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Life at SchoolAn Ethnographic Study$

Meenakshi Thapan

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195679649

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195679649.001.0001

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Teacher Interaction: Formal and Informal

Teacher Interaction: Formal and Informal

(p.99) Chapter Six Teacher Interaction: Formal and Informal
Life at School

Meenakshi Thapan

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Interaction between teachers occurs in both formal and informal settings. This chapter discusses teacher-teacher interaction in the Rishi Valley School, focusing on teachers not only as teachers but as people who are more than just performing a professional role. It describes the social processes through and in which the teachers live as members of the Rishi Valley community, and examines the configuration of teacher culture. Teacher-teacher interaction is influenced by a wide range of factors, including the organization of the school (divided into transcendental and local orders) and the teacher's structural position. Another major determining factor in such interactions is the school's ideology. In Rishi Valley, teachers interact formally during faculty meetings, special staff meetings, and twenty-minute morning tea-breaks.

Keywords:   teacher's structural position, staff meetings, teacher-teacher interaction, Rishi Valley School, Krishnamurthy's ideology, School timetable, teacher culture, social processes in Rishi Valley

Teachers interact with one another in both formal and informal settings. My analysis will focus on teachers not merely as teachers but as people who are more than merely performing a professional role. A study of teacher interaction is important for two reasons: first, it will enable us to describe the social processes through and in which the teachers live as members of the RVS community; second, it will help us to delineate the configuration of what I have called the teacher culture. This culture is activated through interaction and in the process reaffirmed or re-modulated or simply lived in. In this sense, culture and the social process are, for the purpose of my analysis, two sides of the same coin—namely the life of the teacher in the school—and therefore inseparable.

Interaction between teachers is affected by several factors such as the organization of the school, divided as it is into the transcendental and local orders, the structural position of a teacher—in the junior or the senior school, the ideology and commitment of a teacher, i.e. whether she is an ideologue or professional teacher, and so on. The school's ideology in fact emerges as a major determining factor in such interaction. Teachers' perception of the ideology and its axiomatic character, as well as their commitment to it, or lack of it, shape interaction in a certain manner. It also serves to be a source of dissension between teachers in their informal interaction with one another.

Teachers relate to each other in different contexts, at different times and on different occasions throughout the day. The range of interaction may extend from the classroom onto the sportsfield and into other non-curricular activities and events in the school. Formal or institutionalized interaction occurs between teachers in the course of the performance of their assigned tasks in the setting of their workplace. Informal interaction, on the other hand, occurs outside the performance of formally assigned duties, between teachers (p.100) relating to each other as people. The opportunities and influences that shape both these kinds of interaction and the processes through which they are articulated are other important factors.

Formal or Institutionalized Interaction

Institutionalized interaction between teachers is affected by, and gives rise to, a number of situations. The organization of RVS into junior and senior schools, for example, has an impact on the community of teachers inasmuch as it creates a division between them. Thus senior school teachers have very little to do with teachers in the junior school except on an informal basis. A certain hierarchy in their relationship is in fact implied to the extent that the senior school teachers consider themselves somewhat superior to junior school teachers.

The teachers interact formally in different settings which provide the forum for discussion on matters primarily related to school life. In one sense, then, teacher interaction in the workplace is articulated through discussion and the teachers themselves highlight the use of talking as a strategy. Apart from having a functional utility, the discussions serve the psychological purpose of bringing the teachers together in their sharing of the many problems they experience in the school. This is not to say that their interaction is without the stresses and strains that are inherent in such relationships.

Interaction in formal settings between teachers at RVS takes place largely at faculty meetings, special staff meetings held in the junior school twice a week, and at the 20—minute morning tea-break. The staffroom is the ‘arena’1 in which teachers interact during the working day. While the junior school has a separate staffroom, the senior school staffroom is used by teachers of both schools throughout the day. It is located in the senior school building, flanked on one side by the offices of the Headmistress and the Principal, and on the other, by classrooms. The teachers however have very little privacy in this area as it is open to anyone in the school: the Management, pupils, visitors and parents.

