A Teacher’s calling


Here we stand, infants overblown…
Itching for something to happen.
To tip us one way or the other.
Groping in the dark for a helping hand.
I’m tired oh, my God, I’m tired,
I’m tired of hanging in the middle way.
But where can I go?

This plaintive cry of Nigerian school children in a poem titled ‘Conflict’, could well be the cry of any school child in our country to-day.

‘No one listens!’ ‘No one understands!’ ‘No one cares!’ These are the prevalent feelings of most students. And such attitudes can be a great barrier to any teacher’s efforts at teaching. The present–day teachers’ calling must necessarily be to destroy that barrier, and to reach out. Students, then, hopefully will not have to resort to ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’!

Indeed, ‘A pupil is not a vessel to be filled but a torch to be lit’. It is only robots that can be dye-stamped, filling their memory bank with data, whereas a person must learn the A B C’s of human communication during his 10 or 12 years at school and be able to adapt to different situations. Such an education will be effective only if a special human atmosphere is created in every school, by, who else but the teacher. Modern education has transcended content found in text-books, and is now a combination of theory and life experiences. View-points and discussions on local and global issues, books, art, music, and environment are the new imperatives of holistic education. And whatever the lesson – Geography , Maths or Literature, the teacher must speak with the child about Man, about sincerity, about integrity, about kindness in human relations, never forgetting that each one of us is a text-book.

How can the student study us if our character pages are blank?

Yes, kindness is necessary. There are so many instances of students receiving unmerciful lashings, not with a cat-o nine-tails (that is prohibited) but with the stinging barb of a sarcastic tongue. The wound caused by a ruler will heal without a scar, but the cut of a verbal chastisement can sear its way deep into the mind, nay the soul, and many years later hurt when he touches the wound with the finger of memory.

Given a conducive atmosphere, the child learns to understand his peers, to solve complex moral problems he might be facing, and if he runs into difficulties academic or otherwise, he knows he can turn to his teacher. Once a week in school, I have time set aside for discussing with students their problems, if any, and for counselling them. This is too often neglected by most – with disastrous consequences!

A teacher must work

First of all, teaching is a career, nay a vocation that undoubtedly comes under the heading of hard work. The hard work begins as soon as one decides to enter the field.

Indeed, a good teacher must combine in himself the desirable qualities of workers engaged in research, psychology, mechanical trades, office routine and above all creative activity. As Einstein put it – ‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy and creative expression and knowledge.’

Here is an interesting set of descriptions of creative teachers who provide an interesting contrast in characteristics.

Ms. M is a gifted teacher, a sensitive artistic person who moves readily from a scientific experiment during which she is objective and matter-of-fact, to a language period in which everyone is encouraged to participate in an atmosphere and organization that could well turn into a three-ring circus were it not for her ability to sense the mood of the students. She encourages the youngsters to express their creativity in writing, in easel paint or in scientific experiments, using correlation of studies. She has the facility of helping each child find his specific avenue for creating and then helps him build confidence in the product he produces.

And now for Mr. H. He recognizes the positive qualities in every pupil- the dull as well as the bright. When he wanted to display class papers of projects on the bulletin boards, he made sure that every member of his class had something to display. For him this was not a reward but a motivation for all pupils who could proudly claim their own achievement. He was always innovating to enrich learning and to motivate the pupils to further achievement. Young at teaching as he was, he had a firm grasp of content; but his own motivation for further learning was infectious… When he left for further studies, there was a warm outpouring of affection. He emerged as a person who carried the authority of commitment and true caring.

Both these teachers had one thing in common. They ignited the spark of creativity, hopefully to glow into a continuing flame.
But above all, the teacher needs to have in him, a bit of the salesman, a bit of the actor, a bit of the top sergeant—- perhaps very much diluted, but there all the same.

A teacher’s self-sacrifice

Then, a teacher must be prepared for self-sacrifice (of all things). At present, this is a quality regarded as out-of-date. In an age that stresses individualism and self-satisfaction, there are many who look on the relinquishing of one’s own interests for the benefit of others, as the first step towards a psychopathic ward. And yet, if teaching is to classify as a ‘profession,’ it must give evidence of that quality of self-sacrifice which characterizes the most representative members of the medical and legal professions.

