasks, including how to manage staff salaries, and so on.


On the other hand, teachers who continue to assert their professional identity have only one benefit: the love and respect from their students. However, such teachers continue to face challenges from the bureaucratic structure. This is a path of professional glory but not of peace.


In this contest between the identity of a teacher as a professional and the identity of a teacher as the last bureaucratic cog, the bureaucratic identity often subdues the professional identity of the teacher. Bureaucracy is powerful and consistent. Any argument that suggests a longer stay of a teacher in a school is good for the students and helps develop a strong teacher-student bond, which is essential for teaching and learning, goes against the ideal of bureaucratic control. Bureaucracy will always find it easier to control a new set of teachers; it's not about teaching, it's about control. In this contest, bureaucracy always wins. When teaching and learning become the primary objectives, there is no other way but to debureaucratise the teaching profession. The roots of bureaucracy are so deep that even Prime Ministers struggle to cut them. We inherited bureaucracy from the colonial government, and after independence, the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wanted reforms in bureaucracy but failed.


While saying so, it’s important to acknowledge that not everything about bureaucracy is bad. Amid political upheavals, it’s bureaucracy that holds society and the economy together like a steel frame. Although bureaucracy deprives teachers of their identity as professionals with agency, it also guarantees job security, and teachers are often not ready to exchange this security for professional identity. Can there be a middle ground?