For teachers, the staffroom is a place where they can relax in their ‘free’ periods, marking notebooks, reading, talking to one another largely about school matters such as the behaviour or academic progress of certain pupils, teaching methods (for example, senior (p.101) teachers may advise newly recruited teachers on how to handle subject matter or the pupils in the classroom), decisions to be taken on various issues, and so on. Teachers also meet informally at the 20—minute tea-break in between the morning classes.

There is a fundamental difference however in the interaction that occurs at such meetings in the junior and senior schools. At the senior school tea-breaks, the atmosphere is formal and restrained. The Headmistress, Principal or senior teachers may make announcements regarding other meetings to be held, tests to be conducted, reports to be written, impending excursions, and so on. The problems of individual pupils and teachers' responsibilities are also discussed at these meetings. It is significant that only senior teachers offer suggestions and make comments while junior teachers do not participate until they are asked to.

At the junior school tea-breaks, on the other hand, the atmosphere is quite different. It is apparent that the teachers are, in fact, taking a break from work and although they spend almost all the time discussing their work, there is an informal atmosphere. They however seriously discuss several aspects of school life such as the problems faced by newly admitted pupils, grading pupils in tests, and so on.

Apart from the informal tea-breaks, there are other settings in which teacher interaction takes place. Of these, the most important are the faculty and the staff meetings which are usually held once a week. The significance of such interaction lies in their content: the faculty meetings for particular subjects, such as English or Mathematics, are concerned essentially with the local order while the staff meetings are concerned with the transcendental order.

The faculty meeting takes place for 40 minutes every week when the teachers of a particular subject meet and discuss problems and issues related to the subject. Although such meetings may have an indirect effect on performance, their primary purpose appears to be the provision of an opportunity to the teachers for sharing and attempting to solve their problems in the teaching of specific subjects.

Another kind of staff meeting is held jointly once a week for teachers from the junior and senior schools for 60 minutes during the evening prep. hour in the senior school staffroom.2 At the beginning of the academic term in 1981, the Principal opened the first meeting by clarifying the intention of such meetings. The discussion of (p.102) administrative and other school matters was to be restricted to the faculty, school and Managing Committee meetings. These staff meetings were instead to be used mainly for teachers to acquaint themselves with the ideology through reading and discussion. This decision was apparently taken at Krishnamurti's request as he felt that the teachers should be familiar with his thought. Teacher attendance at these meetings is compulsory and the Principal specified that if a teacher wished to absent herself, she would have to seek prior permission from him. It is therefore considered important for the teacher to take part in the clarification of the ideological discourse as it is viewed as constituting the main reason for the school's existence. It does however impose a restriction on the teacher's autonomy insofar as she has no choice in the matter.

The teachers' lack of enthusiasm for such meetings is reflected in the limited extent of their participation in the discussion. Thus professional teachers by and large remain silent except for some newly recruited teachers, senior teachers and members of the Management. It is the ideologue teachers who primarily conduct the discussion.

One aspect of the role of such teachers at these meetings appears to be that of questioning school organization; for example, they once expressed their disapproval of the number of pupils (about 24) in each classroom which constrains their performance and thereby the implementation of the ideology as they perceive it. They are also critical of school processes, for example, of certain forms of punishment that may be meted out to errant pupils, of the content of the staff meetings, and the like. These teachers often suggest alternatives but existing methods and activities are stoutly defended by the Principal and other members of the Management and the Principal controls the discussion by holding the floor most of the time.

Ideologue teachers also tend to be concerned about the nature of communication, and thereby of interaction, between teachers and raise this issue often. They view the value of good communication, leading to a better understanding between colleagues, as being central to the implementation of the ideology. The problem of communication is viewed by them in two contexts. The first context is that of the meeting itself. The question raised by both teachers and Foundation Members is whether a teacher attends a meeting with set opinions and after an intellectual discussion goes away (p.103) without any real sharing, communication or change having taken place. Or, it is asked, whether there is any communication at a ‘deeper level’. This implies a more meaningful relationship in terms of a shared understanding of the ideology and a commitment to it.

The problem as perceived in the second context is whether teachers view one another and, therefore, relate only in terms of the role they are performing or at a more personal, human level as well. This issue is particularly relevant to ideologue teachers who are generally not accepted at a personal level by their colleagues.

