One of the great joys of being a teacher is meeting students many years – sometimes decades – after they have left your classroom. Even more gratifying is when they talk about the smallest of incidents from your classes, tiny experiences that they have learned something from. All the rough edges that you may have rubbed up against are forgotten, all the poor grades and indifferent assignments are of no consequence; what remains is affection and warmth.
Coming from a family of teachers, I am often witness to such encounters. They turn up at the most unexpected moments: weddings, traffic jams, ticket counters, hospitals, government offices…and these days, increasingly, on social media. My father’s students have fanned out into colleges and bureaucracies across the world, while my mother’s students are doing amazing things in healthcare, business and other sectors. Not only do they continue to hold their teachers in high esteem and affection, they become a supportive network that can be called upon in times of need. When an elderly teacher is struggling to meet the paperwork demands in a crowded pension office, there just might be that old student who comes up to ease the process along. Or when one is faced with a medical situation that seems difficult to understand, there’s that young doctor who was in your class 15 years ago and is now in a position to translate things for you. Or sometimes, just at that point when you are alone and not feeling quite as well as you used to, a young person pops in to say hello, just because they are in town and remembered that their teacher lived here.
As one of our articles in this issue notes, teaching in essence is a caring profession. We may transfer understanding of concepts and build skills among our wards, but we do it in a context of care. It is this care that creates those warm memories and builds those relationships that are sustained over years. A teacher may forget the specific names and faces she has interacted with over the years, but the connection is readily revived once the student comes back with those recollections. For all of us, of course, some names and faces stand out more than others – that is the way memory works. But even where the specifics elude us, the sense of connection remains.
And this is something that is constant across school systems and frameworks. No overarching framework can really change the nature of that equation, if there is a commitment to begin teaching within a context of care and personal connection. Our cover theme in this issue looks at how corporatization has impacted the education sector. It’s in the infrastructure, the tools, technologies and processes. It’s in the details of parent facilitation and resource management. But none of this can touch the one thing teachers have complete control over: how they relate to students in their classrooms. And that’s the stuff that builds those long-term connections, those warm memories that span lifetimes.