The essential teacher

Lakshmi Rameshwar Rao

Sylvia Ashton Warner, a New Zealand British novelist and educator says that education is the “increase in the percentage of the conscious in relation to the unconscious”. This comes sharply into focus as new trends in the field of education manifest themselves, and we are forced to ask “Who is a teacher? Does (s)he really exist?” Looking around us we find that almost everything in everyday life depends on teaching – work and leisure alike. Music and games, driving and cooking, sewing and even cleaning have all been taught, and even things that we have been able to “learn on our own” – using a computer, typing, weaving, knitting or tailoring – we have learnt, more often than not, because we know how to read, a skill, which, let’s not forget, has been taught to us by someone. If our teachers have been true to the spirit of their vocation, we have also been introduced into a system of values and ethics. These underlying principles and rules govern and add meaning to our actions when we put our learning to use.

Teaching necessarily implies giving. The life and work of the well-known and greatly respected teacher Muriel Wasi demonstrates her observation that a teacher “is one who has something to give that is of permanent value…one who will give and give it freely,” “a person of faith and experience”. Why then is the word itself falling into disuse, being replaced by ‘instructor’, ‘facilitator’, ‘catalyst’, ‘educator’ and a host of others? Is it only because education is accepted to be learner centric? Is teaching one-way and authoritarian by its very description? Is teaching not fundamentally responsible for the state of society?

Teachers need to be masters of their subjects. They stimulate enthusiasm, influence attitudes, are kind and patient, loyal and cooperative, intelligent and quick witted, plan and execute work in an environment that they make friendly and alive, develop talent even when none exist, take charge of situations without making it apparent that they are in charge and most important, and through all this, set standards that everyone else has chosen to abandon, set an example in a vacuum created by those who live but have ceased to learn. Every teacher also needs an ingredient of integrity, the evidence of which may be what we call a moment of truth, “the point at which what is good in the teacher coincides with what is good in the person. Integrity is distinct from ability, far above it as a value just as learning is above ignorance.”

“Professionals,” writes Muriel Wasi, herself a professional in the truest sense of the word, “as distinct from amateurs, are people who are constantly dissatisfied with themselves because they know that like machines they are going out of date. Obsolescence…this affects teachers as it does machines. Only, teachers have the power to renew themselves. They can see how far short of perfection they fall and this awareness acts as a constant prod. Till they are not good enough…Nothing but sheer dogged work makes professionals. A profession is not a series of mountain peaks or wave crests. Not all teaching is at the heroic heights of Socrates. Every profession has its ups and downs… and downs are more frequently plentiful than ups.”

Let us remind ourselves once again that “the teacher is the heart of the matter.”

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