This is not however to say that professional teachers are unaware of the lack of communication at the ‘deeper level’. One such teacher, who had been in the school for 10 years, argued that, while teachers appeared to be communicating perfectly well on day-to-day issues, there seemed to be a lack of communication between them in relation to the ideology. He had observed that while teachers listen to Krishnamurti very carefully, they continue to function according to their own ideas and opinions. He feels that the situation could be rectified if the teachers could evolve a consensual definition of their role vis-à-vis the ideology. This, in turn, is dependent upon the quality of communication between them. However, as the teachers themselves suggested, a ‘fragmentation’ in their performance as educators occurs as a result of the poor communication between them. A professional teacher, for example, senses a certain aloofness in the teachers' attitudes to one another as he commented, ‘Here, people are really short of time whether they are busy or not.’

This lacuna in communication is also evident in the ‘poor relationships’ between them, as noted by an ideologue teacher. For example, they do not visit each others' classrooms, nor is there ‘a sense of community in working together’, and friendly, personal relations between teachers scarcely exist. In order to improve communication at the meetings, he suggested bringing out the ‘dirty linen’ and helping each other in the solution of their problems. The teachers are however aware that while one may question or demand a relationship around the performance of a certain function, ‘deep’ relationships can only come from inner conviction. The professional teachers also suggest that the present structure of the school, institutionalized as it is, appears to demand functionaries and it is therefore necessary for them to relate to one another in that role. However, they are aware that with time, a ‘binding relationship’ of (p.104) sharing and understanding amongst themselves and between them and the school is created.

Ideologue teachers, in general, are however insistent that relationships in RVS are only linked to the function a person performs because the school as an institution has taken precedence over the human beings in it. On one occasion, the junior school Head asked the teachers of the junior school if they could work together in the same sense as the Buddha's sangha.3 That is, if they could together face the reality of daily living as well as the truth of the Buddha's (here Krishnamurti's) word. This would imply their discussing their problems frankly and helping one another ‘with great feeling’ and understanding.

It is apparent that the teachers view communication and interaction among themselves in three inter-related contexts: the functional, the more personal or human, and the ‘deeper’ relationship which is linked to the ideology. This would result in the creation of the ‘right relationship’ between themselves, which is viewed as being essential to working and living together in the school. While both kinds of teachers are conscious of the three contexts of interaction, it is primarily the ideologue teacher who attempts to bring them together in an integrated whole. Their assessment of the situation is based on two considerations. One is their perception of the teacher culture, as it is articulated through interaction, as being too superficial insofar as relationships are function-centred. Secondly, the ideology influences their perception: Krishnamurti has commented in discussion with some members of the Management that each teacher is in a closed circle and operates from within the circle. He suggested that it was only by bringing about a free flow of communication that the circles could be broken and meaningful relationships established which would then improve their performance. In a preliminary attempt to cultivate communication, it was decided by the Principal that the weekly staff meeting would be held in two groups to enable ‘more conversation’ and participation and that teachers would meet jointly once a month. This did serve the purpose of allowing greater participation as teachers felt that they were able to communicate more meaningfully in smaller numbers.

There is a clear disjunction between the junior and senior schools in terms of teacher interaction. Prior to 1981, senior school teachers would rarely visit the junior school for the purpose of teaching or (p.105) attending morning assembly. It was only when the new junior school Head perceived an asymmetrical relationship between teachers from the two sections, as well as between senior teachers and junior pupils, that a change was brought about. Some of these teachers then began to take a few lessons in the junior school. Several junior school teachers also teach in the senior school as a matter of course.

While informal relations between teachers of the two schools are cordial, junior school teachers perceive a ‘lack of faith’ in their performance by senior school teachers. For example, there were complaints about the lack of academic rigour and discipline among the pupils of Standard Eight who until 1983 used to enter the senior school straight from the junior level. The senior teachers view this as a failure on the part of their junior colleagues to generate in pupils the school's ‘ideal’ in terms of various factors of which specific mention was made of ‘sharp thinking ability and good manners’. Junior school teachers viewed this as an unfair criticism of their work based on the personal value judgements of some senior teachers. In turn, they were critical of the behaviour of senior pupils who ‘set the tone’ for junior pupils who ‘hero worship’ them and emulate their behaviour, to a certain extent.