A doctor battling for the life of his patient, has no taxi meter ticking to the exact hours and minutes he spends in the sickroom. That tradition among physicians which does not measure service rendered neither by the anticipated fee nor by personal interests, but by the patient’s need, have a sure counterpart in the profession of teaching.

The bells which announce the first class in the morning and close the last class in the afternoon do not really encompass within their echoes, the whole of the teacher’s duty. To begin with, they do not even delimit the teacher’s working day, an important part of which is the preparation for class which is done on the teacher’s own terms. Then there are a thousand and one unlisted little jobs which the teacher performs as part of his larger task. The out-of-class contacts with the pupils which are ever so important for any guidance, the lively interest in what the pupils are doing; the encouragement; boosting up a pupil’s self-esteem; the motivation; being a good role model; the contact with parents when required; participation in community activities through Scouting and Guiding, the Junior Red Cross, Social Service, Environmental Awareness – all of these, from tying a hair ribbon on a bobbing little head to campaigning for a worthy cause, involve directly or indirectly, self-sacrifice. And a teacher would not be much of a teacher without it, would he?

Why do you teach?

By far the most important consideration is WHY one teaches. Of course, the ready answer to the question will be:
‘I’m teaching because I get fairly well paid for doing it!’ or ‘I’m a teacher because it is a dignified occupation and it gives me social prestige!’ or ‘I’m a teacher because I like the work!’. And strange as it may seem, none of these reasons qualify; none of these reasons get down beneath the personal element – the immediate return to self.

Yes, a good salary is important. But sadly today, most teachers are looking out only for enhanced salaries and job security. This results in lack of accountability and supercedes the higher ideals of education, values, physical fitness, human excellence.

If a day comes when teachers lose sight of these truths, and led by the educational pipers of the moment, retreat from what has been for centuries the traditional practice in this regard, the future of our country will be bleak. No amount of modern technology, computers, the newfangled frills and feathers in the educational arena can ever make up for this core prerequisite.
We live in a democracy – a form of government which demands virtuous leadership on the one hand, and loyal intelligent following of that leadership on the other.

We have celebrated yet another Teacher’s Day on the 5th September. It’s time we pondered on these questions. Where will tomorrow’s leaders be formed in trustworthy leadership? Where will tomorrow’s citizens be instructed and practiced in intelligent obedience to lawful authority, besides fighting the good fight when required and facing life with a strength that comes from all-round development — if our teachers neglect their responsibility in an effort to make their own task lighter, or to make school easier for their pupils?

But hopefully, most teachers guided by sound principles and good sense, will realize that theirs is the high commission of how to make the right choices and not succumb to societal pressures, and of showing youth how to live ! Therein lies good and true leadership.

The spirit of the teacher

A purpose like that makes teaching worthwhile; it justifies the labour which is not always rewarded with adequate salary; it is capable of bringing happiness and contentment in its pursuit that workers in other occupations cannot understand. Its peculiar consolation in its peculiar trials is voiced by the American poet and essayist Henry Van Dyke:

Dare not enter the teaching profession unless you love it. For the vast majority of men and women it has no promise of wealth or fame, but they, to whom it is dear for its own sake, are among the nobility of mankind.

I sing the praise of the unknown teacher. For him no trumpets blare, no chariots wait, no golden decorations are decreed. Patience is his duty; he strives to conquer the evil powers which are the enemies of youth. He awakens sleeping spirits. He quickens the indolent, encourages the eager and steadies the unstable. He communicates his own joy in learning and shares with boys and girls the best treasures of his mind. He lights many candles, which, in later years, will shine back to cheer him. This is his reward.

Knowledge may be gained from books; but the love of knowledge is transmitted only by personal contact. No one has deserved better of the republic than the unknown teacher. No one is more worthy to be enrolled in a democratic aristocracy, ‘King of himself and servant of mankind’.