For the health of humanity

Pritam Benjamin

Whatever be the advancement in technology, till now, the teacher is not replaceable.

Pritam In our country where Guru and God were once close cousins, the scenario has changed. Today teachers are needed, who will support and build a child’s growth towards a future that is unknown, and educate youth who will struggle and overcome the challenges of today’s world of speed, complexity and uncertainty.

Knowledge and interests, also aspirations, hobbies, habits, values, beliefs and world view are the mix of a whole teacher’s personality. A teacher today is required to be critically Reflective, Creative, Charismatic, Empathetic, a Design Thinker, Collaborator, Positive Thinker and Role Model in courage, connection, compassion and conviction. Nothing less!

I drew from the Navrasas in Indian classical dance forms in every teaching objective I ever consciously planned: Adhbhuta (wonder), Hasya (mirth), Karuna (compassion), Veera (bravery) and Shanti (peace). These qualities, I believe, must consciously be distilled in a teacher’s own conduct, relationships and temperament.

As a proposition or a question, what makes a teacher can be summed up in one who is highly qualified, effective and great.

A highly qualified teacher has sound knowledge of concepts, themes and subject content, which today is replete with multi- and trans-disciplinary approaches, in order to develop in her students, mental capacities for independent thinking, creativity, entrepreneurship and leadership.

Truly innovative teachers must constantly devise creative ways to help students understand, internalize, retain and then apply what they are trying to learn. Not just technology, but creativity is still their chief aid in using, transmitting and applying their knowledge and pedagogy. Apart from digital ability and agility, such a teacher is one who is in touch with what’s new, who can glean what’s unchangingly valuable in content and concepts. In the words of Robert Brault, “The average teacher explains complexity; the gifted teacher reveals simplicity.”

The focus must now change to student learning as opposed to teaching. The shifts in pedagogy to modern thinkers like Gardener, Bloom, Fullan, Steiner and Krishnamurthy are significant, and teachers must update their practice. Learning should never stop, for either teacher or taught. In the age of the Internet, a teacher must sometimes defer to their students’ mental agility and in fact, she must irrigate student curiosity with deep interest and willingness to learn herself, sometimes even from her students! Like Leonardo da Vinci, who at 86, proclaimed “Ancora Imparo!” (“Still I learn”). No one, especially not teachers, ever stops learning. Teachers who are organized, firm, and professional get much more out of their work and professional lives. They willingly learn new teaching strategies or incorporate new technologies into lessons or share their ideas and experience with their colleagues. Their self-initiated professional development from reading, attending workshops and lectures, etc., indicates a desire to grow and assimilate new ideas, approaches and strategies for learning and teaching. Such teachers organize their time, planning and leisure, because switching from one class to another, keeping track of individual students, attending to extra duties they are assigned, keeping track of databases, registers, interacting with parents, all requires good organization.

An effective teacher is a reflective teacher. Reflective as learners themselves, teachers should responsibly develop their practice. Teaching outcomes must be planned, predicted and improved accordingly. Self-observation and self-evaluation are habits of the mind; attitudes or values important for thinking. Developing emotional and mental skills which encompass development of social capabilities, personality, values and individuality are essentials for preparing our children for significant roles as future citizens. Student learning can be quantified roughly like thus: 30 per cent is subject knowledge, 30 per cent personality, 30 per cent level of expectations (assessment, career and vocational guidance), and 10 per cent classroom skills. Effective teachers strategize work towards such objectives.

Moreover, such teachers understand the responsibility they have in shaping future generations and involve themselves in the holistic growth of each student in their care. Through years of trying and overcoming the pressures of life and work balance, meagre salaries and little visible progression in professional life, dedication and love for their vocation becomes their hallmark.

Bringing humour and light-heartedness into class and relationships is a valuable quality in any walk of life, particularly in classroom environments. A sense of humour lightens moods, assists in establishing willingness for cooperation and discipline. A warm friendly atmosphere in the classroom assists the learning process as little else can.

In today’s world of flux and uncertainty, great teachers are a pressing need. In our complex, troubled times, a good mantra to live by is that “students today don’t care how much teachers know until they know how much they care.” With the complex demands of diversity within a classroom and inclusion of children with varied needs, a positive, caring attitude is vital. It has been said, “Nine-tenths of teaching is encouragement.” A teacher’s belief in every student’s growth potential, as opposed to “fixed” intelligence contributes hugely to the individual student’s success. It is a combination of pupil effort and teaching quality which determines how well a child does, not the ability of the child. The relationship between a teacher and a student is related to many positive outcomes for students, including academic success, improved emotional functioning, and increased well-being, even after they complete and leave school.

Discipline does not only come from rules or punitive measures for those who infringe them. Positive discipline comes from building and preserving self-respect in growing children. Compassion requires empathy and the ability to forgive habitual or deliberate offenders. It is not to be equated with relinquishing control or “softness”, in a negative sense. Great teachers restore the dignity of offenders who must be disciplined, by being forgiving and looking at them afresh, never condemning or disgracing them repeatedly.

Children today need the courage to step into a world which adults are destroying through their greed, violent ways and irresponsible use of resources. Great teachers show, both by precept and example, how to tackle the many problems that will envelope their charges in the near future. They demonstrate that violence, domination and over-consumption can be curbed through education and self-control. They can then try and morally rearm their charges with fearless resolve to confront and overcome.

Someone said that the right teacher assists in the formation of an absorbent mind, a growing heart and learning hands. For progress and peace in our time, teachers must embrace their calling and mission more thoughtfully, for they still mould society and must teach not only for their own success, but also for the survival and well-being of humanity.

Pritam Benjamin has started and steered three international schools in Bangalore. She has taught English, literature, social and religious studies, music and drama. She has been training teachers for five years now. She believes that nurturing the whole child takes precedence over literacy and numeracy, and that youth must be equipped with ideas and ideals that will help them bring about a positive transformation in the world they will inhabit. She can be reached at benjaminpritam2@gmail.com.