Junior school teachers also feel that their role is viewed by their colleagues in the senior school as being less important than their own primarily because of the difference in the level of educational knowledge being imparted by them. The junior teachers' perception of their lower status in the latent hierarchy of the teachers' ‘occupational culture’ does not however affect their relations with their senior colleagues.4 It is nevertheless suggestive of a disparity in the teachers' perception of their functional roles which is in contradiction to the ideology according to which no status may be attached to any role.

Staff meetings held in the junior school differ from those held in the senior school. One factor contributing to freer communication in the junior school is the relatively younger age of the Head whose presence does not intimidate the participants.5 When he took charge of his post in 1981, he decided after consultation with his colleagues to hold meetings alternately on the ideology and on educational matters. A committed ideologue, he felt that it was first necessary to be clear about the ideological foundations of their work and only then deal with specific educational issues.

(p.106) An important issue that arose at one such meeting was based on the Head's concern for the teacher's neutrality in role performance. As an example he suggested that a teacher's identification with a particular class, or with a group of pupils in the house, could create ‘disorder’ in both the pupil and teacher communities as it created exclusive loyalties among them. The teachers, however, objected to the use of the word ‘disorder’ and argued that a class teacher's identification with a particular class in fact implied a concern for it. The Head's concern however stems from the cultural ethos of the school which frowns on the favouring of some pupils over others and is based on the ideology according to which all pupils are to be treated alike.6 The teachers obviously do not always accept the ideology's prescriptions and tend to interpret them differently.

Teachers in the junior school moreover tend to favour discussion on issues emerging from the local order rather than on the ideology. They objected to the latter on the ground that no provision was made for such discussions in the timetable and, at present, they were losing one teaching period on this account. It is evident that the professional teacher's commitment to her teaching task is of paramount importance even though it may subvert the Management's attempts to implement the ideology.

The Head therefore perceived a lack of interest in the teachers for discussion on issues such as how they could help the pupils to apply their minds, to be attentive and sensitive, or whether it was sufficient that they concentrate on their main task which is teaching. Hence, when he announced that staff meetings in the junior school would no longer be used for such discussion but for problems of organization and matters directly related to the functioning of the junior school as these needed to be resolved immediately, he received an enthusiastic response.

Their enthusiasm and co-operation in coping with organizational and other tasks related to their teaching work is an expression of their commitment to high pedagogic standards. It appears that their hesitancy in approaching matters related to the ideology is an expression of their inability to completely understand the ideology and its expectations of them. This was clearly stated by a senior teacher who argued that as the ideology provides no ‘guidelines’ for action, there is ‘no clarity’ in his daily life as a teacher and that this is perhaps also a result of his not having fathomed it. The teachers' (p.107) attitude indicates a dichotomy in their minds between educational and ideological discourse, as most of them are more familiar with the former and therefore identify with it.

Teachers also come together for the performance of a precise task such as drawing up the timetable and the examination schedule, preparing reports on pupils, and the like. Insofar as relations between individual teachers in the functional context are concerned, there appear to be some problems in the work situation itself rather than in the planning or organization of activities. For example, the authority that is associated with experience in the transmission of knowledge is vested in the senior and older teachers who guide and instruct junior teachers. At times, however, junior teachers are unable to relate to their senior colleagues and either evolve their own methodology or seek guidance from another member of the department or a related department. Similarly, some junior school teachers found the Head's mode of functioning too dynamic, pushy and overbearing to allow them adequate autonomy. As this was leading to some amount of conflict between them and creating problems in their performance, they began to consult the Headmistress.

Another problem in the actual work situation has to do with the teacher's need for individual autonomy in the classroom which gives rise to conflict when there is more than one teacher there. An illustration is taken from a study of the Prep. Section—the most junior class—in the school. This class contains 16 pupils whose ages range between six to eight years. Three teachers take care of all teaching periods with two or three other teachers coming in occasionally. The Head had prepared a new curriculum for this class catering largely to the needs of the pupil and a well-qualified younger teacher had been appointed as the class teacher as he felt that she would be able to understand the new approach and implement it successfully. The older class teacher was retained as a teacher as she was seen as having ‘functional’ value and would be able to help the younger teacher who lacked sufficient experience but had the necessary qualifications. A third, very young, teacher with no experience of working with children was to assist both these teachers. This arrangement did not, however, work out satisfactorily for several reasons. The older teacher, nearing retirement, was sensitive to the others' judgements of her professional competence. She complained to her colleagues that while her teaching work-load (p.108) had been reduced, and her autonomy in the classroom removed, the Head was still dissatisfied with the manner in which the class was being handled.

The younger teacher now in charge of the class, however, found it difficult to relate to the older teacher who, she thought, was unwilling to adapt to change. While earlier the older teacher had the choice of following the new curriculum in her own manner, she was now being told what to do by the younger teacher and the Head. This led to a clash between the two teachers and to a breakdown of communication between them. The Head held discussions with both teachers, with a view to improving the situation and realized that the older teacher was so insecure about her position and reduced status that she was unable to perform effectively in the classroom. The younger teacher, he felt, had not understood the new curriculum, was not committed to it and was, therefore, incapable of implementing it. The young assistant teacher was caught in this conflict between the two teachers and her performance was limited by their conflicting approaches.

The result was lack of co-ordination in the work of the three teachers as no one knew what the other was doing in the classroom. The teachers filled in a weekly work chart for each period taken by them after the class was over but were unaware, at the beginning of the week, as to what was to be done during the week by each of them. The assistant teacher was aware of this confusion in their teaching methods and suggested that they meet weekly to plan their work schedule for the following week.

Only one such meeting actually took place where they primarily discussed the need for more co-ordination amongst themselves, to organize the class more systematically, and the general problems of discipline they faced in the classroom. They also decided that they would have a subject theme each week so that there was a link in the teaching activities of the teachers and the learning processes of the pupil. This was not, however, followed in practice.

This deteriorating situation led to the Head's intervention who met the three teachers concerned and questioned them on several issues related primarily to their teaching methodology and the pupils' behaviour and performance. He suggested that the class teacher's indifference to the discussion implied a lack of serious responsibility and care towards her class and her role. She finally opted out of her assignment with this class altogether.

(p.109) The other teachers' sympathies lay with the older teacher and they were critical of her younger colleague who was seen as being disrespectful towards the former and uncooperative in her approach. The assistant teacher was leaving RVS at the end of term and the result of all this was that the class finally reverted to the care of the older teacher. The new curriculum was dissolved and the Head decided to start all over again in the following term.

This episode also created problems for the Head in terms of being in conflict with his perceptions of his role performance. He was particularly perturbed by these events as, for him, the Prep. Section was at the centre of what he had been trying to achieve in the junior school in terms of educational innovation. If this had been a failure, he felt he was unable to justify his presence in the junior school or in any area where he was attempting to bring about change.

This incident clearly suggests that the lack of an amiable working relationship affects the teacher's performance in the classroom and disrupts the pedagogic process. In this particular situation, the Head's commitment to his role and to the quality of education in the junior school prompted him to intervene and change the structure, which had been of his making in the first place. This may not be the case in other situations where change might have wider repercussions which may give rise to further disequilibrium in the larger system of the school. Thus, to ensure harmony and continuity, the Management may ignore functional incompatibilities amongst teachers.

The main factor responsible for this disharmony in working relationships, as noted earlier, is the teacher's need for autonomy in the classroom. A colleague's presence, as well as directions from outside (e.g. from the Head) on how to conduct the lesson or criticism of their teaching methodology restricts this autonomy which then gives rise to strain and conflict in their interaction. The assertion of the teacher's individuality in the workplace does not however appear to interfere with their informal interaction which is influenced by factors other than those obtaining in the functional arena of the teacher's life.

Finally, the teachers' relations with the Management appear to be governed by their definitions of their roles and by personal connections with Foundation Members. It is not possible to clearly identify the many elements of such interactions as they fluctuate from situation to situation and from person to person. In other (p.110) words, their precise definition is restricted by contingency.

On issues where the teachers can take a stand, they tend to support the Headmistress and other members of the Management rather than the Principal. This could be due to the fact that the Headmistress had been a teacher in RVS for 15 years before she was appointed to her present post and is therefore well-acquainted with the teachers. The Principal, on the other hand, was brought in from outside although he had earlier taught at RVS. It would appear that any community would close its ranks against an outsider particularly if there are additional aggravating circumstances as in this case: for example, the Principal's inability to interact informally with his colleagues and his lack of identification with all aspects of his role.7

Disagreement often occurs at staff meetings between the Principal and the junior school Head and on such occasions, the teachers tend to support the Principal. This is in spite of the fact that the junior school Head is closely associated with Krishnamurti and all the Foundation Members. One factor that accounts for teacher support of the Principal in this case is that although both the Principal and the junior school Head are ideologue teachers, the latter is critical of school processes and an agressive proponent of change.

At one meeting, for example, the Principal suggested that in order to curb noise in the dining hall, some of the more noisy pupils should be sent out and asked to eat separately. The junior school Head was obviously not happy with this form of punishment and argued that sending pupils out of the dining hall should not become a habit with the teachers. Although he was aware of the ‘Objective necessity’ of this form of action, he suggested that they should realize that a punitive measure ‘shows us our own failure and we must be aware of that’. The teachers immediately reacted in protest: the Headmistress insisted that the suggestion for a punitive measure had come from the pupils' representatives; another teacher argued that the pupils themselves had ‘created’ authority in the teachers by not responding to their appeals for order. The Principal obtained the teachers' approval by suggesting that the pupils cannot organize their lives sometimes and need guidance which is what was being done in this case.

This discussion indicates that when the teacher's performance vis-à-vis the ideology is questioned, they turn hostile to the person making the observation, and whom they may support in other situations: Although most of them have a poor working relationship (p.111) with the Principal, they tend to throw their weight behind him when he is supportive about their performance and school processes in general.

Informal Interaction

Teacher interaction that occurs outside teaching hours and the formal setting of the workplace varies from one context or occasion to another. Besides, such factors as seniority or juniority in service, one's being an ideologue or professional teacher, and one's gender, also influence the form and content of informal interaction. It would appear that there is an interplay of the various factors that influence the overall pattern of teachers' relations and, thereby, the ethos of the teacher culture in the school.

As all the teachers live on the campus, their evening schedule is dependent on the school's programme. Most teachers supervise pupils during the evening prep, hour, in the houses and the dining hall, attend meetings, and so on. Teachers relate to one another informally either in friendship groups or individually. However, the latter kind of interaction is rare and occurs only among men, particularly the ideologue teachers. Teachers rarely mix across gender groups but there are definite friendship groups within a single gender group. It is however evident that in the very nature of organizations of this kind, characterized by sharply patterned forms of interaction, it is to be expected that participants will evolve different kinds of informal patterns of social relationships to restore a balance in their everyday life.

I was able to observe closely a friendship group among junior women teachers. The moving spirit of this group was a very young teacher who had been in RVS for only a year. She was considered a rebel by her friends as she was opposed to the school's transcendental order and cynical about the possibility of the ideology being ever implemented. This group was made up of four young women teachers, all single, and one or two young men teachers joined in occasionally. Their relations were characterized by loud bonhomie which however was never exhibited in the staffroom. Most of their conversation was gossip that centred around the activities and personalities of other teachers in the school.

The high point for this group was the faculty play that was staged in the second term in 1981. All the members of the group (p.112) participated in the play and did not encourage the inclusion of other teachers. For example, one teacher, considered by them to be close to the Management, was treated with goodwill but was excluded from the close association and the particular humorous idiom that was characteristic of this group. Another teacher taking part in the play faced hostility from them as they had earlier sought her companionship to which she had not responded. Participation in the play led to the group's acquiring an air of exclusiveness and distinctiveness from the other teachers which was not appreciated by some members of the teaching community, particularly the ideologue teachers. Such activity is viewed as setting people apart which militates against and thereby threatens the sense of community.

The exclusion of other teachers from this group, and therefore their closed circle of friendship, was primarily due to the content of their conversation, which they considered confidential. They were aware that any outward expression of rejection or dissatisfaction in relation to the ideology would not be appreciated and might jeopardize their position in the school. One teacher was in fact reprimanded for airing her negative views on the ideology and the school's efforts at its implementation. This group however remained one of the most closely knit and stable friendship groups in the school.8

The ideologue teachers are excluded from the teachers' friendship groups in general and do not form a group of their own. They do not come together as a group as they are very few in number and are ideologically not given to that way of acting: they are committed to the sense of community and to the broadening of human relations rather than narrowing them.9 Their exclusion from other groups is primarily due to their strong association with, and deep commitment, to the ideology. For example, an ideologue teacher, initially acting in the faculty play, withdrew once rehearsals began, saying that he did not have sufficient time for this activity. This, in the others' eyes, confirmed their earlier reservations about ideologue teachers whom they view with a certain degree of suspicion. In informal groups, an ideologue teacher's presence has the effect of being a damper on group activities. This is mainly because he or she is associated with a sense of seriousness, even self-righteousness and, above all, with Krishnamurti, and is therefore viewed as being exclusive.

Ideologue teachers are aware of their inability to communicate (p.113) with others as a result of their isolation from the larger teaching community. For example, one of them admitted being unable to share his observations about the school with other teachers at a personal, individual level, and felt disappointed and ‘alone’ in his task of implementing the ideology. This teacher was also the object of ridicule for some of the junior teachers who openly sneered at him even at staff meetings. Their disparaging attitude however was not a serious objection to what he has to say (which reveals his intense commitment to the ideology and his attempt to define the teacher's role in terms of it) but rather a personal rejection because he takes himself too seriously. Besides, he faces antagonism from his colleagues as his views and presence are seen as a threat to the status quo and he may succeed in bringing about changes which, for example, might increase the teachers' workload. His relations with his colleagues in the formal setting therefore appear to affect the nature of his informal interaction with them. Another ideologue teacher said that although he is able to relate to his colleagues to some extent, he is not interested in gossip or discussion on ‘superficial’ matters. His interaction with his colleagues, is, therefore, limited as he can have ‘meaningful’ discussions with only a few of them. Another such teacher feels threatened by professional teachers for she is quite sure that although she is very co-operative with her colleagues in the functional context, she is not going to let herself be ‘bullied’ by them and, therefore, keeps her distance from others socially.

This situation makes an important comment on the teacher culture in the school. There is clearly a division between the pedagogues or professional teachers and the ideologues and insofar as the culture is dominated by the former, the ideologue teacher experiences strained informal relations with his colleagues. It is significant that while the ideologue teacher's presence in the school is a result of her commitment to the ideology (which is not the case with the professional teacher), her place in the teacher culture is devalued by the professional teacher.

The professional teachers also view an excessive interest in the ideology on the part of a newly recruited teacher with distrust because they consider such enthusiasm a passing interest. While this appears to be the surface formulation of their attitude, they also experience a deeper anxiety insofar as they feel inadequate vis-à-vis the ideology and therefore threatened by it. Most new teachers are (p.114) accepted into the teaching community as long as they do not deviate too sharply from a latent though well-established code of conduct. This includes an exhibition of professional competence and the ability to control pupils in the classroom. A limited interest in Krishnamurti and the ideology is appreciated and encouraged.

The professional teachers' attitude towards the ideology is influential in shaping the teacher culture as they are in a strong majority. The Management, ideologue teachers, visiting Foundation Members and Krishnamurti himself, however, make a sustained effort to restore the balance although they are unable to orient every teacher to the school's official and ideological goals. It is obvious that this inevitably influences the nature of teacher interaction in both formal and informal settings.

Senior teachers in the school also tend to dominate the teacher culture and having established the existent culture, maintain its closed structure which is based on professionalism and status dependent on the teachers' longer association with the school. In not being grounded in the school's ideology, it fails to completely incorporate the ideologue teachers who remain, more or less, outside the dominant teacher culture. This implies that the ideology itself is excluded from the prevailing teacher culture insofar as the ideologue teacher does not belong to it in spite of being in it.

There are two factors that inhibit teacher interaction across gender groups among single teachers. For most professional teachers, the fear of gossip among their colleagues and pupils appears to be a dominant factor. Among ideologue teachers, there are closer friendships but excessive interaction across gender groups is viewed by them as an interference with their primary task in the school.10

Another factor that inhibits close friendships across gender groups appears to be the structural positions of the teachers involved. Thus, in one such relationship, where a senior faculty member was involved, his friendship with a lady teacher was the centre of gossip among teachers for the two terms I spent in the school. With all this gossip, the ‘scandal’ (as it was referred to by the teachers) soon reached Krishnamurti's ears, and he had the lady teacher removed from the school as she was generally considered responsible for the situation. According to the teachers, this was done primarily because such a relationship did not conform to the expected behaviour associated with such a senior member of the Management (p.115) who had been appointed to his post by Krishnamurti himself. This relationship was also viewed as not setting the right kind of example for pupil behaviour in the school.

For teachers, ‘social occasions’ are events that they look forward to in the school. One such event is the ‘moonlight dinner’ held twice a term where teachers meet informally with pupils. During these dinners, however, married teachers freely communicate with each other whilst single teachers tend to remain either within their gender groups or interact only with married teachers and pupils. Similarly, at special staff dinners or farewells, the extent of teacher interaction across gender groups remains the same. On such occasions, their behaviour is a result of the fear of disapproval for breaching what is generally considered proper social behaviour rather than the fear of forming close emotional relationships.11

Single teachers' relations with each other, however, seem to change substantially when they interact informally with pupils. It is apparent that outside the confines of the school, for example, on hikes, their whole attitude towards one another and the school changes. It is as if the constraints experienced by the teacher in RVS are completely removed which results in an opening of communication between them. This closely shared relationship outside the school exists only between the younger teachers; senior teachers maintain very correct, though informal, relations on excursions and rarely interact among themselves, other than in their roles as teachers on duty. Their inability to be completely relaxed is perhaps associated with their sense of responsibility or duty which arises out of their status as senior teachers in the school.

We have examined teacher culture in RVS in its many forms and aspects both from the participants' points of view and in terms of the interface between the different elements constituting it. These include not only the institutional and social factors but also the personal and interpersonal considerations that contribute to the creation and perpetuation of teacher culture. Teachers have been viewed in a dialogue not only with one another and the pupils but also with the ethos that is special to RVS through the medium of interaction. They are seen conforming, dissenting, changing, innovating, and constructing not only the content but also the forms of interaction. They therefore appear to be engaged in a continuous process of a twofold activity: the dismantling and reconstruction, as (p.116) it were, of the social structure as they perceive it and the understanding, interpretation and transmission of teacher culture itself.


(1.) Woods defines the staffroom—‘the main arena’—as the ‘teachers’ collective private area’ (1979: 211). At RVS, however, this is not the case as the Staffroom is used by several persons for various reasons.

(2.) I attended 18 such meetings during the course of my fieldwork.

(3.) The sangha is the Buddhist monastic community which has well-defined relations with the laity.

(p.250) (4.) Hargreaves suggests that the ‘Occupational culture’ of teachers is organized around the three themes of ‘status, competence and social relationships’ (1980). This may be seen as applying to the teacher culture at RVS with the additional theme of the ideology that has important ramifications for the same as has been noted in the text.

(5.) Teachers in the junior school are not however all young as those in the senior school are all not necessarily older teachers.

(6.) That the Management itself however fails to meet this expectation is evident, for example, in the special house system established for a few selected pupils in the school.

(7.) In Chapter Three, while discussing the role of the Principal, one factor considered responsible for the distance he maintains from teachers is the lack of adequate authority attached to his role.

(8.) Subsequently, the ‘rebel’ leader of the group left the school under a cloud and the group completely broke up.

(9.) On my return to the school in 1983, however, I observed that with an increase in the number of ideologue teachers, there is a definite tendency for them to stay together. Hence, in terms of informal interaction, the distinction between the ideologue and professional teachers is very pronounced.

(10.) On my visit to the school in July 1988 I found that ideologue teachers currently in RVS do not subscribe to this viewpoint and several of them are now married.

(11.) This has been observed by pupils of Standards Eight and Nine who, at a meeting with some teachers, commented on it. They were complaining about teachers who kept ‘lecturing’ to them about having a ‘healthy relationship’ with pupils of the opposite gender, for they asserted, such healthy relationships did not exist among the teachers themselves.